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The Hermeneutics of Eschatology - Part I



A.        Definition of Typology


The following two definitions together express the essence of typology:


“In typology the interpreter finds a correspondence in one or more respects between a person, event, or things in the Old Testament and a person, event, or thing closer to or contemporaneous with a New Testament writer. It is this correspondence that determines the meaning in the Old Testament narrative that is stressed by a later writer or speaker. The correspondence is present because God controls history, and this control of God over history is axiomatic with the New Testament writers. It is God who causes earlier individuals, groups, experiences, institutions, etc., to embody characteristics which later he will cause to reappear” (Mickelsen/237).


“We may say that a type is an event, a series of circumstances, or an aspect of the life of an individual or of the nation, which finds a parallel and a deeper realization in the incarnate life of our Lord, in His provision for the needs of men, or in His judgments and future reign. A type thus presents a pattern of the dealings of God with men that is followed in the antitype, when, in the coming of Jesus Christ and the setting up of His kingdom, those dealings of God are repeated, though with a fulfillment and finality that they did not exhibit before” (Foulkes/35).


B.        The Basis for Biblical Typology


1.         The sovereignty of God over history, i.e., divine providence. When a NT author refers to an OT event or person as being “typological,” he is not saying that the event or person can now be seen to be “typological,” as if it only becomes a type as a result of some later occurrence. The “type” is recognized as such because it is God who caused it to occur “typologically.” God molds and determines the specific details of history so that they occur as “types,” later to be recognized as such by the NT authors (on this see Richard Davidson, Typology in Scripture: A Study of hermeneutical “tupos” structures/268).


2.         The unity of the OT and the NT. Typology is possible only on the assumption of an organic unity between the testaments, in the sense that the NT is the continuation and consummation of the OT.


3.         The consistency of God’s activity in history. “There is a consistency in God’s dealings with men. Thus his acts in the Old Testament will present a pattern which can be seen to be repeated in the New Testament events” (France/39).


C.        Some Primary Characteristics of Typology


1.         The OT person or event or institution which serves as the “type” must be historical (this point helps to distinguish typology from allegory).


2.         There is always some notable point of resemblance or analogy or correspondence between the “type” (OT) and its “antitype” (NT). R. T. France explains:


“This correspondence must be both historical (i.e., a correspondence of situation and event) and theological (i.e., an embodiment of the same principle of God’s working). The lack of a real historical correspondence reduces typology to allegory, as when the scarlet thread hung in the window by Rahab is taken as a prefiguration of the blood of Christ; both may be concerned with deliverance, but the situations and events are utterly dissimilar. On the other hand, the lack of a real theological correspondence destroys what we have seen as the very basis of typology, the perception of a constant principle in the working of God. This is not, of course, to demand a correspondence in every detail of the two persons or events, but simply that the same theological principle should be seen operating in two persons or events which present a recognizable analogy to each other in terms of the actual historical situation. Only where there is both a historical and theological correspondence is a typological use of the Old Testament justified” (41).


3.         There is in the “antitype” an intensification, an escalation of the “type.” The relation between the two is not simply one of mere repetition, nor even of comparative increase. Rather, in the “antitype” there is eschatological completion and consummation. The nature of this “intensification or escalation or consummation” which we see in the “antitype” is often such that involves a movement from the external and earthly to the internal and spiritual. For example, consider John 3:14-15. The points of correspondence are “lifting up” and “life”.


a.         both the serpent and Christ were “lifted up”, but the latter in a way far more significant and spiritual than the former; similarly,


b.         those who “looked” at the serpent received “life” in the physical sense, i.e., they did not die of the snake bite; on the other hand, those who “look” to Christ (i.e., believe in him) receive “life” in the spiritual sense, eternal life.


Patrick Fairbairn explains:


“For as the typical is divine truth on a lower stage, exhibited by means of outward relations and terrestrial interests, so, when making the transition from this to the antitypical, we must expect the truth to appear on a loftier stage, and, if we may so speak, with a more heavenly aspect. What in the one bore immediate respect to the bodily life, must in the other be found to bear immediate respect to the spiritual life. While in the one it is seen and temporal objects that ostensibly present themselves, their proper counterpart in the other is unseen and eternal – there, the outward, the present, the worldly; here, the inward, the future, the heavenly” (I:131).


4.         The people contemporaneous with a “type” need not be aware that the person/thing/institution is serving that function in God’s redemptive program.


5.         “Types” may be either horizontal or vertical. The horizontal types are more frequent (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13; Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Pt. 3:18-21). The vertical types are such that the “earthly” is the “antitype” of a heavenly, more spiritual reality (cf. Heb. 8:5; 9:24). This latter sort of “typology” is clearly an exception to the principle stated in “4.” Above.


D.        NT Words for Typology


1.         The noun tupos occurs 14 times in the NT, most frequently in Paul – Rom. 5:14; 6:17; 1 Cor. 10:6; Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7. It is also found in Acts 7:43,44; 23:25; John 20:25; Heb. 8:5; 1 Pt. 5:3.


2.         The related form antitupos occurs in Heb. 9:24; 1 Pt. 3:21.


3.         The adverb tupikos is found but once in 1 Cor. 10:11.


4.         The noun hupotuposis is found in 1 Tim. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:13.


E.         Schools of Typological Interpretation


1.         There is the loose or broad view of typology as found, for example, in the writings of Johannes Cocceius (1603-69). On this view, every OT event or person which bears even the slightest resemblance to NT history is viewed as a “type.” Adam’s awakening out of sleep typifies Christ’s resurrection. Samson’s meeting of a lion on the way prefigured Christ’s meeting of Saul on the road to Damascus, etc.


2.         There is also the strict or narrow view, such as that advocated by Bishop Herbert Marsh (1757-1839). He insisted that the only legitimate types are those explicitly identified as such by the NT authors.


3.         The moderate view of Patrick Fairbairn (1805-74) says that types are either (a) innate, i.e., explicitly identified as such by the NT; or (b) inferred, i.e., determined to be types by the analogy of faith and the careful examination of the general flow of redemptive history.


F.         Typology Contrasted with other Hermeneutical Forms


1.         Typology and Allegory. Bernard Ramm distinguishes between typology and allegory in this way:


Allegorical interpretation is the interpretation of a document whereby something foreign, peculiar, or hidden is introduced into the meaning of the text giving it a proposed deeper or real meaning. . . . 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 rises naturally out of the text due to the relationship of the two Testaments” (223).


Goppelt explains it this way:


“Allegorical interpretation . . . is not concerned with the truthfulness or factuality of the things described. For typological interpretation, however, the reality of the things described is indispensable. The typical meaning is not really a different or higher meaning, but a different or higher use of the same meaning that is comprehended in type and antitype” (13).


An example of allegorical interpretation may be of some help. The story of Herod’s slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem is allegorized by one of the church fathers in this way: “The fact that only the children of two years old and under were murdered while those of three presumably escaped is meant to teach us that those who hold the Trinitarian faith will be saved whereas Binitarians and Unitarians will undoubtedly perish!”


2.         Typology and Prophecy. The difference between these two is difficult to specify. R. T. France does so as follows:


“A type is not a prediction; in itself it is simply a person, event, etc. recorded as historical fact, with no intrinsic reference to the future. Nor is an antitype the fulfillment of a prediction; it is rather the reembodiment of a principle which has been previously exemplified in the type. A prediction looks forward to, and demands, an event which is to be its fulfillment; typology, however, consists essentially in looking back and discerning previous examples of a pattern now reaching its culmination” (39-40).


In view of 1 Cor. 10:1-13 this explanation may need to be slightly qualified.


