Interpretation of the biblical types

Source: M. S. Terry, Hermeneutics (chap. IX), CLIE, 1985, pages 244-.

Interpretation of the biblical types

Types and symbols constitute a class of figures distinct from all those which we have treated in the foregoing chapters: but they are not, properly speaking, figures of speech. They resemble each other in being sensible representations of moral and religious truth, and may be defined, in general, as figures of thought in which material objects are made to convey vivid spiritual conceptions to the mind. Crabb defines types and symbols as different species of the emblem.

The symbols of Scripture, however, rise far above the conventional signs in common use among men, and are employed, especially in the apocalyptic portions of the Bible, to set forth those revelations, given in visions or dreams, which could find no suitable expression in mere words.

Types and symbols may, therefore, be said to agree in their general character as emblems, but they differ noticeably in special method and design. Adam, in his representative character and relation to the human race, was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14). The rainbow is a symbol of the covenanted mercy and faithfulness of God (Gen. 9:13-16; Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 4:3; comp. Isa. 54:8-10), and the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper are symbols of the body and blood of Christ. There are also typical events like the passage of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-11), and symbolico-typical actions like Ahijah’s rending his new garment as a sign of the rupture of the kingdom of Solomon (1 Kings 11:29-31). In instances like the latter [page 245] certain essential elements of both type and symbol become blended in one and the same example. The Scriptures also furnish us with examples of symbolical metals, names, numbers, and colours.

The symbol differs from the type in being a suggestive sign rather than an image of that which it is intended to represent. The interpretation of a type requires us to show some formal analogy between two persons, objects, or events; that of a symbol requires us rather to point out the particular qualities, marks, features, or signs by means of which one object, real or ideal, indicates and illustrates another. Melchizedek is a type, not a symbol, of Christ, and Heb. 7 furnishes a formal statement of the typical analogies. But the seven golden candlesticks (Rev. 1:12) are a symbol, not a type, of the seven churches of Asia. The comparison, however, is implied, not expressed, and it is left to the interpreter to unfold it, and show the points of resemblance.

[Page 246] Besides these formal distinctions between types and symbols there is the more radical and fundamental difference that 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, as when a horn denotes either strength or a king in whom strength is impersonated (Dan. 7:24; 8:21). The origin of symbols has been supposed to be connected with the history of hieroglyphics.

The type is always something real, not a fictitious or ideal symbol. And, further, it is no ordinary fact or incident of history, but one of exalted dignity and worthone divinely ordained by the omniscient Ruler to be a foreshadowing of the good things which he purposed in the fullness of time to bring to pass through the mediation of Jesus Christ. Three things are, [page 247] accordingly, essential to make one person or event the type of another.

1. There must be some notable point of resemblance or analogy between the two. They may, in many respects, be totally dissimilar. In fact it is as essential that there be points of dissimilarity as that there be some notable analogy, otherwise we should have identity where only a resemblance is designed. Adam, for instance, is made a type of Christ, but only in his headship of the race, as the first representative of humanity; and in Rom. 5:14-20, and 1 Cor. 15:45-49, the apostle notes more points of unlikeness than of agreement between the two. Moreover, we always expect to find in the antitype something higher and nobler than in the type, 
much greater honour than the house has he who built it
 (Heb. 3:3).

2. There must be evidence that the type was designed and appointed by God to represent the thing typified. This proposition is maintained with great unanimity by the best writers on scriptural typology. It is essential to a type,” says Van Mildert, in the scriptural adaptation of the term, that there should be competent evidence of the divine intention in the correspondence between it and the antitypea matter not to be left to the imagination of the expositor to discover, but resting on [page 248] some solid proof from Scripture itself.” 
But we should 
the extreme 
of some writers who declare that noth
in the Old Testament is to be regarded as 
but what the 
New Testament 
affirms to be so. We admit a divine 
but it does not therefore follow that 
must be 
affirmed in the 

3. The type must prefigure something in the futureIt must serve in the divine economy as a shadow of things to come (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1). Hence it is that sacred typology constitutes a specific form of prophetic revelation. The Old Testament dispensations were preparatory to the New, and contained many things in germ which could fully blossom only in the light of the Gospel of Jesus. So the law was a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Old Testament characters, offices, institutions, and events were prophetic adumbrations of corresponding realities in the Church and kingdom of Christ.

