Mitchell Chase (PhD, SBTS) is the senior pastor of Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and an adjunct professor at Boyce College in Louisville. Chase is known for his Daniel commentary in the ESV Expository Commentary Series and The Gospel Is for Christians.
In 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory, Mitchell Chase has provided concise, helpful, and comprehensive treatment on one of the longtime hermeneutical debates in the church going back to the Antiochian School and Alexandrian School in the fourth century: the interpretation of typology and allegory. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Kregel Publications, in exchange for an honest review.
Chase, Mitchell L. 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2020. 316 pp.
With an affirmation of the authority, inspiration, and unity of the Bible, Chase aims to help Bible readers to be more faithful readers of Scripture and to see more fully the glory of the story of the Bible by orienting them to the subjects of typology and allegory. He presents his material in four key parts.
Part 1 begins with the foundational element for the discussion on typology and allegory: the Bible’s big story. He observes that,
The Bible is the story about Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is a long story that predicts and prepares for his coming, and the New Testament is the explosive announcement of his arrival and what that means for the world.p. 23
After surveying the story of the Bible, Chase answers the question, “how does the Bible tell its story?” He points out five key elements. One, the biblical writers via the inspiration of the Spirit carefully selected what materials to write. Chase observes that “many details about certain characters and stories are not given to us” and “sometimes we may be surprised by what is included” (p. 25). For example, Exodus 25–40 was devoted to the details of the tabernacle’s construction, but nothing was said about Moses’ life growing up in Pharaoh’s household. Two, the Bible’s storyline has a theological agenda. The biblical writers interpret the selected history they are recording. For example, John wrote selectively about Jesus so that the reader might believe in Jesus and have life in his name (cf. John 20:30–31). Third, the books of the Bible connect together like puzzle pieces. There is an organic development and connectedness to the whole Bible. Four, the biblical writers quote and allude to other Scripture. Lastly, the biblical writers employ literary devices, including figures of speech as they are guided by the Spirit.
Parts 2 and 3 are the longest sections of the monograph. Part 2 deals with typology, and Part 3 talks about allegory. In each section, Chase explains the nature of typology or allegory, traces its practice from the early church to the postmodern era, and identifies types and allegories found from Genesis to Malachi. Both typology and allegory find significance in the text that is beyond its “literal” meaning.
Chase defines typology this way:
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.p. 38
For Chase, all biblical types (even the ones that are not directly pointing to Christ) must be understood in light of Christ’s person, work, and achievements. Furthermore, biblical types are both prospective and retrospective. A type anticipates the antitype (prospective), but sometimes a type becomes clear only after the antitype has arrived (retrospective). Both must be in the vantage point of the Bible interpreter.
Chase defines allegory this way: “an allegory is a passage that says one thing in order to say something else” (p. 193). Chase carefully distinguishes “allegory” from “allegorical interpretation.” Allegory is a literary way of writing presented in the passage; allegorical interpretation is a way one reads or interprets the passage. Chase warns against allegorical interpretation of Scripture, but he advocates for allegorical reading of passages that are meant to be allegories. Perhaps the most known passage is Paul’s allegory in Galatians 4:24.
Part 4 concludes the entire discussion answering this question: “Why should interpreters care about typology and allegory?” Chase gives five answers. First, Jesus claims that the Old Testament spoke about him (Luke 24:27, 44–45; John 5:39, 46), and typology and allegory are ways to read Christ from the Old Testament. Second, the New Testament writers themselves quote and allude to OT Scriptures. Moreover, later OT Scriptures also quote and allude to earlier OT Scriptures. The interconnectedness of Scripture should make interpreters care about typology and allegory. Third, the hermeneutical practices from church history— from Chrysostom to Calvin to Clowney—are the cloud of interpretive witness that we can join. Fourth, the high task of preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God should make the preacher care about typology and allegory. Lastly, the Bible reader will be enriched by seeing the shadows of the Old Testament fulfilled in the person and work of Christ.
I offer my four reflections on 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory. First (and perhaps my biggest takeaway) is that Chase has convinced me to see typology both prospectively and retrospectively. Coming from a dispensational background, my tendency is not to assign meaning outside the biblical writer’s authorial intent. Chase, however, convincingly argues that
A retrospective type is simply retrospective from our perspective! The divine author’s intent is always accomplished in his Word, no matter the stage in progressive revelation.p. 59
Second, the historical section on both typology (part 2) and allegory (part 3) are concise summaries that I do not recall seeing together in one volume. I’ll be adding this resource to my history of hermeneutics and even history of New Testament research lectures.
Third, and perhaps the most important resource in this volume, is Chase’s list of types and allegories from Genesis to Revelation. Many on the list are compelling. This is a valuable resource for pastors to check as they preach through the Old Testament. For example, if I’m preaching through 1 Samuel, I can check Question 21 and see some of the types Chase listed to see if they are in the passage I’m preaching. He lists Samuel, the Ark of the Covenant (captured and returned), David, defeat of Goliath, Jerusalem, and office of the king as possible types.
Lastly, while I find great value on the section on allegory and while Chase applies great caution not to repeat the errors of what he calls “excesses on allegorical interpretation,” I still find looking for allegories troubling. Perhaps my disagreement is mere semantics due to my dispensational upbringing. I would avoid the term “allegory” due to its negative connotation and prefer “illustrations” or “pictures.” Despite this minor disagreement, the list of “allegories” that Chase provides from Genesis to Malachi will help the pastor see OT patterns or illustrations that remind us of Christ.
Studying the Bible in its canonical context requires awareness of typology, and 40 Questions about Typology and Allegory is a valuable tool for this endeavor. Mitchell Chase helps both the Bible interpreter who fears to make Christological connections due to the abuse of allegorical interpretation and Bible interpreters who tend to indiscriminately apply Christological connections to anything in the text. Chase pushes the former to see the Bible as one story pointing to Christ, and he cautions the latter to use the hermeneutical controls provided by both the biblical writer and the divine author to avoid excesses in typology and allegory.