An Open Notebook

Typological Ethics


Though little space has been given to typological interpretation of Scripture in recent years, Peter Leithart’s reading of 1 & 2 Samuel, ‘A Son to Me,’  bucks the contemporary trend. In this text, Leithart prods Christians to read the ‘symbolic universe’ of the Bible better than we intuitively do, noting how difficult it is for people to discover the ‘typology’ of the text.

Typology has always been much apart of the sensus literalis (‘according to the letter’). To do anything theological or practical based upon the Bible, it would appear we have to recognize the typological—since, every appropriation or application of life which we could ever dream connects to what  the Bible says (how God views the world).

The reader’s duty, always, has been to discover how our experiences relate to the biblical world because the Bible, in its literary form, claims to reveal the ‘real world.’ If one believes the Bible, and the Bible holds typologies, we must uncover them to know truly life as it is.

On the one hand, shallow versions of typology are easy to find. To discover a typology between Christ and David is fairly easy. The New Testament explicitly makes this claim time and time again. Even dutiful church children have memorized these, and get bored quite fast. Leithart even summarizes this in the phrase most Christological readings are “strained, artificial, and eisegetical” (11).

Seeing this, the question becomes how do we probe for good typologies instead?

As one example, consider how the whole Book of Samuel shows how David perpetually is patient, not reaching for Saul’s place, ‘nor harming the Lord’s anointed.’ Such comes straight from Genesis, a replay of the Garden scene. David does not reach for the ‘forbidden fruit,’ seizing the kingship prematurely. The text layers the scene with these subtleties to show us how to properly resist temptation. David acts as a positive model of resistance in this instance. 

Though he was never perfect, especially later in his life, David’s ascent to the throne was fairly flawless, a simple replay of the Garden of Eden with David patiently waiting, incredibly unlike Saul and Adam. Many diverse believers can appropriate that simple motif day to day—resisting the forbidden fruit:

A young man and woman should not have sexual relations before marriage: An up-and-coming business professional should not seek to replace their boss too soon. An assistant pastor should not illegitimately override the authority of the lead pastor. The list goes on…

So we find, typology innately can be, and is practical; better than even analogy, going deeper than the ordinary person might realize. A preacher can only urge someone to “Dare to be a David” if there is some analogy between the two (24).

Herein, we see biblical typology could be used as rhe foremost way to connect biblical stories to concrete action—how we will derive heartfelt Christian ethics in our world today. 

Typological interpretation does not separate the historical, literary, and theological. Rather, it advocates that they all be intertwined. History does not quite repeat, but it does rhyme. 

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