Why Biblical Typology is a Beautiful Way to Interpret the Bible

By: John Tuttle

Biblical Typology

The Bible relates the definitive and most crucial aspects of the story of salvation. It’s essentially the greatest story ever told, taken down by human authors in their own unique voices, who were moved by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. This written Word of God is one of the masterpieces of the spiritual life, meant to be reflected upon on a regular basis. Just as Christ, the Word of God incarnate, feeds our souls with his Body and Blood, so the written Word of God also nourishes the soul.

One of the many beautiful elements to Sacred Scripture is typology, the presence of paralleled persons, things, or events found in the Old Testament and their fulfilling counterparts in the New Testament. In such a relationship, the element found in the Old Testament is called a type, and its New Testament counterpart is referred to as the anti-type.

Marian and Christological Foreshadowing in the Old Testament

For instance, one of the most commonly known relations of typology is that which is seen between Adam and Eve and their fulfilling counterparts Jesus and Mary. We will often hear of Jesus being referred to as “the new Adam” and Mary as “the new Eve.” As Adam was our first parent, father of all of humanity’s descendants, so Christ becomes Son of Man, the God-Man, whose function is to reverse the Original Sin of Adam and restore an opportunity for life with God in heaven.

Furthermore, as Eve was “mother of all the living,” so Mary mothers the God-Man, Christ who takes us as his adopted siblings, bringing us into his family and into his divine life. The Immaculate Mother, similar to how Jesus reverses the sin of Adam, reverses the sin of Eve. The shared sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was rooted in pride. As the serpent said, the forbidden fruit would make them like God himself. The man and his wife were desirous of more power, though they had already been given dominion over God’s creation.

Both Mary and Jesus renounce this manifestation of pride, submitting themselves to lives of humility. Born into poverty, Christ permitted himself to be put to death in the most humiliating, degrading way imaginable. Mary, for her part, submitted her will to God’s at the Annunciation delivered by the Archangel Gabriel and throughout her whole life. And, as the prayer “Ave Maris Stella” illustrates in one of its stanzas, the Virgin Mother’s very glory comes in doing the opposite of what Eve did in Original Sin:

                                                                        O! by Gabriel’s Ave,

                                                                        Uttered long ago,

                                                                        Eva’s name reversing,

                                                                        Established peace below.

A Trove of Typology in the Fall

Cross as the New Tree of Life

If you know where to look, there is a plethora of other types to be found in the early developments in Genesis. Consider the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its fruit. It is through outright disobedience to God, through consuming the fruit of this tree, that Adam and Eve fall into sin. However, it is through another tree, millennia later, that redemption is brought about.

Jesus— the New Man

Christ, the new Adam, is obedient to God the Father, even unto death. Sin came into the world through a tree, and Christ brings salvation into the world through a tree, namely the Cross. Adam and Eve bring about the Fall, allowing physical and spiritual death to enter the human condition. Christ is raised high on the Cross, dies, and resurrects himself. Adam fell, and Christ rose. In the Old Testament, the fruit on the tree in Eden brought on death. In the New Testament, Christ gave himself, the “fruit” hanging on the tree, as the food of life.

“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’” (John 6: 53, 54).

Adam, Eve, the tree, and the forbidden fruit are the types, and Jesus, Mary, the Cross, and the Eucharist are their anti-types, respectively. Later on in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who is sold by his brothers into slavery. Joseph of the Old Testament is actually a type to St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, in the New.

Typology in Joseph of Egypt

Jacob’s son Joseph receives messages in dreams from the Lord. Likewise, God’s angelic messenger instructs Joseph of Nazareth in his dreams. Jacob’s beloved son ends up going to Egypt, eventually drawing his whole clan there; Joseph of Nazareth leads his family into Egypt. In both timelines, Egypt serves as a refuge from danger, at least initially.

Joseph of Egypt is given dominion over the land; he is second only to Pharaoh. And Joseph of Nazareth serves as head of the Holy Family. He is the foster-father of the Christ Child, given dominion over Jesus by the highest paternal authority: God.

Offering of Isaac—Foreshadowing of the Crucifixion

binding of isaac

Another key incident filled with types is the sacrificial offering of Isaac on the part of Abraham. Abraham is the protagonist of this part of the story. But when it comes to typological symbolism, we are going to want to pay attention to Isaac.

Isaac and his father Abraham ascend Mount Moriah. Isaac is carrying the wood for the burnt offering. Once they reach the place where Abraham intends to carry out the sacrifice, he binds his beloved and only-begotten son, offering him up to God. Inevitably, an angel of the Lord comes and tells Abraham to refrain from harming Isaac in any way. It was a test, and Abraham had passed with flying colors. The substitute sacrifice is a ram found trapped by its horns tangled among a thicket.

Isaac is a Type of Christ

If we analyze this, it easy to see Isaac as one of the types to the (then) futuristic Jesus. Jesus, as Isaac’s anti-type, also carries the wood of his own sacrifice; he too ascends a mount. He himself is meant as the sacrifice. Moreover, just as Isaac was to Abraham, so Jesus is to his Heavenly Father: a beloved son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16).

The ram, of course, also bears some significance. And we can speculate that the ram is another type to Christ. Instead of man being sacrificed for his own sins, Christ is substituted. God provides the sacrifice; he himself is the offering. He is the Lamb of God.

Before we leave the Isaac sacrifice narrative, let’s not forget about Mount Moriah. Apart from the sheer symbolism around the ascent of two mounts, it is worthwhile noting that it is here where the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed. Even more astounding, is the fact that both sacrifices share great proximity with one another. It is believed that both incidents occurred on the same mountain.

