General Remarks about Prophetical Types
Fairbairn deals with the problematic idea of a “double sense,” which he rejects in his comments on the second, third, and fourth possibilities for relating prophecy and type. Basically, he treats it as an issue of the unity of the Old and New Testaments.
Problems with the Idea of a double sense
Fairbairn rejected the common theory of double sense for prophecies.1 He warned that we can’t operate as if the double sense of prophecy were like the double sense of allegory, as if there were a sense proper to the Old Testament but yet another sense proper to the New Testament. He said accepting this idea would foreclose on our ability to understand any prophecy that we identified as having this double sense. Indeed, it would preclude our understanding of any prophecy—at least until the consummation, which would finally close off the options for any additional sense being added to a prophecy. He considered it better to talk of a single sense, which might be applied to more than one event (1.133). Here he noted that some prophecies are in fact more typical and specific:
There are prophecies which were not so much designed to foretell definite events, as to unfold great prospects and results, in respect to the manifestation of God’s purposes of grace and truth toward men. Such prophecies were of necessity general and comprehensive in their terms, and admitted of manifold fulfillment. (1.134)
In fact, he thought it impossible that there should be prophecies with a double sense, in the strictest sense of the word:
We dispute the fact on which it is founded, that there really are prophecies… predictive of similar though disparate series of events, strictly applicable to each, and in each finding their fulfillment…. The terms of several predictions are more to be put to torture, in order to get one of the two senses extracted from them. (1.134)
Actually, this notion of double sense arises from prophecies of such a general nature that they are obviously unlikely to be fulfilled exclusively in any particular example. All this double sense idea does is complicate the interpretation of prophecy and cast doubt on the proper understanding of any prophecy (1.135).
Relation between Predictive Prophecy and Typology
As a special consideration, we should look at how two forward-looking feature of Old Testament revelation relate to each other, how predictive prophecy and forward-looking typology overlap.
Not all notices that something in the New Testament happened to fulfill something in the Old Testament are referring to an Old Testament prediction.
Jesus Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets
We see that in various places, such as the repeated use of the fulfillment formulas in his birth narratives, the Gospel according to Matthew repeatedly notes that something happened in Jesus’s early life “to fulfill” (ἵνα πληρωθῇ/hina plērōthē) something that something the Old Testament spoke of. And later in the book, Matthew records Jesus’s own notice, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish (πληρόω/plēroō) their purpose (Matt 5:17).
Although fulfilling the prophets might actually involve Jesus doing something that a prophet had predicted; certainly fulfilling the law wasn’t about that. And for that matter, fulfilling is set over against the false option of “abolishing” (καταλύω/katalyō), not over against a false prophet’s failed predictions. Matthew’s fulfillment formulas do indeed refer to things prophets had said; however, most lack any sense of earlier prediction and later performance. Instead, they participate in a typological pattern of foreshadowing and fulfillment.
When Ahaz doubted God’s word, Isaiah announced, “For this reason the sovereign master himself will give you a confirming sign.2 Look, this young woman3 is about to conceive and will give birth to a son. You, young woman, will name him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14, NET).4 This was a sign for Ahaz, to be fulfilled in his own lifetime, even before the baby got out of his youth. But Matthew construed this as a type of Jesus’s virgin birth as the ultimate sign-child (Matt 1:22–23; quoting Isa 7:14 LXX).
“Out of Egypt have I called my Son”
Jesus’s escape to Egypt until Herod’s death typologically fulfilled Israel’s escape from Egypt, which Hosea had recorded not as a prediction but as prophetic interpretation of the exodus, which was seven centuries in Hosea’s past (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11:1).
“He will be called a Nazarene”
Jesus’s home in Nazareth fulfilled an Old Testament expectancy that “he will be called a Nazarene.” This cites not Old Testament text at all but rather “the substance of more than one OT passage.”5 Some suggest wordplay linking Nazareth (Ναζαρέτ/Nazaret) and Nazarene (Ναζαραῖος/Nazaraios) with the totally unrelated Hebrew term נֵזֶר/nēzer, whether the term for the Nazirite vow of consecration and abstention6 or for the “branch,” standing for a remnant of the nation or the surviving representative of the Davidic line.7 Note that the second of these suggestions works only in Hebrew and that the Gospel according to Matthew is written in Greek.8 Perhaps Daniel Harrington’s note is as good as we’ll get on this:
The alleged quotation is neither a direct quotation nor adaptation of any known OT text. The term “Nazorean” has three principle derivations: from the place-name Nazareth, from nāzir as one devoted to God (see Judg 13:5, 7), and from nētser meaning “branch” and used with reference to the Messiah (see Isa 11:1). It is likely that the readers were expected to keep all three connotations in mind rather than one alone. The latter two would qualify the expression as a biblical quotation, and the first would tie them into the place in which Jesus lived.9
And the connection to Nazareth would have had to do with its obscurity, which Josephus didn’t even list as a town in Galilee, a fact that the New Testament rhetoric reflects (John 1:45–46; see also 7:41, 52.10
And so it went with most of the fulfillment formulas in Matthew, Mark, and John; most adopted a typological approach to fulfillment of Old Testament language from the prophets messages and from the psalmist’s life.11
Predictions can be related to typological patterns rather than a single conclusive fulfillment.
Sometimes predictions establish further typological patterns.
Daniel’s Antiochus Epiphanes
Daniel’s prophecy of an arrogant ruler (Dan 8:9–14, 23–25) was initially fulfilled in the deeds of Antiochus Epiphanes.12 But Antiochus became a symbols (S) of the arrogant royal office-holder who attempts to usurp divine prerogatives (T1), which finds further fulfillments in the “many antichrists” (T2…) and some kind of final fulfillment in the Antichrist (Tn). This (T) has its background in Adam disobeying and grasping the divine prerogative of determinative knowledge of good and evil,13 the throne usurping king of Babylon,14 and the prince of Tyre, the last of which Ezekiel actually describes with a backward glance at the usurper’s spirit manifested in Adam’s disobedience.15 And Jesus echoes some of the associated imagery in what I take to be a prediction of AD 70.16
God promised Ahaz a sign-child born to an עַלְמָה/ʿalmâ.17 This sign-child (S) would signify that God was with his people, so people would call him “Immanuel.”18 In the context of this prophecy, Isaiah says, “I and the children the LORD has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies who dwells in his Temple on Mount Zion” (Isa 8:18), so perhaps this was the prophet’s own sign-child named “Mahar-shalal-hashbaz” (Isa 8:3). The other option would be a royal son born into Ahaz’s royal household, which would have been Hezekiah. But whatever the case, this prophecy must have been fulfilled at one level during Ahaz’s immediate future, or Isaiah would have been prophesying Ahaz and sign he would never see (Isa 7:10–25, esp. vv. 16–18). Whoever that child was, he served as a symbol (S) of the “Immanuel” principle (T1), which found its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and was indeed “God with us” (Tn), not bearing it as a symbolic title but as eternal ontological identity (Matt 1:23).
- Fairbairn, Typology, 1.126–30, esp. 126.
- NET Bible translator note summarized: Heb. אוֹת (‘ot, “sign”) can refer to a miraculous event (Isa 7:11; 38:7–8, 22) or to a natural occurrence or an object/person vested with special significance (Isa 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 55:13; 66:19).
- Heb עַלְמָה/ʿalmâ (“young lady”) is the feminine counterpart of the noun עֶלֶם/ʿelem (“young man”), both of which refer to youth not virginity. The LXX translated with παρθένος/parthenos (“virgin”), and the NT’s use of that plus the narrative’s theology indicates that in the case of Jesus’s birth a virgin birth did occur, providing the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel promise of a sign-child.
- NET Bible translation note: “Heb ‘the young woman,’ but rendered as demonstrative pronoun (‘this’) in the translation to bring out its force. It is very likely that Isaiah pointed to a woman who was present at the scene of the prophet’s interview with Ahaz. Isaiah’s… his use of second plural forms suggests other people were present, and his use of the second feminine singular verb form (‘you will name’) later in the verse is best explained if addressed to a woman who is present.
- Robert H. Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art (Eerdmans, 1982), 39.
- E.g., Daniel Patte, The Gospel according to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew’s Faith (Fortress, 1987), 39–40; John P. Meier, Matthew, New Testament Message (Michael Glazier, 1980), 16. See Num 6:2, 12–13, 18–21; Judg 13:5, 7; 16:17; Amos 2:11–12. Treating the Hebrew Nazirite terms built on נֵזֶר, the LXX transliterates only one time as ναζιρ (Judg 13:5); otherwise, it translates with such terms as ἀφανίζω/aphanizō (Num 6:2, “to purify oneself by offerings”), δοξάζω/doxazō (Deut 33:16, “to be exalted above”), ἅγιος/hagios or ἁγιάζω/hagiazō (Num 6:12; Judg 13:7; 16:17, “to be consecrated”), or even εὐχή/euchē and εὔχομαι/euchomai (Num 6:2, 12–13, 19–21, “prayer” or “to pray”).
- The term נֵזֶר/nēzer used as “branch” (Isa 11:1; 14:19; 60:21), see also “branch,” translating צֶמַח/ṣemaḥ (Isa 4:2; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Zech 3:8; 6:12). The term נֵזֶר occurs as a messianic title in Qumran (1QH 6:15; 7:19; 8:6, 8, 10).
- Gundry, Matthew, 40.
- Daniel Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina (Liturgical Press, 1991), 45–46.
- F. D. Bruner, The Christ Book: Matthew 1–12, vol. 1 of Matthew: A Commentary (Eerdmans, 2004), 60.
- E.g., Matt 1:22; 2:15, 23; 4:14–15; 8:17; 12:17–18; 13:35; 21:4–5; 26:56; Mark 14:49; John 12:38; 15:25; 19:24, 28, 36.
- See 2 Macc 6:1–6; 9:1–12, esp. v. 10.
- Gen 3, cf. Ezek 28:1–19, esp. vv. 12–15
- Isa 14:4–21, esp. vv. 4, 12–13.
- Ezek 26:1–28:19, esp. 28:1–19.
- Dan 9:27; Matt 24:15, 21; Mark 13:14, 19, 24; Luke 21:20.
- The Hebrew עַלְמָה/ʿalmâ refers to a “girl of marriageable age”; however, the LXX translated this with παρθένος/parthenos, which means “virgin.”
- Heb עִמָנוּ אֵל/ʿimmānû ʾēl means “God” (אֵל/ʾēl) is “with us” (עִמָנוּ/ʿimmānû).