The principal types of the Old Testament may be distributed into five different classes, as follows:

1. Typical Persons
It is to be 
noted, however, 
not as 
but because of some character or relation 
sustain in the 
Adam was a 
of Christ because of his representative character as the first man, and federal head of the race (Rom. 5:14). As through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one the many shall be made righteous (Rom. 5:19). The first man Adam became a living soul; the last Adam a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). Enoch may be regarded as a type of Christ, in that, by his saintly life and translation he brought life and immortality to light to the antediluvian world. Elijah the Tishbite was made, in the same way, type of the ascending Lord, and these two were also types of Godpower and purpose to change his living saints, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump (1 Cor. 15:52). In the spirit and power of his prophetic ministry Elijah was also a type of John the Baptist. Abraham s faith in Godword, and consequent justification (Gen. 15:6), while yet in uncircumcision (Rom. 4:10), made him a type of all believers who are justified by faith apart from works of law (Rom. 3:28). His offering of Isaac, at a later date (Gen. 22), made him a type of working faith, showing how a man is justified by works and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Typical relations may also be traced in Melchizedek, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and Zerubbabel.

[Page 249] 2. Typical InstitutionsThe sacrificing of lambs and other animals, the blood of which was appointed to make atonement for the souls of men (Lev. 17:11), was typical of the offering of Christ, who, as a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Pet. 1:19), was once offered to bear the sins of many” (Heb. 9:28). The sabbath is a type of the believers everlasting rest (Heb. 4:9). The provision of cities of refuge, into which the manslayer might escape (Num. 35:9-34), was typical of the provisions of the Gospel by which the sinner may be saved from death. The Old Testament passover was typical of the New Testament eucharist, and the feast of tabernacles a foreshadowing of the universal thanksgiving of the Church of the latter day (comp. Zech. 14:16). The Old Testament theocracy itself was a type and shadow of the more glorious New Testament kingdom of God.

3. Typical OfficesEvery holy prophet of the Old Testament, by being the medium of divine revelation, and a messenger sent forth from God, was a type of Christ. It was in the office of prophet that Moses was a type of Jesus (Deut. 18:15). The priests, and especially the high priest, in the performance of their priestly duties, were types of Him who through his own blood entered into the holy place once for all, and thereby obtained eternal redemption (Heb. 4:14; 9:12). Christ is also, as king, the antitype of Melchizedek, who was king of righteousness and king of peace (Heb. 7:2), and of David and Solomon, and of every other of whom Jehovah might say, I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion” (Psa. 2:6). So the Lord Christ unites in himself the offices of prophet, priest, and king, and fulfills the types of former dispensations.

4. Typical EventsUnder this head we may name the flood, the exodus from Egypt, the sojourn in the wilderness, the giving of manna, the supply of water from the rock, the lifting up of the brazen serpent, the conquest of Canaan, and the restoration from the Babylonish captivity. It is such events and experiences as these, according to Paul (1 Cor. 10:11), which came to pass typically with themand it was written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the ages are come.

5. Typical actionsThese partake so largely of the nature of symbols that we may appropriately designate them as symbolico-typical, and treat them in a chapter by themselves. So far as they were prophetic of things to come they were types, and belong essentially to what we have defined as typical events; so far as they were signs (seméia), suggestive of lessons of present or permanent value, they were symbols. The symbol [page 250] may be a mere outward visible sign; the type always requires the presence and action of an intelligent agent. So it should be noted that typical characters, institutions, offices, or events are such by bringing in the activity or service of some intelligent agent. The brazen serpent, considered merely as a sign—an object to look to—was rather a symbol than a type; but the personal agency of Moses in lifting up the serpent on a pole, and the looking upon it on the part of the bitten Israelites, places the whole transaction properly in the class of typical events; for as such it was mainly a foreshadowing of things to come. The miracle of the fleece (Judges 6:36-40) was not so much a type as a symbolical sign, an extraordinary miraculous token, and our Lord cites the case of Jonah, who was three days and three nights in the whale, not only as a prophetic type of his burial and resurrection, but also as a symbolical “sign” for that “evil and adulterous generation” (Matt. 12:39). The symbolico-typical actions of the prophets are: Isaiahs walking naked and barefoot for three years (Isa. 20:2-4); Jeremiah taking and hiding his girdle by the Euphrates (Jer. 13:1-11); his going to the potters house and observing the work wrought there (18:1-6); his breaking the potters bottle in the valley of Hinnom (c. 19); his putting a yoke upon his neck for a sign to the nations (27:1-14; comp. 38:10-17) and his hiding the stones in the brick-kiln (43:8-13); Ezekiels portraiture upon a brick of the siege of Jerusalem, and his lying upon his side for many days (Eze. 4); his cutting off his hair and beard, and destroying it in different parcels (c. 5); his removing the baggage, and eating and drinking with trembling (12:3-20); his sighing (21:6-7) and his peculiar action on the death of his wife (24:15-27); Hoseas marrying a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms (Hos. 1) and his buying an adulteress (c. 3), and Zechariahs making crowns of silver and gold for the head of Joshua (Zech. 6:9-15).

The hermeneutical principles to be used in the interpretation of types are essentially the same as those used in the interpretation of parables and allegories. Nevertheless, in view of the peculiar nature and purpose of the scriptural types, we should be careful in the application of the following principles:

1. The real point of resemblance between type and antitype should, first of all, be clearly apprehended, and all far-fetched and recondite analogies should be as carefully avoided. It often requires the exercise of a very sober discrimination to determine the proper application of this rule. [Page 251] Every real correspondence should be noted. Thus, the lifting up of the brazen serpent, narrated in Num. 21:4-9, is one of the most notable types of the Old Testament, and was explained by Jesus himself as a prefiguration of his being lifted up upon the cross (John 3:14, 15). Three points of analogy are clearly traceable:

(1) As the brazen serpent was lifted up upon pole, so Christ upon the cross.

(2) As the serpent of brass was made, by divine order, in the likeness of the fiery serpents, so Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).

(3) As the offending Israelites, bitten and ready to die, looked unto the serpent of brass and lived, so sinful men, poisoned by the old serpent, the devil, and ready to perish, look by faith to the crucified Christ, and are made alive for evermore. Other incidental analogies involved in one or another of these three may be allowed, but should be used with caution. Thus, Bengel says: As that serpent was one without venom placed over against venomous serpents, so the man Christ, a man without sin, against the old serpent.” This thought may be incidentally included in analogy (2) above.

Such incidental analogies, as long as they adhere consistently to the main points, may be allowed, especially in homiletical discourse. But to find in the brass—a metal inferior to gold or silver—a type of the outward meanness of the Saviours appearance; or to suppose that it was cast in a mould, not wrought by hand, and thus typified the divine conception of Christ s human natureor to imagine that it was fashioned in the shape of a cross to depict more exactly the form in which Christ was to suffer—these, and all like suppositions, are far-fetched, misleading, and to be rejected.

In Hebrews 7 the priesthood of Christ is illustrated and enhanced by typical analogies in the character and position of Melchizedek. Four points of resemblance are there set forth.

(1) Melchizedek was both king and priest; so Christ.
(2) His timelessness being without recorded parentage, genealogy, [page 252] or death is a figure of the perpetuity of Christpriesthood.
(3) Melchizedeksuperiority over Abraham and over the Levitical priests is made to suggest the exalted dignity of Christ.
(4) Melchizedekpriesthood was not, like the Levitical, constituted by formal legal enactment, but was without succession and without tribe or race limitationsso Christ, an independent and universal priest, abides forever, having an unchangeable priesthood. Much more is said in the chapter by way of contrasting Christ with the Levitical priests, and the manifest design of the writer is to set forth in a most impressive way the great dignity and unchangeable perpetuity of the priesthood of the Son of God. But interpreters have gone wild over the mysterious character of Melchizedek, yielding to all manner of speculation, first, in attempting to answer the question Who was Melchizedek?” and second, in tracing all imaginable analogies. Whedon observes sensibly and aptly: Our opinion is, that Melchizedek was nobody but himself; himself as simply narrated in Gen. 14:18-20; in which narrative both David, in Psa. 110, and our author after him, find every point they specify in making him a king-priest, typical of the king-priesthood of Christ. Yet it is not in the person of Melchizedek alone, but in the grouping, also, of circumstances around and in his person, that the inspired imagination of the psalmist finds the shadowing points. Melchizedek, in Genesis, suddenly appears upon the historic stage, without antecedents or consequents. He is a king-priest not of Judaism, but of Gentilism universally. He appears an unlineal priest, without father, mother, or pedigree. He is preceded and succeeded by an everlasting silence, so as to present neither beginning nor end of life. And he is, as an historic picture, forever there, divinely suspended, the very image of a perpetual king-priest. It is thus not in his actual unknown reality, but in the Scripture presentationthat the group of shadowings appears. It is by optical truth only, not by corporeal facts, that he becomes a picture, and with his surroundings tableau, into which the psalmist first reads the conception of an adumbration of the eternal priesthood of the Messiah; and all our author does is to develop the particulars which are in mass presupposed by the psalmist.

2. The points of difference and of contrast between type and antitype should also be noted by the interpreter. The type from its very nature must be inferior to the anti-type, for we cannot expect the shadow to equal the substance.

[Page 253] The New Testament writers dilate upon these differences between type and antitype. In Heb. 3:1-6, Moses, considered Moses as the faithful apostle and servant of God, is represented as a type of Christ, and this typical aspect of his character is based upon the remark in Num.
7:7, that Moses was faithful in all the house of God. This is the great point of analogy, but the writer immediately goes on to say that Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, and instances two points of superiority:

(1) Moses was but a part of the house itself in which he served, but Jesus is entitled to far greater glory, inasmuch as he may be regarded as the builder of the house, and much greater honour than the house has he who built or established it. Further,

(2) Moses was faithful in the house as a minister (ver. 5), but Christ as a son over the house. Still more extensively does this writer enlarge upon the superiority of Christ, the great High Priest, as compared with the Levitical priests after the order of Aaron.

In Rom. 5:14, Adam is declared to be type of Him who was to come,” and the whole of the celebrated passage, Adam and verses 12-21, is an elaboration of a typical analogy which has force only as it involves ideas and consequences of the most opposite character. The great thought of the passage is this: As through the trespass of the one man Adam a condemning judgment, involving death, passed upon all men, so through the righteousness of the one man, Jesus Christ, the free gift of saving grace, involving justification unto life, came unto all men. But in verses 15-17 the apostle makes prominent several points of distinction in which the free gift is not as the trespass.” First, it differs quantitativelyThe trespass involved the one irreversible sentence of death to the many, the free gift abounded with manifold provisions of grace to the same many (). It differs also numerically in the matter of trespasses; for the condemnation followed one act of transgression, but the free gift provides for justification from many trespasses. Moreover, the free gift differs [page 254] qualitatively in its glorious results. By the trespass of Adam death reignedacquired domination over all men, even over those who sinned not after the likeness of the transgression of Adam; but through the one man, Jesus Christ, they who receive the abundance of his saving grace will themselves reign in eternal life.

3. The Old Testament types are susceptible of complete interpretation only by the light of the GospelIt has too often been hastily assumed that the ancient prophets and holy men were possessed of a full knowledge of the mysteries of Christ, and vividly apprehended the profound significance of all sacred types and symbols. That they at times had some idea that certain acts and institutions foreshadowed better things to come may be admitted, but according to Heb. 9:7-12, the meaning of the holiest mysteries of the ancient worship was not manifest while the outward tabernacle was yet standing. And not only did the ancient worshippers fail to understand those mysteries, but the mysteries themselvesthe forms of worship, the meats, and drinks, and divers washings, ordinances of flesh, imposed until a time of rectification” (diórthosis, straightening up), were unable to make the worshippers perfect. In short, the entire Mosaic cultus was, in its nature and purpose, preparatory and pedagogic (Gal. 3:25), and any interpreter who assumes that the ancients apprehended clearly what the Gospel reveals in the Old Testament types, will be likely to run into extravagance, and involve himself in untenable conclusions.

[Page 255] A fact that must not be forgotten is that both type and antitype convey exactly the same truth, but under forms appropriate to different stages of development.

[Page 256] Each case must be determined on its own merits by the good sense and sound judgment of the interpreter; and his exegetical discernment must be disciplined by thorough study of such characters as are acknowledged on all hands to be scriptural types.