Typology in the New Testament

Kostenberger and Patterson, on page 704 of Invitation to Biblical Interpretation say the following about the use of the Old Testament in the NT:

Beginning students of Scripture sometimes assume that there is only one way in which the New Testament writers use the Old Testament. (Most commonly, the assumption is that this one way is prediction-fulfillment, that is, a New Testament writer citing an Old Testament passage to show that a given passage has been fulfilled in Christ.) Nothing could be further form the truth. While it is true that the prediction-fulfillment pattern accounts for a significant number of New Testament references to the Old (such as Matt. 2:6 citing Mic. 5:2), it is by no means the only type of usage.

One of the other ways that Kostenberger and Patterson identify by which the New Testament writers use the Old Testament is typology.

Typology, as I understand it, has two main characteristics and a couple other more debated ones. The first characteristic is a relationship of correspondence and analogy. This means that an earlier person event or institution (called the type) is related to a later one (called the antitype) by means of correspondence (they “match” one another in some way) and analogy (they are similar in some regard). The word “type” itself in the New Testament often simply means “pattern” and does not in itself have a technical meaning (for example 1 Pet. 5:3, “be examples to the flock”). Nevertheless, it is a useful term for a phenomenon that is found repeatedly in the Bible (and appropriate given the meaning of the word and the way that it is used in Rom. 5:14).

An important aspect of this relationship of correspondence and analogy is the idea that the similarity should be significant and part of the “theological essence” of the type, rather than in some incidental detail (e.g. the Passover lamb has a significant correspondence to Christ’s death to redeem His people, whereas the wood of Noah’s ark and the scarlet color of Rahab’s cord are just incidental details; cf. Greidanus, 218).

The second important characteristic is the historical nature of typology. That is to say, the type that corresponds and is analogous to the antitype is a historical person, event or institution. This is because one of the presuppositions behind typology is that God guides the course of history in such a way that various patterns can be discerned, and these repeated patterns have a trajectory that leads out of the OT for their greatest fulfillment.

This can be established even from within the Old Testament. For example, God dwells with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but they sin and are removed from the blessing of God’s presence in the place He made for them. This pattern continues in the giving of Canaan to Israel. They (like Adam and Eve) are given God’s words of command (in the form of the Mosaic law), and promised blessing in the land if they will obey. Unfortunately they demonstrate that they have the same sinful hearts that Adam and Eve had, with the result that after many calls from God to turn to Him in repentance they are finally exiled out of the land. But even in the midst of the exile the prophets promise that God will remain faithful to His promises and restore, not only Israel, but the whole creation. And so the Old Testament ends with a tiny remnant waiting for the fulfillment of God’s pattern of living with His people, a pattern that transcends the bounds of the Old Testament and leaves the reader brimming with expectation as to how God will fulfill these promises and patterns.

Because of this historical characteristic, typology can be contrasted with allegory, because it has to do with historical facts while allegory has to do with words (Baker, 179-181). In typology, the focus is on the analogy between one historical person, event or institution and another. In allegory, the focus is on finding a secret meaning in the words of the OT that bypasses their historical meaning. Sidney Greidanus, in his book Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, stresses repeatedly that while both the allegorical approach and the typological approach both see the OT pointing to Christ, the typological approach sees the words of the OT as referring to the actual things and events in the OT (according to their natural sense). It is not the words themselves that correspond to the NT realities, but the events and things written of in the words. On the other hand, allegory sees the actual words of the OT text as being about the NT realities, bypassing the historical and contextual meaning as it would have been understood by the original hearers. So, for typology, the correlation is between the thing or event (written about by the text) and the NT reality. For allegory, the correlation is between the words of the text and the New Testament reality. David Baker will go so far as to say that while allegory is a hermeneutic, typology is not. Rather it is a way of thinking about the things discovered by means of a historical grammatical hermeneutic (181).

The benefit of typology over allegory is the ability to maintain the original meaning of the text according to sound hermeneutical principles, while affirming (with Jesus and the Apostles) that the OT as a whole points to Christ. While the allegorical approach agrees with the NT in reading the OT as a witness to Christ, it does so by jumping straight from the text to Christ without considering the original historical meaning.

Two more characteristics are more debated, and I will mention them in passing. The first is the fact that the typological patterns escalate as they progress, so that the antitype is greater than the type (e.g. Christ is greater than the Passover lamb). While this seems to be a fair enough assumption, Baker says that the escalation from type to antitype has  to do with the escalation that takes place when moving from the Old Testament to the New Testament rather than the essential nature of typology (183).

