6 - Typology

I. Definition

A type is a special kind of symbol, a prophetic symbol, where historic intention is important. Its fulfilment is in the future.

Ex. The animal sacrificial system in the Old Testament pointed to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ

  • animal sacrificial system = type
  • the sacrifice of Christ = anti-type (anti = instead)

Prophetic symbols are possible because history is divinely planned. A type often contains symbols. For example, the Tabernacle is a type of the redemption of Christ but the items of furniture in the Tabernacle are symbols of different aspects of redemption.

II. Justification for Typological Interpretation

1. Jesus’ use of the Old Testament

John 5:39-47

In verse 46 Jesus says that Moses wrote about Him. The writings of Moses looked to the future when Jesus Christ would come into this world to be our Saviour.

Luke 24:25-27, 44

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus opened up the understanding of two of his followers concerning the meaning of his crucifixion and resurrection by referring to Moses and the Prophets: “He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (verse 27). Note also verse 44 where Jesus clearly states that what was written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms pointed ahead to a fulfillment in the future.

2. Epistles’ use of the Old Testament

Romans 5:12-21

In verse 14, Paul says that Adam was “a type of him who was to come.” The following verses declare the superiority of Jesus Christ, the Second Adam.

1 Cor.10:1-11

In referring to the experiences of the Israelites in the Old Testament, Paul says specifically that these events happened as examples (Greek: tupoi) to us “for our admonition” (vv.6, 11). We need to learn from them. The history of the Israelites is typological in that it pictures the experience of the Christian in all ages. Their deliverance from the bondage of the Egyptians points ahead to the Christian’s deliverance from the bondage of sin.

Hebrews 9:6-15, 23, 24

This chapter points out the limitations of the Old Testament tabernacle and sacrificial system. Verse 9 says that they were “symbolic” for a later time. They pointed ahead to the perfect High Priest, Jesus Christ, who entered the Most Holy place once for all with his own blood (v.12). Verse 24 says that “the holy places made with hands” are “copies of the true,” they are representations of the true realities of heaven.

3. Harmony between the Old Testament and the New Testament

Typology presupposes that God has built patterns and structures into human history so that our history is not a series of detached fragments or random events. The Scriptures teach that history is moving towards a goal: the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Final Judgment, and the establishing of a new heaven and a new earth where righteousness reigns. The unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament is evident throughout the Scriptures.

Some Examples:

(a) Chapter 4 of Romans states clearly that the act of faith in the Old Testament is the same as the act of faith in the New Testament and that truth continues up to the present time. Abraham is called the “father of us all” (vv.11, 12, 16), the father of all believers.

(b) The life of faith in the Old Testament is a model for the New Testament saints and for us. Note Hebrews 11.

When liberal theologians attacked the unity of the Scriptures by putting a division between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and declaring that the God of the Old Testament was different than the God of the New, they had to set aside typology: it could not fit in with their ideas.

III. Characteristics of Typology

(Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp.228ff.)

1. It points to the future: usually it is an Old Testament type prefiguring something about redemption in the future.

2. It may be different in essence or it may be something similar or even the same. Ex. Death in the animal sacrificial system is the same as in the anti-type.

3. The resemblance must be designated, that is, stated to be one in the New Testament, or the New Testament may state the whole as being typical.

  • Ex. The reference to the wilderness wanderings in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.

4. A type may parallel many points in the antitype.

  • Ex. The tabernacle—the Holy of Holies, the furniture, the altar (Hebrews 8-10).

5. Dissimilarity is to be expected. A one-to-one correspondence between type and anti-type is not necessary or usual.

  • Ex. Moses is a type of Christ
    • Points of pronounced similarity—Moses is a leader and a mediator.
    • Points of pronounced dissimilarity—Moses sinned and died.
    • The typical truth is at the point of similarity.

IV. Kinds of Types

1. Persons

Adam type of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:14)

David type of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:25-36)

Elijah type of John the Baptist (Matt.17:10-13)

2. Institutions

The Passover a type of Christ’s Redemption (1 Cor.5:7)

The Promised Land a type of heaven (Heb.3:7-4:10)

3. Roles

  • Moses, the prophet
  • Aaron, the high priest
  • David, the king
    They are all types of Jesus as Prophet, Priest, and King.

4. Events

The crossing of the Israelites through the Red Sea a type of salvation, being baptized into the Holy Spirit (1 Cor.10:1, 2)

5. Things

The manna in the wilderness a type of Jesus Christ (John 6:30-35, 48-51)

6. Actions

The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness a type of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (John 3:14-16)

V. Guidelines for Interpreting Typology

(Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp.229ff.)

1. Note the typology of the New Testament and see how it treats the subject. The New Testament does not deal with all the details and incidentals. As Ramm says, “We should restrict our efforts to major doctrines, central truths, key spiritual lessons, and major moral principles”(p.230).

Example: (from Sterrett, p.109)

  • The Brazen Serpent
Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14, 15
the people complained no mention
God sent fiery serpents no mention
many died no mention (but those who don’t put faith in Christ will die)
people confessed their sin no mention
Moses prayed for them no mention
God commanded Moses to make a serpent
Moses made a serpent of brass and put it on a pole
Christ was lifted up on a wooden pole—no mention of brass serpent
Anyone who looked was healed. Whosoever believes will have eternal life.

2. Locate in any given type the typical and the incidental. For example, much about the Tabernacle has no typical significance. Do not try to be clever, original, or shocking.

3. Note that the New Testament specifies the Tabernacle with its priesthood and offerings and the Wilderness Wanderings as the two major areas of typical materials.

4. Do not prove doctrine from types unless there is clear New Testament authority.

5. Note the difference between types and parallels.

  • Joseph is not identified in Scripture as a type of Christ. Therefore some people we shouldn’t call him a type although there are certainly many parallels to Christ in his life. Should we call him a type?
  • The Song of Solomon is nowhere identified as a type of Christ and the Church, but we do find parallels to and illustrations of the spiritual relationship between God and His people. (but see Psalm 45)

VI. Comparison of Types, Symbols, and Allegory

  • Types are based in real historical events or people and the history and literal meaning should be taken seriously
  • Symbols exist as something to see, touch, smell, taste, hear
    • but they usually represents something different in essence
    • e.g. prophecy of Eve’s descendent trampling on the snake
    • Peter’s vision of the unclean animals he was to eat
    • they are very common in prophecy
  • Allegory
    • uncontrolled symbolism where we try and find symbols in everything without any basis

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans