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Series in Christology - Part 3: The Incarnation of the Son of God

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{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 4-11, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1-8 respectively.}

II. Christological Typology

Latent in the Scriptures of the Old Testament is a rich treasury of Christological truth in the form of Biblical types. Typology has always suffered certain disabilities and unbelief which other branches of theological instruction have been spared. For this reason and others it has been largely neglected, and that unjustly, in theological discussion. As Patrick Fairbairn states in opening his classic work on the subject, “The Typology of Scripture has been one of the most neglected departments of theological science. It has never altogether escaped from the region of doubt and uncertainty; and some still regard it as a field incapable, from its very nature, of being satisfactorily explored, or cultivated so as to yield any sure and appreciable results.”1

The difficulty has been that typology by its nature is more subject to personal opinion of the interpreter than ordinary exegesis. It is often confused with allegorical interpretation and is not as subject to the corroborating teachings of other Scripture. Typology is primarily concerned with application of an historical fact as an illustration of a spiritual truth. As Webster puts it, a type is “a figure or representation of something to come.”2 It is therefore prophetic by its character, and we may expect a considerable contribution from it to the doctrine of Christ. A study of Christological typology includes about fifty important types of Christ—about one half of the recognized total in the entire field of typology.3

In the New Testament two Greek words are used to express the thought of a type: τύπος and ὑπόδειγμα. As Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has stated: “Τύπος means an imprint which may serve as a mold or pattern, and that which is typical in the Old Testament is a mold or pattern of that which is antitypical in the New Testament. The root τύπος is translated by five English words (‘ensample,’ 1 Cor 10:11; Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:7; 2 Thess 3:9; 1 Pet 5:3; ‘example,’ 1 Tim 4:12; Heb 8:5; ‘figure,’ Acts 7:43; Rom 5:14; ‘pattern,’ Titus 2:7; ‘print of the nails,’ John 20:25). Δεῖγμα means a ‘specimen’ or ‘example,’ and when combined with ὑπό indicates that which is shown plainly under the eyes of men. &Υπόδειγμα is translated by two English words (‘example,’ John 13:15; Heb 4:11; 8:5 ; James 5:10; and ‘pattern,’ Heb 9:23).”4 Typology as a branch of Biblical revelation is well established in the Scriptures themselves as evidenced by the frequent use made of it in the New Testament. The problem to be considered here is not the larger discussion of typology as a whole, but its contribution to Christology.

As many writers have pointed out, typology is concerned with (1) typical persons; (2) typical events; (3) typical things; (4) typical institutions; and (5) typical ceremonies.5 It is manifestly impossible to gather into a brief discussion the wealth of revelation afforded in the types which concern Christ in the Old Testament, but rather than omit this important contribution, an attempt will be made to summarize the important types and their prophetic light.

Typical Persons

Aaron. The Scriptures, particularly Hebrews, give a firm basis for believing that Aaron is a true type of Christ. As a priest, Aaron was appointed to his sacred office (Heb 5:4) as was Christ to His priesthood (Heb 5:5-6). Aaron was appointed to minister in the earthly sphere as Christ was appointed to the heavenly (Heb 8:1-5). Aaron administered the old Mosaic covenant while Christ ministered the new covenant (Heb 8:6). Aaron was appointed to offer sacrifices daily while Christ offered Himself once for all (Heb 7:27). The Aaronic type reveals Christ in His true humanity and in His priestly work. As Aaron remained a part of Israel even as he served as mediator, so Christ remains genuinely human, on earth knowing weakness, certain limitations, suffering, and struggle, as did Aaron, and even in heaven continues in His true humanity. While Hebrews brings out the contrasts between Aaron and Christ, there is obviously a typical foreshadowing of Christ in the Aaronic priesthood in the person of Aaron. The intercession of Aaron is a picture of the intercession of Christ.

Abel. In this type we have Christ presented as the true Shepherd who made an acceptable bloody sacrifice to God in obedience to the command of God. As Abel was slain by Cain, representing the world, so Christ was slain. As Abel’s offering was accepted by God, so Christ in His offering is accepted. The fact that Abel’s offering was accepted because offered by faith (Heb 11:4) does not take away its essential character. It was because Abel believed that revelation concerning sacrifices that he offered his lamb in contrast to Cain’s bloodless offering. He is therefore a type of Christ in life as Shepherd, in his offering, and in his death.

Adam. One of the important types recognized by Scripture is that of Adam. Adam is the head of the old creation as Christ is the head of the new creation. This is plainly inferred in Romans 5:14, “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (R.S.V.). Both Adam and Christ entered the world through a special act of God. Both entered the world sinless; both acted on behalf of those whom God considered in them representatively. The sin of Adam is contrasted to the act of obedience of Christ. The Scripture discussion of the subject leaves no room for doubt on the main elements of this type (Rom 5:12-21). The very terms first Adam and last Adam and similar expressions are applied respectively to Adam and Christ (1 Cor 15:45-47). Adam as the husband of Eve is also a type as the bridegroom in relation to the church as the bride.

