AN EXPLAINATION OF BIBLICAL TYPOLOGY
Typology is the method Christian students of the Bible use to understand the historical and theological relationships between people and events recorded in Sacred Scripture. Typology guides the Bible student to look at each event and person in salvation history as that person or event may be linked to what preceded in the biblical record and linked to what came after, uniting the reader to the divine mystery of the progression of God's plan for the salvation of mankind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages an awareness of and an appreciation for biblical typology in the study of Sacred Scripture:
The word "typology" is taken from the Greek word "tupto", which means "to beat." In Greek this word can be used to refer to the imprint carved by a matrix. In using the typological approach to the study of the Bible, one investigates and compares the similarities and the differences between events and the lives of individuals in the biblical record of salvation history and how these individuals and events impress an imprint on the biblical record that can be compared-one event to another or one individual to another.
This is not merely a Christian approach to understanding the unfolding history of Scripture. This same methodology was used by the Old Testament prophets, by the inspired writers of the New Testament, and by Jesus. Jesus not only compared His mission to the words of the prophet Isaiah repeatedly in the New Testament (see Luke 4:18-19 when He quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2), but He also compared Himself and His Passion to the mission and experiences of the Prophet Jonah five times in Matthew 12:38-42 and 16:4.
St. Paul was referring to the concept of biblical typology when he wrote that one's understanding of the Scriptures (meaning what we call the Old Testament Scriptures) is "veiled," like the veil which covered Moses' face (Exodus 32:16). Unless we read the Scriptures (Old Testament) in the "light" of Jesus Christ, we cannot fully understand the revelation. It is through Christ that what was formerly an obscure image becomes clear (2 Corinthians 3:2-15). St. Paul wrote about the fulfillment of Sacred Scripture and the unlocking of the partial revelation revealed to the Old Testament prophets in letters to the churches he founded. For example:
To fully appreciate the revelation of God to man there must be a unity between the Old and New Testaments. St. Augustine expressed the importance of studying the unity between the Old and the New Testaments in the phrase: For the New (Testament) is hidden in the Old and the Old is fulfilled in the New (St. Augustine, Quaestiones in Heptateuchum: PL 34, 623).
Not only can people in the Old and New Testaments be compared, but the Old Covenant Holy Days of Obligation are "types" that point to the Passion and Resurrection of the Christ as well as to His promised Second Advent. The Old Covenant feast of Passover is expressed typologically in the Eucharist. All the events of the Old Covenant feasts, celebrated in the liturgy of the chosen people, called the people of the Old Covenant to annually relive the past events of the Exodus experience in the present of each new generation of covenant believers, just as our New Covenant Holy Days allow us to relive the past events of the birth of Jesus, His Resurrection, the coming of God the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, etc. The observance of the New Covenant Holy Days place those significant past events in the context of the present so that each of those events are real and present for every succeeding generation of New Covenant Christians. This includes the sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary, which is real and present in each and every Eucharistic celebration around the world at every hour of the day.
Every liturgical event transcends time. In celebrating these past events we live them in the present, and in the union of past and present we are oriented toward the future promises associated with the sequence of events in God's plan for man to fulfill the destiny for which he was created. The typology the New Covenant Eucharist and the Old Covenant Jewish Passover point us toward the promised Communion of Saints at the end of time and prepares us for the fulfillment and completion of the history of man.
See charts on biblical typology in the Charts section.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2002, revised 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.