Biblical Typology

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It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.

 Proverbs 25:2 NKJV

            In recent years, there has been an inclination to abandon the study and even reading of the Old Testament Scriptures. Many contemporary preachers and Bible teachers are insinuating that the Old Covenant (Testament) is no longer valid for today's Christian.  This has propagated a certain worldview among many in the church that believers should only be concerned and satisfied with a basic knowledge of the New Testament.   This is due, in part, to a misunderstanding of the Bible (specifically, the Dispensations) and the fact that fewer people are taking the time to dissect the Word for themselves.  Many parishioners are content in go to church each Sunday listening to the pastor's three points and poem and never actually cracking the Bible open for their self in personal reflection and edification during the rest of the week.  In so doing, they have placed their faith in the pastor's hands; they have, by their own lack of interest in the Scriptures, entrusted their comprehension of the Bible and placed it into the hands of their pastor or clergyman. This, however, is not what the Bible instructs the Christian to do.  It is the Christian's responsibility to rightly dividing all of God's Word for themselves.

Study to show THYSELF approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV (emphasis mine).

            In a scholarly work entitled, Study of the Types, this problem is all too well defined:

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable,...that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works;" and yet how many there are who are content to know little or nothing about parts of the Bible which have evidently been given to us by God for some purpose. 

                We are privileged to live in days of much Christian activity but while there is so much energy and zeal, it is possible to engage in "good works" without being "throughly furnished"-and thus the works themselves suffer.  Mary wrought a "good work" when she broke her alabaster box of ointment and anointed the Lord; but it was the result of the "good part" she had chosen when she "sat at Jesus' feet, and heard His word."...

                The development and success of Christian enterprises is one of the bright features of the days in which we live; but we cannot shut our eyes to the dark side of the picture. There are other things which are also growing, and amongst them there is a marked advance in the spread of unsound doctrine. Many are giving up the simple truths of God's Word...This could not be so frequently the case if the Old Testament types were more carefully studied and more widely taught.[1]

            The Old Testament is absolutely valid and applicable for the Christian today.  It is simply a forth telling and foreshadowing of what was then to come-mainly Jesus Christ.  Within the great Old Testament narratives, such as: Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the exodus, and countless others are antetypes that reveal the coming Messiah and His work on earth.   Beneath the outer shell of these great chronicles lie spiritual types of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all concealed with the figures of the Old Testament. 

In Adam we have a TYPE of him [Jesus] who was to come. Rom. 5:14 Weymouth*

For Adam was a FIGURE of Him who was to come. Rom. 5:14 Williams*

Adam, the first man, FORESHADOWS...the man who was to come. Rom. 5:14 Phillips (*Emphasis mine)

            Some have said that in "the Old the New is concealed and in the New the Old is revealed."  This undoubtedly stems from a quote from St. Augustine when he said: "The New is in the Old contained and the Old is by the New explained."[2]  In other words, the New Testament concepts can be found in the Old Testament, but it will take some digging to find them.  They are not sitting in the open for the wanderer to find; they are placed just below the surface for the person who takes the time to entrench themselves in the Word.  Christians must come to understand that the Bible cannot be approached as just another work of fine literature. These "stories", as liberal theologians call them, are much more than fictional tales placed in the text for mere entertainment purposes. They have been strategically positioned to point the reader to a greater revelation of Christ.

One illustration of this might be the way in which a miner looks for gold.  The gold miner knows he is not going to wake up one morning, go for a walk and happen upon a gold nugget; no, he is fully aware of the work that is ahead of him.  He will spend hours upon hours searching, digging, hollowing, scraping, and getting his hands dirty to find just a few specks of gold.  This must be our approach to God's Word.  God has indeed hidden valuable treasures just beneath the outer appearances for the student who dares take the time to tear away the manifold layers to find the scriptural jewels that await him.


What exactly is the definition of a type? The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms defines typology (study of types) as this:

Differing from a symbol or an allegory, a typology is a representation of an actual, historical reference. According to Christian exegesis, biblical typology deals with the parallels between actual historical (usually OT) figures or events in salvation history and their later, analogous fulfillment.  Often NT events and figures are typologically understood and interpreted according to an OT pattern (e.g., creation and the new creation, Adam and Christ, the exodus and NT concepts of salvation).[3]

                What all of this really means is that a type is a person, place, thing or event that is rendered as an ordinary narrative in historical context (playing out in history).  These ordinary narratives are representative of what or who is to come in the future-fulfilling the presented type. The World Book Dictionary defines a theological type as "something that foreshadows something to come...a prefigurement...a corresponding reality of the new dispensation." [4]

