To Imitate or Not to Imitate
What to do with the hermeneutic of the apostles
The New Testament authors have not identified all of the Old Testament types for us.They never said they did, and we have no reason to assume they did. Furthermore, if we imitate the way the apostles read the Old Testament, we will be able to identify these unidentified types. The apostles have rightly interpreted the Old Testament, and we should study the ways they see Christ presented in typological fashion.
In a previous article, I offered this definition of a type: a biblical type is a person, office, place, institution, event, or thing in salvation history that anticipates, shares correspondences with, escalates toward, and resolves in its antitype. Keeping this definition in mind, let’s add Sidney Greidanus’s reasoning: “if typological interpretation is a sound method, it should be able to discover types of Christ which the New Testament writers did not mention.”
After his resurrection, Jesus taught the apostles how to understand the Old Testament in light of what he’d accomplished. Everything written about him in the Law, the Prophets, and Writings had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (24:45). Before this conversation with the disciples, Jesus had taught two travelers on the road to Emmaus: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (24:27).
The New Testament authors never assert that their writings have exhausted the Old Testament types of Christ. Their writings, after all, were selective. Each of the four Gospels had to end at some point, and the letters of the New Testament were occasional in nature. But if we study and understand the authors’ authoritative interpretations of the Old Testament, we will be able to affirm and imitate their conclusions.
As a student in class under Jim Hamilton’s teaching in 2005, I heard him say, “We should imitate the apostles in how they read the Old Testament.” That statement changed my life. It bothered me initially, because I’d never heard anyone assert it before, but the more he explained what he meant, the more persuasive the whole notion became.
Every interpreter is going to follow some strategy in reading the Old Testament. And not all strategies are created equal. Since the Holy Spirit has inspired the writings of the New Testament authors, why wouldn’t we try to imitate them? Sure, we’re uninspired. But we’re uninspired interpreters no matter which interpretive method we employ. Therefore, even though we are uninspired interpreters, let us imitate those who were inspired.
The apostolic hermeneutic came from Jesus himself. For weeks after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to and taught his disciples (Acts 1:3). If we imitate the apostles, who themselves learned how to interpret the Old Testament from Jesus, then we are seeking to read the Old Testament as Christ himself expounded it.
If the apostles have rightly understood the Old Testament (and they have), and if their inspired hermeneutic has been preserved in Scripture (and it has), then we should carefully study how they understood the Old Testament so that we can imitate them as we read it.
As Luke Stamps once put it, “Followers of Christ should adopt his hermeneutic.”
For more information, see my book 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory.
Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 98.
Luke Stamps, in a tweet on April 22, 2020.
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