The Art of Typology

I’ve talked a little bit here and there about typology, but I thought I’d take some to discuss it more directly. Typology is a tool for anyone who reads the Bible to use. Using typology, we use parts of the Bible to help interpret and understand other parts of the Bible so that we gain information we might never have gotten by just reading the original passage.

Using the Bible to help interpret the Bible isn’t really a new idea. Hopefully if you’re spending any amount of time reading the Bible, you’re doing this already. There are a lot ways we might use the Bible to help interpret itself. A word study is probably the most common way to do this. If you’re curious what St. Paul means in Romans when he’s talking about “flesh” and “Spirit,” you’d first look at other places he uses those words and see if you can get a little from the context in those other passages. You might also do a broad study. A word like “sacrifice” shows up in many places. Understanding what it means for Jesus to be a sacrifice probably has you looking back at how the word is used back in the Old Testament. Numbers are often also used this way. We see 12 disciples and remember that we’ve seen the number 12 before with the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps that means those two things are connected. Thankfully, the book of Revelation tells us pretty explicitly they are connected, but the number 12 is not the only number we see showing up repeatedly in the Bible.

Typology works something like this as well. We see something written and go looking for information somewhere else in the Bible. It’s there that things start to diverge. Typology doesn’t work so much with the literal words on the page, so much as the images, the events, and the actions going on. The one place we find this language explicitly used is in Romans 5:12-14, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.” Adam is a “type” and Jesus is the “antitype.” Adam is pointing the way to Jesus and helping us to understand Him better.

So what does that mean? Well, that tells us there are some things Adam says or does that Jesus will later do as well. In this case, we know Adam was a perfect man who died on account of sin. The fact that Adam deserved the penalty for sin and Jesus didn’t means it isn’t 100% match, but it isn’t supposed to be. We are meant to look at Jesus through the lens of Adam. If Jesus isn’t doing Adam type things, then He must not be the promised one. Thankfully, He does.

We see this sort of thing happen in many other places as well. Moses, for example, toward the end of his life says in Deuteronomy 18, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen…” Moses is telling us something about what it means to be a prophet and the future prophets God sends will be ones that do Moses-type things. He speaks God’s Word to everyone, particularly when that means confronting those in authority with the warnings God has given him to speak. A prophet also acts as a spiritual leader of God’s people, teaching them everything God wants them to know. This sort of thing will be pretty standard work for the prophets God actually sent. The false prophets found throughout the Old Testament don’t do these kinds of things, which tells us pretty clearly God didn’t send them. That also means Jesus will have to do Moses-type things if He truly is by God as a prophet, or perhaps as the epitome of all prophets. Here again, Jesus is doing exactly that as He speaks God’s Word to His people, even to the point of confronting the religious authorities with it. He teaches and leads God’s people according to righteousness.

If you look around throughout the rest of my blog, you’ll find a lot of typology. The early church used typology for a lot of things. These days, it only really comes up when we’re talking about Jesus. That means we’re missing out on a lot the Bible has to tell us about the God’s work of salvation, particularly with the sacraments. St. Peter even connects the Flood to Baptism. That means we should be looking at Baptism and seeing what sort of Flood-type things it is doing in order to better understand Baptism. There are many things in the Bible that are types, pointing the way to the sacraments. Without an understanding of these events and why they are connected, we are cutting ourselves off from much of the richness of what God has done.

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