Interpreting Types

A.  Definition

  1. Type

The Greek word tupos has the literal meaning of a “mark or impression” made of hard substance on softer material (John 20:25).  By extension it bears the sense in the NT of model, pattern, exemplar (external framework constructed for the service of God [Acts 7:44]), a method of doctrinal instruction (Rom. 6:7), a representative character (Rom. 5:14).
A type then is an outward or sensible thing (a person, action, event, or institution) ordained of God under the Old Testament to represent and hold forth something of Christ in the New Testament.  It bears forth a resemblance between that which is denominated the type and that which answers to it.

  1. Typology

Typology is that part of theological hermeneutics, which examines the proper relationship between the referent in the OT and the subject referred to in the NT (on the basis of the NT teaching regarding types in the Old Testament), carefully guarding that the single meaning of a text be preserved, and rejecting all that detracts from it.

  1. Differentiated from Symbol

Both are “sensible representations of moral and religious truth, and may be defined, in general, as figures of thought in which material objects are made to convey vivid spiritual conceptions to the mind.”  Crabb (in Terry):  “The type is that species of emblem by which one object is made to represent another mystically;  it is, therefore, only employed in religious matters, particularly in relation to the coming, the office, and the death of our Savior;  in this manner the offering of Isaac is considered as a type of our Savior’s offering himself as an atoning sacrifice.  The symbol is that species of emblem which is converted into a consisted sign among men” … “especially … to set forth those revelations, given in visions or dreams, which could find no suitable expression in mere words.” Terry:  “Types and symbols may, therefore, be said to agree in their general character as emblems, but they differ noticeably in special method and design … (the symbol) … being a suggestive sign rather than an image of that which it is intended to represent.

  1. The interpretation of a type requires us to show some formal analogy between two persons, objects, or events; that of the symbol requires us rather to point out the particular qualities, marks, features, or signs by means of which one object, real or ideal, indicates and illustrates another.  Melchizedek is a type, not a symbol, of Christ … But the seven golden candlesticks are a symbol, not a type, of the seven churches of Asia.”
  2. Symbols may represent something past, present, or future. A type, something “that was to come.”  A symbol has no essential reference to time.
  3. The type is always real, not fictitious or ideal.

Clowney rightly emphasizes the importance of symbolism in revelation.  He does not define symbolism exactly.  However, he brings it into relationship with metaphors and figurative language (103).  To interpret symbolism properly, we must recognize the distinction of the symbol and its referent, the relation between the two, the conceptual significance of the relation between both, and place symbolism into classes (direct, institutional, prophetic, historical) (110-110).  When Clowney compares symbolism with typology, he notes the vertical references of symbolism, and the prospective references of typology.  “An OT event or institution may be typical only of the truth which it symbolizes.”  For that reason, he advocates constructing “the line of typology only when we have first clarified the symbolism” (111).  If I understand Clowney correctly here, he advocates attention to the realm of metaphor in Scripture, that is, symbolism.  Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a symbol;  the names of Isaiah’s children are symbolic, circumcision is a symbol.  Symbolism is then a broader category of which typology is a part.

  1. Errors of Definition

Two errors are often committed at this juncture.

  1. Some define a type too broadly, allowing for everything that has some analogical relationship. A type, however, is more than an analogy:  A type has been ordained or designed by God to foreshadow and prepare for the better things of the gospel.  An analogy is not necessarily ordained or designed.
  2. The realities of the gospel, which constitute the antitypes, are the ultimate objects which were contemplated by the mind of God, when planning the economy of His successive dispensations.
  3. God placed the church under a course of training, which included instruction by types, or designed and fitting resemblances of what was to come (Gal. 3:24; Gal. 4:1).

Examples of possible analogies:  As Saul prophesied without being converted, so false preachers preach without being converted.  This doesn’t mean Saul is a type of the unconverted preacher.  As Jonah built a booth outside the city of Nineveh to watch its destruction, many Christians just look on while the world perishes.

Note:  Analogies might extend from a type;  that is to say, something may not be part of a type, but an analogy extending from it.  For example, David is clearly a type of Christ;  yet the death of Saul, the archenemy of David, could be called analogical to the death of Judas, the betrayer of Christ.