3.         Typology and Symbolism. There are at least two ways to differentiate between these hermeneutical forms. First, “symbols serve as signs of something they represent, without necessarily being similar in any respect, whereas types resemble in one or more ways the things they prefigure” (Virkler/184). Second,


“while a symbol may represent a thing either past, present, or future, a type is essentially a prefiguring of something future from itself. In the technical and theological sense a type is a figure or adumbration of that which is to come. It is a person, institution, office, action, or event, by means of which some truth of the Gospel was divinely foreshadowed under the Old Testament dispensations. Whatever was thus prefigured is called the antitype. A symbol, on the other hand, has in itself no essential reference to time. It is designed rather to represent some character, office, or quality” (Terry/336).


More on symbolism below.


G.        Varieties of Types


1.         Persons (Adam, Solomon, David, Jonah, etc.)


2.         Events (Passover, the wilderness experience of Israel)


3.         Things (the Temple and its furnishings)


4.         Institutions (the sacrificial system of Leviticus)


5.         Offices (the priestly office of Aaron; the prophetic office of Moses)


6.         Actions (the lifting up of the brazen serpent)


[We are now going to look specifically at the typology of Jesus. I will be drawing heavily on the work of R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: His Application of Old Testament Passages to Himself and His Mission (London: Tyndale Press).]


H.        Individuals as Types of Jesus


1.         Jonah – Matthew 12:38-41; Luke 11:29-30,32


“Jonah was a ‘sign’ to the Ninevites in that he appeared as one delivered from death. It was the knowledge of this which attested his preaching and caused their repentance. The point of the comparison with Jonah lies, therefore, in ‘the authorization of the divine messenger by deliverance from death’. Jesus’ preaching, which his hearers are rejecting, will in due course be attested by a still greater deliverance; therefore, their condemnation will be the greater (verse 41)” (44-45).


The historical correspondence is found in the “imprisonment” of both Jonah and Jesus for the same length of time, and in their deliverance by a supernatural work of God. “The theological correspondence, the repeated principle of God’s working, lies in the sending of a preacher of repentance, whose mission is attested by a miraculous act of deliverance. As God sent Jonah to the Ninevites, so Jesus is sent to the Jews of his day” (45). Again, “Nineveh had repented at the preaching of Jonah; Jesus’ hearers are thus challenged to do likewise. But the antitype is greater than the type; failure to repent will, therefore, incur a greater condemnation than that which Nineveh’s repentance averted” (45).


2.         Solomon – Matthew 12:42; Luke 11:31


“The use of the story of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is exactly parallel to the use of that of Jonah and the Ninevites, both in form and purpose. There seem to be two points: (a) the response of Gentiles to God’s Old Testament messengers must put to shame the impenitence of Jesus’ Jewish hearers, and (b) the presence of something greater than Jonah or Solomon renders their guilt yet greater. A typological element is not essential to the argument, but it is suggested both by the clearly typological use of Jonah in the previous verses, and by the formula ‘something greater than Jonah (Solomon) is here,’ which captures exactly the idea of repetition on a higher plane which we have seen to be essential to typology” (45-46).


3.         David – Mark 2:25-26; Matthew 12:3-4; Luke 6:3-4


Again, the unexpressed premise upon which the typological relationship is based is “a greater than David is here.” France explains:


“This argument from the authority of David to the greater authority of Jesus is best explained by an underlying typology. If David, the type, had the authority to reinterpret the law, Jesus, the greater antitype, must have that authority in a higher degree. Without the idea of the superiority of Jesus to David (or at least his equality in status), the argument is a non sequitur, and that superiority (or equality) is best established by a typological relationship. When so much of Jewish Messianic expectation was based on a David-typology, the conclusion seems warranted that Jesus the Messiah sees David as a type of himself, and thus claims a status equal to or above that of David” (47).


4.         Elisha – Mark 6:35ff.; Matthew 14:15ff.; Luke 9:12ff. (2 Kings 4:42-44)


According to R. H. Gundry, “the striking coincidence of the circumstances under which the commands of Jesus and Elisha were uttered --- the hungry crowd, the small supply of food, the surprised question of the servant and the disciples, the multiplication of the loaves, and the superabundance with some left over --- demands that Jesus’ choice of these particular words was a conscious allusion to this [2 Kings 4:42-44] OT passage” (The Use of the OT in St. Matthew’s Gospel, 36).


