In the previous series on Ruth the point was made that Jesus is a type of redeemer similar to Boaz. The point is that we learn about Jesus via the image that certain types create. Can you discuss other types in the Old Testament that help us to know Jesus? I would also be interested to understand the criteria for which we can be certain when a “type” speaks of Jesus and when it is just a “thing” being mentioned.
First Things First
As mentioned by Hugh and Ken on Sunday, when we speak of a “type” in the Old Testament we are not talking about the way we normally use the word. For example, we are not using the word like we do when describing fruit: “a banana is a type of fruit.” The term “type” is a technical term related to a discipline within hermeneutics (interpretation of the Bible) that focuses on parameters in how we should view Old Testament stories in light of who Jesus Christ is. The word comes from the idea of an old typewriter and the way the “type” (that pressed against the ribbon that was coated with ink) would slam against a piece of paper and transfer the image from the “typeface” to the paper. The image on the paper was not the typeface, but a representation of the typeface. In a similar way, if you took a picture of a tree, the picture would not be the tree, but a representation or “type” of the tree. With this in mind, let’s consider what are and how we are to read “types” in the Bible.
Did you know Jesus used “typology” to teach other concerning Himself? Luke records that Jesus appeared to two men after the resurrection and explained how the Old Testament pointed to His appearing: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Therefore, when we study the Old Testament, we need to consider the clues and recognize certain interpretive values that are designated as “types.” Types serve as connectors between people, events, rituals, and props found in the Old Testament that find their their full meaning or expression in Jesus Christ. For instance, the Passover event was a type of salvation that is completely revealed in the shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God who would take away our sin and free us from bondage, who’s covering would spare us from judgment, and who’s mark separates and distinguishes us from the world. Paul writes of types when he speaks of the sacrifices and rituals as being a shadow of things to come (see Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10:1).
Oswald Allis (one of the original founders of Westminster Theological Seminary) wisely warned his students regarding being balanced in how they determined Old Testament types: “The Bible student should be careful to distinguish between the possible, the probable and the certain.”
Edmund Clowney, author of The Unfolding Mystery, Discovering Christ in the Old Testament and former president of Westminster Theological Seminary, warns us all that, “It is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.” Before giving you a grid by which you can establish a balanced level of interpretation regarding stories that may or may not convey Christ in the Old Testament, let’s consider some overarching principles to remember when considering typology.
1. Look for themes not just an isolated event
We ought to be looking at stories and actions within stories that create a theme, not necessarily a particular and isolated event. For example, the Exodus from Egypt is built on a theme of redemption. However, there are instances in which props are featured in a story, such as the scarlet thread of Genesis 38 that has been linked to the color of the blood of Christ, that serve as an example of a forced typological link. Why do I say forced? Within the context of the event of the particular story, it seems to make more sense to view the crimson cord as simply an isolated event within the story and not have thematic value given that the cord is: one, a prop used within the activity of the story; two, holds no relevance to the people in the story other than being a simple prop; and, three, the cord is never cited or alluded to by a New Testament writer.
When there are props featured in a Biblical story, you will know that they are more than simply props when a New Testament writer indicates it as such. For example, we know the rock of Moses is Jesus because Paul tells us so in I Corinthians 10:4. We know the tabernacle is Jesus because John 1:14 tells us Christ (lit.) “Tabernacles” with us. We know the manna is Jesus because He makes the connection Himself in John 6.
Therefore, look for themes of redemption throughout the Old Testament and avoid drawing strong conclusions on stand-alone events or props. Sometimes a mountain is a mountain and sheep are just sheep.
2. It is a story
While the Bible contains a variety of genres (historical narrative, Hebrew poetry, apocalyptic literature, etc.) it is still a story. The Bible is not a codebook that the few can “crack” if they apply the right formula. Avoid complicated scenarios that seem more like a mystery thriller than an unfolding story framed within a redemptive theme built on the life/Gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. The way the truth and the life
All of the stories in the Bible contain values and these values find their ultimate expression in Christ. Whether it be courage, or valor, or compassion, or wisdom, they all find their fulfillment in Jesus. Christ is also our mediator, substitute, and righteousness. Therefore, Jesus should indeed be seen as “the way, the truth, the life” (John 14:6) It is in this sense in which we ought to see him behind and beneath and over the Old Testament stories. He is Abraham’s righteousness. He is David’s hope. He is Isaiah’s vision. He is present in their lives and actions not as a flat symbol or literary device; he is present in their lives as their salvation, as their way and their truth and their life. Therefore, the examples of godly lives should be extended from Old Testament figures all the way to Christ by which all Old Testament figures have put their hope. In this way we avoid simply moralism as well as put on display a Christo-centric hermeneutic to Old Testament study.
With the general introduction firmly in mind, let’s now consider various degrees of certainty when it comes to identifying typology in the Old Testament. As cited in the introduction, there are three categories of confidence in ranking typology in a passage of Scripture: the possible, the probable, and the certain.
In part 2, we will consider some examples of types in the Old Testament that find their ultimate expression in Christ in the New Testament.