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Typology

Numerous passages in the Old Testament describe things that point to or foreshadow what Christ ultimately fulfills. For example, the entire sacrificial system of Israel foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ. As the book of Hebrews tells us, Christ is the ultimate sacrifice, eliminating forever the need for any other sacrifices. However, to view the Old Testament sacrificial system as a whole to be a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ is much different from interpreting every aspect of the sacrificial system allegorically. The sacrificial system involved doves, goats, cows, grain, ashes, smoke, fire, knives, and a host of other details. Allegorical interpretation projects christological significance onto each of the minute details. The concept of foreshadowing, by contrast, suggests general connections (death, blood, without blemish, etc.) and does not speculate on the minute details.

Furthermore, most of the foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament is identified in the New Testament. Thus, we can rely on the guidance of the New Testament to help us discern whether or not a passage is a foreshadowing of Christ or not. We are, we should remember, trying to determine the meaning that God has placed in the text. We must not seek to be creative or clever, nor should we try to derive some hidden connection that no one else ever saw before. Thus, we advise you to use the New Testament as a guide to determining the foreshadowing passages in the Old Testament. Do not try to force Christ into every passage, as the allegorizers do.

Some scholars prefer to use the term typology instead of foreshadowing. The two terms are similar in meaning, although typologygenerally requires a correspondence of the New Testament fulfillment that is closer to the Old Testament representation than foreshadowing suggests. A type can be defined as “a biblical event, person or institution which serves as an example or pattern for other events, persons or institutions.”[11] The Old Testament flows into the New Testament as part of a continuous salvation-history story. What is promised in the Old is fulfilled in the New. Typology is part of the promise-fulfillment scheme that connects the two Testaments together.[12]

Thus, we view typology as being prophetic—a historical event or person in the Old Testament that serves as a prophetic pattern or example of a New Testament event or person. However, it is critical that this prophetic meaning be the one that was intended by the divine Author. Thus the identification must be in the Bible and not merely in our imagination. Also, we do not think that the human author was always cognizant of the complete fulfillment that was to come, although we acknowledge that there is much disagreement among scholars on this point.

Psalm 22 provides us with a good example of typology. Although David wrote Psalm 22 about a thousand years or so before the coming of Christ, note the close correspondence between the selected verses below and the suffering of Christ on the cross.

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish? . . .
7All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
8“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him. . . .”
14I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
17All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.

David apparently wrote this psalm during a time of intense suffering in his life. We doubt if David actually envisioned the future crucifixion of Christ (although it is possible). We believe that the Spirit led him in his choice of words as he wrote this psalm of lament. David used figures of speech (common in Hebrew poetry) to describe his physical suffering. Thus his description in Psalm 22 is a figurative picture of a real time of suffering in his life. Jesus, however, lived out many of the descriptive aspects of this psalm on the cross. In his case, moreover, the language tends to describe his suffering in a literal manner rather than a figurative manner.

We see definite prophetic elements in Psalm 22 regarding the cross. David’s suffering in this psalm is thus a type of the suffering of Christ on the cross. The figurative description of David’s sufferings finds literal fulfillment in the suffering of Christ. Of course, clinching this typological connection is the fact that Jesus quotes Psalm 22 from the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34), and John explicitly states that as the Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, they fulfilled Psalm 22:18. So the New Testament guides us to the fact that Psalm 22 is fulfilled in the death of Christ. Since it also applies to a historical situation in David’s life, we categorize the psalm as typology.

In our opinion an Old Testament passage usually cannot be confirmed as typological unless the New Testament identifies it as such. Therefore, while other Old Testament texts may bear some similarities to New Testament realities, they cannot be confidently classified as typology unless the New Testament indicates the fulfillment.


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