Typology is the strategy for discerning the correspondence, pattern, shape or structural affinity between two of God acts. These divine acts involve God’s work through persons, events, and institutions. The words “type” and “antitype” are used to express the relationship between the two events. “Type” comes from the Greek word tupos meaning “example” or “model.” In a typological interpretation “type” is used to refer to an original historical act that serves as a model for a later, corresponding act (“antitype”). The original may stand in a positive, synthetic relationship to the later event or in a negative, antithetic relationship. An example of a synthetic typology would be the reference to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (e.g., John 1:29). The imagery of the lamb comes from the Passover event (Exodus 12; 1 Cor 5:7), adjusted perhaps by prophetic reference to the servant of the Lord (Isa 53:4-7). The point in this typology is the way that Jesus is similar to the Passover lamb even if his sacrifice is understood to be universal in scope. An example of an antithetical typology would be Paul’s reference to Jesus as a second Adam (Romans 5). While Adam and Jesus share a certain likeness as the heads of the first and new creation respectively, Paul’s point is their dissimilarity not their similarity. Through the first Adam sin and death come to all people; through the second Adam righteousness and life is available to all. Both synthetic and antithetic typologies illumine the contemporary act of redemption by correlating it with a known event from the past.
Several theological assumptions drive typology. First, typology assumes that history is the arena of God’s saving activity. In any typological scheme the historicity of persons, events and institutions is taken for granted and essential. When Paul refers to Adam as a type of Jesus, it was necessary that Adam had been a person in history and not some mythic figure. The historicity of the type and antitype distinguishes typological from allegorical readings. Second, typology presumes that God is faithful to his promises and that his work in history is constant. This does not mean, of course, that there are no new acts of God; what it does mean is that a new act can be understood best in reference to God’s earlier acts. So typology emphasizes the unity of God’s actions in history; as such it is employed to underscore the unity between the testaments as a witness to God’s acts. Third, typology is based upon a linear view of history in which events intensify or escalate as God’s plan moves toward its ultimate goal (eschaton). In NT parlance, the new redemptive event may be said to “fulfill” the prophet’s word even if the prophecy had an earlier fulfillment (e.g., Matt 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7). For example, the redemption associated with the Passover lamb involved a particular people at a particular time (Exodus 12) whereas the redemption associated with Jesus as “the lamb of God” intensifies and universalizes the hope.
Typology is evident in Jewish and Christian circles during the second temple period. The use of typology found in the NT is consistent with and likely derived from hermeneutical practices within the Hebrew Bible.
The writers, editors and compilers of the Hebrew Bible employed typology to recall God’s past faithfulness and to anticipate new acts of redemption. Creation and exodus themes are common. In Isa 65:17-25, for example, the prophet describes God’s promise to create a new heaven and a new earth that stands in continuity with and yet eclipses the first creation. God’s work to repair the world effectively makes it new again, reverses the curse, and returns it to its paradisaical form. In this way God’s earlier, covenant promises to his people can be realized: long life in the land, prosperity, peace, God’s permanent presence with his people.
Because of its significance in Israelite history, the exodus becomes the “type” for new hopes for redemption as
Another typology found in the Hebrew Bible involves a “new covenant.” Jeremiah prophesies that God will make a new covenant with
New Testament authors make extensive use of typology in order to express their understanding of the transcendent significance of Jesus and his work of salvation. To be successful, typologies depend on the competence of the audience. While any typology can be lost on some hearers—assuming that the NT gospels and letters were initially read aloud—the ideal audience will perceive the correspondence between type and antitype. Some of the typologies listed below, though certainly not all, derive from Jesus’ own teaching and use of scripture. Others are expansions or reflections on his significance by later theologians. As we see with the Hebrew Bible, creation, exodus, and covenant typologies dominate (Ellis, 105-106).
New covenant. In the words of institution (Mark 14:24; Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20) Jesus is said to appropriate the “new covenant” prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-4) and link it with the pouring out of his blood. His crucifixion is understood to establish the new covenant. This is symbolized by the cup of wine from the Passover celebration. The new covenant inaugurated by Jesus is thereby linked with the both the Passover as a recollection of the exodus and the new covenant of Jeremiah.
