Category Archives: Typology
I’m presently working through Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and it’s Interpretation, the latest volume by my former seminary professor Dr. Scott Swain. It’s fairly small in size, but packs a strong punch. I plan on pulling some quotes to post over the next few days, just to give you a taste of the gems found therein.
Here’s a sample where Swain discusses the link between God’s self-disclosure in both Old Covenant and the New:
The progressive nature of revelation does not suggest evolution from more “primitive” to more “sophisticated” stages in humanity’s knowledge of God, of redemption, and of itself. Nor do earlier stages of revelation require correction or augmentation by later stages of revelation. Contrary to every form of Marcionism that has plagued the history of Christianity, it is the same God who makes himself known to Israel and to the church. Moreover, Jesus, God supreme self – revelation and final word (cf. Heb. 1.1-4), did not come to abolish earlier revelation but the fulfill it (Mt. 5:17-19). Even those institutions that are abrogated in the new covenant (e.g., the Levitical priesthood, the Temple cult, etc.) serve as tokens, promissory notes of the final institutions that Christ came to establish, and therefore function as paradigms – indispensable models – understanding those institutions. As such, they are never truly left behind but are rather incorporated into the brilliant mosaic of New Covenant revelation. Each stage of God’s revelation thus represents God’s wholly reliable redemptive truth, tempered to that stage of redemption by the Divine Rhetor, and therefore profitable in its own rights for imparting the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to a life that is pleasing to God (2 Tim. 3.15-17).
One great New Testament theme is that of the Second Exodus. Christ is the new and greater Moses, delivering his people from a greater captor than Pharoah, to a greater Promised Land than Canaan. The Second Exodus theme can be found all over the pages of the New Testament. In light of this, here is N.T. Wright’s exciting reading of Romans 6-8 in his work Paul In Fresh Perspective:
…Paul believes that the new Exodus has been launched through the work of Jesus. When he speaks in 1 Corinthians 10 of ’our ancestors’ being ‘baptized into Moses’ and so forth, clearly indicating the parallel between being baptized into the Messiah, he seems to be envisaging Jesus’s death as the moment of new Exodus, an impression confirmed, if somewhat kaleidoscopically in terms of theme, by his almost casual reference to the Messiah as the Paschal lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). This is then filled out by his large-scale exposition, in Romans 6-8, of the entire Exodus theme as applied to the people of God in Christ. To recapitulate the point: in Romans 6 God’s people come through the waters which mean that they are delivered from slavery into freedom; in Romans 7:1-8:11 they come to Sinai only to discover that, though the Torah cannot give the life it promised, God has done it; with the promise of resurrection before them, they are then launched onto the journey of present Christian life, being led by the Spirit through the wilderness and home to the promised land which is the renewal of all creation (8:12-30). This is Paul’s version of the retold Exodus story… (Paul In Fresh Perspective, 138)
Wright is drawing from the approach of Richard Hays in his seminal Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul.
One of the most interesting things about Matthew’s Gospel is it’s Old Testament links. More so than all the other Gospels, Matthew is concerned with tying Jesus together with the story of Israel. Like the Epistle to the Hebrews, in order for Matthew to demonstrate that Israel’s hope is to be found in Jesus- that is to say that the climax of Israel’s history had come- he needed his readers to know that Jesus is superior to the leaders and institutions of the Old Covenant. This isn’t a matter of bad vs good (heaven forbid!). Matthew makes a good-better argument.
One claim that Matthew makes is Jesus is the new Moses, leading a a new Exodus. Often this isn’t picked up by interpreters because Matthew doesn’t come right out and say it. The claim lies under the surface, acting as the substructure of much of what’s said. Commentators have recognized that Matthew organized his Gospel according to a 7 point outline. There’s the beginning (1) and the end (7), and couched in the middle is the substance of Matthew’s account: The Five Books of Jesus (2-6), centered around Christ’s five great discourses or speeches (1: chs. 5–7; 2: ch. 10; 3: ch. 13; 4: ch. 18; 5: chs. 24–25). One outline would look like this:
- The Genealogy and Preparation for Jesus Ministry (chs. 1–4)
- Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (4:12—14:12)
- Jesus’ Withdrawals from Galilee (14:13—17:20)
- Jesus’ Last Ministry in Galilee (17:22—18:35)
- Jesus’ Ministry in Judea and Perea (chs. 19–20)
- Passion Week (chs. 21–27)
- The Resurrection (ch. 28)
The concluding chapters of Deuteronomy (31 -34) contained Moses’ final blessing, he’s going up the mountain to see the land which the people would possess, and his eventual death.
Matthew, I suggest, had the entire scene in mind as he arranged his material into its eventual form. The theme of the whole passage in Deuteronomy is thoroughly germane to the complex scene of [Matthew's] first chapter: Israel has indeed fallen into the curse of exile because of her sins, and now the story of Abraham’s people is to be brought back on course by a new exodus, by the renewal of the covenant. As a result, Israel is again faced with a choice. Life or death, curse or blessing; the house on the rock or sand; the wise or the foolish maidens; the sheep or goats. Jesus, like Moses, goes to his death with the promises and warnings still ringing in the people’s ears. After his resurrection, Jesus, like Moses, goes up the mountain and departs from his people, leaving them with the commission to go in and possess the land, that is, the entire world (28:16 – 20). And, if my suggestion is correct, Matthew has woven this covenant choice into the very structure of his gospel, portraying it as a choice set before his contemporaries by Jesus, and thereby himself setting the same choice before the church of his own day. There is a way by which Israel can be rescued from her exile, can receive the promised forgiveness of sins rather than the ultimate curse. It is the way of following Jesus. Those who come by this way are not a new Israel, as though created suddenly from nothing. They are the true descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (NTPG, 388)
How did Jesus view his own relationship between his ministry and the Old Testament story of Israel leading up to him? R. T. France, in his Jesus and the Old Testament, summarizes his answer:
Jesus’ types are drawn from a wide range of aspects of Israel seen in the Old Testament; they are not restricted to any one period or any single class. Thus he uses persons in the Old Testament as types of himself (David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jonah) or of John the Baptist (Elijah); he refers to Old Testament institutions as types of himself and his work (the priesthood and the covenant); he sees in the experiences of Israel foreshadowing of his own; he finds the hopes of Israel fulfilled in himself and his disciples as assuming the status of Israel; in Israel’s deliverance by God he sees a type of the gathering of men into his church, while the disasters of Israel are foreshadowings of the imminent punishment of those who reject him,whose unbelief is prefigured in the wicked in Israel and even, in two instances in the arrogance the Gentile nations.
In all these aspects of the Old Testament people of God Jesus sees foreshadowing self himself and his work, with its results in the opposition and consequent rejection of the majority of the Jews, while the true Israel is now to be found in the new Christian community. Thus in his coming the history of Israel has reached it’s decisive point. The whole of the Old Testament is gathered up in him. He himself embodies in his own person the status and destiny of Israel, and in the community of those who belong to him that status and destiny are to be fulfilled, no longer in the nation as such.
- R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament, 75-76.
For more, see:
In his Survey of the New Testament, Robert Gundry, traces out various fulfillment themes in the New Testament. As the old saying goes, “The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.”
Here is a summary of the main themes of both direct and indirect typological fulfillment in Matthew and the rest of the New Testament; Jesus fulfilled the activities of the Lord himself as described and predicted in the Old Testament (Matthew 1:21; 3:3-4 par[i], 11:5 par, 13:41; 24:31 par, 27:9-10). Jesus was the foretold messianic king (Matthew 1:23; 2:6, 23; 3:17 par.; 4:15-16; 21:5; 22:44 par; 26:64 par), the Isaianic Servant of the Lord (Matthew 3:17 par.; 11:5 par.; 12:18-21; 1 Peter 2:22-25), and the Danielic Son of Man (Matthew 24:30 par.; 26:64 par.; 28:18). He brought to a climax the line of the prophets (Matthew 12:39-40 par.; 13:13-15 par., 35; 17:5 par.; 1 Corinthians 10:2; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18), the succession of righteous sufferer since the Old Testament times (Matthew 21:42 par.; 27:34-35 par., 39 par., 43 par., 46 par., 48 par.), and the Davidic dynasty (Matthew 12:42 par.). He reversed the work of Adam, who pluged the human race into sin (Matthew 4:1-11 par.; Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45-49; Hebrews 2:5-9; compare Luke 3:38). He fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Since he was the ideal Israelite, his own personal history recapitulated the national history of Israel (Matthew 2:15, 18; 4:4, 7, 10 par.).
A while back I noted that a couple of prominent Old Testament scholars have called into question whether or not Adam was a real person. Christianity Today has documented the controversy quite well here. In that post I raised the issue of whether rejecting the historicity of Adam allows the Bible to determine the beliefs of the church. This is still a concern of mine. But here I’d like to raise 2 more concerns.
My first objection is more “big picture”: They type of hermeneutic (i.e. the way the Bible is being interpreted) employed by these theologians and Biblical commentators, appears to violate everything we otherwise hold dear about the grammatical-historical method of interpretation. Would Moses, David, and Paul have believed that Adam was a historical figure? Yes, of course…and even Peter Enns, Senior Fellow of Biblical Studies at the Biologos Institute, has recognized this in relation to the apostle Paul (the relevant section begins at 0:29 here). The question of Adam’s historicity is raised only when a foreign standard of truth is imposed upon the Bible. In this case “scientific consensus” is that standard.
My second concern is more specific. Once we call Genesis 1-3 non-historical where do we draw the line? What criterion renders Gen. 2-3 allegory that wouldn’t also rule out Genesis 4? The narrative style doesn’t change…
Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.
Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.
Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.
Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”
Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.
Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.
Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.
Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.
Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk leaving an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.
Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.
Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.
The Bible’s really not about you—it’s about him.
*Update: Beginningwithmoses has just posted the second part of their interview with Poythress here.
Also, by Dr. Poythress is the lead article for the upcoming ESV Study Bible (released on Oct. 15) titled, Overview of the Bible: A Survey of the History of Salvation.
Here’s a sample from the article (a helpful definition of a type)
A “type,” in the language of theology, is a special example, symbol, or picture that God designed beforehand, and that he placed in history at an earlier point in time in order to point forward to a later, larger fulfillment.
The According to Pattern series I’m developing here on Kingdomview is an entry level examination of what theologians commonly call typology. In the first 2 part series I cover the linked between Joseph in Genesis and Christ (part 1, 2), and the second installment I’ve touched upon the shadow of Christ in the life of Noah (part 1, 2).
The name typology comes from the Greek word tupos. In Rom. 5 Adam is explicitly said to be a type of Christ. But what does this mean? Tupos has a number of similar, overlapping meanings. Sometimes it can refer to a mold, the type idols were made from. But most commonly it is translated ‘pattern,’ or ‘example’ (others translations of the word tupos are “imprint” and “form”). Types are what you could call historical prefigurings of either a person, event, or institution.
Types are normally found in the Old Testament with their fulfillments in the New Testament. The fulfillment of the type is known as the antitype.
Graeme Goldsworthy, in his book According to Plan, contrasts a typological reading of Scripture with both literalistic and allegorical approaches. The literalistic method finds history (and especially, given the context of this post, salvation history) as self-interpreting. So, symbols and the like in the Old Testament needn’t be explained and clarified by further revelation. The significance of a symbol or meaning of a prophecy is evident at any point in the history of redemption. So, when the Temple is spoken of by the Prophets as being rebuilt ‘in that day’, it represents exactly what you would think it means upon first reading: the rebuilding of the literal, stone and mortar Temple in Jerusalem.
On the other hand, the allegorical method, often confused with the typological method, is nearly the exact opposite of the literalistic approach. If the literalistic approach states that the interpretation of salvation history is self-evident, the allegorical method holds that history is essentially unimportant. The allegorist looks ‘beyond’ the historical meaning of a biblical passage in order to get to the truly ‘spiritual’ meaning. Unfortunately, this method often boils down to making loose connections between people, places or institutions of the OT with those of the NT. So, the scarlet cord held out by Rahab from her window when Joshua and his men spied on the city of Jericho is really speaking to us today about the crimson blood of Christ (the connection here being the color). The danger with this is you may wind up having as many allegorical interpretations as you have allegorical interpreters! Maybe more, depending on their creativity.
The typological method steers clear of both errors. Unlike the literalistic approach, typology recognizes God as the ultimate interpreter of history. Redemption is his plan, and he is free to historically unfold the deeper meaning of any person, place, or institution as he wishes. As an example, this is seen in Acts 2 when Peter explains the resurrection and ascension of Christ as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David that he (David) would always have a descendent to sit on the throne. Yet, the typological approach also parts ways from allegory. Typology insists that history is important and vital, and the meaning of God’s work is found in the actual space-time events recorded in the Bible. The antitype (fulfillment) really is related to the type. Going back to the example of Peter, we see that Peter wasn’t just making this stuff up. Jesus truly was the biological and legal descendant of David (the real historical king of Israel), and was truly (though not literalistically) given David’s throne.