Benjamin. In the contrast of the two names of Benjamin there was foreshadowed the two aspects of the Person of Christ—His sufferings and the glory to follow. With her dying breath, Rachel named her new-born son, Ben-oni, meaning, son of sorrow. Jacob called him, however, Benjamin, meaning, son of my right hand. As Ben-oni, Christ was the son of sorrow to his mother (Luke 2:35) and the one who knew suffering as the man of sorrows and death. As Benjamin, Christ is “the son of my right hand” to God the Father, victorious in the battle with sin as Benjamin was victorious as the warrior tribe. While the type is without express New Testament authority, it seems a clear prophetic picture of Christ.

David. The historic and prophetic connection between David and Christ is commonly recognized, but the typical significance of David is often overlooked. David is a type of Christ as the one who is first shepherd, then king. David experienced the call of God, rejection by his brethren, was in constant danger of his life because he was anointed king, and during the years of his rejection took a Gentile wife, typical of the church. Later he ruled over Israel in complete power and sovereignty. It is not difficult to see the typical significance of these events, as well as many minor incidents in his life as foreshadowings of Christ.

Isaac. In the New Testament Isaac is used as a type of the church, which is composed of the spiritual children of Abraham (Gal 4:28) and as a type of the new nature which is born of the Spirit in contrast to the old nature typified by Ishmael (Gal 4:29). It is interesting to note that Isaac is taken to be a type of two distinct things in two successive verses of the New Testament.

More prominent in the person of Isaac are typical truths relating to Christ which are not mentioned in the New Testament. Isaac was a type of Christ in many particulars. The births of Isaac and of Christ were genuinely miraculous. Both are involved in the promised deliverance first announced to Eve. Their births were anticipated and involved in the promises of God long before fulfillment. Both are the beloved of their fathers and both are declared to be only-begotten (John 3:16; Heb 11:17) although Ishmael was born before Isaac and all believers in Christ call God their Father. In Genesis twenty-two in the sacrifice of Isaac on Moriah we have a foreshadowing of the death of Christ which is too clear a picture to gainsay. In the type, Isaac is saved at the last moment and a substitute is provided. In the antitype, just as truly offered by the Father, there could be no substitute. Truly, Isaac lived because Christ died. In the beautiful story of Genesis twenty-four the securing of the bride for Isaac is again a prophetic picture, in type, of the Holy Spirit securing a bride for Christ, and complete in all its details.6 The entire life of Isaac affords a more complete typical picture of the Person and work of Christ than any previous character in Scripture.7

Joseph. While the New Testament nowhere authorizes the interpretation that Joseph is a type of Christ, the numerous factors of his life which point to this conclusion indicate in fact that Joseph is the most complete type of Christ in the Old Testament. Both Joseph and Christ were born by special intervention of God (Gen 30:22-24; Luke 1:35). Both were objects of special love by their fathers (Gen 37:3; Matt 3:17; John 3:35); both were hated by brethren (Gen 37:4; John 15:24-25); both were rejected as rulers over their brethren (Gen 37:8; Matt 21:37-39; John 15:24-25); both were robbed of their robes (Gen 37:23; Matt 27:35); both were conspired against and placed in the pit of death (Gen 37:18, 24; Matt 26:3-4; 27:35-37 ); both were sold for silver (Gen 37:28; Matt 26:14-15); both became servants (Gen 39:4; Phil 2:7); both were condemned though innocent (Gen 39:11-20; Isa 53:9; Matt 27:19, 24). As Joseph is a type of Christ in humiliation, so is he also in exaltation. Both were raised from humiliation to glory by the power of God. Even Pharoah saw in Joseph one in whom was the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38), and Christ is manifested in resurrection power as the very Son of God. Both during the time of exaltation but continued rejection by brethren take a Gentile bride and were a blessing to Gentiles (Gen 41:1-45; Acts 15:14; Rom 11:11-12; Eph 5:25-32). After the time of Gentile blessing begins to wane, both were received finally by their brethren and recognized as a savior and deliverer (Gen 45:1-15; Rom 11:1-26). Both exalt their brethren to places of honor and safety (Gen 45:16-18; Isa 65:17-25). It is an unmistakable evidence of the providence of God that Joseph should have been guided through such unusual experiences which were not only tokens of God’s care over him but profound truths typical of the Person and work of Christ.