Son of God. For many reasons the NT employs the title “Son of God” in reference to Jesus. The interest here is the typological association expressed in fulfillment language: “out of
Son of David. The title “Son of David” is associated with Jesus in a variety of settings (e.g., Matt 1:1, 6; Mark 11:9-10 & par.; Mark 12:35-37 & par., cf. Rom 1:3-4) and has typological overtones. The titular use is almost certainly derived from 2 Sam 7:12-16, commonly understood as God’s covenant with David. Within the narrative of 2 Samuel, the “son of David” refers to Solomon, but already by the time of the Chronicler (1 Chron 17:11-14) the promise has taking on broader, messianic significance. In Matthew’s genealogy, for instance, Jesus’ messianic status as “the Son of David” is demonstrated by tracing his lineage through the royal line (Matt 1:1, 6, 17). Further, the evangelist employs gematria to structure Jesus’ genealogy around the number fourteen (14), which is the number associated with David’s name (Matt 1:17). Although these construals are not dominical, they may depend on Jesus’ self-understanding (cf. Mark 12:35-37 & par.). By referring to Jesus as “the Son of David,” it became possible to associate God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom with him.
Servant of the Lord. The Gospels never explicitly designates Jesus “the Servant of the Lord” (cf. Acts 3;13, 26), but a Servant typology appears beneath the surface of the narratives. The designation derives from prophetic oracles recorded in Isaiah (chs 42, 49, 50, especially 53). In the prophetic stream, the Servant is identified with
Prophet-like-Moses. According to Deut 18:15-18, God will raise up a prophet-like-Moses to lead the covenant people. Apparently, this expectation was current in the second temple period and assisted in the formulation and expansion of certain christological claims. While this language is more explicit in Acts (e.g., Acts 3:22; quoting Deut 18:15-20; cf. Acts 7:37), echoes of this hope can be heard in a variety of settings in the Gospels. In the transfiguration, e.g., the heavenly voice declares: “this is My beloved Son, listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 & par.). The command to listen recalls God’s directive to his people when the eschatological prophet arrives. In Matthew’s Gospel, a Moses typology is clearly at work. First, the slaughter in
Of course, Jesus’ work is linked with prophets other than Moses. For example, in announcing
the fulfillment of God’s jubilee promises, Jesus associates his mission with Elijah’s and Elisha’s work among non-Jews (Luke 4:1-30; 1 Kings 17-18; 2 Kings 5). Since rumors around Jesus relate him to prophets (Matt 16:13-20), it is likely that the earliest appraisals of his significance among “the people of the land” regard his prophetic role. If, as the Gospels portray, Jesus anticipated his death, then he did so in solidarity with prophets before him (e.g., Matt 23:37).
“Something greater”. The phrase “something greater” characterizes three typological sayings in Matthew 12. In Matt 12:6 Jesus justifies his disciples’ harvesting of grain on the Sabbath by appealing to David’s example (1 Sam 21:1-7) and the weekly violation of the Sabbath by priests performing their duties. When Jesus announces that “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6), he has in mind himself or his community. By appealing to the deeds of David and the priests, Jesus associates his activities with royal and priestly actions. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the
In Matt 12:38-41 Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ demand for a sign by promising the evil generation the sign of Jonah and concludes by saying “something greater than Jonah is here.” For Matthew Jonah becomes a type of Jesus in two ways: (1) Jonah’s presence in the belly of the great fish three days and three nights corresponds to “the Son of Man” spending three days in the heart of the earth (Jonah 1-2); (2) Jonah’s success in turning Nineveh back to God (Jonah 3-4) corresponds to the success Jesus has in preaching to Israel and the nations. The competent audience will also pick up on the antithetical elements in the typology. Jonah’s recalcitrance stands in opposition to Jesus’ faithful obedience.
In Matt 12:42 Jesus commends the Queen of the South for traveling far to experience the Solomon’s wisdom and simultaneously condemns those who refuse to acknowledge God’s wisdom. He concludes by saying “something greater than Solomon is here.” Typologically speaking, Jesus corresponds to Solomon (who also happens to be a son of David); both are purveyors of wisdom. But later generations of Christians expanded the association by identifying Jesus with divine wisdom (sophia; e.g., 1 Cor 1:24, 30).
With each of these sayings the phrase “something greater” depicts an escalation which is already evident in the work of Jesus.
The Serpent in the Wilderness. According to John 3:14-15, Jesus said: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up so all who believe in him may have eternal life.” The type recalls the healing of many Israelites afflicted by venomous snakes in the wilderness. Following God’s instructions, Moses fashioned a serpent and lifted it up on a standard so that anyone who looked it would have life (Numb 21:4-9). The antitype refers to the lifting up of the Son of Man, i.e., the crucifixion, and its universalized result: all who believe have eternal life.
The Stone. At the end of the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1-9 & par.) Jesus applies Ps 118:22-23 to the situation he faced, i.e., the growing opposition and final rejection (crucifixion) by the powers-that-be in
The NT’s use of the OT is central to how early Christians did theology. Typology was the primary method they used to read and appropriate their Scripture.
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