The difference is that Christ’s reign, while organically related to David’s, 1) fulfills what David hoped for, and 2) supersedes and elevates the original covenantal promise. Typological recognizes the importance in interpreting the BIble of progressive (i.e. historical and developing) revelation (the self-disclosure of the personal, covenant-making, speaking God of the Bible).
For more on typology, see:
We’ve taken a quick look at some of the characteristics that defined Noah. Now we’ll sketch out how Christ’s brigs to completion those salvation-historical themes that Noah introduced.
Jesus is the final hope that the promised ‘seed of the woman’ pointed to (Lk. 3:23-38). Noah’s birth pointed in his direction as well. Noah’s father thought that perhaps his son would be the final deliverer, but he wasn’t. The final champion send from God is Christ, who will ultimately reverse the curse (1 Cor. 15:50-57).
Likewise, will Noah’s name meant ‘rest, Christ Himself is the rest for the people of God (Heb. 3-4). In fact, jesus is the ultimate rest to which the sabbath pointed (Heb. 4:9-10).
Christ is not just ‘another’ Adam (like Noah), but is the final, second, and eschatological Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47). But he doesn’t repeat what Adam does, he corrects Adam’s failure. Adam’s sin brought death into the world, and ruined all those whom he represented (all humanity). Christ’s life and death of obedience to the Father brings life, blessing and unending grace to those whom He represents (the Church), see Rom. 5:12-21.
But while there is a difference between how Christ is another adam, and how Noah is another Adam (Jesus fixes the mess Adam plunged us all into), there are also parallels. Both Noah and Christ (as ‘Adams’) are commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. But, while Noah obeys in the short run, ultimately he fails, and we need to look to another to fulfill this creation mandate. At first it looks like the call of Abraham, and the creation of the nation of Israel (after the Exodus) will ‘fix’ this problem, but again, ultimately, they fail as well. But not so for Christ!! Listen to this text from Ephesians 1:
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Everything that’s bolded demonstrates how the Apostle Paul understood the work of Christ in terms of fulfilling the original task given to Adam (and later given to Noah). Adam was called to multiply, and this is fulfilled by Christ in the creation of the Church of which Christ is head (meaning source and authority over). Next Adam is given dominion over the earth (a dominion that he neglected and in fact renounced by his obedience to the serpent). Christ on the other hand has “all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named,” and is the ‘head over all things.” Adam was to fill the earth, while Christ Himself is said to be (through His body the Church) the “ fullness of him who fills all in all.” Without a doubt Paul conceived of the work and ministry of Christ as the perfect fulfillment to what was originally the goal of humanity.
Lastly, in contrast from Noah, Christ is vindicated and glorified through judgment. Noah, and his family, were spared the wrath of God poured out on the Earth. Jesus, on the other hand, spares others (i.e. the Church) not by avoiding God’s judgment and wrath, but by absorbing it completely. Jesus, who never committed any sin, paid the penalty for sins of His people, so that through the redemption He provides we could be accepted as God’s children (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath to the dregs, thus there is no one condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)
In the last According to Pattern post (on Joseph, part 1 and 2), we took a look at how Joseph served as a type, or historical pre-figuring, shadow, and pattern of Christ who was to come. Here now, we’ll took a quick look at Noah.
Noah is (at his place in salvation history) the ‘seed of the woman.’ In fact, his father, Lamech, ponders whether he will be the one to deliver the creation from the curse (Gen. 5:28-29). (Note that even this early in Scripture we find the connection between the curse of the ground, found in Gen. 3:17-19, with a promised deliverer who will grant release from this ‘bondage.’ cf. Rom. 8:20-21)
The name ‘Noah’ is derived from the Hebrew word for ‘rest.’
Noah is a type of new Adam, this we can see in God’s recommisioning him with the original mandate given in the garden to ‘be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1).
Noah is preserved in order to provide blessing through judgment (cf. the entire flood narrative).
