The Interpretation of Types




The Bible is the most abused book in the world.  In the hands of both scholars and laymen it has suffered the indignity of being used to support all manner of dogmas, beliefs and fancies.  Common sense, which has normally been exercised in the interpretation of other works, seems to have been completely abandoned with respect to the “Book of books”, and liberties have been taken which in other spheres would have been condemned outright.  It has been said that anything may be proved from the Bible, a statement not so very far from the truth if complete liberty of interpretation be allowed.  There is therefore a great need ... to put the interpretation of Scripture on a sound basis...”


– Brian Sherring.


“... In an effort to find comfort, or some personal application of Scripture, the literal and often primary meaning is often obscured or ignored.  All kinds of distortions have been made in order to prove a devotional point or obtain a spiritual blessing.  We all know how easy it is to take a text from its context and make it mean something that applies to us.  There is a type of believer whose only interest in the Bible is what he gets out of it for himself and his own comfort.  He assumes that the whole of Scripture is written to him and about him. ... Such an attitude is destructive of all true interpretation of the Word of God and must be rejected.  In a subtle way it keeps this sort of person occupied with himself, instead of being occupied with Christ and God’s great and glorious redemptive plan centered in Him.  Such a narrow view of the Scriptures can only produce a serious cramping effect upon growth in grace and knowledge, and acknowledgement of the Truth. If the emphasis is completely devotional, the necessary doctrinal and expository basis of Scripture is set aside...


We should approach the Scriptures from a literal standpoint, making allowances for figures of speech, symbols, and types, and avoiding the allegorical system of spiritualizing, which is destructive of true understanding, we should note that this does not mean spiritual application cannot be made.  This can only be done safely when the primary, basic and literal interpretation of the Bible has been settled.  There is only one [correct] interpretation of a passage of Scripture, but there may be a number of applications of that passage; these are secondary to the interpretation and must be kept so...


To rest ones theology on a secondary meaning of the Bible is not interpretation, but imagination, and human opinion, and in such a procedure the real meaning of God’s Word is bound to be lost.  The only certain way of obtaining a correct understanding is to anchor interpretation to literal exposition in the sense that we have explained the word ‘literal’.”


- Stuart Allen.


A religion which is rooted and grounded in history, cannot ignore history.  A historical understanding of the Bible is not a superfluity which can be dispensed with in Biblical interpretation, leaving a body of ideas and principles divorced from the process out of which they were born”.


- H. H. Rowley.




The relationship which the 0ld Testament sustains to the New, forms the basis for the consideration of types.  The fact that the 0ld Testament has a pronounced prophetic element links it indissolubly with the New, and typological teaching is a form of prophecy.  On the Lord’s own authority He is to be found in the 0ld Testament.  To the disciples on the road to Emmaus He expounded the 0ld Testament Scriptures:


And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).


And to the disciples He said:


These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me!” (Luke 24:44).


In John 5:39, the Lord Jesus said to the Jews: “Search (or ye search) the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.  There can be therefore no doubt whatsoever that Christ is prefigured by type and shadow in the 0ld Testament, and that this is a separate study in itself.


There are several Greek words used in the New Testament, which point back to the nature of the Old.  Hupodeigma means a representation, a copy, an example and occurs six times. “Let us labour ... lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Heb. 4:11).  As chapters three and four of Hebrews make clear, the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness has a typical meaning, which this verse reinforces. “... there are priests that offer gifts according to the law: Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things,...(Heb. 8: 4, 5).  Here the earthly priesthood is typical of heavenly realities.


Tupos and tupikos come from the verb tuptoto strike”, and mean the impression formed by a blow, a pattern and then a type.


Now all these things happened unto them (Israel ) for ensamples (types) and they are written for our admonition ...” (1 Cor. 10:11).  Once again the behaviour of Israel in the wilderness with their sin and rebellion is looked upon, not just as an historical event, but something that was typical and pointed forward to the Christian era.  Skia means a shadow, sketch or outline. For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things” (Heb. 10: 1 and 8:5).  Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come ...” (Col. 2: 16, 17). These verses show that the ceremonial law was a shadowing forth in type of New Testament realities.  Antitupos means a figure or likeness.  For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands which are the figures of the true” (Heb. 9: 24).  The Tabernacle was a type or figure of realities in the heavens (Heb. 8:5).