  Kevin J. Conner, in his book on symbolism and typology, defines a type as a "figure or representation of something to come; an anticipative figure, a prophetic symbol."  In his book, he also makes a clear distinction between a type and a symbol.  According to Conner, a symbol is a representation, or one thing standing for another[5]; a type is also a representation, but one that is prophetical and prefiguring another. More simply stated, a symbol is contained within a type.[6] Without the type the symbol cannot be prophetical or prefigure anyone or anything else.  For example, Noah's Ark is a type of salvation[7].  The ark is comprised of three different levels, each one representing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit respectively[8]. Each level is indicative of the three distinct Persons of the Godhead and their function in saving the believer.  Without the ark as a type of salvation, there would be no need to explain the other symbols involved, which point to the Trinity of God.  It takes the type to enable the symbols to be representative of whatever it is prefiguring. 

 A modern illustration of this might make this easier to understand. Think for a moment about the automobile.  Now flash forward a few hundred years from now and picture a large plastic bubble with wheels that runs on cow patties.  Don't laugh; this might just be the transportation choice in the years ahead-who knows?  If someone were reading a history book about the 21st century and came across the automobile, they might say that it was a type of the "bubble-patty-mobile"(BPM).  This is because the identifying agents are similar as a whole; they both are used for transportation and they both have wheels. The automobile would be a prophetical (future unveiling) type of the BPM.  Conversely, if that same historian were to view a particular piece of the automobile, like a steering wheel or exhaust pipe, they probably would not make the same connection.  This is because the steering wheel and exhaust pipe are all symbols of the automobile-not a type.  The type is the overall unit, and the symbols are everything within the unit allowing it to function efficiently as the type.  Mr. Conner uses these biblical examples to explain their differences:

The ROCK in Ps 18:2 is a symbol, not a type.

The CANDLESTICKS in Rev 1:20 are symbols, not types.

The LAMB in Jn 1:29 is a symbol, not a type.

The RAINBOW in Ge 9:13-16 is a symbol, not a type.

The number 666 is Rev 13:18 is a symbol, not a type.

ADAM in Ro 5:14 is a type, not a symbol.

The offices of PROPHET, PRIEST and KING in I Ki 1:34 are types, not symbols.

JONAH'S EXPERIENCE in the fish in Mt 12:39-41 is a type, not a symbol.

The whole of the animal system of sacrifice in Lev 1-5 is typical of Christ's sacrifice, yet the animals themselves are symbolic.

            In order to place this information in perspective, it would aid the Bible student in understanding the different types.  There are actually several different classifications:

  • Typical Events (I Cor. 10:2; i.e. passing through the cloud and sea-a type of baptisms)
  • Typical People (Heb. 7; i.e. Melchizedek-a type of Christ)
  • Typical Things (Heb. 8:1-5; i.e. the tabernacle; within the tabernacle are several symbols, such as: the golden altar, candlestick and veil. The tabernacle is a type of atonement, and the symbols each help to point to that complete fulfillment in Jesus on the cross in the New Testament.)
  • Typical Offices (Heb. 4:14; i.e. Jesus as the High Priest)

[Note: Typical events often contain typical people, things and offices.]

      It is also helpful to understand that Christ is not always the principle type that is referenced in the Bible.  Although much of the focus of typology is Christ-centered[9], He is not the only person, thing or event that is prefigured.  For example, Abraham is a type of God the Father (Gen. 22; Heb. 11:17-19). The potter in Jeremiah 18 is a type of God in creation (Rev. 2:27).  Additionally, the woman in Scripture is often prefigured as a type of the church (Jer. 6:2; Rev. 17:1-8).


For whatever reason, the study of biblical typology has been sorely lacking in the church.  Admittedly, some have felt that uncovering these gems is too difficult a task; others believe it is a fanciful subject; and yet others feel that they are of little importance compared to the rest of the Bible.  Paul probably makes the best case for the understanding of biblical types in his letter to the Corinthian church.

Now all these things happened to them [the Israelites in the Old Testament] as examples, and they were written for our admonition... 1 Corinthians 10:11 NKJV

The Greek word for "examples" in the above verse is tupos.  It is where we get the English word type.  It is also from where scholars have derived the theological word typology.  It simply means a stamp, die, resemblance, figure or form.  In other words, it is not an exact picture but an outline of the picture.  This is why they call them foreshadows; shadows are not the exact picture of the original, but it is in the form of the original (think about the automobile illustration).  Notice also that Paul says these types [examples] were written for our admonition or warning.  They are to be examples to us so that we do not fall away in unbelief as the Israelites did so often. 