For more on the typological significance of Noah, see Meredith Kline’s Kingdom Prologue
Now, let’s see how in the story of Jesus, God is retelling the story of Joseph in a dramatic new way.
- Jesus is the ultimate son of Jacob/Israel (Matt. 1:1, Rom. 9:5), and the full and final fulfillment of the ‘seed’ of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) and the serpent-crushing ‘seed’ of the woman in Gen. 3:15.
- Jesus is given preeminence above his brothers by God the Father (Heb. 2:11), and is the firstborn of all creation (Col. 1:15). As the climactic descendant from the royal line of David He is also the firstborn in the sense of Kingship (Matt. 27:11, Rom. 1:3).
- Jesus is persecuted by his brethren and suffers “exile” (“the curse of the Law”, Gal. 3:13) for His people (2 Cor. 5:21).
- Jesus is falsely accused and is silent when reviled (Acts 8:32, 1 Pet. 2:23).
- Jesus is the suffering servant, and as a result of his humiliation is later exalted (Isa. 52-53, Phil. 2:5-11).
- Jesus becomes a source of life, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the surrounding pagan nations (Isa. 49:6, 52:10, Rev. 7:4-10).
The parallels are clearly seen once you do a little digging. Joseph serves as a historical prefiguring of Jesus. Or, put another way, Jesus repeats the essential acts of Joseph’s life, but on a cosmic scale.
Joseph was great, but a greater than Joseph has come!
Have you ever noticed just how much the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph, is a type (i.e. a historical prefiguring and pattern) of Jesus? Actually, it’s pretty amazing. Let’s take a quick run through to see the ways in which the life and story of Joseph sets a pattern for a servant of God that Jesus fulfills.
First, let’s refamiliarize ourselves with the story of Joseph.
- Joseph is the son of Jacob (Israel), and the ‘seed’ of Abraham (Gen. 37:2).
- Joseph is given preeminence above his brothers by his father, and treated as his firstborn (Gen. 37:3).
- Joseph is persecuted by his brethren and is taken into “exile” (Gen. 37:18-36).
- Joseph is falsely accused and is silent when reviled (Gen. 39:6-20).
- Joseph is a servant and later is exalted (Gen. 39:1-6, 41:37-45).
- Joseph becomes a source of life, not only for the people of Israel, but also for the surrounding pagan nations (Gen. 41:56-57, 42:1-3, 50:15-21).
Next we’ll look at how in Jesus the full theological freight of Joseph’s story is unfolded in Israel’s Messiah…
In the last post we looked at the parallels with Kal-El son of Jor-El (Superman), and Jesus, Son of David (Christ). Now, I hope to touch what these parallels mean for our culture and what they mean for the gospel. Sounds like a huge goal, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose it is, but I’m only working out a sketch.
What the Superman/Christ connection means for culture. Insofar as Superman embodies the ideals of generations gone by as well as today’s generation, his iconic status clues of in on a couple of things. First, since humanity is created with a purpose, and history is unfolding toward God’s goal, humans cannot escape their design. We cannot help but notice that the world is not as it should be. There are wrongs in this world that demand righting. Second, We need a hero. But, we need a hero that can do what we never could. One that is like us, yet not like us. Third, this hero must stand against all that is evil, and must embody justice to the fullest. Fourth, despite the argument to the contrary we still, deep down at our God-created core, know good from evil, and desire good to triumph over evil. Fifth, we cannot save ourselves. We are helpless to bring about the change that we so desperately need.
What the Superman/ Christ connection means for the gospel. First, the gospel presents us with the true myth. Part ofthe conversion of C. S. Lewis was his realization that the story of Jesus is the “true myth.” There was a time, during his “B.C.” days, when he thought the parallels between the Gospels (i.e. Matt, Mrk, Lk, and Jhn) and ancient pagan mythology proved that the story of Jesus couldn’t be true. But, in his conversion (which came about as a result of long conversations with Lord of the Rings author, J. R. R. Tolkien) he had a life-changing “aha” moment. The similarities between the Gospels and pagan myths, rather than invalidating the story, actually proves it! God’s was guiding history, in a manner of speaking, to set the stage for Christ to walk on the stage. The belief in creation, sin, judgment, and redemption (in one form or another) are universal themes, and they strike a chord with nearly every human heart. All the highest hopes of men, and the greatest themes in all stories find their fulfillment in Christ.
