Hamilton Jr., James M. Typology–Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns: How Old Testament Expectations are Fulfilled in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2022.
By David Prairie
I was about four years into my tenure as a youth pastor when I told a pastor whom I greatly respected that I was teaching through the book of Leviticus with my students. He responded, “I just don’t know how you preach through Leviticus without doing a whole bunch of typology.” His tone made it clear that this was not exactly a glowing endorsement of such methods.
This was a common sentiment in my circles, and not just about Leviticus. Many teachers and mentors were afraid of calling something a type that the Bible did not explicitly call a type (such as in Rom 5:14). They seemed to loosely associate typology with allegory and feared missing the grammatical-historical meaning of texts. I knew there was continuity between the Old and New Testaments, but I was also hesitant because I did not want to read into a text something that wasn’t there. This hesitancy was relieved when I enrolled at Southern Seminary to study biblical theology under Jim Hamilton.
Dr. Hamilton’s approach to reading the Bible intertextually affirmed some suspicions I already had about the way the whole Bible fits together, but he also opened my thinking to connections that I had not seen before. His ability to recognize patterns intended by the biblical authors is on display in his new book Typology. The book serves as an extension of his teaching and preaching ministry and builds on some of the themes from his previous books, especially God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and What is Biblical Theology?
Typology is a book that needed to be written because of the cloud of mysteries that seem to surround the subject. And Dr. Hamilton is the author who needed to write this book because of his knack for clarifying muddled theological discussions. There are a few things that Hamilton does especially well in this book.
First, he carefully, thoroughly, and straightforwardly defines typology, leaving no doubt in the readers mind what he is (and is not) doing as he reads the Bible. In doing so, he helpfully distinguishes between typology and allegory, and attempts to show that the types he recognizes are intended by the Bible’s human authors and its divine author (17-28).
Second, he gives “indicators for determining authorial intent” (taken from the titles of the first and last chapters) both on the “micro-level” (chapter 1) and on the “macro-level” (chapter 11). The “micro-level indicators” require the reader to recognize what Hamilton calls the “two essential features of typology:” historical correspondence and escalation in significance (19). These features become especially evident as words and phrases are repeated by authors to establish connections between narratives or the poetic/prophetic commentary on them. As the connections build, they are picked up by New Testament authors who show the anti-types to which the types point.
The “macro-level indicators” show up when the reader “zooms out” from the words and phrases to see what patterns emerge from the key grammatical features. In other words, to what is the repetition of significant terms and phrases pointing? What themes and literary structures do the authors employ to draw attention to the promises that are being made in the text? Hamilton’s answers to questions like these illustrate the description of typology given in the book’s subtitle: “promise-shaped patterns.”
Third, Dr. Hamilton creatively arranges the content of the book as an example of the teaching method that he argues many biblical authors regularly employ. The themes covered early in the book (examining typological persons) correspond to related themes found later in the book (examining typological events and institutions). At its center, the book highlights the “Righteous Sufferer” who, like the types before him, encounters “rejection then exaltation” (174-176).
The fourth helpful aspect of this book is arguably the most important. Hamilton shows readers how to read the Bible. Once the reader is taught to identify intertextual connections, he is unleashed to observe and celebrate how the biblical authors quote and allude to one another throughout Scripture.
Typology urges and enables careful and meditative readings of the Bible. In that sense, it is both rigorously theological and refreshingly devotional. It marries typology firmly to grammatical-historical hermeneutics. I would especially urge those who teach and preach the Bible are skeptical of typology to read this book and see if that skepticism is put to rest. This book is a rich resource for studying the Bible, and I’m grateful for it.
Order the book from the publisher by visiting https://zondervanacademic.com/products/typology-understanding-the-bibles-promise-shaped-patterns.