Any study of typology in recent days must account for allegory and elucidate if any distinction should be maintained between the two. In this brief article, I will sketch out the recent emphasis on figural reading1 before critiquing this nomenclature and approach in the process of advancing four reasons that interpreters of Scripture should understand typology and allegory as separate literary phenomena. Scholars also need to take greater care with the terminology that is employed in the task of hermeneutics and interpretation in regard to typology and allegory.

The Case for Figural Reading: Blurring the Typology and Allegory Distinction

A current scholarly movement known as the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS) classifies typology and allegory under the general heading of figural reading.2  For most advocates of TIS, the distinction between typology and allegory is a modern convention and is not detectable in the writings of the early church fathers. John O’Keefe and R. R. Reno explain, “Allegory and typology are part of the same family of reading strategies, often referred to by the fathers as ‘spiritual,’ that seek to interpret the scriptures in terms of the divine economy.”3 In addition, fueled by recent patristic research, most notably by Frances Young, the once common hermeneutical distinctive between the Antiochene and Alexandrian schools in the fourth century—the latter school thought to exemplify allegorical interpretation and the former as champions of typology and the historical context of interpretation—has been demonstrated to be anachronistic and reductionistic.4  Young argues,

In practice drawing a line between typology and allegory in early Christian literature is impossible, not just in Origen’s work, where prophetic and symbolic types are fully integrated into his unitive understanding of what the Bible is about, but also, for example, in the tradition of Paschal Homilies beginning with the Peri Pascha of Melito.5

Her study of early patristic writings concludes,

[The] differing results [between Alexandrian and Antiochene treatment of the biblical texts] were not the outcome of literal reading opposed to spiritual sense, for both knew, unlike modernists but perhaps not postmodernists, that the wording of the Bible carried deeper meanings and that the immediate sense or reference pointed beyond itself.6

The real difference in their methodology had more to do with the rhetorical and philosophical schools from which they preferred with the Alexandrians exhibiting “symbolic” mimēsis and the Antiochenes viewing the biblical text more along the lines of “ikonic” mimēsis.7  Young writes,

The modern affirmation of typology as distinct from allegory, an affirmation which requires the historical reality of an event as a foreshadowing of another event, its “antitype,” is born of modern historical consciousness, and has no basis in the patristic material.8

Therefore, with a renewed emphasis on patristic exegesis and with studies showing that the early church fathers applied allegorical and typological interpretative techniques in figural readings without ever distinguishing them, TIS advocates urge that modern exegetes should follow suit.9  For example, Benjamin Ribbens, depending on Young, argues that the modern understanding of typology should be replaced with the broader definition of ikonic mimesis, having three subcategories of Christological, tropological, and homological typological patterns.10 This broader understanding can then be correlated or equated with figural reading. Thus, Daniel Treier explains, with “the label ‘figural reading,’ perhaps we can make space for some of the ambiguity over typology while nevertheless suggesting that certain forms of allegorizing are inappropriate.”11

Beside the resurgence of patristic studies and the question of the allegorical and typological distinction in early Christian interpreters, a second reason is offered for why modern interpreters should be more receptive to figural reading that includes certain forms of allegorical interpretation. The claim is that allegorical interpretation or figural reading is present within Scripture itself. Robert Louis Wilken avers that three Pauline texts (Eph 5:28-32 with the citation of Gen 2:24; 1 Cor 10:1-11; and Gal 4:21-31)

provide a biblical foundation for the practice of allegory, i.e. that for Christians the Old Testament is to be read on more than one level … It was St. Paul who taught the earliest Christian to use allegory. By giving us “some examples of interpretation,” writes Origen, Paul showed us how to use allegory so that we “might note similar things in other passages.”12

Galatians 4:21-31 is the most frequently cited text supporting allegorical interpretations since it is the one passage in the Bible where the word allegory (ἀλληγορούμενα) appears as Paul links Sarah and Hagar to two covenants. Another passage that is purported to contain an allegorical interpretation is 1 Corinthians 9:9-10.13  Wilken writes, “Used in the Scriptures as an interpretative device to discern a meaning that is not plainly given by the text,” allegory pertains to the “Christological” dimension of the OT, also called the spiritual sense, and is important for the life of the church, for “context needs to be understood to embrace the Church, its liturgy, its way of life, its practices and institutions, its ideas and beliefs.”14 Accordingly, the spiritualsense, which comprises of allegorical interpretations, would appear to possess scriptural warrant then since even the apostle Paul invoked OT texts in a manner that extended beyond the plain, literal meaning, resituating texts to meet his paraenetical or polemical purposes. Wilkin clarifies, “St. Paul gives an allegorical interpretation of passages from the Old Testament whose meaning is not on the face of it allegorical.”15