 It is understandable that God would place these types in the Old Testament; after all, the three largest monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam- all embrace this testament as truth. God knows that once the reader submits to the Holy Spirit, the scales will fall off and they will see the truth unfold before their very eyes.

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on the heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Corinthians 3:14-17 NKJV

            Having a solid understanding of biblical types will open up a new world to the Bible student.  When the types are studied they reinforce the great doctrines of the New Testament from which they were drawn.  Aside from this, the Christian's Great Commission is to witness their faith to others (Mark 16). Understanding and adequately conveying the truths concealed in these types can be the deciding factor for a Jew or Muslim in placing their trust in Jesus Christ. This alone should influence the study of biblical typology.

            One important lesson to learn from reviewing typology is to understand that the very first post-resurrection sermon that was delivered by Jesus was using the types from the Old Testament (Luke 24).  Shortly after Jesus arose from the grave He drew near two individuals on the road to Emmaus.  There He spoke to them of all the types and shadows in the Old Testament that pointed to what had just happened on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.  (Note: even though these individuals knew the Old Testament very well they could not see that these Scriptures typified Jesus' coming.  They did not understand until Jesus actually broke bread with them at the dinner table-v.35. The same will be true today; we must invite the Holy Spirit to be the revealer of these types to gain full comprehension.)

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24:27 NKJV

            Any Bible student that has taken the time to read the book of Hebrews will quickly find that having a basic knowledge of biblical typology is absolutely essential. The entire book is filled with types and symbols from Jesus being presented as the High Priest-a typical office-to the animal sacrifices and Jesus' blood, which brought eternal redemption once and for all (Heb. 8 & 9).

            Christians must remember that the writers of the New Testament were schooled in a superior knowledge of the Old (Acts 22:3).  From the time a Hebrew was a small child they would memorize the entire Torah (Gen.-Deut.)[10].  Therefore, it makes complete sense that the New Testament is full of Old Testament quotes and types.  On many occasions, Paul was trying to persuade the Jewish audiences that Jesus was prefigured in the Old Testament and how He came to fulfill all that the prophets had foretold (Read the book of Acts). Let's briefly recap the reasons for studying types:

1.      The New Testament is full of Old Testament references to types and shadows.  In order to have a proper understanding of these typological persons, places, things and events one must have a basic understanding of types.

2.      Jesus Himself used types in His evangelistic efforts to persuade His audience.

3.      They can aid an outreach to the Muslim or Jew who both accept the Old Testament.

4.      They will reinforce the fundamental Christian tenets of faith and doctrine as presented in the New Testament.

5.      They are written for our warning to overcome our trials and proceed in unwavering faith.


            There are literally hundreds of types that are used throughout the Bible.  In fact, it is doubtful that every type has actually been uncovered.  From the opening pages of Genesis, throughout the Bible, typology-the study of types-can be employed. Here are just a few examples:

1.      Adam as a type of Christ (Gen. 5:2/Rom. 5:14)

2.      Isaac as a type of Christ (Gen. 22/Heb. 11:17-19)

3.      Jonah as a type of Christ (Jnh. 1,2,3/Mat. 12:40-41)

4.      Melchizedek as a type of Christ (Gen. 14:18-20/Heb. 7)

Although each of the above types has great significance in the biblical timetable, there is one type that has always been very intriguing to me. After reading the concluding chapters of Genesis, I quickly realized that the narrative of Joseph was a type of Christ and His work on the earth.   After a careful analysis of the elements that are found in Genesis 37-50, the Scriptures clearly portray that Joseph is a prefigure of the life of Christ, His death, resurrection and His coming again.  Below is an attempt to list several of the symbolic elements within the typical person of Joseph; this inventory is by no means exhaustive:

1.      Joseph was a shepherd (Gen. 37:2).

Parallel: Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14).

2.      Joseph was loved by his father (37:3).

Parallel: Jesus was loved by His Father (Mat. 3:17).

3.      Joseph was hated by his brothers (37:4,5).

Parallel: Jesus was hated without a cause (John 15:25).

4.      Joseph's brothers did not believe him (37:5).

Parallel: Jesus' brethren did not believe Him (John 7:5).

5.      Joseph's brothers refused to have him rule over them (37:8).

Parallel: Jesus' brethren refused to have Him reign over them (Luk. 19:14).

6.      Joseph was sent to His brothers to check on their condition (37:14).

Parallel: Jesus was sent by the Father to check on Israel's spiritual condition (Mat. 15:24).

