Prophetical Types (Part 3)

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.
Immanuel Promise
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
Antichrist Motif
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
Ahaz’s Immanuel
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).

Three Classes of Types

Previous posts on this blog introduced the history and method of typology, arguing against allowing it to collapse into allegorizing. For the historical survey, we drew on Patrick Fairbairn’s work,1  and for methodology, we drew on E. P. Clowney’s useful “triangle” and “rectangle” as a starting point for developing a typological methodology that stays anchored in grammatical-historical exegesis.2

As point of entry for the diverse types in Scripture, we’ll draw on Fairbairn’s classification of types:

  • Old Testament Institutions
  • Historical Types
  • God’s Word in Creation
  • Prophetical Types

This blog post will cover the first three of those classes, and we’ll cover the Prophetical Types in another two or three postings.

Old Testament Institutions

Fairbairn divides the institutional symbols into two classes: (1) Shadows of better things to come, earthly in nature, though portraying a spiritual reality (1.55–56), and (2) rudiments, or elementary principles of true religion (1.56–58).


He says Old Testament institutions were “prophetic symbols of better things to come” (1.52). For example, the book of Hebrews treats the features of the Old Testament cultus as shadows. We must note that even the shadows could create an appropriate desire for the better things to come and not lead Old Testament saints into “mistaken and prejudiced notes of the reality” (1.52). So we treat the Old Testament institutions as useful and accurate symbols, but not the full reality of the truth they expressed. And we ask, “What per se, was the native import of of each symbol?” (1.53).

That didn’t mean the Old Testament saints would have understood all that we understand by these institutions after their purpose has come to fulfillment in Christ. Fairbairn remarks,

For the Jewish worshipper to do both his own and the Christian part—both read the meaning of the symbol as expressive of what was already laid upon open to his view, and to descry its concealed references to the yet undiscovered realities of a better dispensation—would have required a reader of discernment and strength far beyond what is now needed in the Christian.

In many ways, New Testament believers understand the theology of the Old Testament better than the Old Testament believers were able too, because we have the light of fulfillment shining brightly in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And of course, we have Jesus’s own teachings, the Gospels, and the Epistles—especially the book of Hebrews—expanding upon the implications of how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament institutions. And what shall we say of the light the book of Revelation would shed on this for us if we were to read it as the grand announcement of how Israel’s kingom and cult is coming to its climactic fulfillment through the person and work of Christ?

Historical Types

Fairbairn mentions the following examples as historical types: Noah and the flood relating to Christian baptism, Sarah and Hagar relating to spirituality and carnality, and Israel’s wilderness wanderings relating to the prospects of the church on its way to heaven (1.64–65).

The Old Testament, rightly understood, is one great prophecy of the New.


These Old Testament historical types had the same defects that Old Testament institutional types had; however, they were necessary preparatory types, just as the institutional types were. Indeed, since the whole of the Old Testament was preparatory, the whole of Israel’s history must be typical (1.71). Fairbairn noted Augustine’s words, “The Old Testament, rightly understood, is one great prophecy of the New.”3 Just as prophecy lay dimly revealed in the symbolic rites of the Old Testament cultus, so too it lay foreshadowed in the historical occasions that accompanied those rites and the people who participated in that cultus.

The Old Testament itself indicates that much of its message pertains to a higher ideal. The prophets used historical characters and events to justify their anticipations of a nobler hope (1.86–87). For example, Moses pointed forward to a prophet who was to come (Deut 18:18), David announced a king-priest who was to come (Ps 110:4), Malachi spoke of an “Elijah” who was to come (Mal 3:1; 4:5), and the prophets spoke of a “David” who was to come (Jer 30:9; Hos 3:5).

God’s Word in Creation

God’s own handiwork is, by design, well-suited to his self-revelation.

