This is an early version of an article published in Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus, ed. Craig A. Evans, Routledge (2008)
by David B. Capes
Typology is the strategy for discerning the correspondence, pattern, shape or structural affinity between two of God acts. These divine acts involve God’s work through persons, events, and institutions. The words “type” and “antitype” are used to express the relationship between the two events. “Type” comes from the Greek word tupos meaning “example” or “model.” In a typological interpretation “type” is used to refer to an original historical act that serves as a model for a later, corresponding act (“antitype”). The original may stand in a positive, synthetic relationship to the later event or in a negative, antithetic relationship. An example of a synthetic typology would be the reference to Jesus as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (e.g., John 1:29). The imagery of the lamb comes from the Passover event (Exodus 12; 1 Cor 5:7), adjusted perhaps by prophetic reference to the servant of the Lord (Isa 53:4-7). The point in this typology is the way that Jesus is similar to the Passover lamb even if his sacrifice is understood to be universal in scope. An example of an antithetical typology would be Paul’s reference to Jesus as a second Adam (Romans 5). While Adam and Jesus share a certain likeness as the heads of the first and new creations respectively, Paul’s point is their dissimilarity not their similarity. Through the first Adam sin and death come to all people; through the second Adam righteousness and life is available to all. Both synthetic and antithetic typologies illumine the contemporary act of redemption by correlating it with a known event from the past.
Several theological assumptions drive typology. First, typology assumes that history is the arena of God’s saving activity. In any typological scheme the historicity of persons, events and institutions is taken for granted and essential. When Paul refers to Adam as a type of Jesus, it was necessary that Adam had been a person in history and not some mythic figure. The historicity of the type and antitype distinguishes typological from allegorical readings. Second, typology presumes that God is faithful to his promises and that his work in history is constant. This does not mean, of course, that there are no new acts of God; what it does mean is that a new act can be understood best in reference to God’s earlier acts. So typology emphasizes the unity of God’s actions in history; as such it is employed theologically as a strategy to underscore the unity between the testaments as a witness to God’s acts. Third, typology is based upon a linear view of history in which events intensify or escalate as God’s plan moves toward its ultimate goal (eschaton). In NT parlance, the new redemptive event may be said to “fulfill” the prophet’s word even if the prophecy had an earlier fulfillment (e.g., Matt 1:23; cf. Isaiah 7). For example, the redemption associated with the Passover lamb involved a particular people at a particular time (Exodus 12) whereas the redemption associated with Jesus as “the lamb of God” intensifies and universalizes the hope.
Typology is evident in Jewish and Christian circles during and after the second temple period. The use of typology found in the NT is consistent with and likely derived from hermeneutical practices within the Hebrew Bible.
The writers, editors and compilers of the Hebrew Bible employed typology to recall God’s past faithfulness and to anticipate new acts of redemption. Creation and exodus themes are common. In Isa 65:17-25, for example, the prophet describes God’s promise to create a new heaven and a new earth that stands in continuity with and yet eclipses the first creation. God’s work to repair the world effectively makes it new again, reverses the curse, and returns it to its paradisiacal form. In this way God’s earlier, covenant promises to his people can be realized: long life in the land, prosperity, peace, God’s permanent presence with his people.
Because of its significance in Israelite history, the exodus becomes the “type” for new hopes for redemption as Israel is enslaved by and in exile in hostile nations. So, e.g., in Isa 11:16 the prophet foresees a day when the Lord will make a highway out of Assyria for the remnant just as he brought Israel up from the land of Egypt (cf. Isa 40:3-5; 43:16-24; 49:8-13). Similarly, in Micah 7:14-20 the prophet envisages a new act of redemption that will be like earlier times when Israel came out of Egypt. But not all new exodus imagery is future-oriented. Within the stories of Israel’s past typological correspondence is also evident. So, e.g., the Lord promises Joshua that he will be with him like he had been with Moses (Joshua 1-5), thus fulfilling the earlier, divine promises. Joshua becomes a new Moses, parting the Jordan and reinitiating the Passover. These later acts of redemption take on a new meaning precisely because of their associations with the older types.
