Reproduced here, in slightly edited form, are two lectures by Dr. Charles T. Fritsch on the subject of Biblical typology. These lectures were the final two of a series of four which were delivered at Dallas Theological Seminary in April of 1946, and they were originally published in Bibliotheca Sacra 104 (1947) pp. 87-100, 214-222. In editing the lectures, I have removed the author's references to his first two lectures, in which he discussed the modern history of Old Testament theology in general. —M.D.M.

Biblical Typology

by Charles T. Fritsch

Typological Interpretation in the New Testament

From Bibliotheca Sacra 104 (1947) pp. 87-100.

One evidence of the teleological character of Scripture in general and of the organic connection between the Old and New Testaments in particular is the relation between type and antitype.

Our English word ‘type’ comes from the Greek word τυπος meaning ‘blow,’ and is connected with the verb τυπτω [p. 88] meaning ‘to beat, strike.’ The noun τυπος is found fourteen times in the New Testament and is used in the following ways: (1) “the visible impression” of a stroke, “the trace, mark” (John 20:25, “the print of the nails”). (2) “a plastic image formed out of material” (Acts 7:43 from Amos 5:26, “the figures (or images) which ye made…”). (3) “the form, figure, standard” (Rom 6:17, “the form (or standard) of teaching”; Acts 23:25, “a letter after this form”). (4) “the type, pattern, model”: (a) technically, “copy, model” (Acts 7:44, “according to the pattern (or model) which he had seen”; Heb 8:5 from Exod 25:40, “according to the pattern which was shown to you…”). (b) in ethical life, “pattern, example” (1 Tim 4:12, “be thou an example to the believers in word, in conduct…”; so also Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:7; 2 Thess 3:9; Titus 2:7; 1 Pet 5:3). (5) “the type,” as of persons or events given by God, pointing to the future (Rom 5:14, “Adam, who is a type of the one to come”; 1 Cor 10:6, “Now these things were our types” [A.V. & R.V., “examples”]). It is with this last category that we are especially dealing in this lecture, namely, “type” in a theological sense. In the first passage, Romans 5:14, it is generally agreed that the word τυπος is used in the theological sense. That is, Adam is a type of Christ in that just as the transgressions of the first Adam resulted in death for many, so the redeeming act of grace of the last Adam resulted in life for many. 1 In 1 Corinthians 10:6, however, the translation of τυποι is a controversial issue. Both the Revised and Authorized translations have “examples,” with the margin of the Revised suggesting “figures,” and the Revised Standard Version (1946) has “warnings.” With this interpretation of τυποι in this passage most of the standard commentaries agree. 2 Yet it is our contention that τυποι here means more than mere “examples or warnings,” for we make it rather “types” in the technical or theological sense of the term. [p. 89] The suggested translation of the verse is as follows: “And these things have become our types, with the purpose in view that we should not be desirous of evil things even as they were.” The “things” which were the types were the protecting cloud and the safe journey through the sea, the manna from heaven and the supernatural water from the rock. In all of these God was with His people, protecting them and providing for them on their journeys. In the same way God is with His Church, saving His children and blessing them in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. What Paul goes on to say, then, is that just as the Israelites failed to see God’s hand in the acts of history and rebelled against Him, so the members of the church of Corinth are liable to do, in spite of God’s mercy and love. No sacrament is an opus operatum, i.e., an end in itself. Baptism (ritual) is not in itself security against falling into idolatry. It is against this kind of shallow thinking that Paul is warning the Corinthian Christians, on the basis of God’s earlier dealings with the Israelites. The warning consists in the wrong understanding and use of God’s gracious acts and gifts. The divine acts of grace were done under the Old Covenant in order to reveal God’s loving heart for His people, but they refused to respond to that love, and desired evil instead. And in spite of the fact that these types were written and preserved for our instruction, and what is more, in spite of the fact that we now live in a time when the type has become fulfilled in the antitype and there should be no doubt as to its meaning (v. 11), the danger still remains of desiring evil rather than good. If the safe passage through the Red Sea, the giving of the manna, and the supernatural water are all types for us, showing forth God’s love for His children in those early days with such clarity and power that they should never have turned from Him, how much more should baptism and the Lord’s Supper keep us from falling into devious and sinful ways!

