The authors of the New Testament provide inspired examples of typology, which go back to the teaching of the apostles and their teacher, Jesus himself. Therefore, the most important guide for discerning genuine types and for tracing out typological relationships is the New Testament. The New Testament usually does not indicate that typology is necessary to understand the relevance of a particular Old Testament quotation or allusion. The problem is that the New Testament provides many examples of typology at work, but it does not provide a list of guidelines as to how typology works. Historically, interpreters have often attempted to provide guidelines for typology. The best guidelines are those that are truest to the New Testament examples. The New Testament examples of typology are the basis for the definition and description of typology provided in a previous blog post, but these may require revision or clarification to represent elements of the New Testament examples better.
If the New Testament provides the authoritative examples, then careful attention to these examples is the best place to learn about typology. Instances of typology generally become apparent to the reader of the New Testament as a result of looking back at the Old Testament context of quotations from or allusions to the Old Testament. When you look at the Old Testament context, you will find there a story, statement, or description that has to do with an event, person, or institution in the history of God’s people. In other words, the Old Testament passage will normally appear to have more to do with Israel’s history than with prophecy regarding the future of God’s people. In fact, you may find that one of the best motivations for learning about typology comes from looking at the context of Old Testament quotations found in the New Testament. You will quickly find that prophecy and fulfillment are not as straightforward as they appear to the casual reader.
Read John 19:36-37. What Old Testament verses are quoted here? Go back and look at those verses in their Old Testament context. Is the use of the OT in John 19:36 an example of typology or direct prophecy? What about 19:37?
Two Additional Notes of Clarification:
- It is also important to note that the Old Testament contains many inspired examples of typology as well. My work has focused a lot on typology in the New Testament, but one can learn a lot about typology by noticing how it occurs in the Old Testament. For instance, see Ezekiel 37:24 (David) and Malachi 4:5 (Elijah). Can you see how the David and Elijah of these verses would be related to typology? Next time you read Isaiah, notice the many examples of Exodus typology.
- Some instances of typology may appear more complex than the procedure above leads you to believe. For example, Jeremiah 51 is a prediction of the fall of historical Babylon, but this prediction is alluded to in the book of Revelation (chapters 14, 17-18), because Jeremiah’s words about the destruction of historical Babylon provide an important type or pattern for the destruction of Babylon the Great. But, you probably already expected that the use of the OT in the book of Revelation might be a bit complicated.
The post above is an edited and expanded version of pp. 23-24 of Paul Hoskins, That Scripture Might be Fulfilled: Typology and the Death of Christ. These are some of the basic aspects of typology. In future posts, we will look further at important aspects of typology. To see all of my posts on typology click here.