A method of interpreting some parts of Scripture by seeing a pattern which an earlier statement sets up by which a later is explained. The Greek words that help us understand typology come under a verbal root that means “to beat, strike, or smite.” In building construction, what is “beaten out” can become a pattern. This article will examine how various words in the family are used and how typology functions in interpreting the
Old Testament. Foundational Words and Meanings
All of these related words show the effects of an imprint. (Translations in this article are the author's.)
1. Blow, strike, mark A literal meaning tupos is found in the narrative about Thomas' skepticism: “If I do not see in his hands the mark (tupos) of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails and place my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Jesus invited Thomas to examine His hands and side. Then Jesus urged: “Stop becoming an unbeliever, but rather become a believer” (John 20:27). Thomas showed he did just that when he exclaimed, “My Lord and My God” (John 20:28).
2. Technical model or pattern Both
Hebrews 8:5 and
Acts 7:44 use tupos to refer to
Exodus 25:40, where the Lord commanded Moses to make the furniture and utensils of the tabernacle “by the pattern which you were seeing in the mountain.” The Hebrew word for pattern is tabniyth, from a Hebrew root meaning “to build.” The noun means “construction, pattern, or figure.” The writer of Hebrews stressed that Christ could not be an earthly priest, for such priests served in the copy and shadow of heavenly things. Moses saw an earthly copy of the heavenly reality. Jesus became a high priest and a minister of the holy places and true tent, which the Lord pitched (Hebrews 8:2). Even this earthly language shows the superiority of Christ's heavenly priesthood to that of the earthly priests.
Acts 7:44, Stephen said that the whole tabernacle, which he called “the Tent of the Testimony” (REB), was made according to “the pattern” that Moses had seen. But did Moses see the “heavenly tabernacle” that is called the pattern? Or did God grant to Moses to see a pattern from which a rough earthly counterpart of the heavenly reality could be constructed? I think it was the latter. The word tupos means a model or pattern.
3. Image or Status In
Acts 7:1, Stephen said that Israel took up “the tent of Moloch and the constellation of the god Rephan—images, statues, which you made to worship them” (Acts 7:43). Here what is “stamped or beaten out” is an idol. The imprint became an object of worship.
4. Pattern as a mold or norm While Stephen pointed out a bad pattern in the case of idolatry, Paul emphasized a good pattern in
Romans 6:17. Paul thanked God that, although the Romans were once slaves of sin, they became subject to the gospel. He described the gospel as “the pattern or norm of teaching for the learning of which you were given over [by God].” The gospel is a norm or pattern showing how we should live (compare
5. Persons as examples or patterns When people internalize the gospel, their lives begin a process of transformation. Paul spoke of himself and his fellow workers as examples or patterns. He urged the Philippians to become imitators of himself: “you have us as an example or pattern” (Romans 3:17). He said to the Thessalonians, “But we gave ourselves to you as a model or pattern that you should imitate us” (2 Thessalonians 3:9). Paul obtained mercy and God showed His forbearance to Paul “for a model, pattern, example for those who were about to believe in Christ” (1 Timothy 1:16).
The Thessalonians, by their faith during tribulation, became models or patterns for believers in Macedonia and Achaia. “In every place their faith had gone forth” (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8). Paul commanded Timothy to be a pattern or model for believers in “message, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). At the same time, Timothy had his own standard to guide him: “constantly have a standard of sound words which you heard from me in the sphere of faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Titus likewise was to be a model or pattern of good works, soundness in teaching, respectfulness, sound preaching that is beyond reproach (Titus 2:7-8). Peter urged all the elders to become examples or patterns for the flock rather than “lording it over” the flock (1 Peter 5:3). Christians, and especially Christian leaders, are being watched and often imitated. The pattern or model they exhibit is crucial.
Typology as a Method of Interpreting the Old Testament Sometimes the New Testament explicitly refers to its method of interpreting the Old Testament as “type,” or “typically.” Usually, however, the New Testament uses typology as a method of interpreting the Old Testament without explicitly saying so. Typology involves a correspondence, usually in one particular matter between a person, event, or thing in the Old Testament with a person, event, or thing, in the New Testament. All elements except this one may be quite different, but the one element selected for comparison has a genuine similiarity in the two different historical contexts.
1. Old Testament warnings Paul used this kind of typology in
1 Corinthians 10:1-11. He rehearsed the experiences of the people of Israel in the Exodus and in their forty years in the desert: the destruction of Pharaoh's army in the sea (Exodus 14-15); the eating of manna (Exodus 16:1); their conduct when thirsty—Rephidim—striking the rock (Exodus 17:1); Kadesh—speaking to the rock (Numbers 20:1); sin of the gold calf (Exodus 32:1); fornication with the daughters of Moab at Baal of Peor (Numbers 25:1); murmuring when going from Mount Hor around the land of Edom (Numbers 21:1). Paul stressed one point of correspondence between the Old Testament events and the New Testament message: All the people participated in these experiences, but God was not pleased with most of them; the majority died in the desert and could not enter the Promised Land (1 Corinthians 10:5). Paul pointed to this conduct of the majority who angered God as types or warning patterns, models, examples for Christians (1 Corinthians 10:6). Christians are not to desire evil things, as in the golden calf incident, and as at Baal-Peor (1 Corinthians 10:7-8). They were not to complain or murmur as the Israelites did when they were bitten by fiery serpents or in the judgment of the sons of Korah (1 Corinthians 10:9-10; compare
Numbers 21:1). Paul concluded, “Indeed, these things happened to them as a typological warning, but they were written for our admonition unto whom the end of the ages has arrived” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
2. Adam as a type of Christ Paul compared Adam and Christ in
Romans 5:12-21. He argued that Christ's deed is much more powerful than Adam's transgression. Paul said specifically that Adam “is a type of the one who was to come” (Romans 5:14). Certainly, huge differences separate Adam and Christ. The one point of correspondence in the passage is the effect of influence upon humankind. Adam affected humankind adversely; Christ affects the same humankind for the good. Adam's trespass brought a verdict of condemnation of all people; Christ's righteous deed brought the gracious benefit to all people for the acquittal that brings life (Romans 5:16,Romans 5:18). Where sin abounded, grace was overflowing in greater abundance (Romans 5:20). To make Christ's deed effective, people must receive the abundance of God's grace and the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17).
3. Baptism as a fulfillment of the type Peter, after discussing Christ's work in preaching in the spiritual realm to spirits in prison, mentioned Noah's ark and the flood: “Into which ark a few [eight persons] were saved through water, which water [baptism] as a fulfullment of the type now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, not through removing of dirt from the body but as a pledge of a good conscience towards God” (1 Peter 3:20-21). Baptism is a drama of faith. Here it is called a pledge—an acted-out pledge of a good conscience. We are saved by faith expressed in water baptism. What is the one point of correspondence with the flood? The flood was a type of baptism because people of faith (and recipients of God's favor) experienced deliverance. Noah and his family were delivered by the ark and the water; Christians expressing in baptism genuine faith are delivered from bondage to sin.
One point of correspondence between an Old Testament event and a New Testament event shows the same God at work in both covenants. Typology, a comparison stressing one point of similarity, helps us see the New Testament person, event, or institution as the fulfillment of that which was only hinted at in the Old Testament.