Home > C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson, typology > Bible Teachers and Their Use of Typology

Bible Teachers and Their Use of Typology


I’ve recently added daily reading of a few devotional books:  Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening, ICR’s “Days of Praise,” and John MacArthur’s “Life of Christ, vol. 2.”  MacArthur’s devotional book, in particular, includes some specific points of his teaching, and so I’ve become aware of slight differences between otherwise like-minded teachers.  For example, in a recent devotional (Jan. 18), MacArthur referred to the account of Jesus coming out of Egypt in Matthew 2:13-15 as fulfillment of Hosea 11:1.  He went on to say:

This is a type, a nonverbal prediction from the Old Testament that illustrates something about Christ without specifically describing it.  However, we can’t credibly label a person or event a genuine Old Testament type except as Scripture itself informs us of it.

Here he differs from S. Lewis Johnson, who frequently employed “types” or illustrations using a specific definition and pattern for valid types — and not restricted to only those types mentioned in the NT.  Consider the following, from a previous blog here:

Typology is really just another word for “illustration” or “example,” and has specific characteristics, including historicity and pattern, with correspondences between people, things (or institutions), or events.  The type is found in the Old Testament, a historical reality, as distinguished from allegory, of which John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progess” is a classic example.  According to S. Lewis Johnson, types are not restricted to only those which are explicitly pointed out in the New Testament (I have heard that claim before), but still must follow the pattern established by the definition.

As I considered these different ideas, an “a-ha” moment came as I recalled a connection between S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle.  At about the same time I had learned, from both S. Lewis Johnson and J.C. Ryle, of the “type” comparison between 1 Samuel David — after his anointing by Samuel, before becoming King — and our Lord Jesus in this present age.   Then I also remembered J.C. Ryle’s Holiness chapter 20, in which he mentioned several more of these “types” from the Old Testament that relate to Christ either in His First or Second Coming.

Obviously, MacArthur’s restricted definition, relying (only) on the explicit NT teaching, would fail to see these types or illustrations.  Gotquestions.org also takes this more limited definition, one that sees “types” as something different from “illustrations.”

We should point out the difference between an illustration and a type. A type is always identified as such in the New Testament. A Bible student finding correlations between an Old Testament story and the life of Christ is simply finding illustrations, not types. In other words, typology is determined by Scripture. The Holy Spirit inspired the use of types; illustrations and analogies are the result of man’s study. For example, many people see parallels between Joseph (Genesis 37-45) and Jesus. The humiliation and subsequent glorification of Joseph seem to correspond to the death and resurrection of Christ. However, the New Testament never uses Joseph as a model of Christ; therefore, Joseph’s story is properly called an illustration, but not a type, of Christ.

Based on what I’ve studied thus far, though, I would agree with SLJ’s point that types really are illustrations — and that people often tend to get terms confused, as in the above from Gotquestions, and try to make “types” something different or more complicated.

The following website, Victorian Web, has good information concerning typology as practiced by 19th century Anglican preachers including J.C. Ryle — and thus the Biblical tradition that S. Lewis Johnson continued into the late 20th century.  A few excerpts:

Unlike allegory, which interprets one thing as in reality signifying another, typology traces the connections and similarities between two unique events, each of which is equally real.  . . .
Typical interpretations of Scripture differ from allegorical ones of the first or fabulous kind, in that they indispensably require the reality of the facts or circumstances stated in the original narrative. And they differ also from the other, in requiring, beside this, that the same truth or principle be embodied alike in the type and the antitype. The typical is not properly a different or higher sense, but a different or higher application of the same sense.

I’ve only begun to look at this, and the Victorian Web articles contain much more information (much of it rather technical).  Yet now I observe an overall difference that correlates with different notions of typology: one’s general interest in the Old Testament versus the New.  It appears that those who make a distinction — that “types” are of a “higher level” than standard “illustrations” – do not spend as much time teaching directly from the Old Testament passages and do not point out the interesting parallels in the “non-type illustrations.”  My sample is admittedly small: John MacArthur’s view of “types” separate from illustrations, versus S. Lewis Johnson, Spurgeon and Ryle — all of whom, as far as I can tell, made no such distinctions between “true types” and “only illustrations.”

At any rate, I have greatly appreciated the Old Testament teaching from the latter group, who (unhindered by a rule that types are only those things mentioned in the NT) often pointed out some very interesting parallels, types (illustrations) of NT truths in the many events that are not specifically referred to as official types by the NT writers.

MacArthur has primarily taught only from the NT (true, much of that was because of his book contract to produce a complete set of NT commentaries), and for Bible reading recommends multiple repeated reading through the NT books yet only one reading per year through the Old Testament. By contrast, S. Lewis Johnson and the other teachers at Believer’s Chapel have taught many expository series through OT books. J.C. Ryle wrote of the importance of the Old Testament, that we should beware of undervaluing the Old Testament, which is just as valuable as the new.  Spurgeon, another who frequently related the events of the Old Testament as types of NT truth, gave generally equal treatment to passages from both the Old and New Testament — as seen in his sermons as well as his devotionals and his writings on the Psalms.

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