In verse eleven of this same chapter , the form τυπικως occurs. It is the only time it is found in the [p. 90] New Testament. Again it seems necessary to take it in the theological sense: “Now these things happened to them typically, and they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end(s) of the ages has come.” Since verses seven to ten are parenthetic, giving four illustrations of the way that old Israel rebelled against God, the expression “these things” must again refer to the divine acts of grace recorded in the opening verses of the chapter . The crossing of the Red Sea, the manna, and the supernatural water could hardly have been “examples” or “warnings” to the Israelites themselves. In this verse , by the way, we note two important qualities of a type. In the first place, even after the type is fulfilled in the antitype it still remains useful for instruction. Therefore the Old Testament is still an integral part of the Christian tradition, even though its fulfillment has been reached in Christ. In the second place, the type is always predictive, or to look at it the other way: we, upon whom the end of the ages has come, can now see how the Old Testament type was pointing forward to its fulfillment in the New.

In the Septuagint the word τυπος is found only in Exodus 25:40, as quoted in Hebrews 8:5 and Acts 7:44, and in Amos 5:26, as quoted in Acts 7:43 (see above).

There is no theological usage of the word in either the Pseudepigrapha or the Apocrypha.

The word αντιτυπος occurs twice in the New Testament. It means “a blow against a blow, an echo, reflection, correspondence of stamp to die.” In 1 Peter 3:21 we read: “which also now saves you antitypically, even baptism.” The salvation of Noah through faith and obedience becomes a type for this apostolic writer of the greater salvation which is to come. The waters of the flood, which bore in safety the ark, are the Old Testament type of the waters of Christian baptism, the New Testament antitype. This is the usually accepted order or progression of the Biblical type and antitype. But in Hebrews 9:24 it seems at first as though the order of type and antitype were reversed. It reads: “For Christ has not entered into a holy place made with hands, [p. 91] antitypical of the true one.” Here the heavenly tabernacle seems to be the type, and the model on earth is the antitype. The author evidently is not thinking of the Old Testament tabernacle as being fulfilled in the New Testament, i.e., in Christ or the work of Christ, but rather as an earthly replica of a heavenly tabernacle. This view is Biblically justifiable in the light of the words of Exodus 25:40, which are actually quoted in Hebrews 8:5. Therefore both uses of αντιτυπος, which at first appear contradictory, are entirely possible from the Biblical point of view. 3

Already in the Old Testament there is what we might call a nascent ‘typology.’ Certain personages and events are related to a higher realm in which the truths and relations exhibited in them were again to meet and obtain a more perfect development. The word ‘Egypt’ becomes a symbol of captivity, as seen in Hosea 8:13 (note the LXX here); 9:3, 6 ; 11:5 (where the writer makes sure that the term ‘Egypt’ be not taken literally). Also in Isaiah the experiences of the Exodus are used to describe the greater return of the exiles (cf. 48:20ff).

In Psalm 110:4 Melchizedek is connected with the future head of God’s people, who as divine king and priest is to be after the order of Melchizedek, and not after the Levitical priesthood. The conditions and relations of Melchizedek’s time (Gen 14) are again to be revived in this One of divine character, and the same part to be played anew, but raised to a higher sphere and invested with a heavenly greatness.

So David becomes a ‘type’ of that ideal king and shepherd who was to come in power (cf. Hos 3:5; Jer 30:9; Ezek 34:23, 24; 37:24). Certainly no Jew thought of David in these passages as redivivus.

Likewise in Malachi 4:5 Elijah the prophet is described as coming again before the great and terrible day of the Lord. This again does not necessitate a physical return of [p. 92] Elijah (Luke 1:17), although there was a strong tradition that Elijah would return in the physical sense (cf. Matt 11:14; 17:10ff ; Mark 9:11ff; also John 1:21). Thus the representative prophet, priest, and king are already idealized in the Old Testament to point the way to their fulfillment in the New.

There are three classes of types used in the New Testament writings, namely, institutions, historical events, and persons. To be sure, most of these are not designated by the word ‘type’ in the record, but, as we shall see, they all fulfil the specifications of the type as defined in its theological or technical sense. The Old Testament institutions which are treated as types in the New Testament are the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the priesthood, circumcision, and the Sabbath.

The tabernacle is typical of Christ and His work in two ways. In the first place, as it represented the presence of God among His children in the early days, so Christ is described in John 1:14 as “tabernacling” (so Revised Version, margin) among us. In the second place, as the tabernacle afforded the means of approach to God through the sacrificial system and the priesthood, so the work of Christ as our sacrifice and high priest makes it possible for us to come to God. This is the main burden of Hebrews 7–10. But it must never be forgotten that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews also thinks of the earthly tabernacle as pointing beyond itself to that heavenly tabernacle of which it is the antitype (Heb 9:24), where Christ is now ministering in the presence of God (Heb 8:1, 2; 9:11, 24).