The presumption is that “Jesus was consciously reenacting on a vastly greater scale the miracle of Elisha. If so, a typological element in Jesus’ use of the Old Testament story is probable. Again, the note of the superiority of the antitype is in evidence, in that whereas Elisha fed a hundred men with twenty loaves, Jesus fed five thousand with five. Elisha was a mighty prophet of God, but Jesus claims to be mightier. As in the case of Jonah, Jesus claims a continuity with the status of the Old Testament prophet, but at the same time manifests himself as the culmination of the prophetic line” (48).


5.         Elijah and Elisha – Luke 4:23-30


“God had sent Elijah and Elisha to the aid of a Phoenician and a Syrian respectively, when they could have found ample scope for similar work among their own people. So now he was sending Jesus to work outside his own town of Nazareth. The pattern is repeated, and Jesus, as God’s messenger, stands in a position analogous to Elijah and Elisha. There is in this case no implication of superiority, but the typological use of Elisha just considered encourages us to see a typological way of thought behind the choice of these two Old Testament examples” (48).


6.         Isaiah – Mark 4:12; Matthew 13:13; Luke 8:10 (Isa. 6:9-10)


“Those who fail to understand and accept Jesus’ teaching (‘those outside’) are seen as equivalent to those who rejected Isaiah’s message in the eighth century b.c. Isaiah’s mission, with its result in the greater blindness of those to whom he was sent, is being repeated in that of Jesus. There is no cause for surprise in the lack of response, for the type must find its antitype. Not that Isaiah 6:9-10 was a prediction for any time beyond Isaiah’s own, but Jesus takes it as a type, and so can expect a fulfillment” (68).


[N.B. “It is interesting that the Old Testament persons whom we have reason to believe Jesus saw as types of himself fall into the three categories classically combined as a summary of the saving work of Christ, viz. prophet, priest and king. This is not accidental. For it was on these three classes that the Messianic hope both of the Old Testament itself and of later Judaism was based. These were the three classes who in the Old Testament performed a mediatorial function between God and his people, and thus constituted types of the future Mediator. It is to these, therefore, that Jesus looked for the ‘pedigree’ of his mediatorial work. In him the three classes come together, and the types find their fulfillment” (49).]


I.          Offices and Institutions as Types of Jesus


1.         The Priesthood – Matthew 12:5-6


2.         The Temple – Matthew 12:5-6


Here we see “the beginning of the typology which the Epistle to Hebrews develops so fully, in which the Old Testament cultic institution and its officers are seen as ‘symbolic for the present age,’ ‘a shadow of the good things to come’. The principles of mediation and reconciliation with God demonstrated in the Old Testament cult find their antitype and fulfillment in Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant” (47).


J.         Israel as a Type of Jesus


1.         The Temptation – Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13


“The passages of Scripture with which Jesus answers the three temptations (Dt. 6:13,16; 8:3) are drawn from a passage where Moses, at the close of the forty years of wandering in the desert, addresses Israel on the threshold of the promised land, calling them to a more whole-hearted devotion and obedience to God, and a trust in his care and provision for them. While each verse quoted might be seen as an appropriate expression of a moral principle which happened to come to Jesus’ mind, the fact that the choice was in all three cases made from this single small section of the Old Testament suggests that the passage was especially in Jesus’ mind at the time, as a pre-figuration of his own experience. He was learning the lessons which God had intended Israel to learn in the desert” (50-51).


Again, “he not only wished to be seen, but saw himself, as Israel, tested and taught in the desert as God’s ‘son’ Israel had been” (51).


“The principle involved is in each case one of ‘testing’. In each case the one tested was the ‘son of God’ (Mt. 4:3,6, and Dt. 8:5, cf. Ex. 4:22). In each case God tested his son (the one fresh from the deliverance from Egypt, the other just commissioned for his redeeming work in baptism), to prove his loyalty, and to teach him to trust and obey and worship God alone, in preparation for his special task” (51-52). In sum, “Jesus then saw himself as God’s son, undergoing prior to his great mission as Messiah the testing which God had given to his ‘son’ Israel before the great mission of the conquest of Canaan. Israel had then failed the test; now, in Jesus, was found that true sonship which could pass the test, and be the instrument of God’s purpose of blessing to the world which Old Testament Israel had failed to accomplish. ‘The history of Israel is taken up by him and carried to its fulfillment.’ The antitype, as always, is greater than the type. Old Testament Israel had failed; Jesus must succeed” (53).


