More on the issue of the apologetic value of typological "prophecy"...

[created 5/17/97] ... part of The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah, fabprof0.html]
I recently received this great set of questions/comments from Robby Berry, who also thinks a lot in this area of prophecy and fulfillment...

Hello! I've been re-reading your response to Jim Lippard's "The Fabulous Prophecies Of The Messiah", and I had some questions and comments regarding it. I'd like to get your input on the following issues, in the hopes of clarifying both the thesis which you advance in your response, and the topic of messianic prophecy in general.

1. Concerning your response in general, I am having trouble determining exactly what the thesis of your response is.

Hey, me too! ;>)

Obviously you think Jim Lippard is wrong :-), but beyond that it gets a bit hazy. I think this is because you are making a common mistake which critics on *both* sides of this issue often make, and that is to conflate the apologetic use of prophecy with the theological use of prophecy.

Allow me to explain. Debates between skeptics and apologists over messianic prophecy usually presuppose that the *existence* of prophecy and the *apologetical value* of prophecy are one and the same issue. In fact, they are quite separate. That being the case, it follows that there are three possible views one might take towards the question of messianic prophecy. (Not counting the "suspend judgement" option.) These views are:

1. Not accepting that there are OT prophecies at all. (Ie. thinking that any apparent fulfillments of prophecy are actually explainable in terms of some combination of coincidence, self-fulfilling prophecy, misinterpretation, deliberate fulfillment, etc.) I'll call this "non-prophecism".

2. Asserting that there are OT prophecies, but that the nature of the prophecies and their subsequent fulfillment is such that they have little or no apologetic value. A Christian who accepts this view affirms that there are OT prophecies fulfilled in Jesus, but thinks that *proving* there are OT prophecies cannot be done without relying on other, specifically Christians premises. To such a person, an argument from prophecy would be doomed to fail, because such an argument would have to be circular in nature. (Of course, such a person could still refer to fulfilled prophecies as part of their theological reasoning when dealing with other Christians. Denying the apologetic value of prophecy is not the same as denying the value of prophecy in general.) I'll call this "weak prophecism".

3. Asserting that there are OT prophecies, and believing that the existence of these prophecies can be proved without reference to specifically Christian premises, or to any other premises that the average skeptic would find objectionable. I'll call this "strong prophecism".

So my basic question is, which of these positions are you trying to affirm? I trust you're not trying to prove the non-prophecist position. :-) That leaves weak prophecism and strong prophecism.

Let me make a few comments here.

I personally make a distinction between (1) overt messianic prophecies (e.g. Micah 5.2; Deut 18; Malachi 3) and (2) typologically-understood historical events or literary passages (e.g. Solomon building the temple and perhaps David's messianic spirit in Ps 22?). [However, I will 'confuse' this issue much later, when I explore the sometime mixing of the two...for example, the Branch in the prophets-what all did the prophets see?]

First, let me make some comments about OVERT messianix, before getting to the subject of TYPOLOGICAL messianix-the focus of your post...

Overt Messianix were given to inspire the people to trust, orient their thinking and expectations, and encourage them to covenant fidelity. Promises of a New Moses, or an Eternal Son of David, or an Eternal Priest, or the Suffering (and Sacrificial) Servant encouraged the people to trust in God's actions in history-as part of the mutual Covenant obligations. They were specifically forward looking statements, with some controlling-element content (e.g. 'a prophet like unto me' or 'a just shepherd-king' or 'a rejected Servant'). The web of concepts and expectations that would have grown over time around that prophecy would have been 'anchored' by the founding concept somewhat, so that the expectation never would have strayed 'too far'. It might become very broad-n-vague, or it might have become narrowly defined, but it was somehow anchored in the original disclosure/pronouncement.

The overt messianix were also given to assist in the identification of the messiah. Jesus words in Luke 12.54ff appeals to this purpose: He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, `It's going to rain,' and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, `It's going to be hot,' and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? , as does His Emmaus Road exposition to the less-than-illuminated disciples: 25 He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24.25).

Accordingly, they will have a range of individual identification-value (within that theological system, as you point out), which was the subject of several arguments in the gospels (e.g. John 7.40ff: 40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." 41 Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. ).

The interchange between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist (who was imprisoned at the time) makes this theme rather obvious:

John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" 20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, `Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (Luke 7.18ff)
Jesus answered the question of his identity by an appeal to a group of messianic prophecies.

So, for me, the deliberate messianix are useful individually as identification criteria for the messiah-to those looking for His arrival.

On the other hand, the individual messianic prophecies-by themselves-may have little apologetic value. It is only when combined that they have some 'force' to them. The nature of this force arises from the "oddity" of the intersection of the deliberate messianix in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

As I mentioned above, the role of the messiah was so broad in scope that he was often assumed to be multiple people, and the perceived contradictions about His coming were the subject of theological debate (e.g. the example of the rabbinix above-does he come in glory (Daniel) or in meekness on a donkey (Zech)). In the passage above from John, they saw no way to reconcile that the messiah was supposed to come from Bethlehem and from Galilee of the Gentiles at the same time. We know how this 'contradiction' was resolved-Jesus was born in Bethy but grew up in Nazareth.

The convergence of these prophecies in one Person was what was supposed to 'clinch' the identification for Israel.

