In I Corinthians 10:6-13, Paul teaches that while the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:22-29; 16:4, 35), certain events occurred as “types,” or examples, for the Christians of the apostolic period. He further claimed that such happenings were intended “typically” to forewarn Christians about the coming of Christ and the consequences of His ministry. In Romans 5:14 he suggests that Adam was a “type” of the Christ who was to come.
Such explanations illuminate the New Testament idea that certain incidents during the old dispensation predicted the major events of the career of Jesus Christ and of the early church, which relived them in a Christian sense. Most obvious analogies concern the flood and the ark, the liberation of the people of Israel from Egypt (the Exodus), the wandering in the wilderness, the crossing of the River Jordan, the later return from exile, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Actual historical episodes were thought to foreshadow later events not in a literal but in a spiritual sense; thus, the liberation from Egypt was paralleled in Christ’s freeing us from our sins.
These types were perpetuated and enormously increased in the writings of the ancient Christian fathers. Indeed, the Bible was ransacked to extract types regarded as fulfilled in the Christian dispensation, some of them absurd and farfetched. Early Christian art displays innumerable examples of types, though in a more restricted range than in literature.
Early Christian sarcophagi, for instance, display again and again Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Daniel in the lion’s den, and Noah in the ark. It is possible that the list of types used in art derived from a range of examples of God’s deliverance used in Jewish prayers. The use of types in this manner may be said to have entered deeply into Christian prayer, worship, hymnology, and piety generally.
Christian theologians today are cautious about using types, partly because of critical doubts raised concerning the historical authenticity of some of the events serving as types, and partly because of the subjectivity of all typology. Nevertheless, types still contribute largely to the piety and worship of many individual Christians and of the church as a community.
- Daniélou, J. From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers. London, 1950.
- Hanson, R., and P. Crosland. Allegory and Event, chaps. 1-4. London, 1959.
- Lampe, G. W. H., and K. J. Woolcombe. Essays in Typology. London, 1957.
- Simon, M. Verus Israel. Paris, 1948.
R. P. C. HANSON