Another typology involves the expectation of a “new covenant.” Jeremiah prophesies that God will make a new covenant with Israel in the future (31:31-34; cf. Ezek 36:22-32). Because of its reference to coming out of Egypt, this is a variation on the new exodus theme. But the new covenant typology is primarily antithetical, for the oracle points out all the ways in which the new covenant will not be like the old.
New Testament authors make extensive use of typology in order to express their understanding of the transcendent significance of Jesus and his work of salvation. To be successful, typologies depend on the competence of the audience. While any typology can be lost on some hearers—assuming that the NT gospels were initially read aloud—the ideal audience will perceive the correspondence between type and antitype. Some of the typologies listed below, though certainly not all, derive from Jesus’ own teaching and use of scripture. Others are expansions or reflections on his significance by later theologians. Scholars disagree on the methods used to distinguish between dominical and non-dominical sayings. As we have seen with the Hebrew Bible, creation, exodus, and covenant typologies dominate (Ellis, 105-106).
New covenant. In the words of institution (Mark 14:24; Matt 26:28; Luke 22:20) Jesus is said to appropriate the “new covenant” prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-4) and link it with the pouring out of his blood. His crucifixion is understood to establish the new covenant, symbolized by the cup of wine from the Passover celebration. The new covenant inaugurated by Jesus is thereby linked with the both the Passover as a perpetual remembrance of the exodus and the new covenant of Jeremiah.
Son of God. For many reasons the NT employs the title “Son of God” in reference to Jesus. The interest here is the typological association expressed in fulfillment language: “out of Egypt I called my Son” (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11.1). Clearly, this is an example of exodus typology that links the flight and return of Joseph, Mary and Jesus from Egypt with Israel’s exodus. In the type (Hos 11:1), “my Son” refers to Israel. Effectively, the evangelist’s use of the quotation constitutes Jesus as a new Israel. This means that Jesus takes up Israel’s role in relation to God’s work in the world. But the typology itself has antithetical elements because Jesus is not only like Israel, he is also unlike Israel. Whereas Hosea’s Israel (“my son”) abandoned and disappointed God (Hos 11:1-7), Matthew’s Jesus obeys and is well-pleasing to God as the Son (e.g., Matt 3:17).
Son of David. The title “Son of David” is associated with Jesus in a variety of settings (e.g., Matt 1:1, 6; Mark 11:9-10 & par.; Mark 12:35-37 & par., cf. Rom 1:3-4) and has typological overtones. The titular use is almost certainly derived from 2 Sam 7:12-16, commonly understood as God’s covenant with David. Within the narrative of 2 Samuel, the “son of David” refers to Solomon, but already by the time of the Chronicler (1 Chron 17:11-14) the promise has taken on broader, messianic significance. In Matthew’s genealogy, for instance, Jesus’ messianic status as “the Son of David” is demonstrated by tracing his lineage through the royal line (Matt 1:1, 6, 17). Further, the evangelist employs gematria to structure Jesus’ genealogy around the number fourteen (14), which is the number associated with David’s name (Matt 1:17). Although these construals are not dominical, they may depend on Jesus’ self-understanding (cf. Mark 12:35-37 & par.). By referring to Jesus as “the Son of David,” it became possible to associate him with God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom. The title “Son of David” becomes an explicit claim to Jesus’ messiahship.