Reaffirming the Typology and Allegory Distinction

The TIS movement has helpfully emphasized that exegesis is always spiritual and theological in contrast to the rationalistic, historical-critical procedures that have dominated the academy the past two centuries.16 Drawing more attention to pre-critical interpreters and seeking to address the gap between biblical studies and theology are also efforts to be lauded, but the TIS stress on “figural reading” and diminishing the distinction between typology and allegory, even if such interpretative approaches were blurry in the first few centuries of the church, is problematic and leads to confusion.17  Many salient points may be offered for rejecting the notion of “figural reading” and the merging of typology with allegorical interpretation.

1. Allegory and typology are distinct literary features. 

Before addressing the hermeneutical and interpretative issues associated with allegorizing or allegorical interpretation and typological interpretation, of critical importance is observing that the literary characteristics of allegory and typology differ in the Bible. Just as there are many figures of speech and nonliteral language—metaphors, hyperboles, sarcasm, synecdoche, and metonymy—so there are also parables, symbols, analogies, prophecies, allegories, and typologies in Scripture as well.18 Allegory and typology are distinguishable literary entities.  Observed by many scholars, including some TIS advocates, an allegory is “to mean something other than what one says.”19 Allegory as a literary form is an extended metaphor or a trope that functions to illustrate and tell a story or convey a truth by personifying abstract concepts.20  More generally, according to Anthony Thiselton, allegory “is grounded in a linguistic system of signs or semiotic codes and presupposes resonances or parallels between ideas or semiotic meanings.”21  The most common example cited of a literary composition representing an allegory is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim Progress.22  However, allegory is also present in the Bible.  Instructive examples in both the OT and NT are Ezekiel 17:1-10, Ecclesiastes 12:3-7, Psalm 80:8-15, John 10:1-16, Ephesians 6:1-11, and arguably Matthew 22:1-14.23  In each of these biblical passages the literary features consist of extended metaphors or figures that represent or symbolize certain truths or concepts.  An allegory, to summarize, describes a larger narrative episode that has features laden with symbolic function.

On the other hand, typology in Scripture is a special and unique phenomenon of divine, redemptive-historical discourse manifesting in two distinct but related forms based on the directional orientation of the typological patterns.  The first and most commonly recognized form of typology, known as “horizontal typology,” signifies where God has providentially intended certain OT persons, events, institutions, and actions to correspond to, foreshadow, and prefigure escalated and intensified NT realities in and through the person of Jesus Christ.24  This form receives the primary focus in this study given how common these typological patterns appear in Scripture. The second and more rare form of typology, called “vertical typology,” is directionally oriented to the correspondences between the heavenly and earthly realms (e.g., the heavenly and earthly tabernacle, the priesthood; see Exod 25:40; Acts 7:44; Heb 8:5, 9:22-25). Charles Fritsch notes that horizontaltypology “is deeply rooted in redemptive history which finds its goal and meaning in Christ; [vertical typology is rooted] in the view that God’s redemptive purpose is realized on earth through material and temporal forms which are copies of heavenly patterns.”25 Vertical typologyalso involves historical realities and God’s providential design as correspondences between heavenly and earthly orders involve intensification and escalation from “copy and shadow” (Heb 8:5) to the “true” (Heb 9:24).26 The heavenly prototype or archetype (Urbild) has its “antitype” in the earthly, OT copy and shadow, which in turn serves as the OT type or mold (Vorbild) for its antitypical fulfillment in the NT (Nachbild).27 In this way, verticaltypology intersects with horizontal typology.

Unlike allegory, which features an episode having many elements of metaphor and imagery to convey a truth or idea, typological patterns in Scripture are more discrete as real phenomena—persons and events—correspond and anticipate future fulfillment in similar, yet different persons and events—primarily Jesus Christ and the redemption he accomplishes.  OT types have their own independent meaning and justification that is a significant departure from most forms of allegory where the thing signified is bound-up with the imagery. Moreover, there is a principle of analogy in typology just as there is in allegory, but not of surface imagery, which is wrapped in metaphor and encoded to resonate or parallel some other idea or concept.  In addition, typology, unlike compositional allegory, has development and takes shape as later biblical authors build upon earlier written texts with the typological connections progressing along the stages of redemptive history. The typological patterns, then, are primarily discerned or detected through the progress of revelation (epochal and canonical horizons, though not excluding the textual horizon). Typology, then, is grounded textually.28 Typology actually shows more affinity with prophecy than it does with allegory. In fact, many scholars classify typology as a form of indirect prophecy. G. K. Beale, to cite just one example, observes how typology “indicates fulfillment of the indirect prophetic adumbrations of events, people and institutions from the Old Testament in Christ who now is the final, climatic expression of all God ideally intended through these things in the Old Testament.”29  These characteristics of allegory and typology clearly differ and such observations should not be obliterated by confusingly lumping allegory and typology into a general category of figural.

The nature and characteristics of typology outlined are further elucidated next, but it is important at this juncture to address the relationship of typology to the τύπος word-group in Scripture. Frances Young does find the term “typology”to have value; however, much of her research of the early church shows how typology and allegory shade into each other in an almost indistinguishable way:

The word “typology” is a modern coinage. Nevertheless, it is a useful term, and may be employed as a heuristic tool for discerning and describing an interpretative device whereby texts (usually narrative but … not exclusively so) are shaped or read, consciously or unconsciously, so that they are invested with meaning by correspondence with other texts of a “mimetic” or representational kind. Typology, then, is not an exegetical method, but a hermeneutical key, and, taking our cue from places where the word “type” is explicitly used, we may be able justifiably to identify other examples of the procedure where the terminology is not explicit.30

In his recent study, Richard Ounsworth notes Young’s research on Antiochene and Alexandrian exegetical schools and cites her quote above. In response, he follows,

The strategy suggested by Young, allowing a definition to emerge from the New Testament’s use of the τύπος word-group which has given its name to “typology,” so that we can be confident that it is a definition that would have been recognizable to the first addressees of NT texts, even if in fact it was not offered.31

From this point, Ounsworth canvasses the uses of τύπος within the NT as many others, particularly Richard Davidson and Leonhard Goppelt, have in more or less detail.32 From these lexical studies, τύπος is acknowledged to denote an image, model, pattern, example, form, and imprint, but more broadly, “τύπος is understood to signify either the molding pattern (Vorbild) or the resulting pattern of another mold (Nachbild),” or in some instances both simultaneously.33

Conducting a focused study on the τύπος word group is an important consideration, after all, as highlighted, allegory (ἀλληγορέω) says one thing and means another. Having a terminological control is important and Davidson has convincingly demonstrated the essential characteristics of typology from his study of key passages (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 10:6, 11; 1 Pet 3:21; Heb 8:5; and Heb 9:24). However, this is because τύπος in these contexts overlaps with what is commonly associated with typology. Young, Ounsworth, and Davidson run into trouble because they are attempting, in the words of H. Wayne Johnson,

to answer hermeneutical questions about the nature of typology based on the lexicography of one word. This is asking too much for a number of reasons. First, it is questionable whether or not there is ‘one basic meaning’ for τύπος. The word is used to denote a mark (John 20:25), an idol or image (Acts 7:43), a pattern or model (Acts 7:44), an example (Phil 3:17 etc.) or type (Rom 5:14, clearly not an example). The diversity of English words used to render τύπος is not evidence of sloppiness in translation but an appreciation of the range of its meaning in various contexts. . . . Simply put, τύπος is not a technical term for ‘type.’ Neither is it a sine qua non for typology. Consequently, any attempt to establish the biblical definition of typology based purely on semasiological or lexical analysis is filled with problems.34

In other words, as Johnson has helpfully articulated, 35 typology has less to do with the lexicography of a Greek term and should be understood as a hermeneutical term or category that describes a unique feature that is the property of certain persons, events, and institutions that are recorded in Scripture. A proper understanding of typology in Scripture should examine critical passages where τύπος is employed to correspond to OT persons, events, and institutions (precisely the six passages where Davidson has already provided an excellent exegetical analysis), but there is a host of other passages that should be considered as well (e.g., Matt 2:15, 4:1-11, 12:39-42; John 6:32, 12:37-43, 15:1; 1 Cor 5:7b, 15:21-22, 45-49; Col 2:16-17; Heb 3-4, 7, 10; 1 Pet 2:4-10).36 Therefore, the rendering of typology as a technical term is to describe a unique literary phenomenon of Scripture that is divergent from allegory because it accounts for the organic relationships between persons, events, institutions, and actions that occur at different stages in Scripture. Types possess a divine design in that they predictively prefigure corresponding intensified realities (antitypes) in the new age inaugurated by Jesus Christ. Although different, both allegory and typology are revelatory in nature, divinely authorized, and they are embedded in Scripture by the biblical authors rather than created by literary genius of later writers of Scripture or subsequent interpreters.37

2. Complications arise with the notions of “figural reading,” “allegorical interpretation” or “typological interpretation.”

As argued, allegory and typology are distinct literary entities that a reader should recognize in Scripture and hence there is reason for rejecting figural reading or any other attempt to merge typology with allegory. Another rationale for avoiding the confusion, however, is that the move from identifying and recognizing the allegories or typologies already intended as such in Scripture to the position of crafting figural, allegorical, or typological interpretations, much as Christian interpreters have freely fashioned in the past, results in unwarranted and arbitrary readings. Allegories and typologies are in Scripture, but, as Hans LaRondelle succinctly observes,

It is a different story if an interpreter would allegorize a plainly historical narrative in the Bible. Such allegorizing transforms the narrative into a springboard for teaching an idea which is different from that intended by the Bible writer. Whenever an allegorical interpretation arbitrarily converts a historical narrative into teaching a spiritual or theological truth, such a speculative allegorizing is negatively called an “allegorism.” It imposes a meaning on the Bible text that is not really there. It is added to the text by the interpreter only for the purpose of edification and finding spiritual truths and deep meanings.38

An allegorical interpretation requires an extra-textual grid or key, which is used to warrant an explanation.39 With such an approach, a deeper spiritual or mystical sense or foreign aspect is introduced into the meaning of the text.40 Kevin Vanhoozer writes, “Allegorizing becomes problematic … insofar as it resembles a general hermeneutical strategy by which later readers find new meanings in texts unrelated to the human authorial discourse.”41 The problem of allegorical interpretation then is not so much that the historicity of a certain passage is denied, though the historical features are often diminished, but that the interpretative moves are arbitrary as there is no possible way to detect the relationship between the text and the meaning ascribed to it.42

A plethora of allegorical interpretations in the early church fathers could be recalled, but perhaps a few will suffice. Tertullian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom all connect the dove that Noah sent out from the ark with the descending of the Holy Spirit in the synoptic Gospels since the Spirit came down upon Jesus in the form of a dove when Jesus arose from his baptism. Origen finds symbolic significance in the dimensions of Noah’s ark and he also resorts to mystical and moral allegorizing when he compares the animals of the ark with those who are saved in the church. Moses praying with his arms outstretched during the battle with Amalek (Exod 17:8-13) was interpreted by Tertullian as a type of Christ on the cross since his arms were outstretched during the crucifixion.43 Philo’s philosophical interpretative approach seems to be appropriated by Origen and Clement leading to allegorical readings. Symbolism is employed to interpret Pharaoh’s daughter as a type of the church, the “life of Moses as an allegory of the soul’s journey to spiritual perfection,” and the waters of Marah refer to the “strictness of the virtuous life for beginners, which is gradually tempered by hope.”44 Justin and Irenaeus are just two of many church fathers with the exception, surprisingly, of the Alexandrian School for the most part, who view Rahab’s scarlet cord as an illustrative resemblance of the blood of Christ since it recalls the Passover lamb.45 The church fathers should be rightly esteemed for their high view of Scripture and defense of doctrinal truths, but clearly at times they applied mystical and foreign interpretive schemes in their readings of Scripture. For them, deeper religious truths or hidden meanings were to be unearthed as a principle of similitude and likeness was made, and the etymological significance of words led to allegorical readings based off lexical links and associative strategies.46 However, such allegorisms, even if containing elements of truth, are unwarranted because the literal sense is obscured or distorted given the random symbolical associations or cleverly created correspondences at the level of semiotic code.

The danger is not just with “allegorical interpretations” however. Often scholars present the case for “typological interpretations.” Clarification and caution are needed though, for Ardel Caneday convincingly argues,

Typological interpretation, using the adjective to modify interpretation, creates confusion by focusing upon the act of interpretation rather than upon the act of revelation … [T]ypology and allegory are fundamentally categories that belong to the act of revelation, not the act of interpretation. The reader discovers types and allegories that are already present in the text.47

The typological patterns are part of revelation because God casts and invests the types with foreshadowing significance in Scripture. The notion of “typological” and “allegorical” interpretations subtly expresses a form of reader-response hermeneutics, but the task of the reader is to explicate the meaning of sentences by attending to the authorial intent and their usage of literary forms, i.e., faithfully reading the text according to its genre—reading historical narratives historically, poetry poetically, and law passages should be read legally.48 G. H. Schodde rightly stresses that Protestant biblical interpretation rejected

allegorizing and adhered to the safe and sane principle, practiced by Christ and the entire NT, of Sensum ne inferas, sed efferas (“Do not carry a meaning into [the Scriptures] but draw it out of [the Scriptures]”). It is true that the older Protestant theology still adheres to a sensus mysticus in the Scriptures, but by this it means those passages in which the sense is conveyed not per verba (through words), but per res verbis descriptas (“through things described by means of words”), as, e.g., in the parable and the type.49

Thus, the role of the reader is to identify types, symbols, and allegories that are in Scripture and not creatively invent them as the phrase “typological interpretation” suggests. Similarly, Ounsworth rightly affirms that typology appeals to Scripture “as a record, and therefore retains and relies upon the literal sense of scripture … [T]he role of the literary record is not to encode the theological meaning but to reveal to the reader (or hearer) the mimetic correspondences that exist in reality.”50 The connection between two persons or events as mimetic correspondences is not established by the “creative act on the part of the interpreter so much as a discovery, a discernment of what intended (sc. by God) to be understood.”51 The same concern regarding “allegorical” and “typological” interpretation is also applicable to the figural reading. The nomenclature is illegitimate because it suggests an accent on the reader’s role of constructing figural correspondences from the text. While figural readingis sometimes used as a synonym for typology (e.g., Vanhoozer, Ribbens), the terminology indicates that it is the reader who crafts the figuralconnections.52 The attention is diverted once again to the act of interpretation rather than the act of revelation. This leads to hermeneutical confusion and, depending on the one doing the figuralreading, to treating the Scripture as a wax nose, carving and shaping out an array of superficial analogies and correspondences. Instead, reading the Bible faithfully means seeking to demonstrate the textual warrant and indicators for typological patterns. Such a constraint is necessary since there are “some interpreters (‘hyper-typers’) who see typology on almost every page of Scripture.”53

3. Allegorical interpretations are not exemplified in the NT as some scholars claim.

While some may claim Galatians 4:21-31 and 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 as exemplars of “allegorical” interpretation, careful reading and analysis of the OT passages that are invoked in these Pauline passages provide a definitive conclusion that Paul did not devise figural readings. A brief discussion of each of these passages shows that Paul did not engage in “allegorical” interpretation, and therefore refutes the argument by Wilken and others that modern readers have the license to allegorize.

The use of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 seems puzzling as Paul appears to be lifting an ancient OT law about oxen and applying it to justify material benefits that ministers of the gospel, like Paul and Barnabas, should reap. While Deuteronomy 24-25 may appear to list a group of disconnected and unstructured laws, viable interpretations have been offered to explain why a command about oxen would appear in the context of Deuteronomy 25. Jan Verbruggen argues that “all these laws seem to deal with situations that show how one should deal with one’s fellow man” and particularly, the law about oxen (Deut 25:4) should be understood about how to care for a neighbor’s ox.54 God is concerned for the welfare of oxen, but the law is originally for humans, particularly the economic responsibility of using someone’s property. On the other hand, Caneday finds that Deuteronomy 25:4 in its original context is a proverbial saying that is attached to Deuteronomy 25:1-3, “a fitting aphoristic conclusion to reinforce the commandment that prohibits inhumane and abusive threshing of another human with excessive lashes.”55 If this is the case, Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 reflects its original proverbial nature as he reprimands the Corinthians for their mistreatment of him in prohibiting him from benefitting from his own labors. Another interpretation is that Paul is using a qal wahomer argument (from lesser to greater; a fortiori) characteristic of rabbinic exegesis.56 Accordingly, Paul argues that if the law permits animals to eat crops in fields where they work, how much more may human laborers, such as ministers, be worthy to share in the benefits of the harvest. With these three interpretative options, the use of Deuteronomy 25:4 in 1 Corinthians 9:9 is far from being an allegorical interpretation as postulated by TIS advocates or Pauline commentators, such as Richard Longenecker.57 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 is best categorized as an analogical use of Scripture. Paul applies a principle from an agricultural case with ethical import or Paul’s use of the muzzled ox reflects its original proverbial nature which fittingly applies to his situation.58

The question of the legitimacy of allegorical interpretation has received by far the most attention with Galatians 4:21-31. Paul writes with reference to Sarah and Hagar that “these things are spoken/written allegorically: for these women are two covenants” (Gal 4:24).59 When instructing the Galatians to not live under the Law, Paul connects Hagar to the Mosaic covenant, the present Jerusalem, and slavery on the one hand, while implicitly associating Sarah with the Abrahamic covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, and freedom through promise.  Paul weaves together themes of Abrahamic sonship, barrenness, flesh versus Spirit, and slavery versus freedom, in affirming that the Galatians are sons of the free woman (Sarah) and not of the slave woman, Hagar. The notoriously difficult passage has attracted a variety of explanations for Paul’s hermeneutic. Some believe that what Paul is doing is typology, even though he uses the word “allegorically,” but others think that Paul is employing an allegorical interpretation, and still others make the case for the presence of both typological and allegorical elements in Galatians 4:21-31.60

The best treatment of Galatians 4:21-31 in my view is offered by Caneday.  Individualized items of typology are present in Galatians 4:22-23 and 28-30, but in the main the passage is an allegory, but not an allegorical interpretation on the part of Paul.  Caneday explains that it is

unreasonable to think that Paul expects to convince his converts by grounding his argument in Gal 4:21-31 in nothing more than his adeptness to spin an impressive allegory from the Genesis narrative on the authority of a Christophany, his reception of the ‘revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1:12ff).61

While Paul makes the metaphorical connection between Hagar and Sarah to the two covenants, he finds grounding from the OT itself as Genesis 16-21 present Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, and Ishmael as historical figures that are divinely invested with symbolism and point beyond themselves to the salvation to come in the latter days.62 Isaiah also notices these features in the Genesis account (see Isa 51:2 and 54:1, the latter explicitly cited by Paul in Gal 4:27) as the Isaianic intertextual development of the barren woman (Sarah) with Jerusalem provides Paul with the redemptive historical context and lens that sharpens the focus of the allegory already present in Genesis.63 Furthermore, as Caneday helpfully observes, Paul expects his readers to recognize the allegory already there in the Pentateuch by bracketing his appeal at the beginning: “Do you not hear the Law [i.e., Scripture]?” (4:21) with a reprise, “But what does the Scripture say?” (4:30).64  Caneday writes, “The Scriptures—Genesis and Isaiah—authorize his dual concluding appeal to the Galatians: (1) to cast out the Sinai covenant and its descendants, the Judaizers and those who preach ‘another gospel,’ and (2) to affirm that Gentile believers are children of promise.”65

Therefore, while typology involves discrete historical persons, places, events and institutions, Paul chooses the term “allegory” in Galatians 4:21-31 probably because he is not meditating exclusively upon discrete figures and subjects from the Genesis accounts. Instead, his attention is upon the entire narrative of the Pentateuch concerning God’s promises to Abraham and a complex set of themes regarding the obstacles to his promises (the episode of Hagar; themes of barrenness, slavery) and how those promises are ultimately fulfilled in Abraham’s true offspring, Jesus Christ, and not through reliance on the Law-covenant at Sinai.66  Paul does not forge the allegory or conjure an allegorical interpretation in the manner of Philo or Origen; rather, his argument is rooted in Scripture, which can be traced.67 As Karen Jobes rightly concludes, “Far from being an arbitrary allegorical assignment, the association of Hagar with the ‘now’ Jerusalem and Sarah with the ‘above’ Jerusalem follows logically from Paul’s understanding of Isa 54:1 in light of Christ’s resurrection.”68 The interpretative moves Paul makes may seem arbitrary, but Paul’s warrant for this allegory, like the typological connections he finds elsewhere, are grounded in the Scriptures and integral to the mystery theme (μυστήριον) where concealed and enigmatic features in the OT are now revealed in light of further revelation as the progress of Scripture unfolds.69