There are two things that we want to note in general concerning the description of the transitory tabernacle in Exodus 25–40. In the first place, it is interesting to compare the amount of space devoted to the description of the tabernacle and its construction with that devoted to the creation of the universe. Just as there are two accounts of the creation story, so there are two accounts of the tabernacle, namely, the instructions for its building and the actual construction. That of course is characteristic of the Oriental mind [p. 93] and manner of telling a story. But the creation of the universe is told in two chapters (Gen 1–2), whereas the description of the tabernacle is given in sixteen chapters. The reason for this no doubt is that the Bible as redemptive history is more interested in the construction of a certain tent which has to do with the reconciliation of God and man than with the creation of the whole universe.

Another point of interest is the order in which the instructions and construction are given. Both times, with chapters 25 and 37, the ark in the Holy of Holies is mentioned as the first piece of furniture, and after that the other pieces are described until the altar of burnt offering is reached in the outer court. This again would seem to put the stamp of divine authorship upon the record, for man naturally would start from the outside and work in.

It is impossible here to go into detail concerning the various pieces of furniture and other features of the tabernacle. The great truths that were being taught to Israel of old by the disposition of the furniture in the tabernacle were that no one could enter the presence of God except by way of sacrifice, that is, by way of the altar of burnt offering which stood near the gate in the outer court; that a life of fellowship with God was required of every Israelite as shown by the ever ascending smoke from the altar of incense; and that God was dwelling with His people in the deep, mysterious darkness of the Holy of Holies. In this sense the tabernacle was “a parable for the time in which it stood” (Heb 9:9), teaching God’s children what He required of them. Christ’s life is a perfect fulfillment of these truths taught by the tabernacle. He is the true Shekinah, tabernacling with man; He led a life of perfect fellowship with God, culminating in the prayer perfect of John 17; He gave Himself a ransom for many in His perfect sacrifice on the Cross. The Old Testament tabernacle was the material replica of the heavenly one which was shown to Moses on the mount. It was transitory and perishable. In the New Testament the truths taught by the tabernacle were embodied in the life and [p. 94] teachings of our Lord. In this sense the New Testament “tabernacle” was perfect, spiritual, and eternal. For a few years we beheld on earth the glory of the true tabernacle, full of grace and truth. But there is coming a time when that heavenly tabernacle will meet earth again, and God will dwell with His people forever (Rev 21:3).

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was considered by New Testament writers to be typical of the perfect and final sacrifice of Christ. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him he said: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The blood of every innocent victim and the faith of every Old Testament offerer were now made efficacious through the offering up of the perfect Lamb of God for the sin of the world. Without His coming, the Old Testament sacrifices would have been meaningless and worthless.

The Paschal lamb, whose blood was sprinkled on the doorposts as the sacramental sign of deliverance, was early considered a type of Christ. Paul, in his fight against the pagan morals of his day, reminds the Corinthian Christians that “Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast” (1 Cor 5:7, 8). As the Israelite was delivered from the bondage of Egypt through the blood of the Paschal lamb, so the Christian is saved from sin through the sacrifice of Christ; but Paul further adds that continual victory over the sins of the world means a continual observing of the Feast of Redemption. Peter also reminds his readers that they are redeemed not with silver or gold (cf. Isa 55:1), but “with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:19). No doubt he is here referring to the Paschal lamb which, according to Exodus 12:5, is to be without blemish.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews is very anxious to make clear that the Old Testament sacrificial system was transitory and unsatisfactory. But through it all God was teaching His children that there was no remission of sin [p. 95] without the shedding of blood. Christ’s sacrifice is, of course, the perfect fulfillment of the Levitical sacrifices. In Hebrews 9:13–14 we read: “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling them that have been defiled, sanctify unto the cleanness of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” The yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement which dealt with moral impurities (Lev 16) and the occasional offering of the red heifer for ceremonial impurity (Num 19) are here taken as types of the sacrifice of Christ which obtained eternal redemption (cf. also Heb 9:26).

In the Old Testament a sacrifice seemed to be a necessary part of the covenant-establishing ritual (Gen 15; Exod 24). But the covenant made between God and His people on Sinai was broken by the people’s faithlessness and a new one had to be made, as Jeremiah indicates in chapter thirty-one. Christ, through His death, becomes the mediator of this new covenant which is eternal and unbreakable (Heb 9:15ff).

In chapter ten of Hebrews the author again reiterates how ineffectual the sacrifices of the Old Testament were. But here he also includes the “whole burnt offering” which had inherent in it the idea of the complete surrender and consecration of the offerer to God, shown by the burning of the victim on the altar. In this respect also Christ perfectly fulfilled this sacrifice, for God had given Him a body which He in turn offered in perfect, daily self-oblation and in His death on the cross (cf., in this connection, Rom 5:19; Eph 5:2; Phil 2:8, and the practical application in Rom 12:1).

The Old Testament priest, as he ministered in the tabernacle and temple and interceded for his people, was a type of the priesthood of Jesus. His priesthood was perfect, however, in that it was royal, Jesus being of the tribe of Judah; eternal, since Jesus ministers in the heavenly tabernacle which the Lord pitched; and free from sin, since He is without sin. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews Melchizedek [p. 96] was a more perfect type of Christ’s priesthood than the Aaronic priests, since he received tithes of Abraham and those in his loins, including, therefore, Levi himself (cf. chapters 7 , 8 , 9 , 10 passim). In this way the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews goes far beyond the author of Psalm 110, who does no more than mention the fact that the ideal figure to come was to be “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

The rite of circumcision had already been thought of in the Old Testament in a spiritual sense. The circumcision of the heart is mentioned in Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6 ; Ezekiel 44:7, the circumcision of the lips in Exodus 6:12, 30, the circumcision of the ear in Jeremiah 6:10. So in the New Testament the spiritual circumcision is contrasted with the physical, as seen in Romans 2:25–29 and Philippians 3:3. In Colossians 2:11, 12 Paul argues that the circumcision of the flesh is no longer needed since the Christian is circumcized with a circumcision not made with hands, and then he goes on to describe this spiritual circumcision in the terms of baptism. In other words, just as in the Old Testament circumcision was the seal of that covenant relationship with God which was to bring salvation, so baptism in the New is the seal of that inward regeneration wrought by Christ. In John 7:22, 23 Jesus seems to be implying that “the institution of circumcision in the Mosaic Law is a partial restoration prophetic of the complete restoration which will be brought to men by the Messiah.” 4

The ultimate goal of God’s redemptive purpose is to bring men into the divine rest which is typified by the earthly Sabbath. In the Old Testament the entrance of Israel into Canaan under the leadership of Joshua failed to bring the promised rest because of the unbelief and disobedience of the people. In fact, the period after the Israelites entered Canaan was the most unrestful in their whole history, as the Book of Judges tells us. In the New Testament, however, [p. 97] this rest promised by God has been realized in the Christian’s heart through the work of the second Joshua, i.e., Jesus. The Christian, by faith, enters into the “sabbath rest” of God which He had promised long before, but had never been able to give. But even this life of fellowship with God, this blissful rest which the Christian has here on earth, is but a foretaste of that eternal sabbath which shall be spent in the presence of God. It is significant to note that Jesus, as One who experienced perfect rest here on earth and who was keeping an endless Sabbath, was really unable to “break” the Sabbath, notwithstanding false accusations to this effect. All that He did was actually fulfilling the purpose of the Sabbath (cf. Heb 4:1–13, especially verse 9 with its use of the word σαββατισμος.

After this hurried survey of the Old Testament institutions which are used in the New Testament as types of Christ and His work, we pass on to the historical events of the Old Testament which New Testament writers believed pointed beyond themselves to their consummation in Christ. In other words, history from the Biblical point of view is not just continuation, but also consummation: for the Old Testament, Christ, and for the New, His return in power and glory.

In John 3:14 we read: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Later on Jesus, or better, the Gospel writer, interprets His being lifted up as the manner in which He was to die (John 12:32, 33). Now the statement in John three, just quoted, might be taken merely as a good simile or analogy. And there are some striking external similarities between the story of Numbers 21 and the crucifixion: heinous sin, the serpent and the cross both a means of destruction, both also become sacramental means of salvation, a mere look mixed with faith brings healing. But the real thing that makes the lifted serpent a type of the lifted Christ and not just an analogy is the fact that the same God had ordained both as means of salvation. The underlying principle of the relation between type and antitype is the redemptive purpose of God. As Hoskyns has put it: “The thing that [p. 98] Moses had made, a mere bit of brass, afterwards became a grave cause of superstition, so miserable and dangerous a thing it was in itself, and Hezekiah destroyed it. But the Biblical story remained imperishable; it lay waiting till apt times and circumstances should give it an opportunity to discharge its office, and now it comes into its own. The Son of Man must so be lifted up.” 5

In the same way the flood (1 Pet 3:21), the crossing of the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:1, 2), the giving of the manna and the water from the rock (1 Cor 10:3, 4), and the entrance into Canaan (Heb 3:18–4:13) are all used typically in the New Testament (see above for a full discussion of each of these).

And now we come, finally, to the persons who are used as types in the New Testament. As has already been shown, Adam is considered a type of Christ by Paul in Romans 5:14. Probably by an extension of this idea, the Church of Christ, which is His bride, came to be regarded as prefigured by Eve (cf. 2 Cor 11:2, 3; Eph 5:22ff).

Abraham is, of course, the type of the man of faith who trusts God implicitly without understanding God’s ultimate purpose or plan. The three great events in his life which brought out this kind of faith were his call, the birth of Isaac, and the offering of Isaac (so Heb 11:8–19). Abraham’s life thus made articulate in history for the first time that particular kind of faith that depended utterly upon God for its answer. It is for this reason that Paul makes him the type of those who implicitly trust the grace of God for salvation (Rom 4 and Gal 3). Although Paul treats the story of Hagar and Ishmael and Sarah and Isaac in an allegorical way—”for these (women) are two covenants,” etc. (Gal 4:24)—nevertheless he certainly means to imply that they contain much more in them than mere historical fact. In other words, if one may put it in this way, he is allegorizing perfectly good types. 6 [p. 99] In the offering up of Isaac the Church has long seen more than an interesting story which marked man’s advance in his religious development. In art, liturgy, and theology the events recorded in Genesis 22 have been regarded as pointing to the offering up of the only begotten Son of God on Calvary’s mount. Hebrews 11:19 further states that Abraham received Isaac back from the dead as “in a parable,” or “figuratively.” As Westcott says: “His restoration was not only such that it might be called figuratively a resurrection, but it pointed forward.” 7

Moses, who appeared on the mount of transfiguration, must have been one of Jesus’ favorite Old Testament characters and one with whom He felt the closest affinity. As Tasker so well puts it: “No mere historical record can the life of Moses have been to our Lord; but a soul-drama which in deeply intensified and transcended measure was being enacted in His own Person. Moses was the first savior of Israel, and the first to be entrusted with the secrets of the divine glory; and his life of travail, suffering, and intercession for a disobedient people, whom he had been empowered by God to redeem from Egypt, was a real prefiguring of the Redeemer who by His perfect sacrifice revealed to mankind the full glory of the love of God.” 8 In Hebrews 3 this idea is enlarged upon by showing how Moses prefigured the work of Christ in that he was engaged with the whole economy of God, seeing that Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant. In 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, Moses as administrator of the mercies of God to His children is typical of Christ whose body and blood nourishes us. In 2 Corinthians 3, Moses stands in relation to the Old Covenant as Christ does to the New. One is inferior and preparatory, the other is spiritual and final. In these ways, then, the life of Moses points beyond itself to the life and work of Christ.

David, who embodied the idea of the kingdom where concrete order is obtained by law and who became the ideal [p. 100] King of Israel (see above), is closely associated with the Messiah in the New Testament, as the expressions “seed of David, son of David, root of David” clearly show. David’s earthly kingship and kingdom were perfectly fulfilled in the spiritual kingdom where Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Christ Himself points to Jonah and Solomon (Matt 12:41, 42) as His forerunners and notes that by their preaching and wisdom men were drawn to them and to the true God. Now God had sent His own Son as His final messenger, but the Jews were refusing to heed Him. Thus the greater witness to God’s redemptive plan and purpose was being rejected.

1. Cf. 1 Cor 15:22, 45.

2. Cf., in loc., The International Critical Commentary, The Expositor's Greek Testament, The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, The New Century Bible, The Moffatt New Testament.

3. Bauer, W., in his Griechisch-Deutches Wörterbuch (Berlin, 1937), says that the word is used in Heb 9:24 "in the Platonic sense of the sensual world in opposition to the true, heavenly original" (p. 127a). But this explanation seems unnecessary in the light of Exod 25:40.

4. Tasker, R.V.G., The Old Testament in the New Testament (London, 1946), p. 49.

5. Hoskyns, E., The Fourth Gospel (London, 1940), p. 220.

6. Melchizedek as a type has been treated above.

7. Westcott, B. F., The Epistle to the Hebrews (London, 1889), p. 367b.

8. Tasker, op. cit., p. 27.

Principles of Biblical Typology

From Bibliotheca Sacra 104 (1947) pp. 214-222.

