The Bible is a glorious book! Through scripture, our Creator has revealed Himself to His creation. The good news of how humankind may live in harmony with his God is revealed in the pages of the Bible. The eternal destiny of each person who is accountable for sin is dependent upon a proper understanding of the word of God. It is of necessity, therefore, that the student of the scriptures learns and applies the correct hermeneutical principles (methods of interpretation) which will aid in an accurate interpretation and application of the truths contained within God’s word. These hermeneutical principles involve an understanding of literary devices used by the inspired writers. Often, understanding the literary device used in a scripture impacts the ability of the reader to interpret the scripture correctly. One such literary device is the “type,” which is the antecedent to a companion literary device known as the “antitype.” In terms of biblical study, a type would be a person, thing, or event that is found in the Old Testament which foreshadows a person, thing, or event in the New Testament.
Imagine that you are in a dark room to which the door is open. Through the open door, you can see a brightly lit hallway. As you gaze into the hallway, a shadow appears on the floor. The shadow has the form of a person, but it is not the person. Seconds later, the person who cast that shadow appears in the doorway. The shadow illustrates a type. It does not have the substance of the person but forecasts an image of that person. The person is the antitype. The antitype is the substantive person, thing, or event that was foreshadowed or forecast by the occurrence of another person, thing, or event that came before it. Another illustration would be a model of a car that is made by a car manufacturer. The model serves to project the image of the actual car that is being developed for production. The model is the type. Later, the care is manufactured and rolls off the assembly line. The car is the antitype.
The fact that there are many types in the Old Testament that point to the antitype that would later come in the New Testament serves to emphasize the foreknowledge of God and His powerful hand that worked through the people and events of the Old Testament as He brought to fruition His scheme of redemption. These types are often indicated by certain words in the scriptures, but not always. An example of a type in the Old Testament and its antitype in the New Testament is found in the lifting up of the brazen serpent by Moses found in Numbers 21:9. God had sent fiery serpents among the Israelites to punish them for their rebellion. At God’s instruction, Moses made a serpent out of brass and set it up on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by the deadly snakes would look upon the brazen serpent, they would live. Jesus referred to this event and likened it to His crucifixion: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15, NKJV).
In the passage above, Jesus did not use the word “type,” but it is clear from His language that the brazen serpent being lifted up and providing a means to life was a type that foreshadowed His crucifixion. In this case, one event is a type that points to another event, which is the antitype. Another example of this is found in Matthew 12:38-42. When Jesus was requested to give a sign of proof, He answered that no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah. As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, Jesus would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. This is clearly a reference to His burial in the tomb and His resurrection on the third day. The event of Jonah in the belly of the fish was a type that points to the antitype of Jesus in the tomb. These two examples illustrate that the type/antitype device may be used without a clear reference to it being a type, but one should be very careful to be sure the language of scripture makes such an indication and not assume a type where the scripture does not indicate one.
There are some terms used in scripture that often indicate that the type/antitype device is being used. The astute Bible student who recognizes these words will find that the type being referred to sheds some light on the antitype that follows. The following are such words and examples of their use. The Greek word will be given, along with its translation, to indicate how these words are used. The word as it is used in scripture will be underlined. All underlining is by this writer to indicate the word being used:
Tupos —Type, Example
“Nevertheless death reign from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14).
Skia — Shadow
“So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
Hupodeignma — Copy
“Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these” (Heb. 9:23).
Parabole — Figure, Symbol, Parable
“…the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience” (Heb. 9:8-9).
Allegro — Allegory, Symbolic
“But he who was of the bondswoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar” (Gal. 4:23-24).
For each type, there is an antitype. The type/ antitype literary device is demonstrated in 1 Peter 3:20-21. In verse 20, Peter discusses the Genesis flood and states that eight souls were “saved through water.” Verse 21 states, “There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism.” In this passage, the salvation of souls through the waters of the flood is seen as a type which is a precursor of the antitype, which is baptism. Knowing that God had in mind a greater salvation for mankind in the times of the Old Testament demonstrates God’s grace and adds depth to our understanding of the scriptures. May our studies ignite within us a greater desire for our God!
Michael serves as the pulpit minister for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC. He is also on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.