TIP of the day - from the blogs: What are the differences between allegorical and typological interpretation?

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Posted: Sun, Aug 9 2015 10:58 PM

from Biblical Hermeneutics

In a recent discussion on a question about allegory, it was pointed out that allegory and typology are not the same thing. What are the differences between the two approaches? Is one a subset of the other? Are they at odds with one another? Or are they compatible approaches?

This is a tricky question, because different people define these terms in different ways. But in essence:

  • Allegory is an extended metaphor; this is a meaning intended in the original text
  • Typology is a foreshadowing of later events; this is a secondary meaning that often can only be seen after the fact

There is some overlap between the two terms, but

Some examples of allegory in the Bible include:

  • The parable of the trees, Judges 9. The trees represent the lords of Shechem, and the bramble represents Abimelech.

  • The vine in Psalm 80. The vine represents Israel and its relationship with God.

  • Nathan's prophecy against David, 2 Samuel 12. As Nathan explains, King David is the rich man who steals from the poor.

  • Many parables of Jesus, e.g. the weeds and the wheat, Matthew 13:24-30; the good Samaritan, Luke 10:37-37; the vineyard, Mark 12:1-9, et al.

Typology is found throughout the New Testament. Some examples:

  • Matthew 2:15 quoting Hosea 11:1, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." The original refers to the Exodus; Matthew uses this typologically to refer to Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Israel's exodus from Egypt foreshadows Jesus' return from Egypt.

  • Hebrews 7 refers to King Melchizedek as "a priest forever", foreshadowing Jesus, who for Christians is the true "priest forever".

  • In Matthew 12:39-40 Jesus refers to Jonah's three days and nights in the belly of the whale as a "sign" foreshadowing Jesus' three days and nights in the tomb.

  • In John 3:14 the pole lifted by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:9) foreshadows Jesus being "lifted up" on the cross.

  • Romans 5:14 explicitly calls Adam "a type of the one who was to come". The death which Adam brought to all of humanity foreshadows the life which Christ brings.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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