Gnostics have always denied it, but we must insist that God’s own handiwork is, by design, well-suited to his self-revelation. And creation is God’s handwork and self-revelation, not the disgusting product of some meddling demiurge. So the garden was quite suitable for foreshadowing the tabernacle and temple, the church as God’s temple, and the final paradise (1.86–87). Most importantly, the incarnation, which embedded the eternal Son deep into creation, actually could reveal God’s eternal nature, not just his temporary servanthood and self-identity with sinful man.

Berthold Furtmeyr, "The Tree of Death and Life" (15th century)
Berthold Furtmeyr, “The Tree of Death and Life, 15th century. From the Missal of Bernard von Rohr, Archbishop of Salzburg, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich, Germany.

We must remember that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. And that meant Jesus didn’t need to discard his humanity after the resurrection and ascension to remain fully God and fully holy (1.88–93). Fairbairn insists, “The work of God in creation is to be regarded as the adequate reflection of His infinite wisdom and goodness, adapted in all respects to the purposes for which it was designed” (1.97).

Think about it: If creation really can’t display the nature of God, then God’s creating-redeeming work must have been out of keeping with his eternal unchanging character, and revealing himself as Creator would have been a dangerous misrepresentation rather than a helpful revelation of himself. Now, someone might object that the creation-wide effects of mankind’s fall into sin have now obliterated the power of creation to convey revelation from God. But Paul says even “sinful, wicked people … know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom 1:18–20). It’s even useless speculation to define the nature of God’s self-revelation via the incarnation without reference to sin, since it was into a sinful world and even in the likeness of sinful flesh that God became flesh (Rom 8:3). We conclude that even though sin marred creation from top to bottom, God’s remedial process of sustaining and redeeming it carries with it the assurance that he sustains his self-revelation through it and is restoring and moving creation ever onward toward his ideal (1.99–103).

A Forward Look

The next two or three posts will treat Fairbairn’s fourth class of types, which he calls “Prophetical Types.”

Biblical Basis for Typology (Part 2)

Typology as a Scriptural Pattern of
Inner-Canonical Interpretation

The previous blog discussed biblical terms that sometimes signal a typological relationship between a person, event, or institution in the Old Testament and its fulfillment in the New Testament. But even though New Testament typological use of the Old abounds, the terminology we discussed is sparse. So we must tune our ear to the Bible’s implicit typological methodology of advancing revelation throughout redemptive history.

Even within the Old Testament itself, we can see a pattern of inner-biblical exegesis where later writers employ a typological understanding of earlier events. In turn, the New Testament authors employ pervasive typology in their use of the Old.1

Red Sea
“Jews Cross the Red Sea” (AD 244–256), fresco from Dura Europa synagogue

For example, Paul treats Israel’s wilderness history as an example (τυπικῶς/typikōs) written for us (1 Cor 10:11). More importantly, the typological approach is the only method that can do justice to how Jesus and Paul teach us to read the Old Testament. Jesus rebuked his disciples and instructed them in the Emmaus encounters:

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.'” (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47, NLT)

Jesus mentions no particular Old Testament predictions about the crucifixion and resurrection; rather, he points to the entirety of the Old Testament as a witness to himself. He speaks of “all the Scriptures.” First, he uses a twofold label, “the writings of Moses and all the prophets”; then he uses a threefold label, “the law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.” This same method enabled Paul to say, “all Scripture”—that is, the entire Old Testament—is not only “inspired by God” and thus authoritative revelation for its original audience, but also “useful” for Christian preaching, teaching, and discipleship (2 Tim 3:16).

