Biblical typology – What is it?
Biblical typology is the biblical study of types. Types, meaning symbols, are used to represent something else. For example, the Passover lamb in Exodus served as a type or symbol of Jesus Christ who would later come as a sacrifice for the atonement of sins.
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While many books and much study have been devoted to the topic of biblical types, the most important types are those the Bible itself clearly identifies. For example, the tabernacle of the Old Testament served as a type according to Hebrews 9:8-9: "By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age)." More specifically, the veil of the tabernacle that separated the rest of the people from the Most Holy Place was called a type of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20). Jesus offers a way to have access to God directly just as the veil did for the high priest.
The New Testament book of Hebrews provides the most frequent use of typology, yet other places make use of this literary feature as well. Adam's sin brought death to all, yet Jesus offers life to all (Romans 5:12-17). David served as a type of Jesus as the anointed king who was long unrecognized by his people. Elijah served as a type for John the Baptist, both serving in the clothing of a prophet and serving as a voice in the wilderness pointing the way to God.
The major focus of the types noted in Scripture is the difference between the covenant of the law in the Old Testament and the new covenant of Christ in the New Testament. The promises and predictions of the prophets find their fulfillment in the types of the New Testament as John the Baptist prepares the way, Jesus comes as Messiah, sacrifice is made for sin, and atonement has been provided for the people of God. The Holy Spirit is then made available to live in the hearts of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, blessing all peoples, just as God promised to Abraham years ago.
A word of warning, however, can be given regarding the study of biblical typology. Some have developed entire systems of connections that have been labeled types that better fall in the area of illustrations. In these cases, an unhealthy focus on symbolism can take place that may not have been intended in the biblical text. Instead, focusing on the actual types the Bible mentions allows a more limited study of typology that is clearly biblical. Other connections can be more accurately called illustrations and appreciated in proper perspective.
Overall, biblical typology helps believers in many ways. It offers a clear connection between Old and New Testaments, reveals the unity of the Bible, and emphasizes the new covenant believers experience in the finished work of Jesus Christ. An understanding of biblical typology can help inspire and motivate our faith as we see how God has worked throughout history in profound ways that continue to impact our lives.
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