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.

Hidden with Christ in God

Even before COVID, I was surprised to find churches cancelling Christmas Day services. The rationale usually was that people were going to Christmas Eve service and so attendance at a Christmas Day service was almost non-existent. Why go to all the trouble to prepare a service that no one will attend? It looks like a waste of time and energy that could be spent enjoying the day.

I’d say that’s true, but I’d also say that’s true about Sundays as well. Most of us can find plenty of other things to do. Yet, Christmas Day, along with other holidays that have fallen by the wayside, such as Epiphany, Ascension Day, and Easter Vigil, were all considered essential in the life of the church up until modern times. I can’t say I’m all that surprised these holidays have fallen off the calendar. We have ceased to make the church the center of our community and of our daily lives, or, more specifically, we cease to make Christ the center of our lives.

In Colossians 3, St. Paul says, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” St. Paul uses some of that same sort of baptismal language we find in Romans 6, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life,” or Galatians 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The idea Paul presents is that, through my baptism, Christ’s life is joined with mine. His death is my death. His resurrection is my resurrection. Everywhere He goes, I go too.

I’m reminded of when my son was a few years younger. My wife is a big fan of baby-wearing. Instead of driving your child everywhere in a stroller, you wrap them up or put them in a specially designed pouch and wear your child on your front or on your back. They go where you go and see what you see. Your kids can talk to you and experience life with you, but they can’t run off and get lost. Their lives are merged with yours. You do all of the heavy lifting. They just come along for the ride. Their lives are hidden with yours.

The baptismal language of Paul describes a very similar idea. Our lives are “hidden with God in Christ.” We are there with him, tucked on His back. We go where He goes. We see what He sees. As long as we are there, we can’t get lost. Our life is His life.

Now, it’s one thing to miss a Sunday or other holiday because you’re sick or there’s some other kind of problem that prevents you from going. That’s part of life in this broken world. It’s another thing to think that time in worship is unimportant, when in reality, spending time in God’s presence is the most essential aspect of who we are.

The early church did not single out these days because they were meaningless, far from it. Christmas Day, Epiphany, and the other holidays that get sidelined because they don’t fall on Sunday are all major events in the life of Christ and that means they are major events in our lives as well. Christ’s life is the very center of our Christian life. His Epiphany is ours. His Ascension is ours. His rest in the tomb on Holy Saturday is ours. Christ takes on our humanity, from birth to death and everything in between. He takes all of it so that our humanity can be redeemed. He then gives us that redeemed and restored humanity back to us. His life, given to us and for us.

This year, take the time to see what Jesus is doing. Let your life be hidden with his. Let him carry you around and show you all of the things He wants you to see. He has grace and love in abundance to give you. He has marvels and wonders he wants you to see. Set aside your busy life for a while and let him care for you instead.

Becoming More Like Christ

I recently met the priest at the one Orthodox church in town. I’m somewhat conversant with Orthodox theology, so I’m interested to talk with him more. I find talking with those of other church bodies enlightening because they come with different perspectives. Often their perspectives will highlight flaws in your own way of thinking or action.

In this case, the framework for Orthodox theology is very different from how we Lutherans typically view things. The main idea is that God is working to make us more like Him. That’s not in the sense that we will ever be gods, for that was the very thing Satan promised. No, in this case the goal is to become more like Christ, not in His divinity, but in His humanity.

The Orthodox church uses all of the same sacraments as the Catholic church: baptism, chrismation, confession, holy orders, anointing of the sick (this can also be Last Rites), marriage, and communion. However, the Orthodox aren’t looking at them in terms of where God is offering blessings but in terms of things that are making us more like Christ. All of these sacraments connect to Christ in one way or another, either by associating us with His love, bringing us into the roles He carries out before His Father, or by cultivating godly virtues in us. In their way of thinking, Christ becomes a man, a perfect man, in order to restore us to perfect humanity.

It’s a helpful way of thinking. We Lutherans will tend to think in terms of justification and sanctification, and the Orthodox view gives some shape to what sanctification looks like. God is continuously at work in you to make you more like Christ. If Christ is a perfect man, and He is, then we have an idea what sort of people we ought to be because we have the perfect role model.

There’s a lot more to say, since this is the framework they use for their understanding of God’s work. Lutherans will more likely use justification and sanctification, or Law and Gospel. Law and Gospel answer how it is we are able to be made more like Christ, as the Law makes us mindful of our shortfalls and the Gospel forgives them and works to make us better. The two views are aimed at slightly different questions. The Orthodox view is more directed at discussing what God intends to do with us. Law and Gospel tells you what you are receiving and becoming like Christ tells you what God is doing with what you have been given.

In the end, the two views are not incompatible. The Gospel grace given to us through Word and Sacrament make us more like Christ. This work cannot be achieved, or even begun, on your own. It must entirely come from God. Still, even becoming like Christ is not the ultimate goal. God’s grace, supplied through Word and Sacrament, restores us to God’s image (another way of saying we become like Christ). The true goal is to once again be in God’s presence and live with Him as His people. These theological frameworks are ways of looking at how God achieves that goal.

Though I find much value in the Orthodox way of looking at things, I continue to hold to the Lutheran view. Luther is very good at keeping first things first. God’s grace is where everything begins and it must be there through everything we do, or all is lost. Sin must continuously be addressed through the free forgiveness of God. It is only once that has been established, through faith, that my growing process can begin. I only improve and become more like Christ because I am continuously driven to the Gospel by the Law where I may once again find forgiveness.

In the end, I will be like Christ. God’s Word tells me so. God’s sacraments help me to find a bit of that here in the world today.

A Perfect Offering

My congregation, like many over the last year or more, had put a moratorium on collecting an offering during the service.  While we still don’t pass the plates, we’ve returned  to bringing the offering forward so it can be given to God during the service.

This might feel like a rather minor point, but the offering occupies an important place within the service.  It comes as a response to the joyful gift of the Gospel and as a preparation for the sacrament.  The theology of offerings is one that we do not bring out very often, yet it is fundamental to what Communion is.

Leviticus describes the various sacrifices used in the religious life of Israel.  Most were related to sin in one way or another, yet all sacrifices are described as offerings.  Guilt offerings, burnt offerings, and more.  It might sound like these offerings paid the debt of sin, but the author of Hebrews tells us none of these animal sacrifices could ever take away sins. 

Of course, as with just about everything in the Old Testament, these sacrifices were pointing forward to Christ.  Hebrews tells us further that only Christ could be the perfect sacrifice.  Only the perfect sacrifice can pay the penalty for sins.

The lectionary this Sunday in the three-year series concludes Jesus’s conversation with the crowd.  Jesus says some controversial things about how He is the Bread of life and His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink and that these things are necessary for eternal life.

Taken together, the only offering that can take sins away is Jesus Himself.  The presence of Christ in the meal is what gives the sacrament purpose.  The church offers to God bread and wine that, through the Sacred Mystery, will be joined to the Body and Blood of Christ. 

Communion truly is an offering, but it is offering of the only thing we have of any value: Christ.  Taking the offering in the service and bringing it to God helps us remember that we do have something to give to God, something we only have because He first gave it to us.  We offer the Son to the Father and so find our salvation and life.

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