Since most of the recorded evangelism and 'apologetics' recorded in NT times was to the Jews, it is no wonder that appeal to prophecy was accepted (c.f. Acts 17.2f: As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. ). Even the appeal to miracle made in John's gospel (John 20.30: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. ), is not necessarily distinct from the prophecy issue-since the messiah was SUPPOSED TO do many wonders and healings...So, the crowd in John 7.30 specifically linked the two: At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his time had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd put their faith in him. They said, "When the Christ comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?" .

On the other hand, when Paul confronted those OUTSIDE that specific theological framework (e.g. the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17.22ff, who were polytheists), he uses the resurrection fact as his apologetic:

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. 24 "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, `We are his offspring.' 29 "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-an image made by man's design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
And when confronting the equally non-Jewish world of Lystra (Acts 14.8-18) Paul appeals to predictability of nature and to the common goodness of life. The 'power' of the apostolic message had already been authenticated to the hearers by the healing miracles.

So, your general point about the primary value of messianix being for those ALREADY "inside" the "broader" system, is probably correct. However, I think there is definite force to the fulfillment of BOTH categories of messianix (i.e. overt and typox) in a spin-off of a convergence of evidence type of argument.

The 'convergence of evidence' argument is primarily useful for identification purposes. But what I want to consider is the immense 'oddity' of this phenomenon LOOKING LIKE THIS.

If I step as far back as I can from my worldview, and look at a collection of ancient texts, predicting characteristics of some future leader, AND THEN look at the characteristics of Jesus of Nazareth-I am struck by the overall pattern of correspondence. The pattern is simply too 'odd' for me to explain without recourse to SOME intelligent force-be it "God", or conspiracy of the ruling elite, or literary fabrication. But the interconnecting web of A SERIES of ancient texts (predicting certain details about some future personage), matched with a later text (noting the same detail about some historical individual) screams for an explanation!

And this series cannot be dismissed by simply noting that each individual ancient text could apply to a whole set of people-it is the intersection of these sets (like in a Venn diagram) that is the problem. At this level, we have not even entered a theological arena-we are simply struggling to come up with SOME KIND OF EXPLANATION for this mind-boggling 'coincidence'. Notice that this is NOT dependence on the theological grids of those 'inside' the system. In the case of overt messianix, I don't need an interpretive grid-I have a 'crude' statement (e.g. a future ruler of extremely high status to be born in Bethlehem, or a future religious leader coming to his people on a donkey) that matches a common piece of historical experience-the life of Jesus of Nazareth. That people around him called him 'God' and 'Lord' and "Christ' is immaterial to the problem-it is the simple confluence of the details that suggests 'design'!

[Actually, the theological interpretations of the indigenous readers makes the problem more interesting, in that they constitute another oddity to explain about the system!--but more on that later...]

Now, I am not naïve about probability calculations, esp. in such a potentially incestuous situation as jewish prophets, prophesying about jewish messiahs, to jewish people(!)--the possibility of 'interference' is so incredibility high. But I do recognize something that breaks normal 'linear' patterns and things that look non-random; and this is clearly one.

This is not the place for me to go into the various alternatives as to how to explain this strange convergence/confluence of predictions; it is enough to suggest that the 'oddity' has a 'force' about it that requires an explanation. Insofar as the "God-hypothesis" might do a better job of explaining the data (both the convergence/confluence, and perhaps even the 'theological presuppositions' of the natives) than do all rival hypotheses about conspiracy or fabrication, then it would have apologetic force/value, under the 'inference to the best explanation' model. And, given the absence of any major uncertain variables, we would not be epistemically justified in (1) rejecting it; or in (2) suspending judgment.

Therefore, I do consider overt messianic prophecy--when taken as historical (and NOT theological) prediction of phenomena only (not CAUSES)--to have apologetic value AS A WHOLE (and not as individual predictions). [As such, it MIGHT look like non-messianic prophecy; the 'messianic' word can be theologically loaded term, as opposed to 'religious leader' or 'king'.]

But you didn't ask me about OVERT messianix, now did you? But I ran off at the mouth/keyboard anyway...So now to the subject of TYPOLOGICAL messianix--the focus of your post...

As with most things that are useful or interesting, there are some subtleties within even typox...

For example, it is one thing for an Israelite to look back on a passage and understanding it typologically some four centuries later; it is another altogether for an Israelite to look at a "current" passage and see some typox-type element in it. In other words, when the informed Israelite heard/read/pondered the Servant Songs of Isaiah--with the identity of the Servant constantly alternating between Israel the nation, the sub-set Elect Remnant of Israel, and the Messiah--were the typox-elements already there and somewhat explicit? Was the prophecy itself already laden with typology, and hence did not require an 'interpretive grid' to be used to see it (like in 3D glasses or something)?

Another example might be the House of David. The whole notion of a "House of David" is one of linear succession through time. A promise to David--and to his 'house' (cf. 2 Sam 7.16: Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.'" )--already contains an almost steady stream of types-antitypes...David-Solomon-Zerub*-Jesus...

So, I would have to make some distinction between events/concepts that were 'incipiently' typological (to the original audience) and those that would have been less obvious or not at all so to the original audience. Now, this does not mean that the original audience could not have later seen these events as typological, but only that it was not top-of-mind. For example, if a prophet or sage would have engaged an informed Israelite in reflection and discussion about the 'religious significance' of the Passover Lamb, I expect that in most cases the perception of a typological substrate might have surfaced or become explicit. I suspect that some of the conversation on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) was of this kind--with lots of 'oh, I get it' responses involved.