Son of Man. Jesus’ favorite self-designation appears to have been “Son of Man.” Since other NT writers do not use it, it is almost certainly a dominical expression. According to the intracanonical Gospels, Jesus employs it in a variety of settings. Interpreters have debated its meaning, and to date there is no scholarly consensus. One prominent theory, however, relates the expression “Son of Man” with Dan 7:12-14. In this text Daniel sees a vision in which “one like a son of man” comes on the clouds before the Ancient of Days and receives an eternal, universal kingdom. In the vision’s interpretation Daniel identifies the son of man with the saints of the Most High (Dan 7:18, 22), taken as a reference to Israel. If this is the background, the expression “Son of Man” used by Jesus connects him with Israel’s eschatological task of ruling the nations. Psalm 8 may also have played a role in the christological formulation “Son of Man.” With its celebration of creation and Adam’s dominion over it, Psalm 8 supplied the early Jesus movement with a variation on the creation typology.
Servant of the Lord. The Gospels never explicitly designate Jesus “the Servant of the Lord” (cf. Acts 3;13, 26), but a Servant typology appears beneath the surface of the narratives. The designation derives from prophetic oracles recorded in Isaiah (chs 42, 49, 50, especially 53). In the prophetic stream, the Servant is identified with Israel (e.g., 49:3) so its christological appropriation links Jesus with the covenant people. NT writers and perhaps even Jesus himself understood the vocation of the Servant as “fulfilled” in his actions. Jesus’ teachings and healings are said to fulfill the prophet’s message in proclaiming justice and bringing hope to the nations (Matt 12:17-21; quoting Isa 42:1-4; cf. Matt 8:16-17). His coming arrest and trial fulfill the oracle that the Servant must be counted among the transgressors (Luke 22:37; quoting Isa 53:12). It is particularly in the details of his passion that allusive use is made of Isaiah 53, where suffering for others is the primary vocation of God’s Servant (see, e.g., Mark 10:45). If Jesus understood himself to be the Servant of the Lord, fulfilling Israel’s destiny, then these oracles may well have directed his mission.
Prophet-like-Moses. According to Deut 18:15-18, God will raise up a prophet-like-Moses to lead the covenant people. Apparently, this expectation was current in the second temple period and assisted in the formulation and expansion of certain christological claims. While this language is more explicit in Acts (e.g., Acts 3:22; quoting Deut 18:15-20; cf. Acts 7:37), echoes of this hope can be heard in a variety of settings in the Gospels. In the transfiguration, e.g., the heavenly voice declares: “this is My beloved Son, listen to him!” (Mark 9:7 & par.). The command to listen recalls God’s directive to his people when the eschatological prophet arrives. In Matthew’s Gospel, a Moses typology is clearly at work. First, the slaughter in Bethlehem and Jesus’ escape is reminiscent of a similar carnage in Egypt under the Pharaoh’s cruel policies (cf. Matthew 1-2; Exodus 1-2). Second, as we saw above in regard to Hos 11:1, the return of Joseph and his family from Egypt to the land of promise has resonance with Moses and the exodus. Third, Jesus’ success during the wilderness temptations stands in typological antithesis to Israel’s failures in the wilderness under Moses’ leadership. Fourth, Jesus ascends the mountain and writes his teachings on the hearts of his disciples in ways similar and yet dissimilar to Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai. In these and other ways, the portrayal of Jesus as the eschatological prophet-like-Moses provides an important clue to the early Christians’ assessment of his significance.
Of course, Jesus’ work is linked with prophets other than Moses. For example, in announcing the fulfillment of God’s jubilee promises, Jesus associates his mission with Elijah’s and Elisha’s work among non-Jews (Luke 4:1-30; 1 Kings 17-18; 2 Kings 5). Since rumors around Jesus relate him to prophets (Matt 16:13-20), it is likely that the earliest appraisals of his significance among “the people of the land” regard his prophetic role. If, as the Gospels portray, Jesus anticipated his death, then he did so in solidarity with prophets before him (e.g., Matt 23:37).