Some define a type too narrowly, allowing only those thing which the NT specifically calls types to be types. Bishop Marsh contended: “There is no other rule by which we can distinguish a real from a pretended type, than that of Scripture itself.  There are no other possible means by which we can know that a previous design and a pre-ordained connection existed.  Whatever persons or things, therefore, recorded in the OT, were expressly declared by Christ or by His apostles to have been designed as prefigurations of persons or things relating to the New Testament, such persons or things so recorded in the former, are types of the persons of things with which they are compared in the later.  But if we assert that a person or thing was designed to prefigure another person or thing, where no such prefiguration has been declared by divine authority, we make an assertion for which we neither have, nor can have, the slightest foundation.”
Fairbairn right refutes this:

We can scarcely conceive of a mode of interpretation which should deal more capriciously with the word of God, and make so anomalous a use of its historical records.  Instead of investing these with a homogeneous character, it arbitrarily selects a few out of the general mass, and sets them up in solitary grandeur, like mystic symbols in a temple, fictitiously elevated above the sacred materials around them.” (23).  “The style of interpretation which we have connected with the name of Marsh could not, in the nature of things, afford satisfaction to men of thoughtful minds, who must have something like equitable principles as well as external authority to guide them in their interpretations.

This view “destroys to a large extent the bond of connection between the Old and NT Scriptures and thus deprives the Christ Church of much of the instruction in divine things which they were designed to impart” (20).
This opinion thrives where no real study of the passages otherwise deemed typical has been done. The implication being that if one would study them, the typical would of necessity appear.
No one applies the same principle to prophecy, that is to say:  only those prophecies which are indicated in the NT to be fulfilled were indeed prophecies.  “What is a type, but a prophetical act or institution?”

  1. The author to the Hebrews rebukes his hearers (Heb. 5:10-14) that they are so slow of understanding that they are not able to venture very far into typology. The implication is that it is not just an inspired duty to declare types and antitypes but the work of every believer.
  2. If the types so indicated in Scriptures are the only ones, then the OT appears haphazard. Then we only have as persons: Adam, Melchizedek, Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac, Moses, Jonah, David, Solomon, Zerubbabel and Joshua.  It would be very odd that Sarah was a type, but not Abraham, Ishmael but not Joseph, etc., etc.

Likewise, Edmund Clowney favors a broader approach:

Only the lack of a hermeneutical method can shut us up to recognizing types only where the NT itself explicitly recognizes them. Such caution is then admirable.  But a better grasp of biblical theology will open for us great riches of revelation.  We need not lack the sound method to find these and bring them to the people of God” (Preaching and Biblical Theology, 111-112).


B.  Legitimacy

  1. The NT Practices Typology.
  2. The NT names the terms type and antitype in its interpretation of the OT. A survey of the NT terminology yields the following:
  3. Rom. 5:14: Adam a tupos of him who was to come.
  4. 1 Cor. 10:6; 1 Cor. 10: The events in the wilderness were tupoi or tupikos for the church upon whom the end of the world has come.

Heb. 9:9: Ceremonies were a parabole of things to come.

  1. Heb. 9:24: The tabernacle was the antitype of the heavenly sanctuary (cf. Acts 7:44;  Heb. 8:5).
  2. Heb. 11:19: Receiving Isaac alive a parabole of the resurrection.
  3. 1 Pet. 3:21: Baptism is an antitype of the ark at the time of the deluge.

Notice that this terminology embraces the areas of personal, occasional, and ceremonial types.

  1. The NT exemplifies other typological interpretations of the OT without using the above terminology.
  2. Matt 12:42: “Greater than Solomon is here.”
  3. Matt 12:39-40: The sign of Jonah:  as Jonah was in the belly of the fish, so Christ would be in the belly of the earth.

The Relationship of OT and NT Requires It.

