Allegories & Types Part 2: What are the Limits of Their Use?

Matthew 12:39,41
       An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

JOHN GILL (1697-1771): The sign Christ speaks of was a very eminent type of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

MATTHEW HENRY (1662-1714): The grave was to Christ as the belly of the fish was to Jonah; thither he was thrown, as a Ransom for lives ready to be lost in a storm, Jonah 2:2; there He lay, as in the belly of hell, and seemed to be cast out of God’s sight. So long Jonah was a prisoner for his own sins, so long Christ was a Prisoner for ours. As Jonah in the whale’s belly comforted himself with an assurance that yet he should look again toward God’s holy temple, Jonah 2:4, so Christ when He lay in the grave, is expressly said to rest in hope, as one assured He should not see corruption, Acts 2:26,27. As Jonah on the third day was discharged from his prison, and came to the land of the living again―so Christ on the third day should return to life, and rise out of His grave.

JOHN CALVIN (1509-1564): Allegories ought to be extended no further than they are supported by the authority of Scripture; for they are far from affording of themselves a sufficient foundation for any doctrines.

JOHN NEWTON (1725-1807): There are plain texts which speak of all doctrines. Therefore I take plain texts, and use typical ones as illustration. I hesitate where the New Testament authorizes not.

BENJAMIN KEACH (1640-1704):  Allegories and metaphors are most extensive and comprehensive in their meaning and application; though care ought to be taken that they are not beyond the analogy of faith.

C. H. SPURGEON (1834-1892): The early fathers of the church were very great in opening up typical analogies. So full, indeed, were they in their expositions, and so minute in their details, that at length they went too far, and degenerated into trifling…The study of the types of the Old Testament has scarcely regained its proper place in the Christian church since the days in which those gracious men, by their imprudent zeal, perverted it. We cannot, however, bring ourselves to think that a good thing ceases to be good because it has at some time been turned to an ill account. We think it can still be used properly and profitably. Within certain limits, then―limits, we suppose, which there is little danger of transgressing these mechanical, unpoetic times―the types and allegories of Holy Scripture may be used as a hand-book of instruction―a [reference book] of sound doctrine.

HENRY FOSTER (1760-1844): The difficulty is to assign the limits.

BASIL WOODD (1760-1831): To what extent does Scripture authorize typical explanations?

A. P. GIBBS (1890-1967): The rule of typical interpretation? It is difficult to lay down any hard and fast rule.

C. H. SPURGEON: The first canon to be observed is this—do not violently strain a text by illegitimate spiritualizing. This is a sin against common sense.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES (1899-1981): If our interpretation ever makes the teaching appear to be ridiculous or lead us to a ridiculous position, it is patently a wrong interpretation.

J. GOODE (1798): We may allegorize when—
               1. There is a resemblance between the event of the old and new dispensations.
               2. There is reason to think it is designed by the Holy Spirit.
               3. When we take care not to stretch the clue till it breaks. Some follow, as Leighton says, allegory so far, after the monkish way, as to run it out of breath.

JOHN DAVIES (1798): Goode’s rules are excellent. But I have doubted whether Scripture authorizes typical interpretations at all.

BASIL WOODD: I rather hesitate at it. Yet it is certain that many parts of the Old Testament are typical. Where the Scripture authorizes, all is clear; where not, it is dangerous to do so.

WILLIAM PERKINS (1558-1602): They are to be employed with the following caveats:
               1. They should be used sparingly and soberly.
               2. They must not be far-fetched, but appropriate to the matter in hand.
               3. They must be mentioned briefly.
               4. They should be used for practical instruction and not to prove a point of doctrine.

A. P. GIBBS: It must be kept in mind that no doctrine should be based upon these types. They may, and indeed do serve the excellent purpose of illustrating doctrinal truth, but they must be kept in their God-appointed place and used for this purpose only.

THOMAS SCOTT (1747-1821): Illustration is good, if God give the talent. Confound not, however, illustration and proof.

JOSIAH PRATT (1768-1844): The use of typical explanations lies in this—that abstract truth produces little impression; and typical interpretations aid the feelings and the memory.

MARTIN LUTHER (1483-1546): Allegories do not strongly persuade in divinity, but they beautify, and set out the matter…But when the foundations of a truth are well laid, and the matter thoroughly proved, an allegory is seemly to adorn a house already built.

RICHARD CECIL (1748-1810): Allegory is important to shew that there is one and the same doctrine from beginning to end [in the Bible].

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: We must never drive a wedge between the Old Testament and the New. We must never feel that the New makes the Old unnecessary. I feel increasingly that it is very regrettable that the New Testament should ever have been printed alone, because we tend to fall into the serious error of thinking that, because we are Christians, we do not need the Old Testament. It was the Holy Spirit who led the early Church, which was mainly Gentile, to incorporate the Old Testament Scriptures with their New Scriptures and to regard them all as one. They are indissolubly bound together, and there are many senses in which it can be said that the New Testament cannot be truly understood except in the light that is provided by the Old. For example, it is almost impossible to make anything of the Epistle to the Hebrews unless we know our Old Testament Scriptures.

AUGUSTINE (354-430): The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed.

MARTYN LLOYD-JONES: Lastly, we must remember that if our interpretation of any one of these things contradicts the plain and obvious teaching of Scripture at another point, again it is obvious that our interpretation has gone astray. Scripture must be taken and compared with Scripture.

JOHN ROBINSON (1575-1625): Like as the lamps in the golden candlestick did one help another’s light, so doth one place of holy Scripture, another’s. And though a thing be found in one place, to insist upon it, in a difference, as to neglect others, is the highway to error and to lose the right sense, by breaking the Scripture’s golden chain, whose links are all fastened together.

WILLIAM ARNOT (1808-1875): We give no license to the practice of building precious doctrines upon conceits and fancies, while there are solid foundations at hand laid there for the purpose of bearing them…But we must have all that is the Lord’s, great and small alike. We need every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God to live upon. Take and use all that is in the Word, but nothing more.

C. H. SPURGEON: Continue to look out passages of Scripture, and not only give their plain meaning, as you are bound to do, but also draw from them meanings which may not lie upon their surface…Let us learn to read our Bibles with our eyes open, to study them as men do the works of great artists, studying each figure, and even each sweet variety of light and shade.


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