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What is typology? According to gotquestions.org, 


"....Typology is a special kind of symbolism. (A symbol is something which represents something else.) We can define a type as a “prophetic symbol” because all types are representations of something yet future. More specifically, a type in scripture is a person or thing in the Old Testament which foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament. For example, the flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-7) is used as a type of baptism in 1 Peter 3:20-21. The word for type that Peter uses is figure.

When we say that someone is a type of Christ, we are saying that a person in the Old Testament behaves in a way that corresponds to Jesus’ character or actions in the New Testament. When we say that something is “typical” of Christ, we are saying that an object or event in the Old Testament can be viewed as representative of some quality of Jesus.

Scripture itself identifies several Old Testament events as types of Christ’s redemption, including the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, and the Passover. The Old Testament tabernacle is identified as a type in Hebrews 9:8-9: “the first tabernacle . . . which was a figure for the time then present.” The high priest’s entrance into the holiest place once a year prefigured the mediation of Christ, our High Priest. Later, the veil of the tabernacle is said to be a type of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20) in that His flesh was torn, (as the veil was when He was crucified) in order to provide entrance into God’s presence for those who are covered by His sacrifice.

The whole sacrificial system is seen as a type in Hebrews 9:19-26. The articles of the “first testament” were dedicated with the blood of sacrifice; these articles are called “the patterns of things in the heavens” and “figures of the true” (verses 23-24). This passage teaches that the Old Testament sacrifices typify Christ’s final sacrifice for the sins of the world. The Passover is also a type of Christ, according to 1 Corinthians 5:7, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” ...."


Typology is a method of Bible interpretation where something from the Old Testament is seen to "prefigure" something later more fully revealed in the New Testament. The first is called the type and the fulfillment is referred to as the antitype.  These may be regarding a person, place, thing, or even an event. Very often, it is messianic in character, meaning something foreshadowing the person or work of Christ.  One (Jackson) has defined it thus: “A type is a real, exalted happening in history which was divinely ordained by the omniscient God to be a prophetic picture of the good things which he purposed to bring to fruition in Christ Jesus.”


There are historical biblical persons who are types:


Jonah is seen as a type of Christ in that he was 3 days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and the New Testament uses him as a prefigure of Christ, relating Christ's time in the tomb to the time Jonah spent inside the whale.


Joseph is a type of Christ in many ways, and though his typology is not quoted in the New Testament directly, the illustrations are several, where Joseph experiences similar things to the Lord Jesus, of which we mention just a few:

  1. Beloved of his father.
  2. Hated by his brethren
  3. Sold into slavery, as Jesus was sold for the price of a slave
  4. Falsely accused, condemned to die
  5. Both given a Gentile bride
  6. Both became saviors of the world, Joseph in famine, Jesus in salvation
  7. Both had brethren who didn't recognize him when they saw him.

Isaac & the Ram typify Christ, in Genesis 22, where the doctrine of substitution is seen, where the ram caught in the thicket by the horns (leaving the Ram without blemish by the way!) is substituted for Isaac. This in picture shows the doctrine of sacrificial substitution.


There are things that are types


The Brazen Serpent on a pole from Numbers 21 is recollected in John 3 where it says "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so shall the son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.


Events such as Feasts and Offerings have typical aspects


The 5 offerings of Leviticus 1-5 typify the person and work of Christ

  1. The Burnt offering has a characteristic feature where ALL is burnt on the altar, speaking of Christ's God-ward aspect of His cross work. There was a primary aspect there done for God, and not for man. Weighty consideration indeed. And a sweet aroma to God
  2. The Grain offering shows a perfect life, lived for God's pleasure and thereby being the life that could be offered with the Burnt offering, the common companion offering to the Grain. Notice the fine flour of Leviticus 2 and think of Christ in His utter sinlessness.
  3. The Peace offering, here in the middle offering God and man share together in the offering, signifying enjoyment in peace made. This is the last of the voluntary offerings.
  4. The Sin offering, tells of the need of the sin nature of man to face atonement and judgment. This is a mandatory offering, that tells what man is, not merely what he has done, to sin against God
  5. The Trespass offering, speaks of specific actions that spring from the nature, so rather than the root, these are the fruits of sin. It is here the sinner usually first realizes his need, ie...a trespass offering for what he has done.

The Feasts of Leviticus 23 are typical and illustrative of NT truths

  1. 1 Corinthians 5:6-8  Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:20   But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
  3. Acts 2:1-2   And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:52  ...in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
  5. Hebrews 9:28 speaks of the New Testament fulfillment of atonement:  So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

The dangers of uncontrolled typology (meaning - allegory or mysticism):


Typology can easily degrade into allegorical or symbolic schemes that leave the literal and original meaning of a text aside. Origen of Alexandria, is an early examples of the error to avoid, and that care that must be taken by the bible student. His allegorical method of bible interpretation was very elastic and arbitrary. What happened over time is the allegorical meaning took precedence over the literal meaning, which should NEVER be a final hermeneutic principle. In doing so, the original meaning was quickly lost and the church is left to the whims of them in power to explain (false) meaning. The dark ages of Roman Catholicism, where Augustine championed the allegorical method introduced by Origen shows us the dangers. It was only the Reformation that began to soundly correct these errors.


Today, with prophetic nuances and apostolic pronouncements taken by modern day charismatics, we must take care as well, but not so much from a church hierarchy and tradition telling us meaning, but from the whims of self appointed men. JR Church wrote a book called Hidden Prophecies in the Psalms, and in another place we hear of books written to uncover hidden Bible Codes. Common sense should tell us to flee from such teachings, but the amazing thing is how easily they are embraced by the non discerning.


Even as allegory was embraced by Origen and them that followed him, today mysticism covers much of the same ground, and we need to take care not to fall into this errant hermeneutic.


Typology is a beautiful thing, if done with care and caution, and not pressed beyond the bounds that lead to mystical speculation. 


What do we do then, to embrace typology without embracing error?

  1. The safe principle is to first and always insist on the literal, historical, and grammatical meaning of the text. Find and insist upon the original meaning as intended for the original hearers.
  2. Avoid allegory at almost all costs, unless specifically pointed out as allegory in the New Testament (Hagar for example- Gal 4:24)
  3. If the New Testament comments on something in the Old, giving an illustrative, or typical meaning, embrace it in the context it is given, not leaving those boundaries without caution.
  4. When there is no direct connection given between an Old Testament history and New Testament revelation, care should be taken to not apply the illustrative or typical principle at all. The Song of Solomon is a good example though, where with care it can be done. SOS isn't directly quoted in the New Testament in a typical sense, yet careful and cautious interpretation has yielded enjoyable thoughts to saints throughout Christian history, without leaving the historical and thereby primary meaning of the text.
  5. When mystical or clearly speculative ideas are brought forth that are allegory, typical, or illustrative, steering clear is wise. "Hidden" things, and "Prophetic insights" of today, should be warnings against following that pathway.

Enjoy typology, especially when it yields thoughts of the person and work of Christ.