Typology, Allegory, and Mimēsis

September 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

practice_of_painting___realistic_face_by_mirellasantana-d74ct5jIn post one I introduced the book by Matthew Bates (The Hermeneutics of Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2012). In post two I spoke about his critique of intertextuality.

In this post I will briefly discuss some of his points about typology, allegory, and mimēsis.


The popular way to use the terms “typology” and “allegory” are to mark the distinction between better and worse forms of nonliteral exegesis. Bates picks up on Frances Young‘s proposal that both typology and allegory are part of a larger strategy of reading which she called “mimēsis” or figural representation. Young writes:

“Mimēsis was a key concept in ancient understanding of literature. The performance of epic or drama created a ‘representation’ of life from which the audience learnt. In the ancient Church mimēsis or ‘representation’ was important. It underlay the enactment of the saving events in the sacraments, as well as the ‘exemplary’ use of scripture: great heroes were listed to illustrate a particular virtue, so a character like Job came to embody patience, and Christ’s life and death were set forth as a way to be imitated. […] ‘Mimetic exegesis’ assumes the replay of a drama – an act or plot – and so had a place in forming ethics, lifestyle and liturgy.”

bbecb5cfcb6b96b53280b81251ddb76cTypology makes use of iconic mimēsis: that is, “representation (mimēsis) through genuine likeness, an analogy, ‘ikon’ or image.” This “requires a mirroring of the supposed deeper meaning in the text taken as a coherent whole.”

Allegory, on the other hand, makes use of symbolic mimēsis: that is, representation “by a symbol, something unlike which stands for the reality” (210). Bates uses the example of a painting to illustrate their differences.

A realistic painting with genuine correspondence to the eyes of the subject who posed for the painting, while at the same time the eyes hold a proportional relationship to the rest of the subject’s face would be an iconic relationship. But if an alien code is brought in to interpret the painting such as the subject represented in the painting symbolizes greed, then the bright eyes in the portrait might be regarded as silver coins. Or if the face had a skeletal outline it might symbolize death. The point here is that there is not an iconic relationship (the subject’s eyes) but rather a symbolic relationship (silver coins or the skeleton).

Bates affirms that Paul uses both types of mimesis and because of the associations with typology and allegory we should adopt iconic and symbolic mimēsis.

What Generates Our Reading?

Bates takes the argument further than Young though. He argues that both types of mimesis are not generative, but rather ornamentative. What generates these readings is the apostolic kerygma and Paul communicates through the ornament of mimēsis (typology and allegory).

Bates argues that we have typology and allegory backwards. Paul does not use typology or allegory as a method, but rather the apostolic kerygma and the present application generate these readings. Paul then decorate these readings with either typology or allegory. As Bates says:

the engine that drives this identification of “types” does not move from text to present application, but rather in reverse. It is only in light of the efficacious results of the apostolic kerygma, and hence through its realigning grid, that these mimetic correspondences between past and present can be observed by Paul (148).

To speak of typology or allegory as generating scriptural interpretation is misguided. It is only by virtue of the guiding presence of the apostolic kerygma that the mimetic relationship between the past and present can be observed as deliberately anticipatory and metaphorically labeled as a type in post hoc fashion by Paul.

So is Paul’s hermeneutic typological? Bates says the best answer is both “yes” and “no.” No because typology was not a reified interpretative technique available in Paul’s day and age. Paul did not go searching the Scriptures for types in and of themselves. But “yes” since Paul noticed mimēsis occurring between chronologically separated people and after noting this mimēsis he employed τὐπος language metaphorically to draw attention to that mimēsis.

Thus for Paul, the selection of a suitable trope occurs subsequent to the linking of the mental images. Thus, in the final analysis, Paul does use a “typology” of sorts, but only if properly nuanced.


On the first point, Bates affirms that Paul uses both iconic and symbolic mimēsis, and I would agree. Yet he goes onto argue that because of the associations with typology and allegory we should adopt iconic and symbolic mimēsis as our new terminology. I tend to think we should retain the more “biblical” language of typology and allegory and work at redefining their connotations.

I do wonder if these things are even closer than Bates and Young suppose. Peter Martens has an article where he argues typology is actually a subcategory of allegory or a type of allegorical interpretation.

Concerning what the engine is or what generates readings, Bates proposal is very different than the way I (and I think most people) have conceived of things. I will need time to let it simmer. One point is worth bringing up though. It is hard for me to escape the notion that Paul uses typology and allegory as reading strategies in and of themselves. Certainly the kerygma is the foundation or the light to the types. But Paul still seems to “find” types and thus could both the kerygma and mimēsis generate readings in concert? In other words, has Bates set up a false antithesis or has he clarified the order and placement of these things?




Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

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