7.      Joseph's brothers conspired to kill him (37:18).

Parallel: Jesus' brethren plotted to kill him (Mat. 27:1).

8.      Joseph was stripped (37:23).

Parallel: Jesus was stripped (Mat. 27:28).

9.      Joseph was thrown into the pit (37:24).

Parallel: Jesus went to the pit (Ps. 40:2; 69:2, 14; Jnh 2:6).

10.  Gentiles with spices on camels are found in this story (37:25).

Parallel: Gentiles (The Wise Men) came to Jesus with spices (Mat. 2:11).

11.  Joseph's brothers passed his fate into the hands of the Gentiles, to be guilt free in a sense (37:26, 27).

Parallel: Jesus was crucified by Roman standards (Jhn. 18:31).

12.  Joseph was lifted from the pit alive (37:28).

Parallel: Jesus was brought back from the pit (Jnh. 2:6; Eph. 4:9, 10).

13.  Joseph was taken to Egypt (37:36).

Parallel: Jesus was taken into Egypt (Mat. 2:14, 15).

14.  Joseph was a servant to Potiphar (39:1).

Parallel: Jesus was a servant to rulers, and took on the form of no reputation (Isa. 49:7; Phi. 2:7).

15.  The Lord was with Joseph (39:2).

Parallel: The Father was with Jesus (Jhn. 16:32).

16.  The Lord made all that Joseph did prosper (39:3).

Parallel: All that Jesus did prospered (Isa. 53:10).

17.  Potiphar was blessed for Joseph's sake (39:5).

Parallel: All are blessed for Christ's sake (Eph. 1:3).

18.  Joseph was tempted and did not sin (39:9).

Parallel: Jesus was tempted and did not sin (Mat. 4; Heb. 4:15).

19.  Joseph went to prison innocent of the charges against him (39:20).

Parallel: Jesus descended to the eternal prison innocent of the charges against Him. There He released the captives. (Eph. 4:9).

20.  The keeper of the prison committed all the prisoners into Joseph's hand (39:22).

Parallel: All things have been committed into Jesus' hand. (Jhn. 3:35).

21.  Two men were condemned and placed in the prison with Joseph (40:3).

Parallel: Two men were condemned and placed on a cross next to Christ (Luk. 23:32).

22.  The man who made mention of Joseph would be restored, the one who didn't died (40:14).

Parallel: Anyone who confesses Christ will live (Mat. 10:32). The thief next to Christ on the cross lived in paradise forever; the other is in eternal damnation (Luk. 23:32).

23.  The third day was synonymous with restoration in this narrative (41:19, 20).

Parallel: The third day is when Christ raised from the dead (Mat. 27:63).

24.  Joseph led people to God and not himself (41: 16).

Parallel: Jesus came to lead people to the Father (Jhn. 12:28; 17:1).

25.  Joseph was given equal authority over Egypt; only in regards to the throne was Pharaoh greater (41:40).

Parallel: Jesus is equal with the Father and sits at His right hand; only in regards to the throne is there any variance (Rev. 3:21; Heb. 1:3).

26.  Everyone bowed their knee to Joseph (41:43).

Parallel: Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:10).

27.  Pharaoh gave Joseph a gentile wife (41:45).

Parallel: God the Father gave His Son a gentile wife, the church (Eph. 3:6-12; 5:22-32 & Gen. 24).

28.  Joseph was thirty when his ministry began (41:46).

Parallel: Jesus was thirty when His ministry began (Luk. 3:37).

29.  Joseph was fruitful and received offspring from a gentile (41:50).

Parallel: Jesus received offspring for the Father from the gentiles (Gal. 3:8; 4:7).

30.  Joseph's offspring was worth the affliction and toil that he suffered (41:51).

Parallel: Jesus suffered for us, His offspring-to Him it was worth it (Heb. 2:10, 11).

31.  After Joseph received his second son, the years of plenty stopped and a seven year famine began (41:52-54).

Parallel: When Jesus comes and receives us (the last son; Mat. 20:16), the tribulation will begin and last for seven years (Dan. 7:25).

32.  Regardless of how bad the famine was, there was still bread in Egypt (41:54).

Parallel: Jesus said that He is the bread of life. Even in the midst of trial and tribulation, bread can be found in Christ (Jhn. 6:48; Heb. 13:15).

33.  The people turned to Joseph when the tribulation was no longer bearable (41:55).

Parallel: God will use the end-time tribulation so that Israel and other nations will turn to His Son, Jesus-the one who has the bread (Dan. 7:9, 14, 22, 27; Jhn. 6:48).

