According to Pattern: What is Typology?
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: