Biblical Basis for Typology (Part 1)

The next two blogs will cover the “Biblical Basis for Typology.” This one treats the biblical terms that express typological intent, and the next one will treat “Typology as a Scriptural Pattern of Inner-Canonical Interpretation.”

Biblical Terms for Typology

The biblical Greek terms related to τύπος/typos sometimes imply typological intent; however, τύπος isn’t a technical term for typology. Other terms like “shadow,” “copy,” and “figure” also imply typological relationships. But we don’t rely on technical terms to signal “This a type.” Scripture’s own frequent self-interpretation along clearly typological lines is more important than the presence or absence of specific technical vocabulary for it.

Scriptural Usage of Typos Terms

The ways ESV translates τύπος in the New Testament (Logos Bible Software)

The term τύπος isn’t actually a technical term in Scripture; it generally means “mark,” “model,” or “pattern.”

  • The mark of the nails in Jesus’s hands (John 20:25)
  • Idolatrous “images… to worship” (Acts 7:43)
  • The heavenly designer’s plan for the wilderness tabernacle (Acts 7:44; Heb 8:5)
  • A teacher’s exemplary behavior (Phil 3:17; 1 Thess 1:7; 1 Pet 5:3)
  • The literary form of Paul’s letter to a governor (Acts 23:25)
  • pattern of teaching (Rom 6:17)

Only twice in the New Testament do τύπος or τυπικῶς/typikōs reflect the forward-looking symbolism of typology. We see “Adam … a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5:14). And we learn that the experiences of the wilderness generation “happened to them as an example… written down for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11).

As an English technical term, “antitype” refers to the fulfillment of a “type”; for example, some person, event, or institution in the Old Testament serves as a type, and New Testament fulfillment comes by way of corresponding antitype. But in biblical usage itself, the terminology is more flexible; ἀντίτυπος/antitypos can refer to typological correspondence from either end of redemptive history, to either the shadow or the fulfillment. In one place, the ἀντίτυπος is the New Testament fulfillment of what the Old Testament prefigured (1 Pet 3:21). That’s the way we think of “antitype” as a technical term. But in another place, the ἀντίτυπος is an Old Testament “copy” that foreshadowed the true things that would come (Heb 9:24). 

We conclude that neither τύπος nor ἀντίτυπος are technical terms for “type” and “antitype”

Other Biblical Terms Associated with Typology

Other New Testament terms actually express the idea of typology more closely than the τύπος terms do. The term σκία/skia refers to a “shadow,” ὑπόδειγμα/hypodeigma to a “copy,” and παράβολη/parabolē to a “figure” or “symbol.” When used this way, each of those terms contrasts with the greater, true, perfect, and heavenly realities that come in times of fulfillment. The following table displays that typological correspondence set out in the book of Hebrews, signaled by some of this terminology:

...the law is but a shadow (σκία)......of the good things to come instead of the true form of the realities (Heb 10:1)
They serve as a copy (ὑπόδειγμα) and shadow (σκία)... symbolic (παράβολη) for the present age......the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) (Heb 9:8, 11)
...the copies (ὑπόδειγμα)......of the heavenly things... the heavenly things themselves...
...Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies (ἀντίτυπος)......of the true things, but into heaven itself (Heb 9:23-24)

One final term: In its single occurrence in either the Septuagint1 or the New Testament, ἀλληγορέω/allēgoreō is Paul’s description of how to read Hagar and Sarah symbolically (Gal 4:24–26). We’ll develop what’s going on there in some later blog; however, I want to suggest that what Paul is doing is typology rather than allegorizing. In other words, ἀλληρορέω is no more a technical term for “allegory” than τύπος is for “type.”

Finally, it’s possible that πνευματικῶς/pneumatikōs (“spiritually”) carries a typological sense where John speaks of Jerusalem, “the city that is figuratively called ‘Sodom’ and ‘Egypt,’ the city where their Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:8).

In a subsequent blog, our discussion will move away from special terminology that indicates typology. We’ll look at implicit typology and begin to get a handle on how biblical typology actually works.

Questions & Reflections

  1. What do you think of when someone mentions the typological approach to the Bible?
  2. Review the terminology discussed in this blog post, and if you have access to Bible software on your computer or online, look up all the biblical examples of the various terms so you get a feeling for the range of senses the terms have in various contexts.


  1. The Greek Old Testament, often referred to as LXX.

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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