Getting from the Old Testament to the New Part 3: discovering and testing possible ‘typology’

Part 1: Putting things in historical order

Part 2: Resolving contradictions

It is sometimes hard to read and understand the Old Testament as Christians. Which means it is also hard to preach and teach the Old Testament, and difficult to answer questions from sceptics about the Old Testament.

The overall idea of biblical theology is very help in this: seeing how the Bible is one book, with one great theme; one big story, with a climax in Christ, his work and its fulfillment. Books like According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, and teaching content like Strand 2 at National Training Event is so brilliant.

But the details of working from particular passages from the Old Testament remains obscure even to those who have mastered the basics of biblical theology. And so we can fall into two errors:

  1. Every passage gets forced into a simplistic mold, sapped of any unique insight, flattened out. Preaching on the Old Testament becomes an odd exercise in expounding the text and then ignoring it in a clumsy jump to the gospel.
  2. The overall framework is used to justify the move to the New Testament, without taking the time to see how this movement is implicit in the Old Testament texts themselves. As a result to sceptical hearers this move appears strained or even irresponsible.

This little series is my attempt to give more detail to this move, in a way that can be concretely applied to particular texts.

Discovering and testing possible 'typology'

God's dealings in history follow certain patterns for a several reasons:

  • out of mere 'coincidence'

  • because God is the same and people are the same, similar things will happen

  • through deliberate stylistic composition by scriptural authors

  • because God is foreshadowing his final plans in the gospel.

Our God and Father in his wisdom actually uses all four of these in various ways to make his Word into one united book with one grand story that reaches its climax in the death and resurrection in Jesus Christ.

Because of this, these patterns are not merely repititions or analogies but in addition:

  • the final pattern (in Christ) is greater and fuller than others
  • the earlier pattern in God's design are deliberate pointers to the final pattern

This is an exciting thing to begin to see in Scripture. It helps us make sense of the ways the New Testament quotes the Old Testament — those quotes that at first seems bizarre and out of context. It also opens up the Old Testament to us in new and exciting ways.

But we need to be careful with this. Without care and caution, all sorts of weird and wonderful interpretations can run free. Or perhaps more likely, all sorts of stretched, unconvincing, overly confident claims of biblical theology get made, which make the Old Testament just feel like a launch pad to jump off into the New Testament.

So my final acronym in this series: FULFILMENTS

How does this particular passage/episide Function in the kingdom?

Do you your historical and grammatical exegesis first: understand what the passage actually says and means.

Then place it within the larger biblical canon: how does this passage figure in the larger redemption-history of the Bible? Is it showing how the Messiah is appointed in Israel? Or the failure of the sacrificial system? Or the effects of the Fall?

This first step forces you to make sure you are focussing on the points of exegetical, historical and theological significant in the passage, not incidentals.

Is something shown to be of ultimate Unimportance that might suggest that it is symbolic of a greater reality?

Passages which reinforce the imperfection and temporary nature of Old Testament people, events and institutions provide a hint that these things should be considered symbolic of a greater reality.

When Solomon prays that the LORD cannot be contained by a human temple in 1Kings 8, we are shown that the temple and its consecretation are patterns of a greater reality.

What are other passages Like this one?

Building a theory about an Old Testament type based on your interpretation of a single passage is risky business. So apply the 'analogy of Scripture' to your biblical theology.

And if God's salvation history works in patterns, we should expect to find other examples of the same thing: whether or virgin births, suffering of the innocent before the dawn of salvation, God dwelling with his people, the scattering of judgment or whatever else.

These like passages may not always be identical in every particular, but the lartger shape of them will be similar.

Is God's salvation Future described in terms of this passage?

This is one of the greatest clue that something is to be seen as a prophetic 'type': if it gets used that way within the Old Testament itself.

So when the Old Testament talks about the future salvation in terms of exodus, miraculous birth, Jubliee or building of a temple, you are being shown that these things anticipated God's great purposes.

Does the passage explain it is Intentionally symbolic?

Another great clue, is if the passage itself says that what it is describing is symbolic. The crowning of Joshua the priest in Zechariah 6 is an example of this, so also, as Hebrews points out, is the instructions to Moses to build the tabernacle according to what is shown him on the mountain.

What Links does this passage have with parallel themes in biblical theology?

To fill out the picture, it can be helpful to see how there are other interlocking themes that help use understand God's larger purposes in salvation history. 

For example: connecting Sabbath, creation, promised land and Old Testament festival together, or connecting together prophets, priests, kings and God's rulership of Israel.

Is this passage Mentioned in the New Testament?

You theological interpretation will be greatly helped if the New Testament explicitly quotes your passage, unless of course the quote is more illustrative (Jesus' reference to 'Solomon in all his splendour' in the Sermon on the Mount). So our reading of Psalm 8 is helped by Hebrews 2, for example.

Even if your specific passage isn't discussed in the New Testament, perhaps a 'like passage' or even a 'parallel theme' (as mentioned above) is, and this will be some help to you.

Is there an External fulfilment to this passage in the life of Jesus or the early church?

Now we come to the 4 ways in which an Old Testament passage finds its fulfilment in the New Testament.

The first of these is not always present, but features often enought that it is worth noting. Occasionally a gospel (or Acts) will declare someting in the life of Jesus or the early church to fulfil the Old Testament, in what can best be described as a external, anticipatory way. The very same event will later be said by other passages to be fulfilled in the other three ways mentioned below.

So for example, when Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt and then return to Judaea, we are told that this fulfills Hosea 12: 'out of Israel I called my Son'. Or the triumphant entry of Jesus matching the specific detail of 'riding on a colt' as Zechariah 9 is just one part of his much greater 'coming'.

On the other hand, there are a handful of Old Testament passages which seem most obviously fulfilled in the life of Jesus: such as the virgin birth and the betrayal of Judas. Even though these patterns seem mostly fulfilled in this 'external fulfillment' step, look to see if their larger siginificance is found in the subsequent steps below. 

What is the Nisan fulfilment?

Nisan is the month of the Passover/Easter. So this is just my creative way of saying 'How does Jesus' death and resurrection fulfill the Old Testament promise?' in a way that works with the acronym.

Even those passages which most explicitly 

How is this pattern fulfilled in the lives of those who Trust in Jesus?

How does the Holy Spirit apply to our lives and experience, as Christians, the realities and fulfilment of the Old Testament pattern?

Or how do we get caught up in the same rejection from the world that the Messiah experienced?

How are these things ultimately fulfilled in the events surrounding the Second coming?

Jesus redeems us in his death, we are redeemed when we put our faith in him, but we also await the redemption of our bodies, as Romans 8 reminds us.

Jesus was opposed by the raging nations in his crucifixion, the church experience that same opposition and the final Antichrist manifests this opposition in a climactic way.

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