Strangely, there are passages that fall into neither the overt nor the typological categories-Ps 110 (used by Jesus in Matt 22.41ff), but hopefully I can get to those later.


Do you see your response to Lippard as being intended to prove *to the skeptic* that prophecy is a real phenomenon which proves Christianity? Or do you merely wish to reassure the worried Christian that belief in prophecy is indeed rational, without making any claims as to the value of messianic prophecy as an *apologetic*?

Well, this is a bit tricky. The first intent (as I have mentioned before) was merely to show that it was a matter of native interpretation. In other words, in response to the claims that the Christians twisted these passages to make them fit Jesus, I merely showed that this hermeneutic was part of BOTH sides of the debate.

In light of the broader question--apologetics and rationality--I would have to broaden my answer somewhat. I do not draw a hard line BETWEEN the two alternatives you give me above (i.e. apologetics to skeptics or therapy for neurotic Christians!) If something looks 'rational' to the Christian, I don't feel comfortable saying that it COULD NOT have some persuasive force (however small) to non-Christians, esp. if the range of phenomena was broad enough.

Let me explain.

Convergence arguments look like "pattern" arguments. Someone can always argue that the dots don't form ANY pattern, and the proponent cannot do much more than simply 'point' again.

The Christian can, probably, accept the prophecies as legitimate--on other grounds than the pattern/convergence warrant. For example, the Christian is presumably already convinced (somehow) that Jesus was "much-more-than-man", and accordingly had a privileged epistemic position about such things. Then, with some level of confidence in NT historicity, the believer could simply argue:

H1: Jesus taught that OT prophecy pointed to Him,
H2: Jesus occupies a much better and privileged epistemic position (than I).
CX: Therefore, (I defer to Jesus' knowledge, and agree with Him that) OT prophecy legitimately pointed to Him
[I have omitted several steps in the above, but this should still approximate the content well enough. Notice too that the believer only has to accept the historicity of related passages in the NT, not ALL of it, nor even some theological doctrine of 'inspiration'. Also, note that this argument is NOT airtight. Jesus could have a BETTER understanding, WITHOUT it being a CORRECT one, but even as such the believer would still be warranted in accepting it--as of more credibility than his/her own. However, if the case were that Jesus were somehow omniscient--a la deity--then the argument is correspondingly stronger.]

However, the Christian also might be generally uninformed about Jesus self-understanding being grounded and explicated on the basis of OT prophecies, and in this case the convergence/pattern argument might be persuasive. It was thus with me. I personally remember reading the chapter in McDowell's ETDAV over two decades ago. I remember not understanding half of what he said (nor what the scripture passages meant--I was seriously biblically illiterate), and feeling uneasy at his use of some of the 'vaguer' prophecies, but by the time I got through the list, I was surprised at the epistemic (and implicit at that time) force of the pattern. It just seemed 'too odd' to be accidental or random or coincidental. (At the time, the idea of conspiracy or fabrication did not cross my mind. That issue arose the following year with the publication of The Passover Plot, which required some re-assessment of some of the passages.)

So, I do think there is some apologetic force to messianic prophecy AS A UNIT, based on convergence of evidence and ostensive-pattern types of arguments. This does not mean it would 'persuade' a non-Christian NOR a Christian of a different persuasion at all...We must never confuse epistemic force (or apologetic force) and 'persuasions and conversions'! There are so many more factors involved than simply rationality or evidence.

But, in light of your question, if I tried to construct a pattern of ONLY typox-statements, the pattern would have to "do the convincing work" for BOTH (1) the identification of the character-Jesus; AND (2) vindication of the worldview under-girding the use of typox hermeneutics. If the pattern were well integrated, and clearly discernible, then I suppose it could succeed--but it would require a rather powerful pattern-force to do so.

And a pattern of ONLY overt messianix would only have to argue for the identification of the character. Looking more like non-theological predictions they can be treated as such. This would mean that some assumption of 'ability to predict the future' could be suspended until we observed whether it was done or not! [Fancy that, trying to see if prediction DID occur in history BEFORE we decided IF IT COULD occur...;>) ] In this case, the pattern's force would perhaps be due to the probabilities of convergence--what is the likelihood of someone fitting these various characteristics, and how many candidates do we have to choose from? In this case, the force would be dependent on (1) how MANY data points we had; and (2) the level of detail (e.g. city-names, monetary amounts, significant events).

There are other issues which we will have to get to, especially the issue of deliberate fulfillment, but here I am just assuming that we have appropriate qualified the 'dots' to where they CAN participate in the pattern.

Now, what about a hybrid pattern: some overt; some typox? As you note below, the typox might give the appearance of more data points, but do we lose something in the process?

It is unclear to me how the tradeoffs shake out in this case. The overt predictions MAY lend credibility to the typox, by virtue of the fact that they MAY 'authenticate' some 'hyper-natural' characteristics of the utterances of that culture. In other words, a culture that could somehow produce a high number of accurate predictions (messianic AND non-messianic) must be accorded some 'special' status. It may even convince someone not to pre-judge the typox-approach (e.g. as being groundless or not worthy of analysis), and therefore 'ease' the requirements on the overall hybrid pattern. Without some controls on the typox however, as we both are aware, they will soon lose all force and degenerate into statements with no testable consequences (e.g. "something bad will happen to someone, sometime in the future").

My overall sense is that unless some controls are found for the typox-process, then patterns of typox-only statements will have very little force. If controls ARE found, which would allow some relatively predictable method of 'mining' history for typox-predictions, then this would amount to something less than overt, but something more than random-number-generator quality typox. We would have a transformation schema (i.e. that transforms historical event A into a prophetic statement X), but we would still need the force of the overall pattern to lend credibility to the worldview creating this process.


I'm asking this because the remainder of this letter is pretty much irrelevant unless you are attempting to prove the strong prophecist position. If you are attempting to prove the weak prophecist position, much of what follows will appear to miss the point, though I hope you'll read it and respond anyway.

I notice that I have abandoned your original trifurcation in this process (although there was some ambiguity in your original statement--we both keep toggling between messianix and typox in this discussion). I think I could say this:


2. Concerning typology, your article goes out of its way to show that both OT- and NT-era Jews understood history typologically. Although you didn't say so explicitly, I am guessing that your reason for doing this is because there exist OT verses which you would like to present to the skeptic as examples of fulfilled prophecy, but which do not look like convincing examples of fulfilled prophecy unless viewed through the lense of typology. (I think the alleged virgin birth prophecy of Isa. 7:14 would be a good example. The verse has a clear meaning within its own social context, so by itself, it doesn't seem likely to be a prediction of a coming virgin-born messiah seven centuries in its future. But if we add the concept of typology, then it becomes possible to view the verse as having an additional meaning above and beyond the obvious one, a meaning which can then be applied to Jesus.)

As indicated before, the initial reason was to answer the hermeneutical objections posed by Jim--that the native interpreters would NOT have seen the events/personages as messianic. (There was also a personal issue for me. I had always been uncomfortable with these types of fulfillments in the NT, but had never had the time to study the background to see if that was 'okay'. So, I also had to answer my own doubts and befuddlements about the practice.)

At the present time, I would not use the typox-praxis as an argument to 'prove' Christianity, but would only use it to demonstrate that the Christian exegesis of the typox-messianix was not unreasonable, given Israel's experience and self-understanding. As such it would be more a defensive maneuver than offensive.


Now, I've made some assumptions about what you're arguing. I'm assuming a strong prophecist position, and I'm assuming that you want to convince the skeptic of the legitimacy of typology so that OT verses which would otherwise appear unprophetic will now appear to the skeptic to be prophetic, and therefore in need of an explanation of how these prophecies could be fulfilled. Am I on the money so far? If not, correct me and ignore the rest of the article. :-)

Actually, all I want to show in typox is that the Christian understanding of the verse is possible (not demanded), given the historical and literary context in which it was written.

Notice here, though, that I have given something up. The last statement does NOT assume that the 'historical and literary context' is correct--which is your point. I could produce a similar argument for flat-earthers being legitimate, in their 'historical and literary context'. The truth-value of the 'historical and literary context' cannot be proved "inside" (at least not easily-I will argue for SOMETHING like this, though, later in the piece).

Vindication for the typox-worldview might come from a number of sources:

  1. If Jesus endorsed it (IFF we grant Him privileged status)
  2. If historical experience in Israel demonstrated typox-patterns (e.g. events followed typox-predictable intensification)
  3. If the overt messianix were related to/interwoven with the typox, such that the former lent its credibility to the later (or if typox somehow 'reduced down' to overts somehow, via 'incipience' or something like this)
  4. If the overt prophecies (messianix and otherwise) demonstrated a 'special status' to Israel's prophetic-class literature, with the vindication of overt prophecy lending its credibility to the typox-types.
  5. A cumulative-case argument from ALL/MOST of the above.

Now, IF I am able to use some mix of the above to substantiate the typox-worldview, then typox passages could contribute weight to the converging evidence argument (subject to the control issue, of course).


But if I am, then I think you're making a bad argument.

The mistake in your argument is the implicit assumption that if you can prove that the OT/NT Jews thought that typology is a valid way to interpret history, then you have proved that typology is indeed a valid way to interpret history. Your article goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the OT/NT Jews viewed typology as a legitimate tool for interpreting history, and I think in this respect you've succeeded. But of what relevance to me is the ancient Jewish opinion on typology? Must I accept typology as a legitimate way to interpret history solely because the OT/NT Jews did?

Not at all, I agree with you.

The simple fact that people today believe that the earth revolves around the sun is NO REASON AT ALL for you to accept their position. It might be considered reason to EVALUATE their position (esp. if large numbers of people, with a very wide variety of backgrounds, education, skeptical attitudes, etc. accept it).

Likewise, that OT/NT Jews believed that their history was typox-based is NO REASON AT ALL for you to accept their position. It might be considered reason to EVALUATE their position (esp. if their related experiences of overt prophecy/fulfillment, and other 'odd' things about them and their writings demonstrate some prima facie credibility to their bizarre understandings.)

As already admitted, the main value of an analysis of typox is in the area of Jewish-Christian discussions about messianic authentication.