Joshua. Attention is directed to Joshua first on account of his name, which means, Jehovah saves. It is the Old Testament equivalent of the Greek name Jesus. As a type of Christ, Joshua is significant first because he is the successor of Moses just as Christ succeeded Moses and the law (John 1:17; Rom 8:2-4; Heb 7:18-19; Gal 3:23-25). Joshua like Christ won a victory where Moses had failed (Rom 8:3-4). In the time of conflict and defeat both Joshua and Christ interceded for their own (Josh 7:5-9; Luke 22:32; 1 John 2:1). The portions of Israel were allotted by Joshua even as Christ gives gifts and rewards to His own (Josh 13ff). While not a prominent type of Christ, it adds its own truth to the whole.

Kinsman-Redeemer. Throughout the Old Testament there is constant reference to the גאל or kinsman-redeemer. It is evident that these instances are typical foreshadowings of Christ as our Redeemer. The general law of redemption in the Old Testament is clear. The redeemer had to be a kinsman, one related to the person or inheritance to be redeemed (Lev 25:48-49; Ruth 3:12-13; Heb 2:14-15). Christ fulfilled this by becoming man and by having the sins of the worlid imputed to Him. The Old Testament redeemer had to be able to redeem even as Christ in the New Testament (Ruth 4:4-6; John 10:11, 18; 1 Pet 1:18). The redemption is accomplished by the payment of the price (Lev 25:27; Rom 3:24-26; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Gal 3:13). Latent in the entire Old Testament order of redemption is the prophetic picture of Christ who would come to redeem through the sacrifice of Himself. The consummation of His redemption yet awaits the saints both in earth and in heaven.

Melchizedek. The brief account given of the meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis fourteen provides the background for this type of Christ. In the account Melchizedek as king of Salem brings forth bread and wine as the priest of the most high God and blesses Abram after his return from the conquest of the kings. The Scriptures record that Abram gave to Melchizedek tithes of all. Later in Psalm 110:4, it is predicted that Christ should be a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. These two passages are the occasion for the discussion in Hebrews 5-7 in which Christ is declared a priest according to the prophecy of the Psalm. Combining the various elements presented in these passages, it becomes clear upon Scriptural warrant that Melchizedek is a type of Christ. His name is significant. As Dr. Isaac Brubacher has written: “The name Melchisedek is a composite word derived from two Hebrew words, מלכ meaning, king; and צדיק meaning, righteous. The two words combined with יוד of possession form מלכי־צדק which means, my king is righteous. The narrative further tells us that he was king of Salem. The word Salem is derived from the Hebrew word שׁלם which means, peace.”8 Hence in Melchizedek we have a type of Christ as the righteous King-Priest, who is king of Salem—meaning, king of peace. As one who brings forth bread and wine some have suggested that the type refers particularly to the resurrected Christ. In the New Testament Melchizedek is interpreted as proving the eternity of the priesthood of Christ and its superiority to the Levitical priesthood, based on the argument that Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek through Abraham his forefather (cf. Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20 ; 7:17, 21 ).

Moses. As one of the great prophets and leaders of the Old Testament, it is not surprising that Moses should also be a type of Christ. Moses predicted to the children of Israel on the basis of the revelation given to him by Jehovah that a prophet would come like unto himself to whom they should give ear (Deut 18:15-19). The typology of Moses is, however, based primarily on the evident significance of events in his life foreshadowing the coming of Christ. Like Christ, Moses as a child was in danger of death, being born in a period during which Israel was under oppression. By sovereign choice of God, both were chosen to be saviors and deliverers (Exod 3:7-10; Acts 7:25). Both are rejected by their brethren (Exod 2:11-15; John 1:11; Acts 7:23-28; 18:5-6 ). Both during the period of rejection minister to Gentiles and secure a Gentile bride, typical of the church (Exod 2:16; 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-32). Moses after the period of separation is concluded returned to deliver Israel even as Christ is predicted to return to deliver Israel. Both are received by Israel at their second comings (Exod 4:19-31; Rom 11:24-26; Acts 15:14-17). Like Christ Moses is prophet (Num 34:1, 2; John 12:29; Matt 13:57; 21:11 ; Acts 3:22-23); priest as advocate (Exod 32:31-35; 1 John 2:1-2) and intercessor (Exod 17:1-6; Heb 7:25); and king or ruler (Deut 33:4, 5; John 1:49). Like Christ, Moses had to die before the children of Israel could enter the land, typical of a Christian’s possessions. As in the lives of Isaac and Joseph, we find in Moses an outstanding illustration of typical truth valuable for its foreshadowing of the life and ministry of Christ.

Nazarite. While Christ Himself was not a Nazarite in the strict sense of the term, He nevertheless fulfilled the spiritual significance of the Old Testament regulations governing Nazarites. A Nazarite was required, in the commandment recorded in Numbers six , to abstain from wine and unclean food, not to cut the hair or beard, and not to touch dead bodies. The underlying thought was total separation to God and holy use. Abstention from wine seems to represent abstaining from natural joys in order to have spiritual joy (Ps 97:12; Hab 3:18; Phil 3:1, 3; 4:4 ). Long hair identified the Nazarite but was to the world a token of reproach (1 Cor 11:14), and symbolizes willingness to suffer because of identification with the Lord. Abstention from unclean and dead things was necessary to be holy to the Lord. Christ beautifully fulfills this type in every spiritual sense (Heb 7:26).