“Something greater”. The phrase “something greater” characterizes three sayings in Matthew 12. Each has typological import. In Matt 12:6 Jesus justifies his disciples’ harvesting of grain on the Sabbath by appealing to David’s example (1 Sam 21:1-7) and the weekly violation of the Sabbath by priests performing their duties. The declaration “something greater than the temple is here” (Matt 12:6), likely refers to Jesus himself and by extension the community he establishes. By appealing to the deeds of David and the priests, Jesus associates his activities with royal and priestly actions. It is impossible to overestimate the significance of the Jerusalem temple. However, because of corruption the temple and its leadership had already fallen out of favor with many Jews. The constitution of the community of Jesus as a temple “not made with hands” (Mark 14:58) is a typological move already made by the people of Qumran who left the temple because of corruption and withdrew to the wilderness to establish a new temple and new covenant people.
In Matt 12:38-41 Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ demand for a sign by promising “the sign of Jonah” and concludes by saying “something greater than Jonah is here.” For Matthew Jonah becomes a type of Jesus in two ways: (1) Jonah’s near-death experience in the belly of the fish three days and three nights corresponds to “the Son of Man” death and burial for three days in the heart of the earth (Jonah 1-2); (2) Jonah’s success in turning Nineveh back to God (Jonah 3-4) corresponds to the success Jesus has in preaching to Israel and the nations. The competent audience will also pick up on the antithetical elements in the typology. Jonah’s recalcitrance stands in opposition to Jesus’ faithful obedience.
In Matt 12:42 Jesus commends the Queen of the South for traveling far to learn Solomon’s wisdom and simultaneously condemns those who refuse to acknowledge God’s wisdom. He concludes by declaring “something greater than Solomon is here.” Typologically speaking, Jesus corresponds to Solomon (who is also a son of David); both are purveyors of wisdom. But later generations of Christians expand the association by identifying Jesus with divine wisdom (sophia; e.g., 1 Cor 1:24, 30).
With each of these sayings the phrase “something greater” depicts an escalation which is already evident in the work of Jesus.
The Serpent in the Wilderness. According to John 3:14-15, Jesus said: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in the same way the Son of Man must be lifted up so all who believe in him may have eternal life.” The type recalls the healing of many Israelites afflicted by venomous snakes in the wilderness. Following God’s instructions, Moses fashioned a serpent and lifted it up on a standard so that anyone who looked it would have life (Numb 21:4-9). The antitype refers to the lifting up of the Son of Man, i.e., the crucifixion, and its universalized result: all who believe have eternal life.
The Stone. At the end of the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1-9 & par.) Jesus applies Ps 118:22-23 to the situation he faced, i.e., the growing opposition and final rejection (crucifixion) by the powers-that-be in Jerusalem. As it stands in the Synoptics, Jesus re-plots the story implicit in the passage to foreshadow his crucifixion (rejected stone) and resurrection (rejected stone made cornerstone). If, as some have concluded, the rejected stone referred originally to Israel, this passage is another example of an Israel-Jesus typology. Jesus’ rejection is typified in Israel’s defeat at the hands of its enemies. His vindication is anticipated as “the Lord’s doing.” Stone passages are found elsewhere in the NT in reference to Jesus and the church (e.g., Acts 4:11; Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:1-8). Some “stone” passages may have even taken on messianic implications (e.g., Isa 8:14; 28:16; cf. Rom 9:30-33).
“The Twelve”. While Jesus had a sizeable company of disciples (e.g., 70 or 72 in Luke 10:1), including men and women (e.g., Luke 8:1-3), the NT Gospels indicate that he established a special group known as “the twelve” (Mark 3:13-19 & par.). Apparently, “the twelve” had unique access to Jesus and served to extend his mission in the world by preaching and healing (e.g., Mark 3:14; Matt 10:1-42). Jesus’ election comprises a prophetic act that effectively establishes a new people of God, the antitype to the twelve tribes of Israel. As the foundation of a new people of God, “the twelve” come out of Israel and yet have eschatological significance in judging the people of God (Matt 19:28).
The NT’s use of the OT is central to how early Christians did theology. Typology is the primary method used to read and appropriate Scripture. As we have seen, most typological readings emphasize the transcendent significance of Jesus and by extension his community as a new Israel.
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