I think that I can answer the above question in the negative, at least tentatively. First of all, refusing to admit typology into my worldview will *not* result in my misinterpreting biblical documents, nor does it mean that I am applying an inappropriately modern standard to the biblical documents. In trying to understand ancient documents, we need to understand the cultural milieu in which they arose, but we do *not* need to actually adopt the beliefs of that culture. Thus, I can reject typology personally, so long as I bear in mind that the OT/NT Jews took it seriously, and therefore OT and NT docs need to be interpreted from that sort of viewpoint.


The only caveat here would be that you would need a disclaimer on your rejection (perhaps). Unless you had already worked through the various ways to authenticate the typox-worldview (given above), your rejection would have to be 'provisional'. In other words, you would have to say that you had not encountered any data/arguments that had 'force' to you so far, but that you had not personally examined any/many of the pro-offered arguments (unless you had, of course).


To put it another way, if you prove that the early church took typology seriously, then you have proved that *they* had a basis for supposing Isa. 7:14 to be a prophecy of Jesus. But you have *not* proved that *I* ought to do so as well. If you want *me* to accept that the child in Isa. 7:14 was a type for which Jesus was the antitype, then it is *me*, not the early church, who must be convinced of the legitimacy of typology. Otherwise, Isa. 7:14 will look to me like a verse which originally had nothing to do with Jesus, but was later so interpreted thanks to the typological presuppositions of the early church. More on this in section #5 below.

I do not have a problem with the part of the above about YOU being 'exempt', but the phrase 'typological presuppositions of the early church' is a bit problematic for me.

First of all, it was the 'early church' as a sect of Judaism. Typology is a Jewish thing first, and a Christian thing by virtue of our Jewish heritage. We need to make sure this continuity is maintained in the discussion. (As I have indicated elsewhere, non-Christian Jews saw a 'messiah' in the verse as well.)

Secondly, it is a bit misleading to call them 'presuppositions'. They were patterns of experience (like your pattern of experiencing repetitive 'acts of' gravity) that became part of their mindset. These were NOT abstract theological principles some rabbi came up with somewhere; instead, they were 'forced' on Israel by the pattern of their experiences as a nation in the OT.


And this brings us to my next point: the concept of typology does not exist in a vacuum. The concept of typology rests on certain presuppositions. Your own article spelled out the main one: "The *basis* of typology is God's consistent activity in the history of his chosen people." That single sentence contains four presuppositions: That there is a god at all, that this god has a chosen people (namely the Jews), that this god interacts with the historical events that happen to and around his chosen people, and that this god performs this interaction (at least part of the time) in a "typological" fashion. These are obviously all presuppositions which I do not share. And so long as I do not share these presuppositions, it is perfectly rational for me to refuse to accept typology as a legitimate way to interpret history.

Yes, but...

"Rational" doesn't say much in a sentence like that. If someone held flat-earth presuppositions today, then it would be perfectly 'rational' (in the same sense it is being used in your last sentence above) for them to believe that they would fall off the earth if they came to the edge (presumably somewhere in Columbus?). I am not necessarily glupping your in with flat-earthers, but I do want to point out that 'rational'--in the sense you use it above--is strictly a formal (in the logic sense) characteristic, and not in any way related to 'truth'.

Instead, most of us would ask the different question--"are your presuppositions rational?"--which is an altogether different question. Some presuppositions are truly "pre-" (e.g. 'all colored objects are extended'), but most of what we popularly call presuppositions are in fact, conclusions of other reasoning, intuition, or evidence chains (e.g. strong atheism, the existence of Bill Clinton, the universality of the law of gravity, the intrinsic worth of our children).

But...for purposes of this discussion of typology, you are not required to see the world through the typox-glasses UNTIL it you have warrant to do so. (Some means to which were delineated above.)


Now in theory, it may be possible to get me to admit typology into my worldview, by first proving the presuppositions upon which it is based. In practice, I suspect this would result in your having to first prove Christianity before you could begin to prove typology.

One minor point here--typox is not a distinctly Christian 'thing'; we inherited it from traditional Judaism.


But if you must first prove Christianity to prove typology, then typology can scarcely be used as a foundation upon which to build a defense of Christianity.

Actually, I tend to disagree-even in typox. As a WHOLE, the set of ALL actual typox (i.e. non-messianic ones) could be 'tested' against actual historical events. Methodologically, this would mean we would formulate a hypothesis that OT events in Judaism followed a predictable pattern--as described by the 'rules' of typox (e.g. escalation, continuity); we would then take the events of Judaism and see if the typox system was an adequate predictor of those patterns. If we accept typox as the hypothesis to be tested, then if the implicates of that hypothesis are 'found' in history (at some statistical threshold), then according to reasonable scientific praxis, we should accept the hypothesis. [This is a grossly simplified view of theory-confirmation in philosophy of science, of course, but it is accurate enough to illustrate that even typox-views COULD be validated under 'inference to the best explanation' type of verification schemes (apart from ANY theological substrate.)]

Let me actually comment on this last point. Contemporary sub-atomic physicists generally do not believe that their 'theories and entities' have any 'descriptive correspondence' to what is 'really there' at that level of physics. They speak of physics 'as language' and theories as simply means of predicting observations. They have generally abandoned asking ontological questions about 'correspondence' and have moved on to the more 'detached' (and less metaphysical) perspective of 'operationalism'. The basis or ground for why their theories 'work' well at predicting observations is not even discussed vigorously now. [see Inventing Reality: Physics as Language by Bruce Gregory, Wiley Science: 1990]

What I am suggesting in this small part of the response is that the same kind of 'ignoring the why' could be used in testing the 'if and what' of a typox-theory (as a predictor , or retro-dictor in historical studies).

