Typology

From the Orthodox Study Bible (Old Testament): Typology is the interpretation of certain historical events occurring in the Old Testament as “types” that prefigure events to be fulfilled through the Incarnation of the Son of God, and in His life and ministry as confirmed in the New Testament. In each case, the type – the first event – is linked to its corresponding future event, called the “antitype.” It is a relationship that begins with a promise and ends with a fulfillment of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom explains, “The types, like patterns, anticipated and sketched out beforehand the dispensations [the order of things] which would be accomplished under the new covenant.” Types are in action what prophecy is in words: through them both, truths about Christ, His Mother, the Church, the Sacraments, and the Kingdom of Heaven are revealed.

THE OLD TESTAMENT, LOOKING FORWARD

Typology was the primary lens used by the Church through which the Old Testament was read and interpreted. St. Irenaeus writes concerning the Old Testament, “If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. . . . The treasure hidden in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and prophecies.” Christ indeed came to fulfill in reality what had been in the Old Testament but “a shadow of the good things to come” (Heb 10:1). Jesus told His apostles, “All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Lk 24:44, 45; see also 24:27; Jn 5:38, 46).

Sometimes Old Testament prophecies refer to past events as types – for example, the reference of Psalm 109:4 to Melchizedek, and in Jeremiah 38:31-34 to the Old Covenant. Yet it is the New Testament which confirms typology as the key to understanding the Old Testament. This is evident in the famous exclamation by St. John the Baptist when Jesus approached him at the Jordan: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). Here John not only is asserting that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy (Is 53:7), but he is also making the first recorded public declaration linking the Person of Jesus with an Old Testament event – the sacrifice of the lamb at Passover (Ex 12:1-11); see also 1Co 5:7; 1Pt 1:18, 19). The ultimate sacrifice of the Only Begotten Son of God was also foreshadowed in type by Abraham’s offering of his son, Isaac (Gn 22:1-14).

THE NEW TESTAMENT, LOOKING BACK

In the Gospels, Christ sometimes refers to Old Testament events that typologically pointed forward to Himself, such as the serpent in the wilderness (Nm 21:4-9; Jn 3:14, 15), the manna in the wilderness (Ex 16:11-36; Jn 6:30-35, 47-51), and Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the great fish (Jon 2:1-11; Mt 12:39, 40). Saints Paul and Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also reveal truths found in Old Testament types, such as Adam/Christ (Gn 2:7-9, 15-17, 1Co 15:20-22), Melchizedek/Christ (Gn 14:18-20; Heb 6:19, 20) and Noah and the Flood/Baptism (Gn 7:1-8:19; 1Pt 3:20, 21).

Typological revelation further plays an important role in the hymns of the Church. For example: The bush on the mountain that was not consumed by fire (Ex 3:1-6), and the Chaldean furnace that brought refreshment as the dew (Dan 3:19-50), plainly prefigured thee, O Bride of God. For in a material womb, unconsumed thou hast received the divine and immaterial Fire (Matins, Nativity of the Theotokos).

With the Old Testament looking forward to the New through types, theophanies, and prophecies, and the New, in antitypes and fulfillment, pointing back to the Old, the essential unity of the two Testaments within one comprehensive Testament is revealed. As St. Maximus observes, “The Old and New Testaments together form a single mystery.”