Church of God, Carmichael, CA

Shadows of Good Things

Or the Gospel in Type

Russell R. Byrum, 1922

[Original Page Numbers]



  Among all nations, especially in the earlier stages of their civilization, abstract thoughts and ideas have been represented by material symbols, either actions or objects. Such symbols have been especially common in their religion. Their worship of material objects in nature or of images began by their using them as symbols of the spiritual deity. So likewise their forms and means of worship, including sacrifices, were symbolic to a considerable degree. The religion of ancient Israel, as described in the Old Testament, contained much of this symbolic element; but these symbols differ from those of the ethnic religions in that they were divinely given and therefore were of a much higher order both in nature and in purpose.

  Classes of Bible Symbols.—Clearness in thought requires that we distinguish between various classes of symbols and types. The Scriptures contain two main classes of symbols, ( 1 ) visional and ( 2 ) material. Visional symbols are such as never have had nor ever will have any real existence, but are merely presented to the mind of the seer, or are seen in vision by him. Many such symbols are described in various parts of the Bible, and such books as Daniel and Ezekiel, and especially the Apocalypse, are largely given to them. Particular examples are the kine and ears of corn of Pharaoh's dream, the four great beasts of Daniel 7, and the great red dragon of Revelation 12.

  Material symbols are as truly symbolic as are visional, and rest on the same basic principle as to their symbolic nature and interpretation. But these have a real material existence, and these, too, are divinely ordained as symbols. Examples of these are the tabernacle, the sacrifices, the Sabbath, and Melchisedec. They are found principally in the writings of Moses. [12]

  Two classes of material symbols, or types, are also to be distinguished, (1) ritual and (2) historical. Ritual types are those which have to do with the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic worship, such as the tabernacle, sacrifices, priesthood, and feasts. The historical types are those persons, things, places, and events which are of a typical nature, as the brazen serpent, or the land of Canaan.

Nature of Types

  A knowledge of the essential nature of types is important to our knowing what are types and what are not. Too often for lack of a clear definition of what constitutes a type things have been called types which are referred to by New Testament writers only as illustrations, or which are merely similar in some particular but yet not typical.

  In defining types we are dealing with the subject of Old Testament types and not the Scriptural usage of the particular word, for, as we use the English word in a variety of meanings, so the Greek word tupos has various uses. A type may be described as a divinely appointed institution or action to represent a religious truth and to fore show, by resemblance, those facts in the work of Christ on which the truth symbolized rests.

  A Type Resembles the Antitype.—The first great basic law of typology is the element of resemblance or analogy between type and antitype. Not only is there an analogy between the type and the truth prefigured, but also between the type and the truth symbolized to them to whom the type is given. A certain proper parallel is maintained between the type and that which is represented. Spiritual good things are represented by material good things and spiritually impure things by material impurity. So leprosy, a loathsome disease, is made to represent sin. Also leaven, a form of fermentation or decaying vegetable matter, is made a type of sin. Likewise the priest must wash his body clean with water before he can enter into the house of God, to signify the moral cleansing from sin needed to enter God's holy presence. [13]

  But identical similarity is not required in a type. In such a case the type would not be a type but the thing itself to be represented. There must be in a type, not only similitude, but also disparity in some phases. Types do not agree with their antitypes in every point. This brings us to another important fact in the nature of types—only institutions or actions, using the terms broadly, are types, never persons, or things as such. Not the lamb with the flock in the field, but the lamb bleeding on God's altar is a type of the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." The ram in fierce struggle with another of its kind does not typify Christ the sin bearer, but when it is led to God's altar, the hand of the offerer is laid upon it, and its life blood flows out in sacrificial offering it becomes a type of the true sacrifice for sin. Melchisedec as a man of ancient Salem does not typify Christ, but he does as "priest of the most high God." The manna regarded as a natural phenomenon is not typical of Christ, the bread of life; but as a divinely provided means of feeding God's people it is a type.

  We are aware that this principle excludes many persons and things, as such, that have been considered typical, but it is according to both the Scriptures and reason. Many of these persons and things, however, because of their typical offices, actions, or uses are types in this connection.

  A Type Is Divinely Preordained As Such.—A second important element in the nature of a type is its divine appointment. It is not sufficient that some institution or action already past be taken to represent things yet future, but the type itself must be preordained to represent that truth in the more distant future. Marsh has well said: "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 preordained; and they must have been preordained as constituent parts of the same general scheme [14] of Divine Providence. It is this previous design and the preordained connection which constitutes the relation of type and antitype." Those who disregard this important point of divine preordination and make mere resemblance alone their criterion for determining what are types in the Old Testament will go far astray, as have gone certain interpreters of the past.

  A Type Both Symbolizes and Predicts.—The third characteristic of types is that they both show and foreshow. They primarily symbolize religious truths of the dispensation in which they are given, but they secondarily predict important facts of the future on which the truths symbolized rest. Thus they possess a twofold character. The dying lamb at God's altar was symbolic of the great truth that the sin of the offerer could be forgiven only on the ground of vicarious suffering, and it typified or predicted the more glorious fact of Christ's vicarious suffering to atone for men's sins. A type, then, is first a symbol of a general religious truth already revealed, and secondly a prediction of that same truth as it is related to Christ's work of redemption. God first asks men to believe "the truth" and next to believe that same truth as it is "in Jesus."

  Thus we find that those more elementary truths symbolized by the type must agree with and rest upon the facts of the antitype. This is what constitutes them types. This is the relation between the old covenant and the new. The type was conformed to the antitype, not the antitype to the type. The devout, spiritual minded Israelite who came to God's altar with a load of sin doubtless often recognized that the blood of the mere animal was insufficient to atone for his sins and would probably see dimly by faith the true offering for sin. However, of a type it must not be supposed that those to whom it was given should always recognize the predictive element. Probably it was enough that they saw the general truth represented. Doubtless these things were written principally "for our learning," especially as to the predictive element.

  To the ancient Israelite the symbolic element in the type was of primary importance, but to us the predictive [15] element has more especial value. In this respect a type is a prophetic similitude, or an acted prophecy. It is as truly prophetic as is a word prophecy, and had equal value with word prophecy, in directing the faith of the Old Testament saints to the coming salvation, and has also as a means of instruction and as Christian evidence for us today. In the one class a word is made to describe a future idea or fact, and in the other an institute or an act in some respect analogous to that future idea or fact is used to foreshow it. Of the two classes the acted prophecy is probably more forceful and represents more details, especially to those who behold it, than does the word prophecy. In the fifty third chapter of Isaiah is given a word prophecy vividly portraying the vicarious suffering of Christ. At the altar of God's house the same great truths were daily predicted both morning and evening in the harmless, innocent lamb, its substitutionary death for another, and the sprinkling of its blood before God.

Interpretation of Types

  As we have described the characteristics of types heretofore for the purpose of aiding in determining what institutes and acts are types, so now our object is to call attention to those principles which will enable us properly to interpret those things found to be typical; for error in interpreting is probably as common as is the mistake of ascribing a typical character to those things which are not types.

  It is well to remember, however, in our consideration of principles of typology, that we are by no means dependent upon the principles we may describe. These are needed only where the Bible is silent or not explicit either as to the fact or the interpretation of a particular type. God has been pleased in his infinite wisdom to give us by his inspired penmen definite information that certain things are types and of what they are typical. The tabernacle and all its rites are described in a single verse (Heb. 8:5) as being typical. It is from these examples of interpretation of types by the Divine Spirit that we get our principles of typology. [16]


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