So I do think it can be evaluated without recourse to "near" Christian presuppositions. ["far" Christian presuppositions, on the other hand, being those of adequate grounding for rationality, intelligibility of history and experience, correspondence of thinker and 'thinkee', etc.--those epistemological presuppositions that the Van Tillians like to harp upon].

But, let me hasten to add...Although I feel confident that typox could be tested under 'best inference' rules, I do not hazard a guess as to whether or not it would succeed as a 'more probable' hypothesis. [I would have to go back through the typox events of the OT and see if we have adequate number of cases for data.]


Now, if you're content to argue for the weak prophecism position, this is no big deal. But if you want to go for the gusto by arguing the strong prophecism position, this is a major problem. The issue forces the strong prophecist into a dilemma whereby he must either abandon typological arguments when presenting the argument from prophecy (thereby weaking the whole argument, since many of the OT verses would no longer look like prophecies) or find some way to prove typology to the skeptic without turning the whole argument into a vicious circle.

Again, under a 'best explanation' approach, I think I could mix the two and use a combined system as the hypothesis. If I can find sufficient 'control structures', so that the typox-statements I want to include in the overall theory do NOT look like 'ad hoc' "patches" (e.g. the epicycle problem, under the criterion of parsimony), then I may have a better and more robust retrodictive system WITH THEM than WITHOUT THEM. Again, everything in this approach would hang on finding some way to find the 'logic' or structure in typox identifications, so that I get the fewest number of hypothetical statements for the theory.

The combined set of overt and typox messianix then might be a better predictor of the events of biblical history than the overt-only theory, since it will of course have to retrodict more data points, and correspondingly have a higher confirmation-set (assuming it works). If it worked though, as a retrodictor, then the typox-structure of Israel's history would be confirmed. [Notice, though, that using this approach I don't get God in here (that is the 'what' versus 'why' question I discussed in subatomix earlier); I only find the pattern and validate the pattern. To move to 'God caused history to eventuate this way' is a different step.]

So I think that more contemporary philosophy of science approaches to theory-confirmation allow us to (1) transcend the more basic 'it is either circular or its not' kinda scenario; as well as to (2) allow us test the system as a system.


3. That isn't the only problem with the typology concept as applied to questions of messianic prophecy. Let us suppose that the above problem could be resolved and that the skeptic could be convinced that the Jewish typological theory of history is true. Does this somehow strengthen the argument from prophey? As it happens, it does the exact opposite.

The problem here is that the argument from prophecy is basically a statistical one. The argument states that the odds of these prophecies coming true by coincidence are so low that we may be certain that it wasn't just chance, and so God must have be invoved. (This is a vast oversimplification, of course!) But typological interpretation, once allowed, undermines the statistical basis of the argument by making it more likely that a chance fulfillment will occur.

Minor point: Strictly speaking, it would not "undermine" it as much as it might "weaken" it. As the composite or aggregate probability got smaller, the argument would grow progressively more diluted and less forceful (all other things being equal), but the process would be a linear one ('stronger-strong-weaker-weak'), instead of 'some force-no force').


Here's why. Consider a randomly selected OT verse, and a randomly selected verse from the gospels. There is a finite chance, which we'll call p[literal], that the prima facie meaning of the OT verse will appear to be a prophecy fulfilled in the NT verse. ("Prima facie meaning", of course, is defined in terms of what meaning would have been obvious to a reader in the original context in which the document was written, *not* in terms of what meaning would have been obvious to us!) If we permit only the prima facie meanings of verses to be considered when presenting the argument from prophecy, then the odds of that OT-NT pair coincidentally looking like a fulfilled prophecy will be p[literal].

Okay, here your argument will begin to get more detailed, so I will need to make my comments more 'real-time'. To wit, I first need to make a point about the 'prima facie' meaning.

If, as I have argued, typology was part of Israel's OT experience/expectation, and not simply some after the fact hermeneutic forced on the OT texts by post-OT rabbis, then the prima facie meaning very probably already HAD a typological 'shadow'. In other words, if the native hearer (of some basic linguistic and civil competency) saw some event of significance happen to King David, then there is a good chance (based on the data discussed in the article on typox) that they would have had a typox-orientation to the event in question--at the outset. That is, typox-orientation may already be part of the prima facie meaning--and I think it was--so the distinction is not hard-and-fast. [I do not know at this point how important the distinction is to your argument, but we will see later to what extent my point is relevant.]

Another MAJOR point that needs to be made here is that non-typox prophecy is not subject to typox; it has a 'prima facie' meaning that is already totally futuristic. This means that probability assessments will have to start from the base of non-prophetic material anyway.

So, what we have to work with are:


Add typology to the mix, though, and the odds start to go up. Typology would allow OT verses (or at least some of them) to be interpreted a having a second meaning, above and beyond the prima facie meaning. This secondary meaning also has a finite chance of accidentally appearing to fulfill the NT verse, which we'll call p[typological]. Then the probability of the OT verse accidentally appearing to fulfill the NT verse is now:

p[literal] + p[typological] - p[literal]*p[typological]

which is always equal to or larger than p[literal] alone. (In practice, it will be larger, unless p[literal] = 1.)

