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Friday, January 20, 2017

Some Final Thoughts on "Shadow" and "Type" Language in the Bible

by Michael J. Vlach

My last few blogs have surveyed “shadow” and “type” terminology in the Bible. They have not been an exhaustive study of shadows and types, nor have they been a broad study of typology. But I have focused on key terms associated with “shadow” and “type” in the Bible to see what conclusions could be drawn from these terms. This current blog brings together some thoughts I have on these terms and how they are used in the Bible.

Most references to “shadow(s)” and “type” in the Bible are not invested with great doctrinal or inter-testamental significance. Concerning “shadow,” three passages are theologically significant—Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:4-5; and Hebrews 10:1. The thrust of these texts is that the Mosaic Covenant and its components were a shadow of the superior New Covenant and Jesus’ better sacrifice and priesthood. The concept of “shadow” is not projected to all Old Testament matters or the details of the covenants of promise (i.e. Abrahamic, Davidic, New), but it does address the temporary Mosaic Covenant directly.

Likewise “type” language in the Bible is applied to three main areas. First and foremost, the tabernacle of Moses’ day was a type, pattern, or model of the tabernacle in heaven. This concept is found in Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4-5; Acts 7:44; Hebrews 8:4-5; 9:24. It is also applied to Adam and Christ (Rom. 5:14) and Noah’s flood and baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Ironically, the “antitupos” term in Hebrews 9:24 is used of an Old Testament reality when many theologians use the “antitype” word for greater New Testament realities.

Like “shadow,” the various “type” language is used narrowly. The concept of “type” is not projected to all Old Testament matters or details of the covenants of promise. Significantly, “shadow” and “type” language is not used of Israel, Israel’s land, and Jerusalem. It is used in regard to the tabernacle but mostly to show that the tabernacle of Moses’ day was patterned after the tabernacle/temple in heaven. And the Levitical priesthood associated with the Mosaic Covenant was a shadow of Christ’s greater priesthood and the New Covenant. But there is no indication, that this understanding of the tabernacle/temple rules out the presence of literal temples in God’s future purposes (Ezek. 40-48; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1-2).

There are many types in the Bible and issues concerning types that I have not addressed in these blog entries, but a survey of the terms “shadow” and “type” in the Bible do not seem to indicate major changes in understanding the Bible’s storyline or the necessity of a “typological hermeneutic” in addition to historical-grammatical hermeneutics. If typology is going to be established as a legitimate hermeneutical principle it will have to rely on other biblical data.

We should not underdo or overdo the implications of “shadow” and “type” terminology in the Bible. In my estimation, a historical-grammatical hermeneutic will uncover and recognize the reality and significance of legitimate “shadows” and “types” in the Bible, but these terms do not indicate the Old Testament as a whole is primarily inferior types and shadows or that these concepts change the Bible’s storyline begun in the Old Testament. 

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