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George Ophoff was Professor of Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in its early days. Reprinted here, in edited form, are articles that Ophoff wrote at that time for the Standard Bearer. Previous article in this series: December 1, 2004, p. 106.

Second principle of interpretation


Let us now consider another important principle of interpretation. Reflecting again on the examples of typical materials that we considered last time, we discover that not one of the events, transactions, or persons used by the inspired writers as figures of the good things under the gospel is of a sinful nature. Hence, we conclude that events or persons of a sinful nature may not be regarded as figures of things sacred and holy. This is never done—neither by Christ, nor by the inspired writers in general. Nevertheless, it is maintained by some that this rule has its exceptions. It is claimed that no one less than Christ can be said to have violated it, when He uttered the parable of the unrighteous judge (Luke 18). Let us see. “There was in a city,” so spake Christ,

…a judge which feared not God, nor regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?

It is held by some that in this parable the unrighteous judge is represented as a figure or image of God. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth. The unrighteous judge is, in a spiritual-ethical sense, the very opposite of God and may not, for that reason, be regarded as God’s image or figure. This unlikeness is one of the elements constituting the message of the parable. The ungodly judge hearkens unto the pleadings of the widow. In doing so, he is being impelled by selfish motives. Since God is righteous, and since those who turn to Him are the elect, the beloved of God, we may be sure that they do not turn unto God in vain. “I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.”

Another parable to which the critics of the rule under consideration might turn for support is the parable of the crafty steward (Luke 16).

And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him of wasting his goods. And he called him and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my lord taketh away from me my stewardship; I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses. So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord? And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty. Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore. And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are wiser in their generations than the children of light.

Christ now gives the application,

And I say unto you, Make unto yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Now it is held by some that the unjust steward, the representative of the children of the world, is in this particular parable set forth as an image or type of that child of the light who is wise and who is therefore engaged in making to himself friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. But, again, nothing is farther from the truth. Before explaining the matter, it is best that we first attend to the rather obscure injunction of our Lord, “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness.” The meaning is that the children of the light should make their worldly goods bear them interest in heaven. This is done when these riches are placed in the service of heaven instead of in the service of self. Our possessions become our friends when we lay them at the feet of Christ, whose property they are.

The unjust steward is the ungodly one who is very clever when it comes to safeguarding his own interests with God’s riches. Hence, we may not regard this one as an image or figure of the child of light. He is not, for he is darkness, and the children of the light are light. And what concord hath darkness with light? None whatsoever. There are, therefore, no points of convergence between the two. The unjust steward is not a type, nor may he be taken as an example. Hearken then unto the message of the parable: The ungodly one as a man of affairs is very wise. He knows how to make God’s riches serve him to the very best advantage. Be ye wise as children of the light and see to it that your riches bear you interest in heaven.


Third principle of interpretation


Another leading principle of interpretation is that the type can have but one basic meaning. A self-evident truth, we would say. For the sum total of the typical events, transactions, and persons in sacred history constitute a language that God was pleased to use to convey information from His own consciousness into the consciousness of man. Now, every one is quite ready to admit that a language consisting of words with divers meaning would occasion unheard of confusion in that circle where the language was being spoken. The word tree, let us say, would soon become obsolete if it were being used as a symbol of three or four dissimilar things. The type, then, as the word, can have but one meaning. In other words, a type cannot possibly be a figure of two or more dissimilar events, transactions, or persons.

Fairbairn reflects on this principle in his evaluation of the typical exegesis of Classius and Taylor:

Classius makes the deluge to typify both the preservation of the faithful through baptism, and the destruction of the wicked in the day of the judgment; and the rule under which he adduces this example is that “a type may be a figure of two, or even contrary things, though in different respects.” In like manner, Taylor, taking the full liberty of such a canon, when interpreting the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea as a type of baptism, sees in that event, first the offering of Jesus Christ to their faith, through the sure and safe way to the celestial Canaan; and then this other truth, that by His merit and mediation He would carry them through all difficulties and dangers as deep as the bottom of the sea, unto eternal rest. In this specimen the Red Sea is viewed as representing at the same time, and in relation to the same persons, both the atoning blood of Christ and the outward trials of life. The other example is not so palpably incorrect, nor does it in fact go to the entire length which the rule it is designed to illustrate properly warrants; for the action of the waters in the deluge is considered by it in reference to different persons as well as in different respects. It is at fault, however, in making one event typical of two diverse and unconnected results.

In spite of the above criticism of Fairbairn, however, the typical exegesis of Classius and Taylor is basically correct. It has the sanction of Scripture. According to the testimony of Holy Writ, the Red Sea is at once a type of the atoning blood of Christ and of the trials of life. But to this must be added “in different respects.” And the above authors did not fail to make this addition. There is that familiar passage in the first epistle to the Corinthians:

Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

In this Scripture the waters of the Red Sea are represented as a symbol of the blood of Christ. The other Scripture is found in Isaiah 11:

And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea; and with his mighty wind shall he shake his hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dry shod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria; like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt.

There is a plain allusion in this Scripture to the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea. Rivers and seas are here represented as types of difficulties which stand between the elect sinner and salvation—difficulties insurmountable by man, yet overcome by Jehovah. Of such distressing obstacles the Red Sea was also a type.

Classius erred, however, in maintaining that a single type may be a figure of two, or even contrary things, though in different respects. It is certainly true that any thing or person in sacred history may prefigure, in different respects, two dissimilar events under the gospel. The Red Sea, from the point of view of the cleansing properties of its waters, is a symbol of the atoning blood of Christ. The event of the waters of the Red Sea engulfing the obstinate Pharaoh and his hosts is a figure of the Christ vanquishing the foes of His kingdom. But the Red Sea would also have effectively obstructed Israel’s path had not Jehovah intervened. As such, this sea is also a type of the difficulties encountered by the pilgrim journeying to the celestial city—difficulties which are overcome in that the Almighty God takes a hand. God makes a path for His people. The Red Sea, in these three respects, does serve as a figure of three distinct events or series of events. But it is not the case that the one type or figure has three meanings. Rather, we are confronted here with three types: (1) The baptizing of Israel by the waters of the sea; (2) the drowning of Pharaoh by these same waters; (3) the passage of the Israelites through this sea. On this one body of water has been engraved, as it were, the images of three distinct yet related events or series of events. The waters of the sea are indispensable to the three pictures.

There is yet one rule remaining to which we shall attend in a following article.