I see the problem now...Since there is NO p[literal] at all (since it is only the typox that creates the possibility of attaching a NT verse), it is zero. That reduces the formula:

0 + p[typox] - (0)* p[typox]
above to p[typox]--what we started out with at the beginning.

The mistake in the argument is that there is ONLY p[typox] for a non-overtly-prophetic passage; there is NO such thing as p[literal] for such statements.

Hence, we have ONLY p[literal] for overtly prophetic texts and ONLY p[typox] for all (or some subset--see below) others.


Thus, by permitting the use of typological interpretations of OT verses, we have increased the odds of accidental fulfillments, thus making the argument from prophecy less compelling. So the strong prophecist's ploy to strengthen the argument by using typology to increase the number of prophecies apparently fulfilled ends up backfiring. Sure, there are more cases of fulfilled prophecy to present, but the odds finding a naturalistic explanation for the fulfillments have increased due to the presence of the extra interpretations.

I think we can see from my above points that this paragraph was built on a mistaken understanding of p[literal]. And correspondingly, the odds of finding a naturalistic explanation have not changed--one way or another. The use of typox MAY STILL HAVE helped the overall 'system' argument--in terms of predicting more data etc.


4. In fact, the case is actually worse than that. The problem is that typological interpretation does not seem to be an exact science. Indeed, your article pointed out that there is room for ambiguity in the typological interpretation of events, and that this ambiguity could lead to abuse. But I'm not sure that you've really thought through the implications of this ambiguity. (This charge really only applies if you intend to argue the strong prophecist position. If not, then I've misunderstood you, so never mind. :-)

Your article offered only a few controls on typological interpretation. (Ie. ruling out isolated events and "minor characters", for instance, and saying that the antitype must somehow be "greater than" the type.) Beyond that, it seems to be anything goes. That being the case, it seems reasonable to suppose that any particular major character, event, or institution in the OT could serve as the type for not just one but *several* possible antitypes. (And in view of the widely divergent messianic expectations present among 1st-century Jews, it seems that this is exactly what happened.) In terms of OT-NT verse pairs, it follows that if the OT verse mentions a major character, event, or institution, then that verse has not just *one* but *several* possible interpretations, all of which are "legitimate" as far as typological method goes.

As you point out, I pointed out, that typox does have considerable 'flexibility' in it, and I did not explore any of the boundary conditions and constraints on the use of typox in OT history. Perhaps I should do some of that here.

  1. As you note, it was only major characters.
  2. Also as you note, it was not isolated events--it had to be generally national or tribal in scope.
  3. Also as you note, it had to involve some kind of intensification.
  4. The overt prophecies would have created a 'snap-to guide' for the typox, so texts around 'official' roles would be the most likely (e.g. king, prophet, priest, sage)--which is of course, exactly what we find. These 'snap-to guides' would have created some controlling theme. For example, the Suffering (Righteous) Servant of Isaiah would have 'attracted' Suffering (Righteous) Servant-King Psalms (typox), such as Psalm 22.
  5. Since most of the typox are about persons, the majority of the source-passages would be about persons (and from above, about major characters.).
  6. Also, the vast majority of the types have SOME threaded-link between the source and target. For example, King David is royal-blood linked with Jesus. Jesus is royal-blood linked with Israel. Jesus is prophetic-job linked with Moses and Ezekiel. I cannot find any links that appear to be minor or arbitrary (e.g. height, hair color).
There are no doubt other controls on this, but I will have to develop them later. These above would already greatly narrow the range of verses capable of being interpreted typox-wise. With each verse that is excluded, the possibility of random association goes down, of course.


So now, the odds of a chance fulfillment occurring are... well, too complicated to draw a formula for in ASCII, but it's basically the probability of the union over the literal interpretation, and all typological interpretations from 1 to n. The greater the value of n, the more the odds increase. Since n could plausibly run into the dozens or even hundreds, the odds of any one OT-NT verse pair containing an interpretation which coincidentally fulfills some aspect of Jesus life goes up dramatically.

It is here that I need to bring in a different control element--the issue of interpretive community. The standards for deciding if some typox-pair was reasonable or plausible would have been consensus standards. If, for example, I tried to pawn off on the 1st century Jewish or Christian community the following pair:

OT1: "During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul" (2 Samuel 3.6)

NT fulfillment: "It was the third hour when they crucified him." (Mark 15.25).

they would laugh their heads off, and brand me a loony! Why? Because there were enough intrinsic controls to keep this type of pairing from even getting a hearing. Now, this is NOT to say that the rabbis could not come up with some really weird interpretations--for they obviously did. Some of the arguments in the Midrash sound worse than the above example, to be sure. But through argumentation and dialogue, the community would accept some as being possible, and reject some as being 'stupid'. At the extreme boundary, this was sometimes a community criterion of heresy.

This is further complicated by the fact that the Jewish-Christians 'inherited' a wide range of messianic expectations to begin with. Probabilities had already materialized in clusters of prophetic passages, including overt and typox statements (cf. also Qumran's collections of prophetic proof-texts).

