Skip links

The Sound of Silence and the Otherness of Scripture

A brief observation on Biblical interpretation and typology in Hebrews 6:13–7:28.

When you read the Bible, how often do you look at the way the apostles saw the world and use that way of seeing for how you should interpret the Bible? Typology—a non-verbal prophecy consisting of signs, symbols, imagery, and allusions that point to a greater spiritual truth—is scoffed at in contemporary theology and readily undermined by pastors. It is widely regarded as fluff, arbitrary meanings floating anchorlessly above the depths of reality. Yet it is precisely through the colourful lens of typology that the authors of the New and Old Testaments saw the cosmos. It was, and still is, how God speaks through the visible world. For instance, I’m sure you have all heard the Passover lamb is a type of Christ (Exodus 12:1-11; 1 Corinthians 5:7), and that circumcision of the flesh is fulfilled by circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:12-17; Jeremiah 9:25-26; Romans 2:28-29), and so forth. These are symbols and signs, rituals and visuals, that point to something of greater significance. Now consider how the author of Hebrews exegetes Genesis 14-15 in Hebrews 6:13–7:28. I’ll just post a portion of it here:

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever. See how great this man was to whom Abraham the patriarch gave a tenth of the spoils! And those descendants of Levi who receive the priestly office have a commandment in the law to take tithes from the people, that is, from their brothers, though these also are descended from Abraham. But this man who does not have his descent from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. It is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior. In the one case tithes are received by mortal men, but in the other case, by one of whom it is testified that he lives. One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (Hebrews 7:1-10)

There are several things to consider in this passage, but I only want to highlight two.

First, the overarching point of Hebrews 6:13–7:28 is that Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant (7:22). Hebrews grounds the reason for Christ’s covenantal authority over the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, as well as the Levitical priesthood, in the typological parallels shared by Melchizedek and Jesus Christ[1]. He argues that Melchizedek is a type of Christ, and that Jesus Himself comes in the likeness of Melchizedek (vv.15-16), as one “resembling the Son of God” who is “priest forever” (v.3). The most peculiar yet insightful aspect of this argument is that the typological evidence is not in its positive attributes, in the things described about Melchizedek—say, the meaning of his name and the city he rules, or that Abram was served Communion from a priest-king of God Most High who governs Salem, a proto-Jerusalem—the author emphasizes the negative aspects, the absence of any written material about Melchizedek’s life. While Melchizedek’s brief and monumental appearance symbolically foreshadows the covenant to come, of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham and his offspring (inheritors of the promise), it is chiefly the absence of any recorded “father or mother or genealogy” (7:3) which is sufficient evidence of typology, that which points to Jesus’ divine eternality and continual priestly vocation as “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (6:20). The positive typological parallels warranted the negative typological evidence, though unspoken it was. The author seems to make an argument entirely from silence, yet given Scripture’s divine inspiration and atemporal intentions, its silence is not nothing. It is a whisper. His mysterious yet historical interjection into the text is not just playful, it is prophetic.

When Scripture is silent, it speaks volumes.

Second, if we press the text a little further, Melchizedek is not historically a type of Christ, he is a literary type of Christ. In physical the world, Melchizedek does indeed have a mother and father and genealogy, but it is not recorded in Scripture. And because of this fact, the author argues that this hereditary silence is typological of Jesus’ eternal priesthood. Therefore, Melchizedek is not literally without parents, he is literarily without parents, just as Jesus is not literally without parents or genealogy, either, but is fully God, an uncreated and pre-existent eternal Being, and fully man with a biological mother and adopted father (Luke 3:4-7,23-38). What Scripture keeps in and what it leaves out is deliberately set apart for a special purpose. The text may not always have 1:1 physical correspondence with history (or science). How can it be that the author finds licence to make an argument with ‘figurative’ evidence from a historical narrative if the typology itself is not concrete, objective, or historically true? It tells you something about the nature of Scripture—its literary uniqueness is divinely intentional for spiritual ends—insofar that typology is interwoven in-and-out of the text as a way of obtaining (spiritual) truth. It is a redemptive historical book uniquely and prophetically curated to understand the character and purposes of God to edify the soul, which is precisely how the author finds warrant in referencing the absence of Melchizedek’s recorded parentage as evidence of Christ’s divine authority. You would not do this with a normal book. Scripture is something other. It looks beyond the immediate material laid in front of you to paint a prophetic picture and typological metanarrative.

The author is not reading between the lines, he is reading behind them.

In summary, Scripture was written for salvation and the edification of the soul, which is understood through prophecies and typologies anchored in Christ. Ancient man saw the world very differently, and read Scripture very differently, and interpreted evidence very differently. Scripture is fundamentally something other than normal written work and other sacred texts and institutions, the spirit of prophecy moves in and through, between and behind, every jot and tittle.

Prophecy, and thus typology necessarily, is not just predictive—though it clearly is that—it is divine insight into the immediate context, situation, and hearts of men. It is spiritual wisdom and knowledge that would not be otherwise. Typology is a way to see behind the curtain of Scripture. It is the “spirit of prophecy” which is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 19:10). Thinking in a typological way is unveiling that apostolic nous, that way of seeing the world.

But what scholar, pastor, or theologian do you know today who would consider this kind of reasoning legitimate and vital for Biblical interpretation? No one that I can think of—

I suppose we all have blind spots, but this one is pretty big.

Matlock Bobechko is the Chief Operating/Creative Officer of Bible Discovery. He is an eclectic Christian thinker and writer, award-winning screenwriter and short filmmaker. He writes a weekly blog on theology, apologetics, and philosophy called Meet Me at the Oak. He is also an Elder at his local church.