Biblical Theology: Ballast for Preaching (Part 2 of 3)


Good writers of story have an innate sense of how to take on ballast to accomplish their intended aim. In this respect, good writers are recognized as such, in part, for their ability to front-load characters or objects with traits or functions that take on greater significance later on. This subtlety is what makes us want to reread a book or watch a movie a second time. Early details, unnoticed when first exposed to them, are later recognized as relating to the story’s climax and resolution. Their significance is revealed when the author’s complete intention is fully made known.

It would appear that God, in his infinite wisdom, front-loaded his story by sovereignly endowing certain people, objects, and events with functions and traits that take on greater significance in the gospel. Because of this, good preaching will require the facility to recognize those correspondences in the story that provide ballast.

In the first post in this series we mentioned two, plot and theme. In this post we look at two more, typology and analogy. And it is best to consider them together.


These correspondences may be broad—in which cases we simply call them analogies—or they may be narrower. When a person, event, institution, or object in the Bible narrowly anticipates some aspect of Jesus Christ, we call this typology.[1] There are many complex definitions of types. In simple terms, a type is usually a person (like Moses, or David) or an object (like the ark or sacrificial lamb) that anticipates or prefigures Jesus.

Because there are more types in the Bible than are explicitly named, preachers must be careful in how they approach typology. First, as preachers, it is easy for us to make more of typology than we should. Just because we see an object in the Old Testament that shares something in common with an object in the New Testament, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we have found a type.

For instance, just because Rahab’s cord is described as being scarlet, it doesn’t mean that God intends for us to connect it to the blood of Christ, as though both being red proves that God intended for us to bring them together. This is a fallacy. Ask yourself, if it had been green would you have been right to connect it to new life? Or, what if it had been purple? Would you have argued that God wanted us to tie it to the sign of Christ’s royalty? No, of course not.

Second, preachers often make the mistake of confusing typology for allegory. Gerald Bray explains allegory as “a method of reading a text by assuming that its literal sense conceals a hidden meaning, to be deciphered by using a particular hermeneutical key.”[2] This, also, is easy for preachers to do.

For example, we might suppose: “The five stones David picked up from the river bank are not intended to be stones at all. Rather, they are emblems for spiritual warfare that go by the names of faith, hope, prayer, courage, and fortitude.” Clearly, this is a mistake, yet one we commit all too frequently. And when we do, we actually work against the kind of ballast typology and analogy were intended to provide.

The principle is this: our use of analogy and typology should be rooted in textual and historical realities.[3] Acts 7 provides us with a good example. Stephen concludes his sermon by rebuking the Israelites for acting like their fathers and killing Jesus. Interestingly, this rebuke is grounded in a set of typological connections.[4] Stephen argues, from the lives of Joseph and Moses, that although God’s chosen ones were rejected by their own people, God nevertheless exalted them.

In a profoundly more important way, Stephen identifies the rejection and exaltation of Jesus as the climatic fulfillment of that pattern set down in the Scriptures long ago. The fate and glory of Joseph and Moses prefigure the fate and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the lives of those two leaders were intentionally front-loaded with characteristics that were intended by God to anticipate the person and work of his only Son.

Learning to preach well will require taking on the ballast that typology and analogy provide. And in this short post, we have observed some common mistakes as well as an example of a better way. Preachers would do well to know the difference as well as to know how to improve.


Those who do it well begin making progress by asking a series of questions in their preparation:

  • Does my text seem to make use of typology or analogy? And if so, what makes me think that this type was intended by the Holy Spirit?
  • Do I have textual or historical grounds to believe that this is something more than merely a creation of my own imagination?
  • What is the textual and historical warrant for this type?
  • Can I trace a pattern of this kind of type in the Bible?

We are all looking to add some ballast to our preaching. Another way of saying this is that we need to make good use of biblical theology. So far, we have explored four tools that will assist us toward that end: plot, theme, typology, and analogy. These four tools are introduced in greater detail in Expositional Preaching, a soon-to-be-released book I have written in partnership with 9Marks and Crossway. In the final post of this series, I intend to introduce you to an online resource that was also designed to help you make progress with biblical theology.

[1] These correspondences for typology come from Walter Eichrodt, “Is Typological Exegesis an Appropriate Method?” in Claus Westermann (ed.), Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics (trans. J.L. Mays; Richmond: John Knox, 1964), 224-225. The list is picked up by several others, including: G.K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 44; Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 103; and Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 254-255.

[2] Gerald Bray, “Allegory,” in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (ed., Kevin Vanhoozer; Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 34.

 [3] See Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 102-103.

 [4] See James M. Hamilton Jr., What is Biblical Theology? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 44.

David Helm

David Helm is one of the pastors of Christ Church Chicago in Chicago and Chairman of the Charles Simeon Trust.

Joel Miles

Joel Miles is the Director of Training at the Charles Simeon Trust and a pastoral resident at Holy Trinity Church.

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