The Significance of Typology

Jesus OT

As we have only briefly seen, there are numerous types in the Old Testament which prefigure Christ and his redemptive work of guiding us to eternal life. It is important to remember that typology isn’t some element added by Old Testament writers to add literary merit. They were influenced and prompted to include what they did via God’s subtle direction.

If anything, typology should lead to a deeper appreciation for God’s awesome co-creative work with humanity. In seeing that many of the writings of the Old Testament predate those of the New by a span of centuries, that there was no way for the human authors to be aware of the significance of various key elements they included in their works, we ought to be humbled in the face of the God who dwells outside of time. It should increase our faith.

In all areas of Catholicism, we see an abundance of rich symbolism. Typology, like everything in our religion, has the purpose of drawing our attention to the center of it all: Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End!


John Tuttle is a Catholic man who loves discovering and preserving truth and beauty. His work has been featured by Those Catholic Men, Love Thy Nerd, Movie Babble, Publishous, Tea with Tolkien, Catholic Journal: Reflections on Faith & Culture, and elsewhere. He is the founder of the web publication Of Intellect and Interest. He can be reached at jptuttleb9@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D Part 12— Moses and Jesus

This week’s installment of the Why Catholics Must Have Bible A.D.D. will feature parallels between the great Old Testament prophet Moses and Jesus Christ. Except for King David and the prophet Elijah no other figure in Judaism had as much influence as Moses. Uniquely, God privileged Moses with helping to free the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, safeguarding of the 10 Commandments, and appearance at the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Catholics read the Bible as a unity. The Old Testament prefigures the New Testament and the New fulfills the old. A primary method for studying the Bible is called typology. According to John A. Hardon, S.J. in Catholic Dictionary, “A biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events.  A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater. Both are independent of each other.” Moses is a quintessential Christ-like figure in the Old Testament and Jesus is viewed as the New Moses in the Gospels. We will focus on three major Jesus is the New Moses: both teach with authority, both perform miracles, and both lead people to a better life.

Sermons on High Places

I used to teach high school Old and New Testament. On the section focusing on St. Matthew’s Gospel the major theme I reiterated to my student was to focus on how Jesus is the New Moses. In fact, the evangelist arranged his gospel into five discourses as a teaching mechanism to recall the five—the Pentateuch. Traditionally, Moses is believed to have written the
Pentateuch.

Among the countless appellations given to Jesus in Scripture and Tradition, Christ as Teacher accurately describes Matthew’s version of Jesus. St. Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae cites from Matthew 23:8, “[Jesus] He proclaims the singularity, the uniqueness of His character as teacher: “You have one teacher,”(25) the Christ (# 8). The Jews thought of Moses as the teacher of the Law so hearing Jesus’ claim as the supreme teacher certainty shocked them.

moses 10 commandments
jesus new moses

Both Moses and Jesus preached from mountains. The former taught on Mount Sinai and the latter preached the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. While the teaching of Moses extended merely to the nation of Israel, Jesus’ Good News extended to all the nations (cf. Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ teaching did not abolish the law of Moses, rather perfected it. According to Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, “In the Sermon on the Mount, he recapitulates and gives added depth to the commandments of the second tablet, but he does not Abolish them (p. 70). Moses received the word of God on stone tablets. Jesus is the Word of God himself!

Miracles Galore

Another similarity between Moses and Jesus are the miracles they perform. In Exodus 7:14-24 Moses turned the Nile River to blood. Jesus’ first public miracle contains transformation as well. John 2:1-12 records Christ’s turning the water into wine. Likewise, the manna provided in the desert (Exodus 16) finds a greater example in the New Testament in John 6. Jesus tells his disciples the following,

bread of life john 6

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; 50 this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.


Moses’ other famous “miracles” into sending the plagues on the Egptians due to the obstinate heart of Pharaoh. Although ultimately saving the Israelites, these plagues devastated their enemy. Jesus’ miracles save without the destruction. He healed lepers, raised people from the dead, and calmed storms. As an instrument of God, Moses performed great miraculous feats, but as the Son of God Jesus’ miracles are greater!

Destination—The Promised Land

wandering in wildnerness

The final connection between Moses and Jesus that I wish to discuss today centers on a destination. Living under bondage of Egyptian slavery, the Israelites initially welcomed their freedom. In Exodus 16:3 they lamented to Moses, If only we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our kettles of meat and ate our fill of bread! But you have led us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of famine!” Similarly, Jesus’ Victory over Death brings about the option for entering Heaven
— only if we love God and neighbor entirely! Freedom from our sin, initially feels good, however, after some time, like the Israelites, begin to long for the “comforts” that sin provided!

A major difference between Moses and Jesus is that the Promised Land ultimately did not satisfy whereas Heaven will bring ultimate satisfaction. St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote, “In heaven, the soul is certain that she loves God, and that he loves her. She sees that the Lord embraces her with infinite love, and that this love will not be dissolved for all eternity.” The destination Moses’ promised was physical and limited. Our home in Heaven is eternal and everlasting!

jesus the way truth and life

The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares in paragraph 128,”128 The Church, as early as apostolic times,104 and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.” Moses prefigures Jesus in a vast amount of ways besides being a teacher of the Law, working miracles, and freeing from slavery. In the future, I hope to provide a further analysis on how Moses foreshadowing Jesus Christ. For more information about biblical typology please check out the links in the related resources section. Thank you for joining me in this installment of Why Catholic Must Have Bible A.D.D.!

Related Resources

https://thebibleproject.com/blog/sermon-mount-jesus-new-moses/

http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_16101979_catechesi-tradendae.html

http://www.agapebiblestudy.com/charts/Typology%20of%20Moses%20and%20Jesus.htm

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