34.  Joseph's brothers bow to him even though they do not recognize him (Gen. 42:6).

Parallel: Israel will eventually submit to Christ, even if they don't recognize Him (Rev. 1:9; Phil. 2:10).

35.  Joseph's brothers thought they had killed him (42:21).

Parallel: Eventually the Jews will have guilt over what they perceive as having killed Jesus and will come back to Him. This godly sorrow will lead to their repentance (Zec. 12:10).

36.  Overcomers of their sin, as in the narrative of Joseph will possess the land (47:11).

Parallel: Jesus said overcomers of sin would possess that heavenly city (Rev. 3:12).

37.  Joseph told the people that he had bought them (47:23).

Parallel: Believers were bought with a price (I Cor. 6:20).

38.  Joseph gave seed to the people to sow (47:23).

Parallel: God gives seed to the sower (2 Cor. 9:10).

39.  Joseph is a fruitful bough whose branches overflow the wall (49:22).

Parallel: Jesus said that He is vine and believers are the branches (Jhn. 15:5).

40.  God meant Joseph's evil sufferings for good, to save many (50:2)

Parallel: God meant Jesus' evil sufferings for good, to bring many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10).

[Note: There were at least twenty other parallels to Christ in the OT narrative of Joseph.  I left them out purposefully.  I challenge every reader to read the book of Genesis (chs. 37-50) and find other parallels to Christ in the New Testament.]


      Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with a dogmatic cult[11] member concerning a vital biblical doctrine-the doctrine of the Trinity.  My persuading and informed argument was seasoned with Old Testament examples and types that reinforced the belief system of Evangelical Christianity.  Since this doctrine was partially revealed through the types in the Old Testament and fully revealed as a foundational Christian doctrine in the New, I reasoned that these types would solidify a sound case for biblical Christianity.  When this person viewed the typological examples, there was no room for refutation; it was all the proof that was needed to invoke change in their religiously calloused heart. 

      Every aspect of the Bible has a function-especially types and shadows.  From the meanings of the names of Old Testament saints, to the smallest stroke in the Hebrew Alephbet. We must never take the Word of God for granted and limit its ability to make a difference in someone's life for Christ.  Study the types and use them as Jesus did to saturate the hardened hearts of the religious community.  They might simply be the determining factor in your persuasive speech in moving someone out of the darkness and into the light of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Habershon, Ada. Study of the Types (Grand Rapids, MI. Kregel Publications Ó1957, 1974) p. 10

[2] Ibid., p. 9

[3] Grenz, Stanley. Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL. IVP Ó1999) p. 117

[4] Barnhart, Clarence. World Book Dictionary ( Chicago, IL. World Book, Inc. Ó1989) p. 2258

[5] There are different classifications of symbols: 1) symbolic objects, 2) actions, 3) creatures, 4) numbers, 5) names, 6) colors, 7) directions, and 8) places.  These symbols can be biblical or extra-biblical, such as manners and customs of the Ancient Near East that are not mentioned in the Bible but point to an action of Christ. This could be information collected about the lifestyle, clothing, food or relational issues in the ANE that help the Bible student understand a New Testament action of Christ. One example could be the custom of placing palm branches before a couple was to be married.(Edersheim p.143) This was a symbol of what was fulfilled on Palm Sunday.  (In order to apply this appropriately one must have a general understanding of the church, Christ's bride and the groom-Jesus Christ.)

[6] There are two extremes when it comes to biblical typology. 1) claiming that every story, subject or passage is indicative of some type or symbolism; 2) believing that a New Testament reference is needed to back up a OT type. Some seminaries will teach this, but where is their proof of this necessity?

[7] The ark was comprised of wood and all who took refuge in the ark were safe from God's judgment.  Conversely, those who place their faith in the cross of Jesus Christ will be safe from God's wrath.

[8] The foundational level represents God the Father.  The second level, where the door was located, is indicative of God the Son-in John Jesus said that He was the door to the Father.  The third level housed the window, which is symbolic of the Holy Spirit who illuminates all Christians to the truth.

[9] Ultimately, all types are Christo-centric because the Bible is Christo-centric.

[10] Tenney, Merrill. Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI. Ó1974) p. 780

[11] The definition of a cult is any group who makes a dogmatic claim that their church, society, group, class, or gathering are the only ones going to heaven.  They usually claim that they have received special revelation from God concerning spiritual matters and that they are the "chosen" group and the only true church.  (i.e. Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, Oneness Pentecostals, Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Etc.).