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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Type, Typology

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The New Testament teaches that certain things in the religious system of Israel were ‘shadows’, ‘copies’ or ‘models’ of the ‘real’ things that came through Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:23-24; Hebrews 10:1). The Old Testament provides examples, foreshadowings, illustrations and symbols of realities that we meet later in the New (Hebrews 9:8-9). All these examples, shadows, copies and symbols are commonly called ‘types’. The particular kind of biblical interpretation that sees these ‘types’ fulfilled in the New Testament is called ‘typology’.

Patterns in the Scriptures

New Testament writers point out repeatedly that the New Testament fulfils the Old. By this they mean that God brings to completion the plan he had been working out for humankind through the history of Israel. There is a pattern in God’s activity, a repetition of his acts of judgment and salvation. This pattern reaches its completion and fulfilment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Deuteronomy 4:25-31; Judges 2:13-16; 1 Kings 8:33-34; Psalms 81:7-10; Psalms 89:29-37; Isaiah 1:16-20; Acts 2:36-39; Romans 3:21-26).

In reading the Old Testament we therefore see illustrations of human failure and divine redemption. Judgment and salvation through the flood of Noah’s day can picture the greater judgment and salvation through Christ’s death. These truths are pictured also in Christian baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21).

Further examples are found in the Passover salvation and the events that followed. The Passover redemption foreshadows the greater redemption through Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7; see PASSOVER). The song sung by the Israelites who triumphed over the Egyptians becomes more meaningful when sung by Christians who triumph over their oppressors (Revelation 15:3-4). Israel’s experiences in the wilderness show what happens to unbelieving and rebellious people (1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7-19; Hebrews 4:1-10).

Lessons for a preparatory age

The Old Testament era was one of preparation. God was instructing his people by showing them their sin, his righteousness, and the outworking of his mercy in saving repentant sinners. This preparation was in expectation of the coming of Christ.

God is consistent in his character and in his dealings. The same great truths were present in Old and New Testament times, for the principles of God’s salvation are unchanging. But until Christ came and revealed the means of that salvation, God taught the less enlightened Old Testament people in a form they could understand more easily. God intended the Old Testament ‘types’ (the illustrations, pictures and examples) to be simple, not complicated.

An example of this is the sacrifice offered for sin (Leviticus 4:1-12; Leviticus 16:1-28). This was symbolic of the death of Christ (Hebrews 9:11-14), but apart from any connection with Christ’s death it had a meaning of its own. An Israelite believer sacrificed an animal on the altar as a personal substitute, in confession that the animal suffered the penalty of sin (death) that the offerer deserved. This was a very poor substitute for the complete forgiveness that comes only through the death of Christ (Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 10:11-12), but as a simple God-given picture it had a purpose in its day (see SACRIFICE).

Fuller understanding through Christ

In general the New Testament writers emphasize the differences, rather than the similarities, between the Old Testament ‘shadows’ and the New Testament ‘realities’ (Hebrews 3:1-6; Hebrews 7:11-12; Hebrews 7:23-28; Hebrews 9:8-14; Hebrews 9:24-26; Hebrews 10:11-14). Israel’s rites and ceremonies illustrated God’s truth to people who lived in an era before the coming of Jesus Christ, but they were imperfect representations of the reality, which is Christ. If Christians want to learn more of the excellencies of Christ, they will find them in the New Testament realities rather than in the Old Testament shadows (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 7:19; Hebrews 8:6-7).

The entire Old Testament revelation was a preparation for Christ, and this is the way the New Testament writers interpret it. For them typology was a Christian interpretation of history. (For the relevance of this to the New Testament writers’ use of the Old Testament, see QUOTATIONS.)

This Christian view of the Bible does not give present-day readers the liberty to choose any Old Testament character or event and make it a ‘type’ of Christ and his work. They must not treat Old Testament passages as allegories; that is, they must not give words or things symbolic meanings that have no connection with the context. The first responsibility that readers have is to understand the straightforward meaning of each passage. As they understand its significance in God’s progressive revelation, they will readily see its relevance for people today (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 4:1-2; see INTERPRETATION).


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Type, Typology'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/bbd/t/type-typology.html. 2004.

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