Review of 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory

It is with thanks to the Kregel blogger review program that I am able to offer a review of Mitchell Chase’s book 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2020). Chase is the preaching pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist church, in Valley Station, KY. He also serves as n adjunct professor for Boyce College and Southern Seminary. He has a Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Kregel has several works in the 40 Questions About series and this is the latest contribution.

Chase’s purpose in writing this book is to “orient Bible readers to the subjects of typology and allegory, that we might be more faithful readers of Scripture” (12). Chase puts forth that in view of the “big story” of the Bible, it is important to understand how that story is told, as much as that it is told (25). In highlighting typology and allegory, the book 40 Questions About Typology and Allegory, then, is an “invitation to a kind of reading, a kind of seeing” (12), a way of reading the Bible that helps the reader “see” the various connections and patterns of Scripture that reveal the message of the Bible to the reader.

The way to come about this “seeing” is by spending extended time reading and re-reading Scripture over and over, and in the process paying attention to the way the biblical story is told such as with the use of narrative recapitulation (29) or the use of metaphors or personification (30), even metonymy or symbolism (31). Typology, then, refers to “an impression, image, example, or a pattern” (35). Allegory occurs where a passage “says one thing in order to say something else” (193). Chase acknowledges that the notion of allegory in the Bible is controversial. Most often the only real place where there is allegory in the Bible is Galatians 4 where Paul, in talking about Hagar and Sarah, is speaking “figuratively” (Gal 4:21-31). However, Chase notes allegory “invites the reader beneath the surface to discern a deeper significance in the words used in the passage” (193-194). One example he cites is Isaiah 5 where there is language about destroying a vineyard but really it is an allegory for God’s coming judgment (193). In this, he fully acknowledges the dangers of allegory (196) but also beleives it should not be avoided altogether.

It is clearly stated that although though they are related, typology and allegory are not synonymous (197). Chase states:

“Both are examples of seeing significance in a text that is beyond the text itself. Unlike a type, an allegory does not have to be historical. For instance, allegories might appear in visions or parables that are not meant to be taken literally. Unlike and allegory, a legitimate type depends upon correspondences and patterns in redemptive history that link too, and escalate toward, the antitype…. Typological exegesis discerns organic connections and development across redemptive history and through progressive revelation … Allegorical interpretation views the text under consideration as having a deeper meaning, understanding the text too ‘say other” than what the words read” (197).

Chase spends several chapters exploring types and allegories and how to identify them throughout Scripture as well as showing how it was done in Church history through the Enlightenment into the modern era closing out with discussing how it should be practiced in the church today and why should it matter (that it helps reveal the interconnectedness of Scripture and seeks to magnify Christ in all of Scripture.

Some examples of types would be the Ark of Noah, which is a type of Christ. The Ark is the type, Christ is the antitype. Just as the Ark protected Noah and his family from the Flood, so those “in Christ” will be protected from the day of judgment (129). Another is the tabernacle in the wilderness which again, is a type of Christ. The Tabernacle is the type, Christ is the antitype. The Tabernacle is the symbol of God’s presence among and with Israel, Jesus is the true and greater tabernacle. He is fulness of God’s presence with and among us (142).

An example of allegory in Chase’s view would be that of Cain and Abel. Abel represents God’s people and Cain “was the template for future opponents of God’s people” (256). Chase states further, “The religious leadership in Jesus’ day was Cain, for they dishonored God despite their outward conformance to sacrificial laws” (Mt 15:8-9). Jesus is Abel who faces opposition and is put to death in the process. The Jews were Cain because “though he came to his own, his own received him not” (Jn 1:11), etc (256). 

While I am leery of allegories and think any effort to explore types should be done with care and caution, I think Chase has provided a useful and valuable resource for the church and for the average Christian to read the Bible in ways probably not previously done. All too often types and allegories are done in excess and are abused so that most shy away from or avoid them altogether. However, it was practiced by Paul and the Apostles, and was practiced all through Church history (sometimes well, often in embarrassing ways). Exploring types and allegories is a perfectly valid way of doing biblical theology. If done with precision and care, and with a love for truth, I think it can lead to helping Christians know Christ and the Scriptures in new depths and will only deepen their love for God and his written word.

Review of Aída Spencer’s James commentary

It is with thanks to the Kregel blogger program that I obtained a copy of Aída Besançon Spencer’s commentary on James in the Kregel Exegetical Library set. This slim volume is a treasure trove of solid biblical scholarship on the Letter of James. Spencer is Senior professor of New Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and a Presbyterian minister. Her specialty is literary and historical analysis and this is what guides her work on the commentary. She seeks to note James’ stylistic features and images while also taking seriously the historical background of James.

This means she holds to James the brother of Jesus as the author. She supports her view in that there are a number of references to the teachings of Jesus in the letter and this could only come from someone who was close to Jesus and traveled with him, she also makes significant comparison with Acts 15 from which to draw her conclusion. Her ultimate goal, then, in this commentary, because it is not always apparent to the reader, is to show the the thematic unity of the Letter of James. She does this by utilizing her skillset in literary analysis and by highlighting the relationship between verses and the meaning of words within their context.

One of the great aspects of this series is the exegetical aspect. The KEL set is new and so it brings with it newer approaches to study of the text and discerning its meaning. This means each chapter contains a translation of the the chapter with a grammatical analysis. For example:

James 1:2a Consider for yourselves all joy, my brothers and sisters,* (initial sentence; main clause)

James 1:2b whenever you might fall upon various trials, (subordinate adverbial clause; temporal; answers when)

James 1:3c knowing (subordinate adverbial clause; causal; answers why)

*ἀδελφός in the plural here is generic (LSJ, 20; BDAG; 18).

This followed by an outline and then a discussion on the literary structure. Structure is important because it leads to discerning the meaning of the passage. Then there is the exposition of the text throughout which are are words in bold indicating word that are discussed in depth. For Spencer, words are the building blocks of meaning as they are stacked into clauses, sentences and paragraphs. She discusses words that are key to the meaning of the text. For example, in James 1:1, she bold “diaspora” and then discusses in-depth the historical context in order to discover which “diaspora” James is referring to (she argues it is probably the earliest one that affected the Messianic Jews in Jerusalem (8:1)).

Once she has done the expositional portion, explaining quite deeply the text of James verse by verse and at times word by word, she follows it up with a discussion of the theological and homiletical topics and themes in the chapter. This commentary by Kregel is for pastors and in-depth Bible teachers. It is well suited for teaching and preaching as sermon points are suggested for consideration.

This is a strong commentary on the Letter of James and is chock full of the very wisdom and understanding James encourages his readers to have and exercise. Spencer is adept at the biblical languages and both historical and literary analysis and presents such in an accessible manner that leaves the reader both informed about the text and spiritual encouraged by the message within.

If some suggestions were offered, I might say it could be helpful to offer a suggested sermon or teaching outline for the chapter or pericope discussed and perhaps for the non Greek reading pastor, the Greek could be transliterated.