  1. The OT promulgated the same gospel as the NT (Hebrews 4:2; Galatians 3:8;  Ps. 89:15)
  2. It promised the same gospel mercies: regeneration (Jer. 31:33;  Deut. 30:6;  Eze. 36:25-27), reconciliation and remission of sins (Isa. 1:18;  Jer. 31:34), and everlasting salvation (Ps. 17:15;  Ps. 73:24;  Ps. 16:11).
  3. The OT indicates that the principal and internal cause of blessing was spiritual (Isa. 53:10 sacrifice; Zech. 1:12 – intercession).
  4. The OT shows that spiritual mercies were distributed upon the same account, from the mere mercy of God, through the Mediation of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12;  Rom. 3:20;  Gal. 2:16).
  5. The OT promulgated the same gospel in different manners and times: Hebrews 1:1-3.

polutropoos:  visions, dreams, voices, inward inspirations and impulses of his Spirit (1 Chron. 28:12,19;  Acts 8:29), legal types and shadows, signs and wonders, special and peculiar kind of intimacy and familiarity (Moses:  Deut. 34:10)
polumeroos:  different dispensations:  Eden, Prediluvian, Noachic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Evangelical

  1. The NT explicitly sets forth the typical nature of aspects of the OT: Heb. 10:1:  For the Law having a shadow (skia) of good things to come, and not the very image (eikoos) of the things.
  2. The NT explicitly sets forth the fulfillment nature of the NT: Rom. 10:4:  telos nomou;  Matt. 5:17.

Conclusion:  Typological interpretation is given with a complete acceptance of the teaching of the NT, a proper view of the one covenant of grace and its two distinct ministrations, and stands as a rejection of both Judaizing and Marcionism, Catholicism and Anabaptism.  In light of this, typology belongs to the heritage of the Calvinist Reformation, Non-Conformity, and Puritanism generally.  Typology is a given with the one, spiritual meaning of the text and the two testaments.  It is an extension of the embrace of the literal method and the unity of God’s gospel purposes.  This does not mean that all typology of the Puritans must be accepted (this would be argument from tradition).  Yet as a discipline it is fundamental to the Reformed view of Scripture. Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

C.  History of Typology

Proper typology was implemented by the Reformers as a mode of interpretation against allegory.  Calvin writes:

All the ancient figures were sure testimonies of God’s grace and of eternal salvation, and thus Christ as represented in them, since all the promises are in Him.  Yet, it by no means follows from hence that there were mysteries hidden in all their details, since some, with mistaken acuteness, pass over no point, however trifling, without an allegorical exposition.

Typology for Calvin was true prophecy, albeit shadowy and obscure.  God chose to accommodate his revelation to the weakness and ignorance of his people in OT times by presenting spiritual truth under earthly symbols.  The symbols did not set forth the full truth, but directed the people toward the truth.  Hans Frei has said:  “Typology is actually literal interpretation at the level of the whole biblical story,” and thus may be regarded as “a natural extension of literal interpretation.”
Among the Puritans, typology became a discipline of hermeneutics, close aligned with biblical theology.  Handbooks of typology were written.  Samuel Mather, Thomas Taylor.  Here it had a place against Catholicism and Anglicanism.  Many had lost their posts because of non-conformity.  They objected towards the mere transferral of the ceremonies to the NT church.  All these things were types, shadows, abrogated and ready to vanish.  To reimpose them is to deny interpretatively that Christ came in the flesh.  At the end of the 19th century, Fairbairn wrote his masterpiece on typology.  This classic could be termed the harvest of Reformed and Puritan typology.  It gives careful attention to proper method and sets out the operations of typology in their sober, yet deep form.
Most academic interpreters no longer see a place for typological interpretation.  It is viewed as too primitive in comparison to the advancements of the historical-critical method.  Scholars will acknowledge that the NT has a typological approach to the OT.  A well-known German scholar of NT typology claims that it is the NT mode of interpretation par excellence. L. Goppelt, Typos, The Typological Interpretation of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 1982).  As with predictive prophecy, most scholars have abandoned the idea of design.  Instead, the NT writers are considered creative exegetes, who reinterpreted historical events regarding Jesus Christ and the early church in light of the OT.
Westminster Seminary
Some evangelicals and conservative Reformed exegetes (e.g., Westminster Seminary) have continued the practice of typology.  Vern Poythress’ The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses could be called an introductory treatment of typology.  Many others have resigned themselves to speak of Scriptural analogies, which leaves the matter of design out of the question.  Edmund Clowney defines a type as “a form of analogy that is distinctive to the Bible.  Like all analogies, a type combines identity and difference” (The Unfolding Mystery:  Discovering Christ in the Old Testament [Colorado Springs:  Navpress, 1988] 14).  Yet, elsewhere he discusses the types as “pointing us to Jesus Christ.” “It is not only in retrospect that the reference to Christ is established.  Because of the promise aspect of the covenant, the faith that rested in the heavenly realization of earthly symbols also looked forward to the manifestation in history of the same divine reality” (Preaching and Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1961] 100-101.

