What Is Typology? Part 2

Seven Characteristics

A few days ago, I defined typology. In this post, I will explain the characteristics of types that are implicitly or explicitly stated in the definitions from the previous post.


Types are “historical.” That is, they are realities that have truly existed in this history of salvation. Types are not merely literary devices or allegories. Types are not just an imaginative or literary connection. They are rooted in reality as persons, events, or institutions in history.

Correspondence and Continuity

A “type” of something, for example, a type of Christ has correspondence with Christ in some form and fashion. In other words, there is similarity between the type and its fulfilling antitype. There are connections between the two founded upon God’s promises. This means we can’t simply say X is a type of Y if there is no connection, similarity, or correspondence between them. There needs to be some thread that ties the type and the antitype together.

Pattern and Repetition

Types establish and fit a pattern. That is, they are repetitive. Often in typology, there are many instances or installments of a type. In other words, there usually is an original type (archetype), and then an installment of a type that functions similarly, but is not the ultimate fulfillment. A sequence of installments might repeat until the ultimate fulfillment comes. For example, Adam acts as the head or representative of all of creation and because he sins, all die in him (Rom 5:12–21). As the story of the Bible progresses, other “Adams” or typical representatives pop up in the story (repetition): Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, David. In these who follow after Adam, there is a sort of initial fulfillment of the type, but they are not the final or ultimate fulfillment. And so, many instances of types establish and pave a pattern through repetition. Through such a pattern, we can begin to identify types as types.

Predictive or Prophetic

Types are predictive and prophetic, but they are so indirectly. This means that types usually do not explicitly foretell or prophesy what will happen. Rather, flowing from continuity, types “prefigure” what is to come through repetition and pattern. In other words, emerging from the patterns of Scripture, types implicitly foreshadow what is to come by establishing and paving a pattern for the antitype to follow and fulfill. Therefore, types await fulfillment. As such, types are filled with and fill the reader with anticipation of what is predicted through pattern. Types are thus incomplete and incompetent. While they do set a blueprint or template of what to come, they are always pointing to their fulfillment. To use a scriptural illustration, we could refer to types as shadows that point to the true substance (Col 2:16–17).

For example, imagine yourself walking in a meadow. You’re looking down and you see a shadow. You examine the shadow and make out it’s outline, its shape and size, and you discern it’s a tree. But the shadow is not itself the tree—it presents a pattern of and points to the tree. So you could either two things: (1) you could keep looking down and follow the shadow until you walk into the tree and find out the shadow has been leading up to the tree the whole time; or (2) you could look down at the shadow and then look up and see that the shadow isn’t the true thing, it’s a copy of the tree and the whole time it points (or leads) to the tree. In short, types are indirectly prophetic of what will come—they prefigure and predict the fulfillment by establishing an ongoing pattern in which the antitype will follow.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is from Paul. In Romans 5, Paul shows how Adam was a type who prefigured Christ and his function. Paul writes, “Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). In the Greek, Paul uses the participle, “τοῦμέλλοντος” (tou mellontos), “the coming one” or “the one who was to come.” Thomas Schreiner comments, saying, “The reference to ‘the coming one’ . . . should be understood from the perspective of Adam. In other words, from Adam’s standpoint in history Jesus Christ was the one to come.”[1] Similarly, Douglas Moo writes, “Paul is using Christ’s work from the perspective of Adam.”[2] In sum, from Adam’s standpoint in history, he acted as a foreshadow that awaited future fulfillment in Christ. This is an example that reveals that typology’s fabric is woven with futuristic foreshadows in such a way that creates anticipation for future fulfillment from the standpoint of the type.[3]  


Since types find their fulfillment in the antitype, there is an escalation of OT type to the NT fulfillment. There is a movement from lesser to greater. Hence, types and their fulfillment (antitypes) are not simply analogous or equally correlative. While there is correspondence, types and antitypes often have a radical distinction. Following the Adam theme that we have used, Adam represented all of mankind and because he failed, all who are found in him fall into sin and death. But Adam was a type of Christ (Rom 5:12–21), and as death came to all through Adam’s sin, all who are found in (have faith in) Christ can be accounted righteous and thus have life on the basis of Christ’s righteousness through his perfect obedience and resurrection (cf. 1 Cor 15:1–49). And so, in this example, there is a great sense of escalation: in Adam, all die; those in Christ live. In short, there is escalation from type to antitype—the type is lesser, and the antitype (fulfillment) is greater.


Types are “textual” in the sense that they are found in the Scriptures. The type can be found in the OT, and the antitype (fulfillment) is found in the NT. But there is more to this. A type cannot just be something we find in the Scriptures, the texts themselves must in some measure indicate something is a type or that there has been a typological fulfillment in the antitype. We cannot just say X is a type of Y without any textual warrant. While Scripture does not need to explicitly say “X is a type of Y” for something to be a type or typologically fulfilled, the text should indeed give indications. This requires careful reading and exegesis of the text, special attention to the context, and often we can tell that something is a type or typologically fulfilled by seeing if Scripture indicates that it has all the elements of a type.[4]


In sum, typology studies the repeated patterns of OT types that correspond to, anticipate, and prefigure and (indirectly) predict their fulfillment that comes in Christ. 

Examples of Typology

Now that we’ve walked through the details of what typology is, we can just go through examples of typology! Come back on Monday (5 days from now), to see the first example of a type.

[1]Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 280. 

[2]Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 334.

[3]For another clear example of prospective typology in Scripture, see 1 Cor 10:1–6.

[4]To see how to discern that a type is a type, see Beale, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 19–25.