Noah’s Ark (before AD 1407)

With or without using specific technical vocabulary, Scripture frequently displays a typological relationship between things “alike in principle but diverse in form.”2

  • A priesthood “in the order of Melchizedek,” who didn’t inherit the priesthood, typifies Jesus Christ’s eternal priesthood.3
  • Old Testament priests served in a sanctuary that was “only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven” (Heb 8:5); however, “Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself” (Heb 9:24).
  • Christian baptism corresponds to Noah’s salvation through the flood (1 Pet 3:21).
  • Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of various aspects of Israel’s cultic and corporate life: he fulfills what was symbolized by their prophets (Deut 18), priests (Heb 7), kings (2 Sam 7; 1 Chr 17), Passover (1 Cor 5:7); exodus (Matt 2:15; quoting Hos 11:1), wilderness food and water (John 6:31–33; 1 Cor 10:4), and temple (John 2:19; Heb 7).
Nouailher (1560–1570), “Abraham Meets Melchizedek”

Even within the Old Testament itself we can see signs of a typological understanding:

  • The promised land is a veritable new Eden that flows with milk and honey; in turn, eschatological blessing picks up those same motifs.4
  • The tabernacle and temple can be depicted with Edenic imagery; in turn, the eschatological paradise proves to be a supersized temple-paradise.5
  • Isaiah foretells the return from Babylonian exile using the motif of a second exodus (Isa 11:11–12, 16).
  • The future Messiah is not only “David’s branch,”6 but even a second “David.”7

I conclude that typological interpretation and reapplication is the biblical mode of integrating biblical theology within the Old Testament itself, and then between the Old and New Testaments when that stage arrives in progressive revelation.

Proper Constitution of a Type

Patrick Fairbairn (1805–1874)

Fairbairn says, “The realities of the Gospel are the ultimate objects which were contemplated by the mind of God when planning the economy of successive dispensations.”8 In other words, God himself established the typological relationships; they are not just something we ourselves establish as a reading strategy.

Even though the Old Testament types were inferior to the form of their New Testament fulfillment, they could “prepare the way for the introduction of these ultimate objects.” This preparatory instruction taught the Old Testament people of God first. But it prefigured truth that God revealed for our benefit too. So Fairbairn describes a key qualification for anything in the Old Testament to be considered a type:

[It] ought not to be regarded as employed simply for the sake of those who lived during its continuance…. [It must] have been fitted to tell with beneficial effect on the spiritual state of the Church in her more advanced state of existence, after she had actually attained to those better things in themselves.9

For example, Paul insisted that the Old Testament legislation and events were recorded for our instruction:10 “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Tim 3:16, NLT).

About now, some of you readers are perhaps getting a little doubtful about my focus on typology as the method of inner-biblical exegesis. And the more aware you are of the history of so-called typology, the more guarded you will become about anything called “typology.” The next few blogs will survey the history of typology and its disreputable cousin “allegorization.”

Questions & Reflections

  1. Can you think of inner-biblical “exodus” typology, places in the Old and New Testaments that reflect typologically on the exodus as a pattern for God’s subsequent redemptive works?
  2. Can you think of other Old Testament events or institutions that the Bible itself treats typologically later in redemptive history?

Who am I?

Some of you who have checked out this blog might wonder, “Who is Dale Brueggemann, and what does he bring to the table in any discussion of typology?” So let me give you a bit of modern bios.

I was born in the first half of the last century, right after the end of World War II, and I grew up in a Christian home. After a couple years of college, I dropped out, joined the US Army, and did my bit in the Vietnam war. After returning home, I became a small-town pastor, first in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho (a logging and lumber town) and then in Wilder, Idaho (a farm town).

While I was in Wilder, I made the decision to return to school and finish my BA while I still had the GI Bill to contribute to expenses. I went to Northwest Nazarene College in Nampa, Idaho (now University) and finished in the Pre-Seminary program, which emphasized biblical studies and philosophy. After that I headed off to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, where I did an MA in Religion, then a PhD in Hermeneutics (Old Testament). At Westminster, I had the privilege of studying under some wonderful profs. I think of Richard Gaffin, Vern Poythress, Ray Dillard, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Moises Silva, Tremper Longman, and Bruce Waltke. During that same period, I became a Fellow at the Center for Computer Analysis of Texts (CCAT) at University of Pennsylvania. At that time, we were producing a morphologically tagged version of the LXX. While at there, I had the privilege of studying and working with Robert Kraft and Emanuel Tov. I especially remember “Tanakh Text Criticism” with Tov, which he taught while writing the Hebrew edition of his monograph on text criticism, and “Scrolls,” in which we doctoral students helped edit a new edition of the Nahal Hever Minor Prophets scroll.

As I was completing my PhD, the Soviet Union was imploding, and opportunities for missionary-educators popped up. I took a foreign missions appointment and became the Assemblies of God (USA) missionary appointed as Executive Director for their Eurasia Education Office. Shortly thereafter, I was also appointed as the Executive Director of the Eurasia Theological Association. In those capacities, I worked with my international colleagues to establish ministerial training schools, to develop curriculum at the various levels, and to guide schools toward relevant accreditation and/or validation.

Research and writing pretty much took a backseat to writing constitutions and bylaws, accreditation manuals, and curriculums. But alongside all the school visits for consultation, I did get to do a lot of teaching in schools, from diploma and BA level courses to MDiv and PhD level seminars. Every chance I got, I would teach Old Testament Theology or Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, or even diploma level “How to Study the Bible” courses. And a significant part of any course like that focused on typology and on the use of the Old Testament in the New. I drew heavily from Patrick Fairbairn’s Typology of Scripture and Leonhard Goppelt’s Typos. Of course, I wrote syllabi for those courses, at their various levels. And now I draw heavily from those as I begin these biblical theology blogs on Theologizer.

After retiring from overseas missions work, I took a position with Logos Mobile Ed as Contributing Editor. The end of April 2018, I retired from that, though I continue in that as a contractor, working about twenty hours a week. I’m hoping retirement gives me space in my life for more research, reflection, and writing. Since I took that missions appointment immediately after finishing my PhD, my research and writing has been limited, but here it is:

  • Worked as translator in Numbers on both editions of the New Living Translation.
  • Brueggemann, Dale A. “Brevard Childs’ Canon Criticism: An Example of Post-Critical Naiveté.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32, no. 3 (1989): 311–26.
  • _____. “The Use of the Psalter in John’s Apocalypse.” Ph.D. diss. Philadelphia: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1995.
  • Flokstra, Gerard, and Dale A Brueggemann. Classified Core Library Listings: Suggested Core Libraries for 2-Year, 3-Year, and 4-Year Bible Schools. Springfield, MO: Missionary Book Supply, 1996.
  • Brueggemann, Dale A. Singers and Sages: Old Testament Poets and Wisdom Literature. An MDiv level self-study course. SABC Extension Education Curriculum. Cambridge, U.K.:, 2002.
  • _____. “Israel Acquires Empire.” In They Spoke from God: A Survey of the Old Testament, edited by William C. Williams, 457–510. Springfield, MO: Logion, 2003.
  • _____. “Sweet Singers and Sages: Israel’s Poetry and Wisdom.” In They Spoke from God: A Survey of the Old Testament, edited by William C. Williams, 511–54. Springfield, MO: Logion, 2003.
  • _____. “Early Chiliasm: Background and Development of Millenarian Thought.” Paper presented at ETS. Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. Valley Forge, PA, 2005.
  • _____. “The Evangelists and the Psalms.” In Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, edited by Philip S. Johnston and David G. Firth, 263–78. Leicester, England: Apollos/Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.
  • _____. “Notes on Job.” In New Living Translation Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008.
  • _____. “Psalms: Titles.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, edited by Tremper Longman, III and Peter Ens, 613–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.
  • _____. “Protection Imagery.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings, edited by Tremper Longman, III and Peter Ens, 525–28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008.
  • _____. “Numbers.” In Leviticus-Deuteronomy, Philip W. Comfort, gen. ed. Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 215–444. Wheaton IL: Tyndale House, 2008.

In addition to these, I’ve written a host of syllabi, informally published study guides and workbooks, and read papers at various events.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoy following along in this blog. And I hope you pitch in with comments wherever that where I hit a nerve, prompt a question, or mention something you want to highlight, question, or support.