Old Testament Types

 THE ceremonies of the worship of the Old Testament church are deemed irrelevant by many professing Christians today. "What benefit is to be gained from studying the details of the ceremonial law," they ask, "and the complex facts about the tabernacle, the sacrifices to be offered, and holy days to be observed?" One answer to this question is surely found in Paul’s words to Timothy: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16), or, as he said to the believers in Rome, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Rom. 15:4). God requires us to learn important lessons from the Old Testament types. It is greatly to the detriment of the church that the types are neglected.

In his classic work, The Typology of Scripture, Patrick Fairbairn said regarding his own day, "The typology of Scripture has been one of the most neglected departments of theological science. It has never altogether escaped from the region of doubt and uncertainty; and some still regard it as a field incapable, from its very nature, of being satisfactorily explored, or cultivated so as to yield any sure and appreciable results. Hence it is not unusual to find those who are otherwise agreed in their views of divine truth, and in the general principles of biblical interpretation, differing materially in the estimate they have formed of the typology of Scripture."1

C. H. Spurgeon certainly explored and cultivated this field. In his lecture On Spiritualising, he says that types "yield ample scope for the exercise of a sanctified ingenuity. . . The largest capacity for typical interpretation will find abundant employment in the undoubted symbols of the Word of God, and it will be safe to enter upon such an exercise, because the symbols are of divine appointment."2

By an Old Testament type we mean a person or thing which, by appointment of God, prefigured an aspect, or aspects, of Christ or of His church; a type was "a shadow of good things to come". The word type is not found in the Authorised version of the Bible, but in the Greek it is given in several passages as tupos. The term tupos is translated as, for example, "figure" (Rom. 5:14), "ensample" (1 Cor. 10:11), and "pattern" (Heb. 8:5).

Most writers on the subject are agreed that not only is there a resemblance between the type and what it prefigures but also, and especially, that a type has been appointed by God. Thomas Goodwin states, "This rule, therefore, will I observe herein, and keep to it as sacred, not to make anything a type which the Holy Ghost hath not designed out for one."3 The following paragraphs from McEwen, Fairbairn and Berkhof are helpful in recognising what Fairbairn calls, "a well-grounded and Scriptural typology".

In his compact work on the types, William McEwen (a Secession minister in Dundee, who died in 1762 at the age of 27) kept two things steadfastly in mind in interpreting the types, according to the editor of his volume, fellow minister John Patison. "First, To make a proper use of divine allegory, type or figure, it is necessarily required, that there be a resemblance, more or less, betwixt the literal history, person, or thing, and the spiritual doctrine, truth, or mystery, which is supposed to be represented. Secondly, There must be some good reason to think, that this resemblance is not merely casual, or the child of fancy, but actually intended by the Holy Ghost. Even where both these requisites are found, the utmost care should be taken not to strain the type or allegory beyond the bounds of a just and reasonable comparison, lest, instead of following the clue, we stretch the thread till it breaks."4

Patrick Fairbairn puts it this way: "In the character, action, or institution which is denominated the type, there must be a resemblance in form or spirit to what answers to it under the Gospel. And secondly, that it must not be any character, action, or institution occurring in Old Testament Scripture, but such only as had their ordination of God, and were designed by Him to foreshadow and prepare for the better things of the Gospel. For, as Bishop Marsh (in his Lectures) has justly remarked, ‘to constitute one thing the type of another, something more is wanted than mere resemblance. The former must not only resemble the latter, but must have been designed to resemble the latter. It must have been so designed in its original institution. It must have been designed as something preparatory to the latter. The type as well as the antitype must have been pre-ordained; and they must have been pre-ordained as constituent parts of the same general scheme of Divine Providence. It is this previous design and this pre-ordained connection (together, of course, with the resemblance), which constitute the relation of type and antitype.’5

Louis Berkhof, in his work on Biblical interpretation, echoes McEwen and Fairbairn: "The following three characteristics are generally given by writers on typology: (1) There must be some notable real point of resemblance between a type and its antitype. Whatever differences there may be, the former should be a true picture of the latter in some particular point. (2) The type must be designed by divine appointment to bear a likeness to the antitype. Accidental similarity between an Old and New Testament person or event does not constitute the one a type of the other. There must be some Scriptural evidence that it was so designed by God. This is not equivalent to the position of Marsh [in his Lectures], who insisted on it that nothing should be regarded as typical that was not expressly so designated in the New Testament. If this canon were correct, why not apply it also to Old Testament prophecies? (3) A type always prefigures something future. Moorehead [in his article, Type, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia] correctly says: ‘A Scriptural type and predictive prophecy are in substance the same, differing only in form’."6

The Lord’s people down through the ages have seen in the types much more than lies on the surface, to their comfort and growth in grace. In the preface to his work, Types of Genesis, Andrew Jukes says that we cannot read what Paul wrote "without perceiving that he saw far more in Genesis than the mere letter. The creation with him is the figure of another work, which God accomplishes in every saved sinner. ‘God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts.’ Then, ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new.’ As much as to say, that just as God began to work upon this earth, when all was dark and without form and void, and worked upon it, step by step, bringing forth fruits and forms of life, until the image of God, the man created in righteousness, was seen to rule it all; so is it with the soul of man, from ‘Let there be light, and there is light’, till the new man in us rules every faculty."7

It is therefore to the great loss of the church, and the neglect of the life of grace in believers, when the interpretation of the types is absent from the preaching of the Word. Alexander Stewart of Cromarty says, "A Christian ignorant of Judaism can have but very imperfect notions of the evidence and breadth of Christianity. A well-instructed believer is one who, like Paul, understands both dispensations. Moses and Paul should be read together."8

It is most helpful to anyone studying the types to have an able teacher. Such an instructor is Fairbairn. In his work, The Typology of Scripture, (first published 1845-47) he not only lays down the principles involved in interpreting the types but also gives most useful examples and explanations of many of them, under such headings as, "The Tree of Life", "Sacrificial Worship", "The Tabernacle", "The Ministers of the Tabernacle", and "Stated Solemnities and Feasts".

William McEwen, in writing his work Grace and Truth (usually known as McEwen on the Types), and in preaching the sermons upon which it is based, had one great objective: to display "the glory and fulness of the Redeemer", as the subtitle of the volume indicates. This he does in a very instructive manner.

Alexander Stewart of Cromarty was himself a renowned teacher of the types. Indeed, we feel that he is second to none in the depth of his spirituality in opening up the sense of these sacred symbols. His Mosaic Sacrifices (1864) and The Tree of Promise (1863) show that he was given a marvellous insight into those shadows "of good things to come". He was "noted for his genius, originality, and spirituality of mind", says Alexander MacRae in his Life of Dr. Aird. Dr Kennedy, Dingwall, stated that he "never heard the word of God so gloriously set forth, as regards loftiness of conception and perfection of oratory, as from the lips of Mr Stewart".9 Like McEwen, Stewart, in preaching and writing about the types, strove to display the glory and fulness of Christ – and The Tree of Promise is rich in those truths which demonstrate that glory.

Stewart and other able exponents of the types would be the first to say that, at best, it is but a glimpse of the divine glory that can be seen in even the most striking of the types. All the Scripture types of Christ taken together cannot fully convey the glory of His person and work. Owen says, "The glory of these types did no way answer the antitype, or that which was represented by them. It is acknowledged that the service of the high priest at and from this golden altar [of incense], and his entrance with a cloud of incense into the [most holy] place, had great glory in it, and was suited to ingenerate a great veneration in the minds of the people: howbeit they were all carnal things, and had no glory in comparison of the spiritual glory of Christ in the discharge of His office."10

Nevertheless, the types were not only a God-appointed means in the Old Testament church for conveying the truth, especially that concerning the Messiah who was to come, but also are given to us for our instruction. May we learn the lessons they convey, particularly those concerning Christ! May these lessons be blessed to us so that we could say, "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."


1. The Typology of Scripture, Patrick Fairbairn, E. P., 1975, p. 1.

2.Lectures to my Students, First Series, p. 102.

3. The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Edinburgh 1863, Vol. 7, p. 92.

4. Grace and Truth, or, The Glory and Fulness of the Redeemer Displayed in an Attempt to Explain, Illustrate, and Enforce the Most Remarkable Types, Figures and Allegories in the Old Testament, William McEwen, Edinburgh, 1798, p. vii.

5. The Typology of Scripture, Patrick Fairbairn, p. 46.

6. Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Louis Berkhof, Baker, 1980, p. 246.

7. Types of Genesis, Andrew Jukes, London, 1892, p. I.

8. The Tree of Promise, Alexander Stewart, Edinburgh, 1864, p. 1.

9. Life of John Kennedy, Alexander Auld, London, 1887, p. 43.

10. The Works of John Owen, Edinburgh, 1862, Vol. 23, p. 204



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