Biblical typology

Typology is a method of biblical interpretation whereby an element found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament. The initial one is called the type and the fulfillment is designated the antitype. Either type or antitype may be a person, thing, or event, but often the type is messianic and frequently related to the idea of salvation. The use of Biblical typology enjoyed greater popularity in previous centuries, although even now it is by no means ignored as a hermeneutic.

Typological interpretation is specifically the interpretation of the Old Testament based on the fundamental theological unity of the two Testaments whereby something in the Old shadows, prefigures, adumbrates something in the New. Hence, what is interpreted in the Old is not foreign or peculiar or hidden, but arises naturally out of the text due to the relationship of the two Testaments. ^ [1]^


The study of types, particularly, types of Christ, is motivated by a number of factors related to New Testament use of the Old Testament. Firstly, the authors of various New Testament books use the Old Testament as a source of pictures pointing forward to Jesus. Among the most obvious passages are 1 Cor. 10:1–6, Gal. 4:21–31 and the letter to the Hebrews. From 1 Corinthians, we find Paul using the desert wanderings as typological of the Christian life, while in Galatians, he famously uses Sarah and Hagar as typological of slavery to Law under the Old Covenant against the freedom of grace in the New Covenant. The author of Hebrews is concerned to write explaining how the Old Testament points forward to Jesus; in so doing, he draws on heavily on Moses the man, as well as the Mosaic Law, with its sacrifices and Temple rituals.

Classification of types

There are various kinds of types presented in the Old Testament. Chief among these are the historical type, the legal type and the prophetic type. G.P. Landow

Historical types

People in the Old Testament frequently are seen to be types of Christ. For instance, Moses, who led God's people out of slavery in Egypt and into the rest of the Promised Land, is clearly a type for God's Messiah, who leads his people out of slavery to sin and into the rest of the New Earth. A host of Old Testament characters can be seen, in this manner, to act as types of Christ, such as:

  • Adam, whose sin brought death to all. _(see Jesus as the second Adam)_
  • David, God's anointed yet unrecognised King;
  • Esther, who saves God's people even when God seems absent
  • Elisha, God's prophet who raised the dead and fed the hungry.

We may also include in this category some of the non-human 'characters' of Biblical history: for example, the rock struck by Moses in sin yet bringing forth streams of life-giving water ( Numbers 20:1–13), or the Temple in Jerusalem.

Within the Law of Moses, many sacrifices, offerings and rituals were prescribed by God as the worship to be given by Israel. These sacrifices pointed forward, in different ways, to the one Sacrifice to be offered on the Cross for the sins of all God's people.

Prophetic types

Imagery occurs frequently in the prophets and other prophecies contained in Scripture. For instance, the promise of Genesis 3:15 is cast in terms of the struggle between men and serpents, and yet it contains the Gospel, as the Seed of the woman crushes the head of the Serpent once and for all on the Cross; it is for this reason that this verse is called the Protevangelium.

Survey of perspectives

The historical development of perspectives regarding typology is important for understanding the issues. For example, following the Reformation period, several distinct schools of thought developed. Among conservative scholars there were three major positions: Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) applied any OT event or person that resembled a NT parallel, thereby coming close to an allegorical approach. John March (1757-1839) asserted that the only types were those explicitly stated to be types in the NT. Later, Patrick Fairbairn (1805-1874) mediated between the two by accepting both explicit and inferred types, stating that many more correspondences existed in the NT period than happen to be enumerated in the texts themselves.^ [2]^

With the rise of the historical-critical method in the 19th century, non-conservative scholarship repudiated the unity between the Testaments and regarded typology as an inferior method, since Scripture (by their view) contained the disparate religious experiences of diverse groups rather than a unified historical record.^[3]^

Most modern liberal scholars continue to disregard typology altogether. Lampe argues that, historically speaking, typology was traditionally understood as the real meaning of the Old Testament - a meaning read into it by the Holy Spirit, even though no one in the OT could have understood it. He concludes that not only is this old fashioned and out-dated, but typology is no longer to be pursued.^ [4]^

Gerhard von Rad, who writes from a rather Neo-orthodox perspective, understands typology as just more or less analogical thinking.^ [5]^

Within evangelicalism, the traditional view is that types occurred because God intentionally constructed pictures of Christ, and then placed those pictures within Israel's history.

Issues in the use of Typology

Typology represents a vital part of early Christian hermeneutics built upon the belief that God is in control and has unified His Word and the events in redemptive history.^[6]^ It is questioned whether typology is prospective (the OT type as a divinely ordained prediction) or retrospective (the NT antitype as analogously related but not prefigured in the type). It is likely that the solution lies in the middle. The OT authors and participants did not necessarily recognize any typological force in the original, but in the divine plan the early event did anticipate the later reality. Thus David's coronation (e.g., Psa. 2, 72, 110) did indeed foreshadow Jesus' enthronement as the royal Messiah, though it was not a direct prediction.

The term that best describes this balance is "promise-fulfillment" as suggested by Moo.^[7]^ The OT type is promissory and the NT antitype fulfills the divine purpose implicit in the earlier event. Yet there is no need to assert that God had a meaning in the OT type of which the human author was not aware or that the OT texts had a “fuller sense” or deeper meaning than was realized by the original authors in order to explain either prophetic fulfillment or typology.^[8]^

A canonical approach to the problem states that any particular biblical text can be interpreted in terms of its total biblical context. In other words, all of Scripture is analogously related, NT writers could see many parallels between Jesus and the religious experiences of Israel (e.g., David's brush with death in Psa. 16:8-11; cf. Acts 2:25-31) without necessitating any “deeper” thrust in the earlier passage.^[9]^


  1. ? Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Baker, 1970) p. 223.
  2. ? Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, 2 vols. in 1 (reprint, Grand Rapids, 1953).
  3. ? G. Osborne, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (revised, Eerdmans 1988) Vol. 4, s.v. Typology, p. 931.
  4. ? G. W. H. Lampe and K. J. Woolcombe, Essays on Typology (Naperville: Alec R. Allenson, 1957).
  5. ? Gerhard von Rad, The Interpretation of the OT: II Typological Interpretation of the OT, Journal of Interpretation (Vol. 15, 1961).
  6. ? William W. Klein, et. al., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Word Publishing, 1993) p. 29.
  7. ? Douglas J. Moo, “The Problem of Sensus Plenior,” in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, eds. D. A. Carson and J. D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 196.
  8. ? There is a whole area of scholarly discussion on the “fuller sense” or sensus plenior issue which is beyond the scope of this article but is noted for reference. Cf. Klein, Introduction, pp. 125 -127; see also Moo, op. cit.
  9. ? G. Osborne, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (revised, Eerdmans 1988) Vol. 4, s.v. Typology, p. 931.


  • Patrick Fairbairn, The Typology of Scripture, Kregel Classics; Reprint edition (October 2000) ISBN 082542643X
  • R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament Regent College Publishing; Reprint edition (May 1992) ISBN 1573830062
  • Richard M. Davidson, Typology in Scripture: A Study of Hermeneutical Typos Structures, Andrews Univ Pr (January 1981) ISBN 0943872340
  • S. Lewis Johnson, The Old Testament in the New, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1980. ISBN 0310418518