D.  Types of Types

  1. Personal Types

Rom. 5:12-21

Note:  the element of design explicitly stated (Adam a type).

Note:  the disjunctions mentioned first

Note:  the resemblances noted secondly

Note the concentration of personal types around the administration of the divine covenants.  At the heart of the covenants is the grace of God in Christ.

Note the coordination of pair types, Joseph and Judah, Moses and Joshua, David and Solomon.  This shows the inadequacies of the types and the fullness of the antitype.

Note the preponderance of personal types early in the history of revelation.  As the history of revelation continues, the personal types are more ritualized and officialized.


  1. Occasional Types:

Locus Classicus:  1 Cor. 10:1-6

Occasional Things

Jacob’s Ladder

Burning Bush

Pillar of Cloud



Aaron’s Rod

Brazen Serpent

Occasional Events


Destruction of Sodom

Deliverance out of Egypt

Wilderness Wanderings

Entrance into Canaan

The Exile

  1. Ceremonial Types

Here we are talking about sacrifices, feasts, circumcision, etc.
Heb. 10:1:  The law had a shadow of future good things, but not the very image of things themselves (cf.  John 1:17).  There seems to be a distinction made within the OT within the whole corpus of law.  a.  By reference to that came directly from the voice of God from the Mount (10 commandments) and the commandments delivered by God and taught by Moses (Ex. 20:18-20;  Deut. 5:23-2).  b.  The Hebrew terms sometimes refer to different sections of the law:  mitzvah, chuqim, mishpatim (Deut 6:1ff).  The overarching term is Torah.  Respectively, the meaning of the terms seems to weigh towards the moral, ceremonial, and judicial (Deut. 26:17;  Ezra 7:10;  Mal. 4:4).  Strict delineations in terminology do not hold up, however.  These are tendencies.  The three (English) categories do, nonetheless, justice to the sections of the law corpus.  There are laws, moral, which concern the people as people.  There are laws, which concern the people as a religious body.  There are laws, which concern the people as a political body.  The law referred to in Heb. 10:1 does not refer to the moral, or the judicial as such, but to the ceremonial law, which Ephesians 2:15 calls the law of commandments contained in ordinances and Col. 2:14, the handwriting of the ordinances.  The Future Good Things = the gospel time, Christ, his blessings.
The Shadow and the Image (cf. also Col. 2:17):  A dark and weak resemblance and representation of things (the law).  The image is a clearer and better representation of them (the gospel). Artistically, the first delineation of a picture, and the full perfection thereof.
Directions and Cautions

  1. Our treatment of types must always grow out of our understanding of typology from the New Testament, since typology hinges upon the two administrations of the one covenant.
  2. The areas of typology must be indicated and proven on the basis of the New Testament. g., the feasts of the OT are types, as is proved by Col. 1:16.  The tabernacle is a type, as is proved by Heb. 9.
  3. The specific types in the Old Testament must be related the broader category of types arrived at from the Old Testament.
  4. Nothing is to be regarded as typical of the good things under the Gospel which was itself of a forbidden and sinful nature. g., Jacob’s theft of Esau’s blessing is not a type of Christ conquering Satan.
  5. We must arrive at our conclusions regarding types on the basis of careful exegesis of text, context, words, sentences, etc.
  6. Due regard must be had to the essential difference between the nature of type and antitype. For example, the water of the flood saved the bodies of Noah and his family, whereas baptism signifies the salvation of persons’ souls.
  7. Soberness and humility must be exercised, knowing that we are fallible and the Scriptures are not.