Biblical Typology — The Study of ‘types’
(Based on Dictionary of the Bible, by John McKenzie, S.J.)
What does the word ‘type’ mean?
The word ‘type’ comes from the Greek word typos which means an impression. This leads to it being thought of as an image, a pattern, model, figure, or an example.
When the Old Testament does not obviously speak of Christ, it speaks of Him in type, figure or allegory; i.e. in some way which pre-figures the Christian event.
Where did this idea come from?
The biblical basis of typology rests on two of St. Paul’s use of the word typos, meaning pattern or example:
● Romans 5: 14 — Adam is called a type of Christ.
● 1 Corinthians 10: 6 — The Israelites are called ‘types’ of the Christian
in their wandering in the desert. (See Exodus and Numbers).
How did St. Paul apply this principle?
St. Paul also finds that the effect of Adam’s sin having consequences for many generations coming after him is a type of Christ’s sacrifice having consequences for the many who need salvation.
St. Paul finds a type of baptism in the passage of Israel through the Red Sea.
He also finds a type of the Eucharist in the food and drink which the Israelites were given in the desert to give them strength to continue their pilgrimage towards the place God had set aside for them.
Reflection on these ‘types‘ helps us see the continuity and consistency of God’s plan as it unfolds over time.
Do ‘types’ predict New Testament situations?
‘Types‘ point towards, or pre-figure something in the New Testament but they do not provide all details. For example, Jesus is presented as the new Moses, a new Israel, as well as the Messiah. However, the idea of Messiah as expressed in His life and person, goes beyond the Old Testament conception. Thus, any type or pre-figuring is not a prediction, but rather a means God uses to point towards; to alert His people to something, and focus their attention on it.
So what is the key understanding we need to have of Biblical Theology?
The fundamental principle of Biblical typology is that God created a people, a culture and a history precisely that this people, culture and history might become the vehicle of the revelation of Himself which reached its fullness in Jesus Christ.
It is on these grounds that we believe Christians need to treasure that culture and history, learn carefully from it, and ensure it is respected and passed on to following generations.