What is more debated is whether types are forward-pointing like prophecy, or whether they can only be ascertained in hindsight. This is closely related to the question of whether the type is understood by the person recording the event, or if they were unconscious of the typological significance, or if the type was not part of the intended significance of the text but a later interpretation. While I don’t have all of these issues sorted out, I would think that it is important to affirm that the typological significance is part of the original intention of the text from God’s perspective, if not the human author’s.

This leads to the question of how typology functions in the New Testament. To begin with, here are some passages that, in skimming the NT, I thought were at least possible examples of typology (first according to passage, and then grouped according to type):

EXAMPLES OF TYPOLOGY BY PASSAGE:

Romans 5:12-21 – Adam to Christ
1 Peter 3:21 – flood to baptism
1 Cor. 10:6, 11 – Israel to church?
Heb. 9:24 – tabernacle/temple to heavenly tabernacle/temple
Matt. 2:15 – Israel (the son) to Christ (the Son)
Matt. 4:1-11 – Israel’s failed temptation to Christ’s successful temptation
Matt. 11:25-12:21 – seventh day Sabbath rest to spiritual rest in Christ
Luke 3:38-4:11 – Adam to Christ
Jn. 1:18, 2:21: the tabernacle/temple to Jesus
Ps. 69 – (used in Jn 15:25 [69:4], Jn. 2:17 [69:9], Jn. 19, Mt. 27, Mk. 15, Lk. 23 [crucifixion, 69:21], Acts 1:20 [69:25]), David to Jesus
Jn. 3:14-15 – serpent lifted up to Jesus on the cross
Jn. 13:18 – (Ps. 41:9), David to Jesus
Jn. 19:36 – Passover lamb to Jesus
Ps. 2 – (used in Acts 4:25, Heb 1:5, 5:5, Rev. 2:26-27, 12:5, 19:15), David to Jesus
1 Cor. 5:7 – Passover lamb to Christ
Eph. 2:21 – temple to the church
Phil. 3:3 – circumcision to regeneration
Col. 2:11-13 – circumcision to regeneration
Heb. 10:5-10 (Ps. 40:6-8), David to Jesus
Heb. 9:23; 10:1; 13:10 – OT sacrifice to Christ
1 Pet. 2:4-8 – temple to the church
Rev. 21-22 – temple to new heavens and earth

EXAMPLES OF TYPOLOGY BY TYPE:

1) Historical person or people to Christ:

  • Adam to Christ (Rom. 5:12-21, Luke 3:38-4:13)
  • Israel to Christ (Matt. 2:15; 4:1-11)
  • David to Christ (use of Psalms in the NT, including Gospels, Romans and Hebrews)

2) OT institution to Christ:

  • Passover lamb to Christ (Jn. 19:36; 1 Cor. 5:7)
  • OT sacrifice to Christ (Heb. 9:23; 10:1; 13:10)
  • Serpent in the wilderness to Christ (Jn. 3:14-15)
  • Tabernacle/temple to Christ (Jn. 1:18, 2:21)
  • Seventh day Sabbath to spiritual rest in Christ (Matt. 11:25-30)

3) OT reality to NT reality:

  • Flood to baptism (1 Pet. 3:21)
  • Circumcision to regeneration (Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11-13)
  • Temple to the church (Eph. 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:4-8)
  • Temple to the new heavens and earth (Rev. 21-22)

From these passages it can be seen that the most obvious categories of types from the New Testament perspective are those that represent analogies between 1) a historical person or people and Christ, 2) an OT institution and Christ, and 3) OT realities and NT realities (or future realities, as in the case of the new heavens and earth). Baker uses the category of typology as a way to describe more broadly the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament (187). When used in conjunction with the idea of promise-fulfillment as a way to describe the relationship between the Testaments, and in conjunction with a Christocentric understanding of the Bible, I think the idea of typology works very well.

Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Model, Eerdmans: 1999.

David L. Baker, Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship between the Old and New Testaments, IVP: 2010, 169-189.

G. K. Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Baker Academic: 2012, 12-27.

Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Eerdmans: 2000, 109-113.

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One Response to Typology in the New Testament

  1. Pingback: Bible Typology | Christianity 201

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