Now we propose to give a definition of the word “type” as we have been using it, to survey briefly the various schools of typology in the history of the church, and then to lay down certain principles which should help us to arrive at some agreement on this much disputed problem.

The definition which I propose for the word “type” in its theological sense is as follows: A type is an institution, historical event or person, ordained by God, which effectively prefigures some truth connected with Christianity. Let us take up each part of this definition seriatim.

Firstly, by defining the type as an institution, historical event or person we are emphasizing the fact that the type must be meaningful and real in its own right. As illustrations of this fact we need mention only the tabernacle, the exodus, and Abraham. In this respect a type differs from an allegory, a distinction which is not always observed. For an allegory is a fictitious narrative, or to put it less bluntly, in an allegory the historical truth of the narrative dealt with may or may not be accepted, whereas in typology, the fulfillment of the antitype can only be understood in the light of the reality of the original type.

Secondly, there must be a divinely intended connection between the type and the antitype. As Bishop Westcott says, “A type presupposes a purpose in history wrought out from age to age. An allegory rests finally in the [p. 215] imagination….” 1 The organic relationship between the type and antitype is just one of the many evidences of the organic relationship between the Old and New Testaments. 2

Thirdly, the type is not only real and valid in its own right, but it is efficacious in its own immediate milieu. It can only effectively prefigure the antitype because it has inherent in it already at least some of the effectiveness which is to be fully realized in the antitype. For instance, the sacrifices of the Old Testament were efficacious in their day in so far as they pointed forward to the Lamb of God in whom the whole Old Testament sacrificial system was summed up. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was certainly effective for the Israelites of that time, but in the larger context of redemptive history it pointed forward to the redemptive act of the cross. The faith of Abraham was indeed instrumental in bringing him through the great crises of his life, but it was also significant in that it molded the faith of Israel, yes, even of Christians, for all time to come. Thus the Old Testament type was efficacious in its own day, for its own time, in its own limited way.

Fourthly, the most important characteristic of the type, as has come out in the preceding point, is the fact that it is predictive of some truth connected with Christianity, or of Christ Himself. The fulfillment of the type in the antitype is one of the proofs of the teleological character of the Old Testament. Typology differs from prophecy in the strict sense of the term only in the means of prediction. Prophecy predicts mainly by means of the word, whereas typology predicts by institution, act or person. Herein lies also the difference between typology and symbolism, or between a type and a symbol. The symbol, whatever form it may take, merely teaches a truth, without predicting an actual [p. 216] realization of that truth. The symbolic actions of the prophets which were prophetic in character, were always accompanied by the interpretative word.

It is most important to make the distinction, as has been done, between type and allegory, for in the early church the allegorical method of interpretation had blurred the true meaning of the Old Testament to such an extent that it was impossible for a legitimate typology to exist. According to this method the literal and historical sense of Scripture is completely ignored, and every word and event is made an allegory of some kind either to escape theological difficulties or to maintain certain peculiar religious views. This method of interpretation had been common in Judaism as The Wisdom of Solomon, the Letter of Aristeas, and the works of Philo, the Alexandrian Jew, affirm. In the Christian tradition the Letter of Barnabas, written about 130 A.D., is the first more or less consistent allegorical treatment of Jewish Scriptures. Here the circumcision of Abraham’s servants is interpreted kabbalistically to mean Jesus on the cross, and the laws about clean and unclean meats are given a mystical meaning. 3 Justin Martyr (d. about 165 A.D.), in his Apology, and especially in his Dialogue, is guilty of some of the most fanciful exegetical interpretations in the early church. There is hardly a piece of wood in the Old Testament record which isn’t in some way connected with the cross. But it was Origen (about 185–254 A.D.) of Alexandria who really established the allegorical method in the early church. The literal interpretation of Scripture, he believed, led to immorality; Scripture had a threefold sense corresponding to the trichotomy of man—the literal, the moral, and the mystical meanings. This he derived from the faulty LXX translation of Proverbs 22:20. The simplest and most precious passages of both the Old and New Testaments became the innocent victims of the most vicious distortions. Because of the widespread influence of the Alexandrian School, this [p. 217] method of exegesis came to be accepted by theologians, both east and west, as the standard one.