4. Appealing to the Patristics is not definitive in how to understand biblical typology and interpretation. 

The early church fathers have made a comeback in scholarly circles with more stress on how they interpreted Scripture and defended orthodox teachings.70 Surely drawing attention to the Patristics and their reading of Scripture is a welcome development.  The understanding of typology, and more generally, the hermeneutical approach to Scripture, should be informed by earlier interpreters, but their approach is not ultimately authoritative, nor are they as significant as the NT authors.  Ribbens, for example, wishes to arrive at a definition of typology that embraces “the varied τύπος interpretations of the NT and Greek fathers and not, like prefiguration typology, exclude τύπος interpretations that do not fit a preconceived definition of typology.”71 This suggestion is wrongheaded because it elevates the early fathers to the same level as the NT authors, and secondly, seeks to define typology from the τύπος-word group when the nature of typology should be derived from broader considerations from Scripture than just the use of τύπος. In this way, typology as a term should be defined in such a way to characterize unique biblical phenomena, drawn from, but not limited to, the τύπος-word group, whereby persons, events, and institutions serve as indirect prophecies or adumbrations of future realities. Moreover, even if the Patristic Fathers did not distinguish between allegory or typology, that does not mean that such a distinction is necessary, legitimate, and of critical hermeneutical importance. In fact, it is this point that later interpreters, the Protestant Reformers, provide a helpful corrective to the early church figurative approach.72

Against the Roman Catholic abuses in allegorizing Scripture, Calvin and the Reformed scholastics rejected the multiple and various senses and championed the sensus literalis—the literal sense that is derived from the intention of the divine and human authors, seeking to do justice to the grammatical, historical, rhetorical/literary elements of the text including figures of speech. In this way, rather than advocating multiple senses as imposed by the exegete, the distinct and separate senses of the quadriga had to be grafted on to the text itself as “valid applications of or conclusions drawn from the literal sense.”73 More narrowly on the subject of allegorical interpretation, the “Reformed made a strict distinction between allegories and figures that were intrinsic to the text and therefore its literal sense and allegories imposed from without by the imaginative expositor.”74 Figurative or typological meanings should be indicated by the text and identified through the analogy of Scripture. The Reformer’s hermeneutic and understanding of typology serve as a guide since these principles derive from the nature of the Bible—a divine and human unified discourse that progressively unfolds—and its role as having sole authority for matters of faith. Vanhoozer rightly states:

The typology the Protestant Reformers practiced ultimately presupposes neither linear nor sacramental but rather redemptive history, where type is related to antitype as anticipation is related to its realization, promise to fulfillment. The rule, then, is never to dislodge the spiritual sense given to persons, things, and events from the biblical narratives in which they are emplotted. In the words of Hans Frei: “figuration or typology was a natural extension of literal interpretation. It was literalism at the level of the whole biblical story and thus of the depiction of the whole historical reality.” To be sure, not every piece of wood figures the cross. It is the redemptive-historical context that both enables and constrains the spiritual sense. What spiritual significance things have is not a function of their sheer createdness but rather their role in the ongoing drama of redemption.75

In summary, the distinction between allegory and typology is crucial as blending the two and deriving allegorical or typological interpretations as the terminology of figuralreading suggests, leads to theological confusion and faulty interpretative moves. Faithful readers of Scripture treat Scripture as a unified revelation, discovering God’s intent by explicating what biblical authors say and interpret Scripture with Scripture. In this manner, rather than the focus being in front of the text, the reader discovers and draws out the typologies and allegories that are in the text. This brief survey of allegory and typology indicates that K. J. Woollcombe is correct when he asserts that the similarities between allegories, typology, and prophecy “are not so close as to justify ignoring the differences between them, and using one of the terms to cover them all.”76 Maintaining these distinctions, and more importantly, comprehending biblical typology and elucidating the nature of the legitimate typological patterns, makes significant headway in understanding the relationship between the OT and NT, and in turn, rightfully putting together the canon of Scripture as a whole.