Typology

The two “halves” of the Bible do not exist in isolation. The Old Testament prepared the way for the New Testament, and the text of the Bible reflects this. The Old Testament contains many persons, images and events which prefigure persons, images and events in the New Testament. These are known as “types” and the study of them is known as “typology”.

The Church has understood, from the earliest times, that “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (CCC 129) and that a type is an Old Testament sign of a New Testament reality (CCC 128-130). In order to gain a complete understanding of the Old Testament and how Christ's Church is revealed, we have to read the Scriptures in terms of types.

A number of non-Catholics complain about a typological reading of Scripture – especially as typology supports a number of key Catholic doctrines! - saying that the original events should be understood simply as those events, and never be looked at as a “preview” of a New Testament reality. Typology is derided as a non-Scriptural practice.

There are two ways to deal with this – the first is to refute the notion of sola scriptura and to point out that the early Christian writers (that is, those who were writing outside the Scriptures) used and even relied on typology. It was a standard way of understanding religious texts during the first century.

The second important point to make is that a typological reading of the Scriptures is not just something which later Christians have come up with, but is in fact mandated by Sacred Scripture itself. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus teaches us that the story of Jonah and the great fish is a prefiguration of Jesus in the tomb.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The phrase “type” specifically appears in Romans 5:14, where Saint Paul calls Adam a “type” of Christ;

Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgressions of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

There are many more examples of types which are specifically and explicitly referenced in the New Testament. Good examples are John 3:14 (the bronze serpent is a type of Christ) and I Peter 3:19-21 (the Flood is a type of baptism). In many examples, these types are shown using metaphorical language, but in some cases the comparison is more explicit – as suits the importance of typology. For example, in I Corinthians we are told that the rock was Christ, not that it was merely like Christ. At the end of chapter 11 of Revelation and the beginning of 12, we are told that Saint John saw the “Ark of the Covenant”, which is immediately followed by a description of the “woman clothed with the sun”. This is a clear reference to the fact that the Ark of the Covenant was the woman clothed with the sun (who we can clearly tell is the mother of Jesus, Mary the Blessed Virgin).

In order to fully understand the New Testament, we must read it in light of the rich typology of the Old Testament.

There are many examples of typology in the Bible, all of which are interesting and relevant to our understanding of the Catholic faith. From a standpoint of pure apologetics, however, some are far more relevant than others. Accordingly, these articles cover a number of specific examples of typology in separate articles while other examples of typology are covered within other articles. This should not be taken to mean, however, that there are no other examples of typology than the ones given in these articles.