This brings me to a main concern I have about approaches like yours and Stoner's--all pairs do NOT have the same 'probability'--the field of possible "events" is textured, if you will. It is the same problem with probability calculations around evolution occurring. Some Creationist advocates will make an argument that there were not enough seconds in the universe's history to produce enough random "collisions" to produce this macro-ordered universe, but what he may not always deal with is the fact that "all collisions are not equal". One "successful" collision would structure the universe differently FOREVER (e.g. by creating different fields and options and energy exchange values), and re-set all subsequent probabilities. The field was simply not homogenous--it was textured by intrinsic characteristics of the fields and particles and waves etc, and was re-defined by the prior moment's context...(Of course, the Evolutionist has the opposite, Platonic problem--he is starting with huge amounts of order already, in the regularity, propensities, and abilities to enter into 'collisions', of the elementary particles. He has already gratuitously assumed an orderly universe and natural law context, in his attempts to explain macro-order in the universe).

The same is true about messianic prophecy; all it takes is one Deut 18.15-19 or a 2 Sam 7 to 'structure' future interpretation. Metaphorically, its sorta like a strange attractor that creates levels of order within a chaotic system. Linguistically, it is like the building of semantic context as we parse a sentence--each cumulative unit 'restricts' the range of semantic possibilities of the as-yet-unread words. Although later words CAN force us to 're-parse' the previous accumulated meaning (e.g. irony, co-locutional clashes), these are the exception rather than the rule. [Notice how this situation actually happened in the life of Jesus. The various messianic strains about New Moses, High Priest, Son of David, Son of Man, etc., were not generally understood as describing the same individual--many in Israel expected multiple messiahs, with multiple functions--they could not put it all together. Jesus forced a recalibration of this, by assuming all these roles within His own life and ministry. Jews who had parsed the OT in a different way, were forced to re-parse it when confronted with a Risen Lord! They had been 'close enough' to recognize Him, but 'far enough off' to need re-setting.]

What this means is that later verses of the bible are qualified by earlier verses (surprise, surprise!). Although newness can occur (e.g. the New Covenant), the basic spectral bands were set in the Abrahamic and Mosaic events and disclosures. Probabilities may be actually drastically narrowed by this tunneling process.


And that's just a single OT-NT verse pair. Most strong prophecists rely heavily on typological interpretations when presenting the argument from prophecy, so we are now dealing with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of "typologically correct" interpretations, from which the strong prophecist can pick and choose as he wishes in order to find convincing examples of apparently fulfilled prophecy. At this point, the argument has pretty much lost all credibility from a statistical point of view. There are so many possible types, and so many more possible antitypes, that is becomes almost trivial to find a few dozen, or even a few hundred, examples of OT verses which appear to have been fulfilled in Jesus.

Actually, the issue is sorta closed. (The historical aspect you will raise in the next section.) Today's Christian doesn't try to find any more prophecies about Jesus' first coming; we simply have enough given to us by the 1st century gospel and epistle authors who were so much more familiar with the practice and limits of typox. And, as I suggested earlier, I am not sure a Christian today would 'lead with' typox; it would make so much more sense to 'lead with' overt, and then adduce RELATED typox (a la the 1st century 'clustering' technique).

5. There is a rather devastating implication of typology that I don't think you've considered. As I mentioned earlier, your article goes out of the way to show that both OT and NT Jews viewed typological interpretation as a legitimate way to understand history (and thus the OT). What you don't seem to have noticed is that the skeptic can use this very fact as the basis of a naturalistic explanation of the apparent fulfillment of prophecy.

The argument might go like this: The early church inherited from their Jewish cultural milieu a belief in the validity of typological interpretations of history. Thus, they believed that God's plan for salvation was "foretold" in the history of Israel, as recorded in the OT. Since they believed that Jesus played a pivotal role in God's plan for salvation, it was natural for them to believe that various aspects of Jesus' life was also "foretold" in the history of Israel. From these premises, it was logical for them to conclude that by examining the OT carefully, they could discern "prophecies" of Jesus in the events described by the OT. So they went to work looking for such prophecies. (Obviously I don't mean they all got together and set about looking for them as some sort of organized project, but I think you know what I mean.) OT verses which had typological interpretations which could plausibly be attributed to Jesus were added to the "catalog" of fulfilled prophecies. OT verses which had no typological interpretations (or at least no typological interpretations which could plausibly be applied to Jesus' life) were simply ignored as referring to something or someone other than Jesus. Since there are so many OT verses, and since each verse could often be interpreted in multiple ways, it is little wonder that they were able to find so many apparent fulfillments of prophecy.

A couple of comments here:

So, we seem to have multiple controls on the process, and the situation does not seem as arbitrary as one might think.


The above argument, when refined, could prove to be quite powerful. It explains the apparent fulfillment of prophecy as well as the strong prophecist's position. It does so without relying on any premises save those which the skeptic and Christian can agree on. And it is simpler, in the Occam's Razor sense, and so is the better theory. And this is *without* any consideration of issues such as legendary accretion, the non-independence of the probability distribution functions of some of the prophecies, or the amount of confidence with which we can affirm the various events of Jesus' life. Suddenly, the typological theory of interpreting history starts to look less useful to the strong prophecist, and the argument from prophecy starts to look less like "hard data" and more like a case of seeing what you want to see.

Well, I suppose I have already indicated where I see issues/problems for this position:

That's all I have for now. I'd be interested in hearing your comments. Take care!


Rob Berry

Thanks for the great questions, as usual..hope all is well...glenn (5/17/97)
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