What is typology? Not to sound corny, but it’s the study of types, and the Bible is full of types. Recognizing these many types in Scripture is quite important if we are to understand the meaning of so many texts.
Describing the things of God is problematic, as God is very alien to our experiences and we have no good correlations from which to draw. So, we use the language of analogy and anagogy. We use ordinary things we know to describe things that are outside of our experience. A simple example is a rock; its hard, solid, unmoving and unchanging (in the Israeli wilderness). It becomes a good analogy for God. Additionally, a rock can be a powerful weapon to use in defense. So, we can describe God’s unchanging nature and His power by using a rock as analogy. Scripture does so, often.
The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge. (2 Sam 22:2-3)
O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Ps 95:1)
The use of a physical image as representative of a spiritual thing is part of analogy. A special case of this is called a type, when a person or thing represents a future person or thing. Most frequently, types are found in the OT and represent things in the NT. As such, these OT types are themselves prophetic. Types are noted by comparative imagery and phrases or words. Let’s see a few examples.
1. Isaac as a Type of Jesus
We read in Gen 22:1-18 a strange story of God testing the patriarch Abraham by commanding him to immolate his son Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord. We first note that God refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only” son, even though Abraham had another son, Ishmael (Gn 22:2; Gn 16:15-16). This compares with Jesus as the Son of God – the only Son of the Father. Next, we note that Abraham took Isaac, plus “two of his young men” (Gn 22:3), reminding us of Jesus crucified alongside two men. Next, and very prophetic:
6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. (Gn 22:6)
As Jesus carried the wood of the cross on His back to Golgotha, so Isaac carried the wood of his sacrifice on his back up the mount. Furthermore:
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. (Gn 22:9)
Isaac was bound and laid upon the wood, even as Jesus was bound/nailed hand and feet to His wood. As we know from this story, at the last moment, an angel stays Abraham’s hand and Isaac lives. A ram is sacrificed instead. That is, a sacrifice took place, but Isaac lived. Similarly, the sacrifice of Jesus took place, but Jesus ultimately lived (resurrected from the dead). So, we see many parallels between this story of Isaac’s sacrifice and the narration of Jesus’s sacrifice. We see Isaac as a type of Jesus.
2. Moses as a Type of Jesus
So many parallels; let’s just look at their births. In Ex 1:12, we hear how the enslaved Israelites grew in numbers, such that their Egyptian overlords began to fear them. To reduce their numbers, Pharaoh (the Egyptian king) told the midwives to kill all the newborn male Israelite children (Ex 1:15-22). One of the children survived, however: Moses was put into a basket and floated into the Nile river where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who took him in as her own son. This story compares well with the Gospel story of the Holy Innocents, the newborn boys of Bethlehem who were ordered to be killed by King Herod (Mt 2:16-18). Jesus was saved, however, by escape into Egypt. We see Egypt figure in both stories of escape. In the Gospel story, King Herod died and Jesus left Egypt and settled in Nazareth in Samaria. So, Moses, after he grew to adulthood, left Egypt to settle in Midian and during that time Pharaoh died. He lived an ordinary life there for 40 years, as Jesus lived an ordinary life in Nazareth for about 30 years, prior to each beginning their salvific ministries. There are many, many more parallels between Moses and Jesus, but let these be a taste. So, we see Moses as a type of Jesus.
3. Eve as a Type of Mary
There are several parallels between the Blessed Mother and Eve before and during the Fall. Not least of which is the word “woman” used for both: in Greek, gyne – so Adam called Eve when he saw her (Gn 2:23)(LXX), and so the new Adam, Jesus, called his mother at the wedding feast at Cana (Jn 2:4). Likewise, it was Eve who gave Adam the fruit to eat, to begin the Fall, and it was Mary who gave Jesus His first miracle to perform, turning water into wine, to begin His ministry of Redemption. Perhaps noteworthy is that both were virgins, at least Eve was so until after the Fall.
Also of interest are the contrary comparisons. Eve had a role in the first Adam bringing sin into the world; Mary had a role in bringing the new Adam, our Source of salvation, into the world. Eve profoundly disobeyed God’s word by accepting and passing on the fruit of the forbidden tree, in contrast to Mary who quite explicitly obeyed God’s word delivered by the angel. Adam called his wife “Eve,” a Hebrew word which was meant to declare she was the mother of all the living.
20 The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. (Gn 3:20)
It was ironic, as all the living would be spiritually dead, caused by sin. In contrast, we Christians call Mary our mother; in bearing the Savior with whom we are united, she is the mother of the spiritually living. We believe we can claim Mary as our mother, because He gave her to us on the cross:
26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (Jn 19:26-27)
Here again, Jesus called her “Woman,” gyne, as He did at Cana, so we think back to Eve, the “mother of all the living.” In giving His mother to John, who was the only Apostle present and therefore the representative of the Church, He gave her to the Church. So we call her our Mother as well. And through all this, we see Eve was a type of Mary.
4. The Ark of the Covenant as a Type of Mary
The Ark was a throne-box which contained certain holy things: the stone tablets of the Law, a bit of the miraculous manna, and Aaron’s staff (Heb 9:4). That it contained manna – itself a type of the Eucharist – and the Law, which was God’s word, made it an analogy of a "container-of-God." That is, images of God were inside of it. As such, the Ark was a type of Mary, who carried the real God inside of her, in her womb. But there is more.
In 2 Sam 6:2, we read how King David “arose and went” to bring the Ark from Baale-judah to Jerusalem. During the journey, David became afraid and declared himself unworthy to bring the Ark to his palace.
9 And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" (2 Sam 6:9)
Compare with Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus, as she also “arose and went” to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth (Lk 1:39). Elizabeth said nearly the same thing to Mary:
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. (Lk 1:41-44)
We also note how Elizabeth, also pregnant, experienced her in-vitro baby leap in her womb for joy. Likewise, King David, when he finally did bring the Ark into Jerusalem, did so with dance, also leaping with joy:
14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn. (2 Sam 6:14-15)
Finally, we read that between David’s moment of fear and his finally bringing the Ark into Jerusalem, the Ark stayed “in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite” for three months (2 Sm 6:11). Likewise, Mary stayed with Elizabeth, “in the house of Zachariah” for three months (Lk 1:56). We might also note that Zachariah was a Jewish priest (Lk 1:5); Mary was staying in the house of a priest when Elizabeth’s babe leaped in the womb. Per the above text, King David was strangely wearing a linen ephod as he danced, the ephod being a priestly vestment. Again, these several comparisons point the Ark as a type of Mary.
5. The Manna in the Wilderness as a Type of the Eucharist
When the unfortunate Israelites sojourned through the wilderness for forty years, God gave them manna, a type of bread that appeared each morning on the ground wherever they went.
4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or not…. 35 And the people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land; they ate the manna, till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. (Ex 16:4,35)
As that generation of Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years, every day they were nourished with “bread from heaven.” This is a well-known type of the Eucharist, which nourishes us through our sojourn in this wilderness of the world. As Jesus taught the crowd who followed Him:
31 [So they said to him,] “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world." 34 They said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. (Jn 6:31-35)
We see clearly that the manna in the wilderness was a type of the Eucharist to come.
And there are many, many more types throughout Scripture. So, these analogical types are very interesting and all, but how do they help us? A Jew in pre-Christian times would not really have been able to deduce Jesus, Mary and the Eucharist from the above OT types. Meanwhile, a Christian with 20/20 hindsight can understand the above OT types, but how does it add to the NT texts? First, on the whole, it shows that the OT pointed to Jesus and the NT Church. That is, there were a great number of OT prophecies in these many types, and we can enjoy the conviction of confirming that our Lord was very well prophesied. But also, there are added elements of context when we bring the OT types into the NT texts. For example, in the above text from John 6, we read that Jesus is our bread, our Eucharist that gives us life. But the story from Exodus adds another element: that this Eucharist is our daily nourishment that we must eat to survive our own exodus through this life. The number 40 is itself a type of our life in this world, and the wilderness is another type for the emptiness of this world. Combine all these and we see that the Eucharist is our necessary food for life. So we see the typology of Scripture is a rather remarkable thing, well worth the effort to learn.