These words establish beyond doubt the typical character of much of the 0ld Testament, and the whole of the epistle to the Hebrews revolves around these types and adumbrations, without which it could not be understood.  There is no doubt therefore that the doctrine of the types is Scriptural and important to the student of the Scriptures and the seeker after truth.  The fact that typical teaching has been abused does not invalidate its truth.  The early church fathers doubtless erred in this respect, as have many Roman Catholic theologians, realizing that such teaching could strengthen Romish doctrines.  But the Protestant has not been guiltless either, for some, in order to support devotional ideas, have pressed typological teaching beyond its proper limits.


So we ask ourselves, have we any Biblical guiding principle to lift us above mere human-opinion and the doctrines of men?  The answer is, yes, and it is this: a character or event in the 0ld Testament is a type, if the New Testament specifically designates it to be such.  This may be too narrow for some interpreters, but at least we are on sure ground when we put it into practice.  It may be true that they are inferred types, but we need to be careful here and make certain that the immediate or the remote context justifies them.  That Adam was in some respects a type of Christ Romans 5:14 makes clear:


Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure (type) of Him that was to come”.


Melchizedek, who appears suddenly in the narrative of Genesis fourteen and disappears mysteriously is typical of the Priesthood of the Lord Jesus.  This is expressly stated in Hebrews 7: 3, 15-17.  Moses the Prophet, the mouthpiece of God, is a picture of the greatest of all prophets, Christ Himself (Deut. 18: 15-19; Acts 3: 22-23).  The sacrificial lambs of the 0ld Testament were all foreshadowing the Saviour (John 1: 29; 1 Cor. 5: 7).  The manna in the wilderness finds its fulfilment in Christ (John 6: 30-35).  The brazen serpent of the 0ld Testament was likewise a type of Christ, (John 3: 14, 15).  The veil of the Tabernacle was a picture of the Lord’s humanity, (Heb. 10: 20).  The smitten rock (Num. 20: 11), typified the Lord Jesus Christ as 1 Corinthians 10: 4 asserts “for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ”.  Joshua, the captain of Israel and leader into the promised land, prefigured Christ, and we should remember that Jesus is the Greek equivalent for Joshua (Heb. 2: 10; 4: 8, and note the margin).


And so we might go on.  A rich field for study is opened here, and when we have the controlling guide of the New Testament we are delivered from interpretive schools, and many fanciful ideas and the opinions of men.  Some students of Scripture identify typology with allegory, but this is a mistake ... allegory is a figure of speech, a continued metaphor, whereby one story or aspect of truth is given in terms of another, not necessarily that of the New Testament, whereas true typology is based on the unity of Old Testament and New whereby something in the Old foreshadows something in the New.  In dealing with types we must be careful to note dissimilarity as well as similarity.  As well as there being points of similarity between Christ and Adam, or Christ and Moses, there are many points of dissimilarity, specially when we consider the sin and weaknesses of both Adam and Moses.  One of the errors that can arise is to make typical the elements of dissimilarity in a type, but this is guarded against if we carefully note how the New Testament comments upon the types of the Old.


True typology is a species of prophecy, and in the 0ld Testament we have some of the major and basic doctrines of the New Testament set forth in picture form, such as redemption, justification and atonement.  We should take care in typical study to avoid extremes and flights of fancy.  Some have been put off such study because of the extremes to which certain expositors have gone.  The doctrine lying behind the Tabernacle needs care.  A spiritual equivalent cannot be found for every single detail, and to try and produce this is not a mark of spirituality, nor is it sound. Another important thing to remember is that we should never seek to prove doctrine from types unless there is New Testament authority.  There are at least six kinds of types in the Word of God:


(1) Persons, as we have seen, (2) Institutions such as 0ld Testament sacrifices, (3) Offices, Moses as prophet, Melchizedek as Priest King, (4) Events, The wilderness wanderings, (5) Actions, The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, (6) Things, such as the Tabernacle and its furnishings...


There are systems of Bible interpretation that envisage all the redeemed being blessed in future on the earth, while another interpretation finally puts all the redeemed in heaven and has no place for an earthly kingdom.  Both are wrong and have only a part of the Divine picture.  What they need, and what we all need, is our minds stretched and enlarged to grasp more of the fullness of God’s mighty plan of redemption and reconciliation that touches the highest heavens as well as the earth beneath (Col. 1: 20), finding its final fulfilment in a “new heaven and earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3: 13).  The understanding of many of us is clouded because of our poverty of conception.  We have a God that is too small, and a divine purpose that is little more than parochial.