Taken as a whole the typology of persons in the Old Testament manifests that it is Christ-centered, having its main purpose in foreshadowing the Person and work of Christ. It is a rich field for devotional study and one that unfortunately has been greatly neglected.

Typical Events

The field of typical events is too inclusive to be embraced in a brief study, but as a complement to other aspects of Christological typology, illustrations can at least be drawn from the abundance of incidents in the Old Testament. The major typical events from the fall of Adam to the entrance of Israel into the land will be considered.

Clothing of Adam and Eve. In the midst of the ruin of sin and the judgment which followed the fall of Adam and Eve, the Scriptures record a gracious thing which God did for fallen humanity. In Genesis 3:21 (A.R.V.) it is written: “And Jehovah God made for Adam and for his wife coats of skins, and clothed them.” It was, of course, a supply of a physical need for clothing which God recognized, but it seems evident that the meaning is deeper than this. God was representing to them the fact that He would supply that which would cover the nakedness of sin and provide a righteous covering through the death of Christ, a thought which is given frequent utterance in Scripture (Job 29:14; Ps 132:9; Isa 61:10; 64:6 ; Rom 3:22; Rev 19:8).

Preservation in the Ark. Another dramatic event in the early history of the race is the preservation of Noah and his family in the ark. The ark itself is a significant type, to be considered as a typical thing, but the event of preservation is freighted with meaning. In the midst of almost universal judgment, God singled out the righteous and preserved them. It represents in general God’s deliverance of the righteous from judgment. In particular it foreshadows the future preservation of the saints in the period of great tribulation before the second coming of Christ. It may also be applied to the true church which will be caught up to be with Christ before this final period begins and will return to the earth after the judgment is completed. The principle of deliverance of the righteous is referred to by Peter in his warnings of judgment on the wicked. God “saved Noah” while “bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet 2:5). God also “delivered just Lot” from Sodom (2 Pet 2:7), though the city was destroyed. Peter concludes: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2 Pet 2:9). Paul expresses the same confidence, even though like Peter he was facing imminent martyrdom (2 Tim 4:18). The principle is illustrated in the ark that God preserves His own through His judgments upon the wicked. While it is in the large a work of the Trinity, it is clear that it is based upon the work of Christ in His sacrifice, intercession, and second coming.

Deliverance from Egypt. The entire picture of Israel being delivered out of Egypt and brought through the wilderness experiences into the promised land is a major field of typology and one which illustrates the work of Christ in salvation. The major elements of the deliverance, the plagues, the institution of the Passover, and the salvation of Israel at the Red Sea all speak of Christ. The plagues represent the judgment upon the wicked world and in type speak of the future deliverance of Israel in the great tribulation. The Passover is an eloquent type of the death of Christ as the believer’s only place of safety from the judgment and death which overtakes the world. At the Red Sea Israel is delivered through the same waters which destroyed the Egyptians, a type of the death of Christ in its power to deliver from the world. The wilderness experiences with the manna from heaven (Exod 16:4), speaking of Christ as the bread of life, the water out of the rock (Exod 17:6), speaking of Christ smitten that we might have life, and many of the other incidents speak of the work of Christ for His own.

Entrance into the Land. The crossing of the Jordan River and the subsequent conquest of Canaan has always been recognized as typical truth, though the interpretations have often been confused. Canaan is not a type of heaven, but is instead the believer’s present sphere of conflict and possession in Christ. It is obtained by crossing the Jordan with its piled up waters which speak of the death of Christ as the means for victory and enjoyment of our possessions in Christ. The Angel of Jehovah, which is Christ, went before the Israelites and it was through His power that they achieved the conquest. The experiences of Joshua have their parallel in Ephesians in the New Testament. We possess our possessions by faith in Christ, by crucifixion with Christ, and by the mighty power of God.

Dallas, Texas

(To be continued in the October-December Number, 1948)


This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.


1 The Typology of Scripture (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co., 1900), I, 1.

2 Websters New International Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition), s.v. type.

3 L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947), I, xxx.

4 Ibid., I, xxx-xxxi.

5 Cf. L. S. Chafer, loc. cit.

6 Cf. the beautiful exposition of this by George E. Guille, Isaac and Rebekah (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Assn., 1914), 31 pp.

7 For a simple summary of Isaac as a type of Christ cf. Scofield Reference Bible, notes, pp. 31, 33, 34.

8 Old Testament Types of Christ (unpublished dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1938), p. 85.