By Michael J. Vlach
In previous blogs I surveyed the term and concept of “shadow.” In this blog entry I survey the term “type” to see its significance in Scripture. Like my previous entry on “shadow,” I understand that a concept can exist where a term is absent and that a study of the term “type” does not exhaust the topic of types and typology which involves many factors. But I thought it would be helpful to survey the term “type” in the Bible and see if any theological or doctrinal conclusions can be made about the term.
Two words are particularly significant for this study of “type” language—the Hebrew term tabnith and the Greek word tupos. Tabnith occurs twenty times in the Old Testament and is translated in the New American Study Bible as “copy,” “form,” “image,” “model,” “pattern,” and “plan.”
Theological significance of tabnith is found in Exodus 25:8-9 where the term could be translated as “pattern” or “model”:
Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern [tabnith] of the tabernacle and the pattern [tabnith] of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.
Exodus also 25:40 declares:
See that you make them after the pattern [tabnith] for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.
The tabernacle was to be constructed according to the “pattern” or “model” of a heavenly tabernacle. This is affirmed in Numbers 8:4: “Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand . . . according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.”
This heavenly pattern for the earthly tabernacle of Moses’ time is referred to in Acts 7:44 and the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 8:4-5 as he quotes Exodus 25:40:
Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy [tupos] and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “See,” He says, “that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”
Thus tabnith and tupos in the above verses have theological significance since they reveal that the tabernacle of Moses’ day was patterned after a heavenly tabernacle. Perhaps this heavenly tabernacle is referenced in Revelation 11:19: “And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple.”
In the New Testament the term tupos occurs sixteen times and, depending on context, can refer to “imprint,” “pattern,” “example,” or “model.” In its most basic sense a “type” refers to a mark from a blow. In John 20:25 it refers to the “imprint” of nails in Jesus’ hands. Paul often used the tupos term to emphasize being an example for other Christians (Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7). As a whole the common idea behind tupos is usually correspondence or resemblance.
Most uses of tupos in the New Testament are not loaded with inter-testamental or great doctrinal significance. But in addition to Hebrews 8:5 mentioned above, one example of theological significance for tupos is Romans 5:14:
Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type [tupos] of Him [Jesus] who was to come.
Here there is doctrinal significance in that Adam is a “type” of Jesus. In this context (Rom. 5:12-19), both Adam and Jesus operate as federal heads of humanity who by their representative acts impact all of humankind. Adam’s act of disobedience (eating the fruit in Eden) brought condemnation to all, whereas Jesus’ act of righteousness (the cross) brings righteousness to all who believe in Him.
In 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11 Paul uses the tupos term to explain that persons in Old Testament times served as “examples” for us Christians. I’m reluctant to draw big theological implications from these verses but they do show that Christians can learn from the examples of Old Testament saints.
With Hebrews 9:24 we find antitupos concerning the earthly tabernacle: 9:24:
For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy [antitupos] of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.
Often in theological discussions a “type” is seen as the Old Testament thing, but the New Testament counterpart is seen as an “anti-type.” But with Hebrews 9:24, anti-type wording is linked with the Old Testament reality—the earthly tabernacle of Moses’ time. So ironically this rare use of antitupos concerns an Old Testament matter.
The antitupos term is also found in 1 Peter 3:21:
who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding [antitupon] to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:20-21).
Here the flood corresponds to or has a type relationship to baptism. In both cases identifying with God delivers one from judgment.
Most terms connected to “type” do not carry theological significance or indicate a relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Several refer to the earthly tabernacle’s relationship to the tabernacle in heaven. The other clear theological reference to “type” occurs in Romans 5:14 where Adam is viewed as a type of Jesus. Both Adam and Jesus represent mankind and commit acts that impact mankind. With 1 Peter 3:21 the flood of Noah’s Day corresponds to baptism. In sum, the doctrinal sense of “type” refers to the following relationships: (1) earthly tabernacle and heavenly tabernacle; (2) Adam and Christ; and (3) Noah’s flood and Christian baptism.
What are some theological conclusions we can draw from “type” wording in the Bible? First there are God-intended theological correspondences as evidenced by the three examples above. Second, the term “type,” does not appear to be linked with broad and sweeping conclusions that the Old Testament as a whole is a type of New Testament realities. Perhaps other evidence will indicate this (which I don’t think is the case), but there is not enough evidence from “type” terminology to conclude this.