When Paul urged Timothy to keep in the forefront of his mind the object of receiving God’s approval, he was told this was bound up with “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), showing that the way we handle and interpret the Word of God is of supreme importance, and God’s future assessment of our Christian testimony and whether we meet Him with joy or shame, depends upon our obedience to this command.  We believe that if we carry out the guiding principle [the correct interpretation of types] we shall be doing just this, and in doing so, we are allowing God’s Word to mean exactly what it says, and every statement of Scripture can be taken in the setting we find it without alteration, addition or subtraction.


It then ceases to be the word of man, but is in truth the Word of God.  The critic may say that such a system is “devisive”, that it “chops the Bible up into unrelated parts”, and destroys the organic unity of Scripture.  But rightly applied, this is not true.  One could retort that the critic who recognizes the division of the Old and New Testaments, has chopped the Bible into halves.


When we “rightly divide the Word” we shall recognize the basic doctrine of redemption and the final Headship of Christ that binds together the callings of the redeemed and the spheres of blessing, as well as noting the distinctions that God has made.  Ephesians 1:10 looks forward to a future dispensation of the fulness of the seasons when all heaven and earth are gathered under the headship of Christ, expressing a unity that will be unbreakable and eternal.  United yet divided” expresses the position, and to ignore one and hold to the other is unscriptural and can only lead to imbalance, and a partial or clouded view of God’s great goal.  It is quite pathetic to see how some expositors in their over-anxiety to overthrow “dispensationalism”, erect a great man of straw, someone’s particular brand of dispensational teaching, and then proceed with great show to knock it down, and imagine when they have done this that the dispensational approach to the Scriptures has been proved erroneous and overthrown.  This is usually the attitude of the a-millennialist, but a-millennialism is a denial of the historic grammatical system of exposition, at least as far as prophecy is concerned, and as such it is an unsound and inconsistent method of study with its allegoritation, opening the door wide to human opinion and error.  A further example of this can be seen in the a-millennial treatment of the two resurrections of Revelation chapter twenty.  The first is held to be spiritual, taking place at the salvation of the sinner; the second, the general physical resurrection of all the dead of all time.  It is well to note the comments by Dean Alford on this passage in his Greek New Testament, and he had no leanings toward the dispensational viewpoint:


It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this commentary, that I cannot consent to distort its words (that of the passage) from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any consideration of difficulty, or any risk of abuse which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it.  Those who lived next to the apostles, and the whole church for 300 years, understood them in the plain, literal sense, and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents.  As regards what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion.  If, in a passage where two resurrections are mentioned, where certain psuchai ezesan at the first, and the rest of the nekroi ezesan only at the end of a specified period after the first if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave then, there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything.  If the first resurrection is spiritual, then so is the second, which I suppose none will be hardy enough to maintain; but if the second is literal, then so is the first, which in common with the whole primitive church and many of the best modern expositors, I do maintain, and receive as an article of faith and hope” -The Greek New Testament in loco.


These are sane and weighty words, and there is no doubt that Dean Alford has the majority of sound scholars with him.  Hardly anywhere else is the futility of a-millennial interpretation shown up more than in its handling of Revelation chapter twenty.


The a-millennialist may call the pre-millennialist’s views of the future as ‘carnal’ and ‘unscriptural’, but he needs reminding that spiritual things are not necessarily better than the material.  There is such a thing as spiritual wickedness (Eph. 6:12).  When God put Adam and Eve into the garden of Eden, was this carnal because it was material and on the earth?  And when the earthly part of God’s kingdom is realized and becomes like Eden again, is this to be dubbed as carnal?  The literal material and earthly is not to be avoided per se for this savours of the Gnostic abhorrence of the material, and any approach to this Satanic system of error, so prevalent in the early centuries of Christianity, must be avoided at all costs.  The basic and dispensational approach to the Scriptures, keeping these in balance, will save us from this.  Such a method of interpretation is sane and reverent, honours the Word of God and allows it to speak with all its authority and is in no sense a system foisted upon it...


In conclusion, the honest interpreter will always keep a supreme regard for truth at all costs.  Nor will he forget the words of the Saviour: “ ... sanctify them through Thy Truth; Thy Word is Truth”.  (John 17: 17), nor His constant reverence for the Holy Scriptures (Matt. 5: 17-18; John 5: 46, 47; 10: 25; Matt. 22: 29) whose primary aim is to “make wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3: 15).  To interpret the Scriptures is a high and holy task.  God will not hold guiltless any who carelessly handle or tamper with His Word, substituting the folly and error of man for His wisdom and His Truth.