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The significance of Biblical typology

Yvonne De Carlo (third from left) kneels beside Charlton Heston as Moses in 'The Ten Commandments'.

This last Sunday was Easter. ‘The Ten Commandments’ were on television again. I used to enjoy watching that movie, and then I began to wonder why they were showing ‘The Ten Commandments’ when Easter had to do with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t on the scene yet when the Ten Commandments were given. That shows how a person’s perspective can blind them. ‘The Ten Commandments’ is about the first Passover; it’s about the Jewish holiday of Passover. The Jews were spared when they smeared the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their homes.

That event is a type of Christ. It foreshadowed in history aspects of the sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world, so that in the blood of Christ the sting of death could pass over each one who believes in Christ.

Biblical typology is a fascinating subject to me. It’s one of the touch points in a web of belief that for me makes Christian faith warranted.

The Wikipedia describes typology as follows:

“Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the predictive relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. Events, persons or statements in the Old Testament are seen as types prefiguring or superseded by antitypes, events or aspects of Christ or his revelation described in the New Testament. For example Jonah may be seen as the type of Christ in that he appeared to have emerged from the whale’s belly and from death. In the fullest version of the theory of typology, the whole purpose of the Old Testament is viewed as merely the provision of types for Christ, the antitype, or fulfillment. The theory began in the Early Church, was at its most influential in the High Middle Ages, and continued to be popular, especially in Calvinism, after the Protestant Reformation, but in subsequent periods has been given less emphasis. The most notable exception to this is in the Eastern Orthodox Church, where typology is still a common and frequent exegetical tool, mainly due to that church’s great emphasis on continuity in doctrinal presentation through all historical periods. Typology was frequently used in early Christian art, where type and antitype would be depicted in contrasting positions.”

The Theopedia states that typological imagery “ … occurs frequently in the prophets and other prophecies contained in Scripture. For instance, the promise of Genesis 3:15 is cast in terms of the struggle between men and serpents, and yet it contains the Gospel, as the Seed of the woman crushes the head of the Serpent once and for all on the Cross; it is for this reason that this verse is called the Protevangelium.”

Some cases where a person points to a type in the Bible seem like stretches, but others are uncanny. When I realised that somehow God had placed in the current of history markers that pointed to the Messiah, to Jesus, I was stunned. God told the people of Israel on their journeys to place markers indicating where they had been so that subsequent generations could see them and recount their history. They built stones upon stones in the middle of the dried up Jordan River, and they built these reminders in various other places. It seems to be God’s way to place markers in the flow of history so that people have a physical place and structure to help them call to mind an event or action in sacred history. Types point ahead, but after that to which they point takes place, they connect up vast swathes of time in which one can see God at work, setting a marker in the stream of life through events in human history.

Alvin Plantinga addressed this issue of a justified belief. Plantinga is known by many for his philosophical work, being regarded as America’s foremost philosopher of God. He has published on the philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics and Christian apologetics. He is the author of numerous books including ‘God and Other Minds’ (1967), ‘The Nature of Necessity’ (1974), and a trilogy of books on epistemology, culminating in ‘Warranted Christian Belief’ (2000).

The notion of a warranted belief means that one’s belief is justified. It does not mean that one’s belief is certainly true. It just means that there is enough to consider such belief to be reasonable and worthy of consideration.

Some would say that Christian belief in God is unreasonable, that it cannot stand against science. Atheists like Richard Dawkins have debated believers like Alister McGrath around this issue, and such debates will continue. There will be no winners, because the existence of God cannot be proven — neither can it be disproved. What is clear though is that when people put their faith in God, they are not doing so as a desperate and blind leap into total darkness with absolutely no sound reason for doing so.

People will have their own reasons to believe, those factors that bring them to God to begin with, and people will develop supports after the fact, things they learn from others somewhere along the way. Both kinds of reasons are valid. In my case, I identified a feeling of peace that I associated with a focus upon God, and I realised an opening up of my understanding to Scripture as being a response to prayer in which I told God that if He were real to make Himself known to me. He did. He reached out of the words on the pages of the Bible and grabbled hold of me by my neck. Then He looked me in the eye and asked, “What do you see?” That’s a poetic way of saying that I began to see. I began to understand and to comprehend what the Bible was saying. Only after I had experienced that initial amazement did I begin to study the Bible in earnest, and that is when I learned about typology. My reasons to believe included spontaneously emerging factors and deliberate results of study, factors that came to make my initial belief all the more sure and warranted.

I don’t think a person can be sure of his or her faith without these two kinds of experiences. We have to study up on what we intuit to begin with; we have to be at the business of testing our faith and making sure that it is justified. That includes working through our doubts. If God is real, He can stand whatever questions and searchings a person might throw at him in the effort to make sure that faith in God is warranted.