Brakel on Typology

Wilhelmus a Brakel (1635 – 1711) was a prominent Dutch theologian and pastor at the end of the High Orthodoxy in the Netherlands. His magnum opus is The Christian’s Reasonable Service, which is (overall) a marvelous combination of dogmatic and practical theology, certainly in the vein of the Nadere Reformatie tradition. For excellent treatments of the Dutch churchman see Bartel Elshout’s resource-rich site.

Brakel is very careful in describing typology. He argues that, unless clear boundaries are given, every star, tree and worm will turn into a type of Christ at the hands of less-than-skilled interpreters. So he lays down the following rules for a type: “If one is to designate something as a type, the following must be true:”

  1. It must have been appointed by God to be a type.
  2. Types had been given to the church of the Old Testament in order that during that time frame she would thereby look unto Christ and believe in Him.
  3. Types were a necessary component of Old Covenant worship such that those who did not use these types for their intended purpose were in sin.

“When these three criteria are absent, however, one may not appoint or designate something as a type” (Volume IV, p. 382).

At first glance, these seem like excellent rules. However, immediately following this Brakel fleshes out how his typology works, and there he maintains that “Adam… cannot be designated as [a type] of the Lord Jesus…” and “The flood was … [not] a type of holy baptism.” Now this is suprising, when we consider Romans 5:14 and 1 Peter 3:21, because both of these verses seem to clearly portray the opposite of what Brakel maintained.

Romans 5:14 The First Adam and Christ
…Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. (ESV)
Ἀδάμ, ὅς ἐστιν τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος.

1 Peter 3:21 The Noahic Flood and New Covenant Baptism
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you… (ESV)
ὃ καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀντίτυπον νῦν σῴζει βάπτισμα

How can Brakel maintain this? Isn’t he clearly contradicting the thrust of Paul and Peter, respectively?

Perhaps not. Brakel noted earlier that not every time the word “type” or “example” appear in Scripture should we automatically infer that the technical feature of typology is present. So just because typos and antitypos (“type” and “antitype,” respectively) appear in the text does not guarantee typology. Further, Brakel considers the Romans 5:14 example specifically, arguing that Adam was not a type of Christ prelapse (since “there was as yet no sin which needed to be removed”), nor in Adam’s fall (since Christ did not sin nor bear sin as a type of Adams’), nor finally does Adam typify Christ postlapse. “Rather, it is very clear that all we have here is a comparison,” Brakel maintained. “Adam is presented as being the cause of death… and Christ is presented as quickening all who are in Him, that is, the elect” (IV, p. 380). So the connection between Christ and Adam is not one of type to antitype, but a comparison and contrast.

I agree with Brakel that an instance of the word “type” does not guarantee the whole typological structure. However, most of the examples Brakel uses to support this argument are debatable: 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 seem very much like typology to me; 2 Peter 2:6 uses hypodeigma, not typos; Philippians 3:17 is probably his strongest prooftext, yet it is conceivable that Paul is referring not merely to his own individualistic piety as exemplary, but rather his role in apostolic office as being typological for Christ’s saints.

Further, while I agree with Brakel that Adam does not typify Christ in the ways he listed, it seems odd to me that Brakel left out the option of federal headship. Yes, Adam does not typologically coordinate with Christ in any of the pre- or post-lapse scenarios, but it does seem that Adam should be seen as typologically corresponding to Christ as a federal head of humanity. Brakel is quite right to think of Adam (and his rebellion) as the “cause” of death, and similarly Christ as the cause of “quickening” in the elect. But isn’t that because of the fact that both are federal representatives in the Covenants of Works and Grace? In that, surely Adam is a type of Christ’s antitype.

I would like to think more about this, but Brakel’s rule that typology must be employed in Old Covenant worship seems tricky to me. I’ll have to read more about how he uses this consideration, but for now it seems to me that – helpful as his typology is – there may yet be a few kinks to work out. Does anyone else know why Brakel took the line he did on typology? Is this a reaction to Cocceian abuses? A pastoral concern in Dutch circles? I’d love any useful feedback in the comments!

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