Typology—Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns: How Old Testament Expectations are Fulfilled in Christ

Written by James M. Hamilton Jr Reviewed By Ross D. Harmon

James Hamilton Jr. is professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, he serves as senior pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. Hamilton is a prolific writer whose recent publications include Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2021) and Work and Our Labor in the Lord (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).

Typology seeks to illustrate that “God’s promises shaped the way the biblical authors perceived, understood, and wrote” (p. 4). Hamilton uses the phrase “promise-shaped typology” to frame how God’s promises cause His people to reorient their worldview, including their communication (p. 4). The book is divided into three parts: (1) Persons, (2) Events, and (3) Institutions.

Before part 1, Hamilton provides a helpful introduction, defining typology and discussing the method. Specifically, he seeks to show how “micro-level indicators,” that is, “the quotation of lines, the reuse of key terms, the repetitions in sequences of events, and the similarities in covenantal and salvation-historical import” (p. 3), may establish authorial intent (p. 1). Hamilton identifies “promise-shaped patterns” from the “micro-level indicators” (pp. 3–5). According to Hamilton, the biblical authors intentionally include the patterns to be used as types, but the writers may not have known “the significance of the pattern and/or how the promise would be fulfilled” (pp. 4–5).

Hamilton fittingly begins the first section, “Persons,” with Moses’s account of Adam (ch. 2), suggesting that “Adam is the prototypical man” or archetype (pp. 35–36). Therefore, ectypal figures in Scripture following Adam create an Adamic pattern that culminates in “the antitypical fulfillment” in Jesus Christ (p. 36). Subsequent chapters in part one cover priests (ch. 3), prophets (ch. 4), kings (ch. 5), and the righteous sufferer (ch. 6). Part 1 covers approximately half of the book, while parts 2 and 3 are shorter because some information about events and institutions was necessary to mention alongside the persons. Part 2 focuses on event types: creation and exodus (p. 221). Hamilton chooses these events because they provide a paradigm of God’s salvific plan (p. 221). In part 3, Hamilton examines how the institutions of marriage and the “Leviticult” function as types, writing “The goal [of part 3] is to explore and exposit the ways that certain institutions create and/or contribute to patterns that typify the way that God delivers his people, forges relationships (i.e., covenants) with them, and continues in ongoing intimacy between himself and his beloved” (p. 285).

Typology is an accessible resource that covers select types and their function across Scripture, showing how “God’s promises shaped the way the biblical authors perceived, understood, and wrote” (p. 4). The book is accessible to seminary students and pastors because it is well organized and provides visual aids. Bearing in mind the complexity of typology, Hamilton has done an exceptional job presenting his argument. This, in part, occurs as Hamilton begins with “micro-level” patterns that allow the reader to start small and build or pyramid to more complex patterns. Moreover, the material reflects the canonical order of the western Bible (i.e., beginning with Genesis/Adam and moving to the New Testament/Jesus). Also helpful are the visual aids, which include side-by-side English and Hebrew translations, charts to display similarities between Bible passages, and diagrams.

The two critiques that I offer focus on (1) the slightly confusing presentation of typological connections when considering the whole Bible, and (2) the brevity with which Hamilton discusses the term “metaphor.” First, the typological connections between Moses/Joshua, Elijah/Elisha, and John the Baptist/Jesus are difficult to understand when assessed as a group. Hamilton presents the “Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha” typological connection between the succession of individuals (p. 131). He also highlights the similar succession-type links of Elijah/Elisha to John the Baptist/Jesus (p. 271). Yet, in the next paragraph, Hamilton discusses the typological connection between Moses and Jesus (p. 272). A careful reader will question how the succession narrative connects Moses/Elijah/John the Baptist and Joshua/Elisha/Jesus, while typology also relates Moses/Jesus. The book does not explain to the reader how to understand Moses serving as a type for both John the Baptist and Jesus. At the micro-level and within each chapter, the typological connections appear clear, yet when viewing the type connections at the macro-level, it is less clear how typology functions.

Second, considering the importance of “metaphor” in typology, the book insufficiently covers it, creating two problems. One, Hamilton does not define or provide instruction on how to identify a metaphor (p. 15). Thus, either capable or not, readers are burdened to supply the information. Two, the presentation of Hamilton’s linguistic approach, i.e., “micro-level indicators,” to identify typology may imply it dissolves the previous problems inherently found in studying typology and metaphors in literature. Yet, Hamilton’s method still relies on an Aristotelian approach to metaphors, while not eliminating its associated limitations. It would have been beneficial to discuss “metaphor” further and engage with modern metaphor theory (e.g., conceptual metaphor theory).

Typology is a well-written resource defining and illustrating typology in Scripture. Hamilton’s work is commendable and recommended to seminary students and pastors. Yet, readers should be aware that Hamilton’s method does not completely relieve the problems associated with the linguistic analysis of metaphors and typology.

Editor’s Note: See also the review above by Andrew McIntyre.

Ross D. Harmon

Ross D. Harmon
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Kansas City, Missouri, USA

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