I’ve often been asked to explain how we can know whether the typology we are doing is a biblically warranted, covenantal typology over against the fanciful typology so frequently employed in Dispensationalism. This is not an easy question to answer. There are so many theological principles that undergird a biblical approach to typology. Two of the greatest hinderances to coming to a settled stance on biblical typology are 1) a lack of robust biblical theology, and 2) a lack of a careful, detailed reading and knowing of the Scriptures. In Matthew 12, our Lord Jesus demonstrated the bringing together of these two things when He proclaims a covenantal typology of Himself from the Old Testament. There, He says that David, the Temple, Solomon and Jonah were all types of Himself–the greater anti-type of all these people or things.
A biblical type may be safely described as “any person, place, event or thing in the Old Testament that serves the covenantal purposes of God, in a preparatory manner, until the fulfilling all things in redemption through the anti-type, Jesus Christ, or some particular benefit of His saving work.” This definition allows types in redemptive history to be more than simply people. This is important because we can say that the Ark was a type of the Temple and the New Creation in which man and animal are redeemed to dwell together. When Noah and the animals leave the Ark they step out into a typical new creation. Noah was most certainly a type of Christ (see this post), but his surroundings also served as types of the consummated work of Christ. These sorts of conclusions are not always easy to arrive at, but they certainly fit within the canonical, covenantal nature of Scripture.
So what resources are out there that can help us gather some of the most important and underlying principles of typology? Edmund Clowney’s WTS lecture “Christ in the Old Testament: Typology/Use of Symbolism in the NT” and “Christ in the Old Testament: Biblical Metaphor and Typology” are two of the best audio resources available on principles of typology. Patrick Fairbairn’s classic volume, The Typology of Scripture, and Benjamin Keach’s Tropologia: A Key to Open Scriptual Metaphors are still two of the best and most thorough works on this subject. Though much shorter and less academic, William M’Ewen’s Grace and Truth: The Glory and Fulness of the Redeemer Displayed is a worthwhile historical treatments of this subject.
Without parallel, the best exemplar of how to incorporate Reformed and Covenantal typology into an exposition of Scripture is Jonathan Edwards. His Typological Writings (which you can read online here) is one of the most developed–albeit, at times fanciful–works in this branch of hermeneutics. The most influential example of covenantal typology I read as a young Christian was in a section of Edwards’ sermon, “The Excellency of Christ.” Edwards explained the victory of Jesus over Satan under the types of the Old Testament in the following way:
It was in Christ’s last sufferings, above all, that he was delivered up to the power of his enemies; and yet by these, above all, he obtained victory over his enemies.
Christ never was so in his enemies’ hands, as in the time of his last sufferings. They sought his life before; but from time to time they were restrained, and Christ escaped out of their hands, and this reason is given for it, that his time was not yet come. But now they were suffered to work their will upon him, he was in a great degree delivered up to the malice and cruelty of both wicked men and devils. And therefore when Christ’s enemies came to apprehend him, he says to them, Luke 22:53. “When I was daily with you in the temple ye stretched forth no hand against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness.“
And yet it was principally by means of those sufferings that he conquered and overthrew his enemies. Christ never so effectually bruised Satan’s head, as when Satan bruised his heel. The weapon with which Christ warred against the devil, and obtained a most complete victory and glorious triumph over him, was the cross, the instrument and weapon with which he thought he had overthrown Christ, and brought on him shameful destruction. Col. 2:14,15. “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances,–nailing it to his cross: and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” In his last sufferings, Christ sapped the very foundations of Satan’s kingdom, he conquered his enemies in their own territories, and beat them with their own weapons as David cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword. The devil had, as it were, swallowed up Christ, as the whale did Jonah– but it was deadly poison to him, he gave him a mortal wound in his own bowels. He was soon sick of his morsel, and was forced to do by him as the whale did by Jonah. To this day he is heart-sick of what he then swallowed as his prey. In those sufferings of Christ was laid the foundation of all that glorious victory he has already obtained over Satan, in the overthrow of his heathenish kingdom in the Roman empire, and all the success the gospel has had since; and also of all his future and still more glorious victory that is to be obtained in the earth. Thus Samson’s riddle is most eminently fulfilled, Judges 14:14. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” And thus the true Samson does more towards the destruction of his enemies at his death than in his life, in yielding up himself to death, he pulls down the temple of Dagon, and destroys many thousands of his enemies, even while they are making themselves sport in his sufferings–and so he whose type was the ark, pulls down Dagon, and breaks off his head and hands in his own temple, even while he is brought in there as Dagon’s captive. (1 Samuel 5:1-4)
Thus Christ appeared at the same time, and in the same act, as both a lion and a lamb. He appeared as a lamb in the hands of his cruel enemies; as a lamb in the paws, and between the devouring jaws, of a roaring lion; yea, he was a lamb actually slain by this lion: and yet at the same time, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, he conquers and triumphs over Satan; destroying his own destroyer; as Samson did the lion that roared upon him, when he rent him as he would a kid. And in nothing has Christ appeared so much as a lion, in glorious strength destroying his enemies, as when he was brought as a lamb to the slaughter. In his greatest weakness he was most strong; and when he suffered most from his enemies, he brought the greatest confusion on his enemies.
Thus this admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies was manifest in Christ, in his offering up himself to God in his last sufferings.1
1. Jonathan Edwards http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.excellency.html