Jonathan Edwards and Typology

My theological interests are all over the place lately. Recently I have been really interested in typological reading of the OT. Its kind of cool because it coincides with me teaching a class on 2 Samuel at Eternity Bible College in a few weeks. On top of typology I have also been really interested in Reformed theories of atonement and as always Jonathan Edwards. This week I started reading Amy Plantinga Pauw’s book on Jonathan Edwards: The Supreme Harmony of All: The Trinitarian Theology of Jonathan Edwards. I primarily picked it up because I’m trying to nail down Edwards’ atonement theory. Anyway… back to Typology. Pauw has an interesting couple of pages on Edward’s use of typology. I just want to share some of that with you (also I want to organize my own thoughts about typology and Edwards).


Pauw begins by noting that Reformed Scholastics and Puritans were pretty much in love with typology… because it gave them “sufficent latitude to work imaginatively with Biblical material”(38). Now this alone is not a good reason to use typology. Just because it helps us preach better or study the bible better is not a justification for using typology. Nevertheless people like Edwards “accepted and wholeheartedly embraced… the typological approach to Scriptures which came to him from Puritan-Protestant figural sources” (38).

There are various ways to use typology. First we can read scripture typologically, for instance we can find Christ as the fulfillment of various types and images in the Old Testament. (Lets assume that reading Scripture typologically is okay.) We can also move beyond scriptural sources and find images and types of divine things (atonement, the Trinity, God’s faithfulness and love) in nature, human history, and current events. Edwards thoroughly believed this. Some might object to doing this…..they might say that this is a crude and unsophisticated hermeneutic (for scripture and for understanding the world around us.) Edwards knows that people will object to this yet he says:

“I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things.”

Why does Edwards say this and why does he risk ridicule and contempt in order to find God in things like storms, spiders, marriage, family, and historical occurrences? The reason is quite simple. He believes that “God is a communicative being.” In fact in one of his Miscellanies Edwards says that “communication of himself to their understand is his glory, and the communication of himself with respect to their wills, the enjoying faculty is their happiness.” (This theme is echoed throughout The End for Which God Created the World.) So God delights in communicating himself and about himself. God delights in speaking to us. And God speaks in the language of typologies. In the Typological writings Edwards says that “Types are a certain sort of language, as it were, in which God is wont to speak to us.” However we must learn to speak that language. I believe that (to a certain extent) if we are going to learn to hear God speak to us through nature and through the OT we need to learn (or better yet be taught) to understand this language.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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