I’m currently reading Scott Hahn’s Consuming the Word, and I came across a rather wonderfully succinct account of typology. It’s a bit of an elusive concept to pin down well, so good on him. Also I never knew why things were called types, but it makes so much sense! Here ‘tis:
“In the Old Testament Scriptures the entire New Testament was foreshadowed. In the New Testament dispensation, all the Old Testament Scriptures were fulfilled. As Saint Augustine put it: ”The New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”
The manner of fulfilment follows a discernible pattern. God has a characteristic way of dealing with humanity, and humanity has a fairly predictable way of responding to God. The pattern is, roughly, this: creation, fall and redemption.
- God created Adam and Eve; they sinned; yet God let them live and even promised them a redeemer.
- God spared humanity and let it fill the earth. Yet humanity sinned again. So god punished the entire race, sparing the righteous Noah and his family.
- God called forth a people in Abraham. Yet the allowed themselves to become enslaved in Egypt. He redeemed them through the ministry of Moses.
- God gave His tribes a kingdom. Their kings neglected true worship and social justice, meriting invasion and exile. God anointed foreigners to bring a humbled people back to the land.
For God’s chosen people, the wages of sin had precedents in Eden, in Egypt, in Babylon. The early Christians, like the prophets before them, discerned these patterns in the history of salvation. God’s touches were like a recognizable watermark or trademark. The ancients called these foreshadowings “types”- in Greek, typoi– after the uniform mark left on an emperor’s coin or on a wax seal. On a coin or a seal, a type symbolises a ruler’s authority. In the Scriptures, a type is itself a historical reality, but it is also representative of something greater. Moses prefigured Christ, though Moses was himself a man. The manna prefigured the Eucharist, though the manna itself was a miracle. In the New Testament, fulfilment was far greater than the sum of Old Testament types. Fulfilment was the abiding presence of God Himself: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14). In the Church, the study and prayerful consideration of biblical types is called typology.
Human authors use words to symbolise realities. In salvation history, God uses temporal realities- even kings and kingdoms, laws and wards- to symbolise far greater realities, truths that are spiritual and eternal.”
For more on how Catholics read the Word of God, see the post “On the literal interpretation of Scripture”.