K.        Some Implications for the Typology of Jesus


The following is taken from France, pp. 78-80.


            Jesus is in line with the Old Testament. In the face of accusations of being a revolutionary, and setting himself up against God and his people, Jesus claimed, by means of this typology, a continuity between God’s working in the Old Testament and his own work. He was simply working out patterns already seen in the Old Testament. If in the Old Testament God worked through prophets, priests and kings, then Jesus could point to all three as types of himself. If in the Old Testament God chose out a people to whom he made promises of blessing, then Jesus could claim that in himself and his disciples that people was embodied, and those promises would find their fulfillment. Jesus understood the Old Testament Christologically: in its essential principles, and even in its details, it foreshadows the Messiah whom it promises. The whole theological system of the Old Testament points forward to his work, and in his coming the whole Old Testament economy finds its perfection and fulfillment.


            Jesus is superior to the Old Testament. God’s working is not only repeated, but repeated on a higher plane, and with a greater glory and significance. We have seen how three times Jesus states this superiority of the antitype to the type in so many words: ‘Something greater than the temple is here’ (Mt. 12:6); ‘Something greater than Jonah is here’ (Mt. 12:41); ‘Something greater than Solomon is here’ (Mt. 12:42). In Mark 2:25-26, a parallel argument to Matthew 12:6, although the superiority is not explicit, the argument depends on it. In Mark 6:35ff. Jesus repeats Elisha’s miracle, but on a vastly greater scale. Twice he succeeds where Old Testament Israel, the type, had failed (the temptation, and the resurrection, where Israel’s vain hope comes to fruition in him). And since Jesus is superior to the Old Testament types, the Jewish refusal to accept him as God’s messenger must carry a greater condemnation. Their punishment, in the destruction of Jerusalem and the final rejection of the nation from their privileged status as the people of God, will be on a scale higher even than the most terrible disasters known to the Old Testament: ‘In those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be” (Mk. 13:19). The rejection of the Old Testament prophets brought severe condemnation, but, as the parable of the tenants shows, something greater than the prophets is here.


            Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. The eschatological implication, that the occurrence of the antitype is the mark of the new, golden age, which Bultmann notes as the distinguishing mark of true typology, is strongly present in the typology of Jesus. In him the age of fulfillment has come. The patterns discerned in the Old Testament are not only repeated on a higher plane, but they are now finding their final and perfect embodiment. All God’s working in the Old Testament is now reaching its culmination, and the Old Testament economy is at an end. The new, Messianic age has dawned.


            This is seen, paradoxically, in the fact that Jewish unbelief has now reached its highest point, so that its punishment must this time be final and complete. The true Israel of this eschatological age is no longer the nation of the old covenant, but the Christian community, inaugurated by a new covenant through a mediator greater than the Israelite priesthood; for Jesus not only repeats the work of prophet, priest and king, but in him it is perfected. In this new community the hopes of the Old Testament Israel are fulfilled. We shall see more of this eschatological element in Jesus’ view of his mission when we study his use of Old Testament predictions; but it runs strongly through his typology as well. The glorious fulfillment to which the Old Testament looked forward has come; these are the ‘last days’. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:11 sum up the conviction of Jesus: ‘Now those things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.’


            Thus Jesus saw his mission as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures; not just of those which predicted a coming redeemer, but of the whole sweep of Old Testament ideas. The patterns of God’s working which the discerning eye could trace in the history and institutions of Israel were all preparing for the great climax when all would be taken up into the final and perfect act of God which the prophets foretold. And in the coming of Jesus all this was fulfilled. That was why he could find ‘in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’.