Allegories & Types Part 1: The Debate Over Their Legitimacy

Hebrews 9:1-5
       Verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.

JOSIAH PRATT (1768-1844): From some applications of the Old Testament in the New, we may perhaps infer that in the apostolic times a general typical system was well understood and allowed.

BENJAMIN KEACH (1640-1704): It is demonstrable to every one, that the volume of God’s word abounds with metaphors, allegories, and other figures of speech. Similitudes or metaphors are borrowed from visible things, to display and illustrate the excellent nature of invisible things.

MATTHEW POOLE (1624-1679): Of which we cannot now speak particularly. The apostle apologizeth for his but mentioning these mysterious things now, that it was not to eclipse the glory of that administration, but because the matters were well know to them already, only in this they were defective, that they reached not after Christ, the truth and substance of all these types.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): “Of which we cannot now.” As nothing can satisfy curious men, the Apostle cuts off every occasion for refinements unsuitable to his present purpose, and lest a long discussion of these things should break off the thread of his argument. If, therefore, any one should disregard the Apostle’s example, and dwell more minutely on the subject, he would be acting very unreasonably.

A. W. PINK (1886-1952): Now there are many brethren who will own the typical significance of these things, but who will refuse to acknowledge that anything else in the Old Testament has a typical meaning save those which are expressly interpreted in the New. But this we conceive to be a mistake and to place a limit upon the scope and value of the Word of God. Rather let us regard those Old Testament types which are expounded in the New Testament as samples of others which are not explained. Are there no more prophecies in the Old Testament than those which, in the New Testament, are said to be “fulfilled”? Then let us admit the same concerning the types…The Old Testament Scriptures are fundamentally a stage on which is shown forth in vivid symbolism and ritualism the whole plan of redemption. The events recorded in the Old Testament were actual occurrences, yet they were also typical prefigurations.

J. C. PHILPOT (1802-1869): First, what is the exact meaning of the word “type”? The word “type” signifies literally a blow, and thence the effect of a blow—a mark of impression made by it. Thus we find Thomas speaking after the resurrection, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails.” The word “print” is, in the original, “type”—that is, the impression made by the nails driven into the hands of Christ upon the cross. If you were walking by the sea-side and pressed your foot down into the damp sand, the impression left by it would be a type or mark of your foot as well as of the force whereby you brought it down upon the sand. The Queen’s head upon the coin of the realm is a type or representation of the head of the Queen, and is so as being the effect of a blow or other force impressed upon the die. You will excuse these simple explanations as they may serve to give you a clearer and fuller idea of what is meant by the word type when applied to spiritual things. A type then, in this sense, means a representation of an object, and as found in the Old Testament, a prophetic representation of a New Testament object, which is usually called the anti-type, because it corresponds to, and is the fulfilment of the original type. The Old Testament is full of these types or prophetic representations of New Testament objects.

A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): The existence of these types is obvious to all believers.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): For instance, when our Lord himself would explain to us what faith was, He sent us to the history of the brazen serpent; and who that has ever read the story of the brazen serpent has not felt that he has had a better idea of faith through the picture of the dying snake-bitten persons looking to the serpent of brass and living, than from any description which even Paul has given us, wondrously as he defines and describes.

J. C. RYLE (1816-1900): The use of the brazen serpent in John 3:14, as an illustration of Christ’s death and its purpose, must not be abused, and made an excuse for turning every incident of the history of Israel in the wilderness into an allegory. It is very important not to attach an allegorical meaning to Bible facts without authority. Such things as the manna, the smitten rock, and the brazen serpent, are allegorized for us by the Holy Ghost. But where the Holy Ghost has not pointed out any allegory, we ought to be very cautious in our assertions that allegory exists.

THOMAS BROOKS (1608-1680): Many have and many do miserably pervert the Scriptures by turning them into vain and groundless allegories. Oh friends! It is dangerous to bring in allegories where the Scripture does not clearly and plainly warrant them, and to take those words figuratively which should be taken properly.

WILHELMUS à BRAKEL (1635-1711): Prior to Christ’s coming, men sought for the substance itself, longing and yearning for the fulfillment of the promises and shadows. Now that both the light and the substance have come, people look for shadows and types—rejoicing when they believe to have found a shadow. While in darkness, people sought for the light, and now that there is light, people look for darkness. This is deemed to be scholarship, and therefore everyone feels compelled to look for something new.

WILLIAM JAY (1769-1853): We love not the spiritualizers of the Scripture. They give it meanings which it never had, finding facts in figures and figures in facts, just as it serves their vain fancies, till sober minded people are tempted to think that it has no certain and fixed sense in it at all.

C. H. SPURGEON: Many writers upon Homiletics condemn in unmeasured terms even the occasional spiritualizing of a text. “Select texts,” say they, “which give a plain, literal sense; never travel beyond the obvious meaning of the passage”―Honour to whom honour is due, but I humbly beg leave to dissent from this learned opinion, believing it to be more fastidious than correct, more plausible than true.

WILLIAM PERKINS (1558-1602): It is also legitimate to develop analogies or allegories…Paul used them often, for example, I Corinthians 9:9,10.

RICHARD CECIL (1748-1810): When talking of a typical dispensation, I admire a master like St. Paul. But modesty is necessary here.

JOHN CALVIN: There might be, indeed, an occasion for doing this…but discretion and sobriety ought to be observed, lest we seek to be wise above what God has been pleased to reveal.

JOHN WESLEY (1703-1791): Be sparing in allegorizing or spiritualizing.


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