Second, the story of Superman provides Christians with a cultural point of contact to share the gospel. If you live in America, then chances are on more than a number of occasions you’ve seen people wearing Superman “S” t-shirts. They’re all over the place (and Yes, I own one). The Man of Steel is probably the largest cultural icon other than Jesus in America. So, this provides us with the opportunity to turn an ordinary conversation about Big Blue into an evangelistic conversation without it seeming forced (recall the similarities in part 1). This demonstrates that anything can be used as a springboard to presenting the gospel.
I’m not the first to notice this, but this may be new to some of my readers. In a very real sense our culture is one without it’s own mythology. Perhaps this is one reason why films like the 300, TV programing like professional wrestling, and comics books are so popular. One function that mythology serves is to flesh out a culture’s deepest values. For roughly 30 years, there’s been an ideological struggle in the comic book world. And this is a crisis in worldviews. In 1938, two young Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, created Superman, a larger-than-life hero that would save us from all our fears. Superman reflected the ideals of 1) those who created him, and 2) the larger culture into which he was born. Truth, justice, honesty, and integrity (and yes, the American way) were upheld as goals to strive for above all else.
Heroes likes Superman, Batman, and Spider-man are classics. They’ve stood the test of time and come out better for it. These heroes have also vowed never to intentionally take a human life. But not all “heroes” follow this code of ethics. On the flip side we have characters such as Spawn, the Darkness, and the Punisher, anti-heroes for whom killing is a near-daly occurrence. Admittedly, the line between a Batman and a Punisher isn’t absolute.
But all of this is preamble to my main point. I believe the global and time-tested success and popularity of Superman has a theological explanation. I’m convinced that Superman is a profound Christ figure, not only in his original story, but also in the hands of his successive writers. Both Superman and Christ, in an important sense, are not of this earth. Both are sent by their father, and come from a place far away. Both are saviors. Both died, taking the very wrath of doomsday it/himself upon them (for those of you who don’t know the story of Superman’s death in the early 90′s, he died saving the city of Metropolis from a creature literally named Doomsday). Both were resurrected because death could not overcome them. Lastly, in their resurrection bodies, both were transformed. Jesus was resurrected in a glorified body, never to die again. With the resurrection of Superman (perhaps the term “resuscitation” is more fitting?) a serious question is raised on whether Superman is immortal. As long as Superman is exposed to our yellow sun it’s possible nothing can kill him (He is, so to speak, a solar battery).
Notice also how “oddly” Superman’s dual identity strangely mirrors Christ’s dual nature. Clark reflects the lowly, servant nature of Christ, while the Man of Steel resembles the glorified, divine nature of Jesus.
Origin: Not of this Earth
|Sent from Krypton, a planet that orbited a red sun called Rao, 50 light-years from our solar system||Sent from heaven (Jn. 1: 9, 3:13), the eternal abode of God the Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth|
|Sent by their fathers||Sent to Earth by father Jor-El||Sent to Earth by God (“El”) the Father (Jn. 5:37, 6:44, 8:16, 18, 12:49)|
|Saviors to their people||The people of Metropolis||The Church (Matt. 1:21, Jn. 10:11, Acts 20:28, Rom. 5)|
||1 Person with 2 natures (cf. Phil. 2:5-9)
|Their deaths save from the embodiment of destruction||Superman # 75, 1992
||Rom. 5:6-9, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
|Resurrection||“Reign of the Supermen!” storyline-1993||1 Corinthians 15|
Is this pure coincidence? I don’t think so. The original creators of Superman weren’t Christians, yet Siegel and Shuster were raised in a biblically-saturated environment. They’ve claimed that Superman was loosely based on Moses and Samson. The rocket that Superman’s father, Jor-El (El is Hebrew for God), sends him to Earth in is a parallel to the basket that Moses was saved in as a baby. And, of course, Samson is the prototype for Superman’s heroic strength. This would seem to work against my claim that Superman in a Christ figure. But, both Moses (as prophet and savior of the people of Israel) and Samson (as judge and defender of the nation) are Old Testament types pointing to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ. So is it any wonder why Big Blue bears such a striking resemblance to God’s Son?
I think the clear parallel between Christ and Superman are already being acknowledged by a wide variety of people. As an example, look at this splicing of two movie trailers. We’ll take a closer look at what these parallels mean both for our culture and the gospel in part 2.