When reading through the pages of the Sacred Text, a student of God’s Word realizes very quickly there are repeated ideas, events, people, thoughts and phrases in almost every chapter in the Bible. These are not to be just read over quickly without much thought; they are there for a reason. They are what is commonly referred to as a type or a shadow. Types and shadows are intentional by inspiration through the authors of Scripture. A type will often be presented with a phrase along the lines of “in like manner”, “as”, or some other term of comparison. An example is found in John 3:14 which states, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”. The Brazen Serpent was a type of Christ.
Ancient Christians understood the relationship between such comparisons and they welcomed them. They understood, as hopefully, today’s students of God Word do as well, that there are spiritual symbols in Old Testament text that foreshadow things having to do with the Christ. Paul wrote concerning practices of the Old Law, that they were “…a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s” (Col. 2:17).
It is hard to come up with a hard and fast rule concerning what should and what should not be considered a type. This has caused some to reject identifying types in Scripture at all. This like many extremes in interpretation and exegesis are to be avoided. One must develop a healthy thirst for identifying God provided types and shadows and be cautious to not force comparisons the text does not make. Gerhard Hasel in his book New Testament Theology well writes:
Some scholars reject the typological approach completely. However, the importance of the typological approach is not to be denied, if it is not developed into a hermeneutic method which is applied to all texts like a divining-rod. Typological correspondence must be rigidly controlled on the basis on the direct relationship between various OT elements and their NT counterparts in order that arbitrary and fortuitous personal views may not creep into exegesis. One should be cautious enough not to be trapped into applying typology as the single definite theological ground plan whereby the unity of the Testaments is established (Hasel 191).One needs to exercise a great deal of caution when identifying a comparison as a type or a shadow. There are many intentional comparisons in scripture given by inspiration in the form of a type/antitype relationship, however, there have been those in the past that have forced types out of a text or made a comparison the Scriptures do not make. A great example of this sort of extreme false typological interpretation can be found in the Epistle of Barnabas where the writer sees the 318 men circumcised from Abraham’s house as a type of the crucified Christ.
For the scripture saith; And Abraham circumcised of his household eighteen males and three hundred. What then was the knowledge given unto him? Understand ye that He saith the eighteen first, and then after an interval three hundred. In the eighteen 'I' stands for ten, 'H' for eight. Here thou hast JESUS (IHSOYS). And because the cross in the 'T' was to have grace, He saith also three hundred. So He revealeth Jesus in the two letters, and in the remaining one the cross (Epistle of Barnabas IX. 7-9).This is a great example of what can happen when typological interpretation is taken to its extreme without being checked by specific statements of correspondence in Scripture.
Although an unwavering exegetical rule regarding types cannot be established, types and shadows are a vital part of the inspired Word. It would do the student of God’s Word well, to study the types revealed in Scripture as they help demonstrate how God has unfolded His predetermined plan throughout time.
By Cliff Sabroe