The school of Antioch, however, mainly through the writings of Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428 A.D.), opposed the sole supremacy of the allegorical interpretation and tried to restore the historical basis of Scripture which had been destroyed by the allegorists. As F. W. Farrar says, “…Their system of Biblical interpretation approached more nearly than any other to that which is now adopted by the Reformed Churches throughout the world, and…if they had not been too uncharitably anathematised by the angry tongue, and crushed by the iron hand of a dominant orthodoxy, the study of their commentaries, and the adoption of their exegetic system, might have saved Church commentaries from centuries of futility and error.” 4 In the west both Augustine and Jerome were followers to some extent of the allegorical method in that they recognized a figurative or spiritual meaning in many Biblical passages. The exegesis of the Middle Ages rested upon the exegetical principles of the Church Fathers, and so but little advance was made.

The Reformers had little or nothing to do with allegorical interpretation. Luther denounced it as “trifling and foolish fables, with which the Scriptures were rent into so many and diverse senses, that silly, poor consciences could receive no certain doctrine of anything” (Gal 4:26). Calvin, in like manner, declares that “the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and obvious meaning, by which we ought resolutely to abide”; and he speaks of the “licentious system” of Origen and the allegorists as “undoubtedly a contrivance of Satan to undermine the authority of Scripture, and to take away from the reading of it the true advantage” (Gal 4:22). On the other hand, it should be noted that, although the Reformers did not formulate an explicit doctrine of typology, they firmly believed in the prophetic function of the [p. 218] Old Testament, as a glance at any of their Old Testament commentaries will show.

About the middle of the seventeenth century there arose the school of Cocceius, a Dutch theologian whom we have noted before, who has become famous for his free and undisciplined use of types. In his works and those of his followers it is seen how a mere resemblance, however accidental or trifling, between an occurrence in the Old Testament and another in the New was deemed sufficient to constitute the one a type of the other. The great weakness of this school was the fact that they did not sufficiently distinguish between allegorical and typical interpretation. No formal enunciations of the underlying principles of typology were ever made, so that all could indulge in a luxuriant typological fancy without any restrictions. It is this kind of unprincipled, unrestrained typology that has continued down to our own day amongst certain circles, and has brought the whole subject into deserved disrepute. All of our theological libraries are repositories for hosts of works of this kind.

As a reaction against this kind of typology gone to seed, there arose a school which admitted into the rank of types only those which had been expressly treated as such in the Bible itself, to the exclusion of all others. Bishop Marsh of England (1757–1839) through his work Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible (1828) became the chief exponent of this school. Many since his day have held this to be the safest view on the subject, but we reserve our judgment until later.

What then are those principles which lead us to a sane and legitimate typology? We sincerely believe that it is possible to steer between the Scylla of an undisciplined and fanciful typology and the Charybdis of an unwarranted prejudice against typology. This can be done only when we understand those basic principles by which a type can be understood and determined.

In the first place, typology, i.e., the study of types and [p. 219] their relation to the antitype, is fundamentally based upon the organic unity of the Bible. There is a divine purpose and plan unfolded in Scripture which has two goals in view, namely, the revelation of God to man and the redemption of man by God. The Old Testament revelation is characterized by two things, namely, fragmentariness and materiality. That is indeed the world of type, and shadow, and pattern, incomplete in itself, ever growing toward the goal which is to be found in the New Testament—the revelation of God in a Son (Heb 1:2). But it must never be forgotten that the end of all revelation is the redemption of mankind. As with prophecy, so with typology—they are not ends in themselves, but are part of that stream of redemptive history which is always looking beyond itself to the consummation. Therefore the redemptive principle lies at the heart of typology, and no type can be understood or determined apart from that idea.

The idea of growth in the process of revelation from the less to the more, from the imperfect to the perfect, from the type to the antitype, is characteristic also of the realm of nature. The relation of the bud to the flower, the acorn to the oak, the embryo to the child, and the child to the man all bear witness to a unifying principle amid the laws of change. As A. B. Davidson says: “Now, it is certainly to be expected, when one considers that the same God is the author both of the scheme of nature and of grace, and remembers the many analogies of other kinds which the two schemes exhibit, that there will be an analogy here also. For this is one of the broadest and most characteristic of God’s ways, to move up through imperfect forms to that which is perfect. The man grows from the child. The tree is cast into the ground a seed. The light shineth more and more unto the perfect day. We should wonder if God’s perfect kingdom and glory did not first appear dim and in broken outline, and gradually increase in clearness and sharpness of contour, till it stood out, luminous and defined, as the sun in the sky.” 5

[p. 220] Thus typology is not a matter of collecting all of the resemblances between the Old and New Testaments, but rather of understanding the underlying redemptive and revelational process which begins in the Old Testament and finds its fulfillment in the New. In this light, for instance, the covenant of Sinai becomes a type of that perfect covenant relation between God and man in Christ, clearly adumbrated in the new covenant of Jeremiah 31. Or again, the exodus, the deliverance of a nation, becomes a type of the redemptive work of Christ—also clearly adumbrated in the exile—where the individual is brought to realize his own tremendous guilt and need of redemption. This is the meaning of Isaiah fifty-three, where the sufferings of the nation are so touchingly and convincingly described that they pass over into the realm of the individual and thus prefigure Christ Himself. From this we learn another principle of typology, namely, that the type becomes more clear and understandable as the time for its fulfillment in the antitype draws near.

In the light of this divinely ordained, organic principle uniting both Testaments we can now see the fallacy of limiting typology simply to the study of those types which the writers of Scripture happened to have used. This would be seriously limiting a divine process to a mere handful of examples. Rather should the few examples in Scripture be taken as indicative of the general prophetic or teleological character of the Old Testament.

Another point to remember in determining the nature and characteristic of a type is that that which makes the institution, event or person typical is the redemptive truth which it teaches and prefigures. Or to put it another way, the redemptive truth alone gives the typical quality to the institution, event or person. As has been said, one of the characteristics of the Old Testament is that its teachings were clothed in material form. The tabernacle, for instance, was teaching the eternal truths of God’s dwelling with His people and of His redemptive plan and purpose for the [p. 221] sinner. These truths had to be taught through the media of objects and materials, like the altars, the tent, the veil, etc. The question we ask then is, Wherein does the typological character of the tabernacle lie? Is it in the material out of which it was constructed, or is it in the prophetic, parabolic purpose which is carried out in the disposition of the furniture and the ministrations of the priesthood within its courts? We would certainly say the latter. The boards and sockets and skins of the tabernacle are not types in themselves, but they are the necessary materials out of which the type is made. In other words, is it not necessary to distinguish in the type between the eternal and the contingent? Perhaps this is part of the answer to that fanciful, unbridled typology which makes every little detail to be possessed of typographical significance. In this view, the reason for the absurdity of the following statements is quite clear: “Each of these boards (of the tabernacle), as we shall see, represents a sinner saved by grace,” and “There could be no tabernacle apart from the sockets. And so there can be no true church apart from Christ and Him crucified,” statements which the writer jotted down in the course of his recent reading, but which are not even worth annotating. Therefore the type is legitimatized by the divine truth which it inherently teaches and predicts, although that truth had to be taught and predicted through material and physical media.

The last determining feature of the type is that it must be significantly redemptive not only for its own day, but for the days to come until it is fufilled in the antitype. The sacrificial system, the deliverance from Egypt, the faith of Abraham were not only real and efficacious in their own day, but they set the course of Israel’s religious life for generations to come. The uplifted hands of Moses may remind us of the cross, and the scarlet cord of Rahab may remind us of the redeeming blood of Christ, but they certainly cannot be conceived of as organically connected with their supposed antitypes, nor do they—the uplifted hands and the [p. 222] scarlet cord—materially affect the prophetic or exilic periods of Israel’s history. Types are more than illustrations or analogies. If only we would make a clear distinction between these terms, and then hold to them! In this way a lot of confusion would be avoided in theological and Biblical circles.

Typology is not dead. It is one of those many strands of Scripture which need much more revealing. This has been an imperfect and inadequate attempt to get to the root of the understanding of the type. We earnestly believe that a legitimate typology is one of the many ways in which we may derive a better understanding of the Old Testament. Any one who knows Exodus 25–40 well, or the opening chapters of Leviticus, will never go wrong in his theology, and he will have a clearer conception of Christ and His work here on earth. For Christ is the key to the heart of the Old Testament. “And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35).

1. The Epistle to the Hebrews, London, 1889, p. 200.

2. Strangely enough, A. B. Davidson, in his Old Testament Prophecy (Edinburgh, 1912, p. 237), strongly opposes this particular characteristic of a type.

3. Cf. Goodspeed, E. J., A History of Early Christian Literature, Chicago, 1942, p. 30.

4. History of Interpretation, New York, 1886, pp. 210-11.

5. Old Testament Prophecy, p. 213f.

About the author: Charles T. Fritsch (1913-1989) was educated at Muhlenberg College, Princeton Theological Seminary (1935), and Princeton University (Ph.D., 1940). He joined the faculty of Princeton Seminary as an instructor in 1937, and retired as the William Henry Green Professor of Old Testament Literature in 1979. He was also a visiting lecturer at the Temple School of Theology, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem.