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Types of Jesus in the Old Testament

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Definition of a type

A type is a special form of prophecy in which the Old Testament is interpreted in the light of the New Testament. A type is a historical person, object, event or institution in the Old Testament which in some way foreshadows a particular aspect of the person or work of Christ in the New Testament. A type must be intended by God and must pictorially foreshadow some aspect of the redemption that was achieved through Christ’s incarnation.

It is important to note that a true type must have a historical basis in the Old Testament, so it was a reality experienced by the people of Israel with real meaning to them. This distinguishes it from an allegory, which is a fictitious story with a deeper spiritual meaning, which does not normally have any historical basis. A type is also distinctly different from a symbol, in that a type is a form of prophecy which pictorially foreshadows some aspect of future redemption. A symbol, however, is a pictorial way of portraying a present spiritual reality and does not necessarily need any future fulfilment.

The Greek word used for 'type'

The English word 'type' is translated from the Greek word 'tupos', which literally means the mark or impression made on a soft substance by a blow. It is derived from the verb 'to strike' and has a wide range of meanings in the New Testament. For example, it is used in this literal way for the mark of the nails in the hands of Jesus (Jn 20:25). It is used as an idolatrous image struck on metal (Acts 7:43), and more figuratively for the “example” Paul set for the believers to imitate (2 Thess 3:9), and as a 'warning' for them to avoid (1 Cor 10:6). In a technical theological sense it is used only when Adam is described by Paul as a 'type' of the one who was to come (Rom 5:14). It is likely that Paul was using a theological term already familiar to his readers, as typology had probably already been used regularly by Jewish teachers in their interpretation of the Scriptures.

The NT also uses the word 'antitupos', meaning 'antitype', in which the type in the OT foreshadows the antitype in the NT In this way, Noah’s flood was the type that prefigured the antitype of baptism (1 Pet 3:21). However, the author of Hebrews reverses the concept and sees the earthly tabernacle as the antitype of the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 9:24).

The debate over typology

Among biblical scholars there is a wide range of opinions over typology, ranging from those who completely reject typology, to those who detect types of Christ everywhere in the OT.

In the older interpretation of OT, the tendency was to ignore the original message of the text and any meaning the events had to the people of Israel. Instead, interpreters jumped immediately to a typological interpretation, so every part of the OT directly described Christ or some aspect of the Christian life. This approach is still common today in the church. It is popular and can be devotionally inspiring, but tends to become rather subjective, as there was no objective way of identifying a type. Amongst the Catholics and Orthodox, there is a tendency to identify the sacraments, particularly the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, in the OT stories.

With the rise of rationalism in the 19th century, typology was rejected as being old-fashioned. This was particularly because scholars denied that God could foretell the future, so prophecy and typology was thought to be impossible. This led to the NT becoming detached from its OT roots, and a loss of the overall plan of salvation through the entire Scriptures.

In neo-orthodox circles associated with Karl Barth, the tendency was to disbelieve any historical truth of the OT stories, but to claim that they contained a deeper more mystical kind of spiritual truth. It was not important to know whether or not the story actually happened historically, so many people influenced by neo-orthodoxy would be attracted to a typological interpretation of the text. However, this is not true typology, as a true type has to have a genuine historical basis.

A more conservative evangelical approach is to say that types must be specifically defined by the NT This, however, may be a too severely limited view of typology, as patterns of God’s working can be clearly seen in history. These began in the OT, and continued and came to fulfilment in the NT, climaxing in the life and ministry of Christ.

Justification for typology

The justification for typology is to be found in the NT itself, in that although it never denies the historical truth of the OT events, it often teaches that they have a deeper spiritual message in which they foreshadow the greater redemption achieved by Jesus.

Jesus told the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus that the law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms contained things written about himself (Lk 24:44). Because he included the law of Moses, which does not contain a large quantity of prophetic material, it is likely that Jesus himself understood the law typologically, and encouraged his followers to treat it in the same way.

In his letters, Paul often used OT sacrificial language to describe the death of Christ (Eph 5:2), and implied that Christ was present with the people of Israel in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:4). It is particularly in the book of Hebrews that types in the OT are used to teach about the spiritual realities to be found in Christ, particularly including Jesus as the great high priest (ch 7), a better sanctuary (ch 8) and as the perfect once and for all sacrifice (ch 9). The author of Hebrews implies that there is more typological teaching from the tabernacle than he states (9:5), and similarly from the story of Melchizedek, because he rebukes his readers for failing to recognise it (5:11).

The presence of types shows the unity of God’s plan of salvation and of the continuity from the OT into the NT. The same God inspired both, and both proclaim the same message of salvation. This was foreshadowed in the OT through the historical experiences of Israel and revealed in the incarnation of Christ in the New.

Principles for identifying types

Typology has often come into disrepute among scholars because of its excessive use on a popular level, so it is necessary to determine some guidelines for their identification. Superficial similarities do not constitute a type, such as ones based on numbers or colours. For example Rahab’s scarlet cord (Josh 2:18) should not be considered to be a type of the blood of Christ, as the only connection between the two is the common colour, otherwise there is no spiritual significance. A type has to have some redemptive meaning historically to the people of Israel, and thus it foreshadowed the greater redemption achieved by Christ.

Our identification of types should be guided by the way the Spirit-inspired NT writers used typology. They tended to make parallels with major truths, rather than discussing minute details. For example, although the tabernacle as a whole is seen as a type of Christ, it would not be correct to seek deep spiritual meaning in all the detailed instructions for its construction. Types should illustrate clearly taught NT truths, rather than being a source of new doctrines; Jesus, the anti-type, is always greater than the type (Mt 12:41). To avoid excessive over-spiritualisation it is important to remember that the type was part of the historical experience of Israel, so it is necessary to seek its original meaning in the context of the OT book, before claiming a typological meaning.

Individuals identified as types

A number of individual people are identified as types in the NT, including Adam, and Jonah. Many commentators have seen parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Christ, but Joseph is never identified as a type, and is only rarely mentioned in the NT.

a. Adam

Adam is the only person who is expressly identified as a type of Christ in the NT (Rom 5:14). Adam was a type of Christ in that his single action had universal impact, and this prefigured the universal impact of Christ’s single act. However, Adam’s act had negative impact, contrasted with the positive impact of Christ’s act, so the typology in this passage is used to contrast Adam with Christ, rather than to compare them. Adam’s single act of sin led to condemnation and death for all, which is contrasted with Christ’s single act of righteousness which led to righteousness and life for all (Rom 5:14-19). Adam was the head of the old creation, compared with Christ as the head of the new creation, so Paul could consider all people as being either “dying in Adam”, or “being made alive in Christ” (1 Cor 15:22).

b. Jonah

When the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign, the only sign he would give them was the sign of the prophet Jonah. In the same way that Jonah spent three days and nights in the fish, so also the Son of Man will spend three days and nights in the heart of the earth (Mt 12:39). We should note that Jews counted time inclusively, so three days and nights described any portion of three days, and not necessarily precisely seventy-two hours. Jesus compared Jonah’s experience in history with his own coming death and burial, even though the original account of Jonah merely describes events in his life without any hint of any future relevance. In this same chapter, Matthew makes a typological comparison with three important aspects of Israel’s spiritual history, saying that 'something greater than the temple' (v6), 'Jonah' (v41) and 'Solomon' (v42) 'is here'. Through this, he shows that Jesus is superior to, and is the successor of, God’s appointed leaders of Israel’s in the past: the priest, prophet and wise man.

Events in the OT considered as types

a. Crossing Red Sea, manna and water from rock

When writing to the Corinthians, Paul refers to a number of events in the wilderness wanderings to bring a warning to the church in Corinth. It appears that they had a superstitious, even magical, trust in the power of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper, thinking that through these they will be able to stand against temptation (1 Cor 10:12), or as a protection if they ate food offered to idols when they attended pagan meals. He says that the Israelites were baptised into Moses when they crossed the Red Sea (1 Cor 10:1-2). The Israelites passed through the waters from death to life in the same way that believers in Christ pass through the waters of baptism showing they have passed from death to life. He also states that they ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink when they ate the manna (Ex 16) and drank the water from the rock (Ex 17), even saying that the rock was Christ (v4). The food and drink were 'spiritual' because God supernaturally provided them in the wilderness, as well as them being a type or analogy of the Lord’s Supper, the special spiritual food for Christians.

He then brings a warning to the Corinthians, that this spiritual food did not protect them from the judgement of God when they were struck down in the wilderness for their idolatry and disobedience (v5). In the same way, eating the Lord’s supper will not protect them from their idolatry. He clearly identifies these events as types when he says that they are warnings for us, using the Greek word 'tupos', or type (v6,11).

Objects as types

a. The serpent in the wilderness

When speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus parallelled his lifting up (to the cross) with Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:14-15, Num 21:9). Just as the people in the wilderness were saved from death by looking up to the snake on the pole, it is necessary that Jesus will be lifted up, so people will be saved by looking up to, and believing in him. The lifted-up serpent becomes a picture, or type, of the lifted-up Jesus. The renewal of natural life achieved by looking up to the serpent is compared with the renewal of spiritual life attained by looking up to Jesus on the cross. In the OT story, most Jews should have understood that it was Yahweh who saved them following their obedience to his word, rather than the serpent (Wis 16:5-7). However, Hezekiah later destroyed this bronze serpent because people had worshipped it as an idol with magical powers (2 Kg 18:4).

OT institutions identified as types in the NT

a. The sacrificial system

Consistently through the New Testament, the death of Jesus is understood as a fulfilment of the Jewish sacrificial system, so it too can be safely identified as a type. In the law of Moses, the Jews were commanded to perform animal sacrifices to make atonement for unintentional sin, so they would be forgiven (Lev 4:20). It should be noted that for the majority of deliberate transgressions, the penalty was death (eg. Ex 21:12). However, according to the author of Hebrews, the OT sacrificial system was intended to be merely a shadow of what was to come (Heb 10:1). The sacrifices were ineffective to cleanse from sin, but only acted as a reminder of sin (10:2-4,11), and were only intended to be temporary (9:10). They are contrasted with the once and for all sacrifice of Christ, which was effective to cleanse the conscience from sin (10:12). The writer of Hebrews also draws a parallel between the burning of the sin offering outside the camp (Lev 4:12) with the suffering of Jesus outside the city gate of Jerusalem (Heb 13:12). From this, he exhorts his readers to follow his example and to be willing to suffer disgrace as he did by committing themselves totally to him regardless of the consequences.

b. The Passover Lamb

One of the clearest types is the Passover Lamb. In the original account, the lamb was slain, and its blood spread on the door-posts, so the angel of death would 'pass over' the houses of the Israelites. By doing this, they were physically saved by the blood of the lamb, when the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed (Ex 12:12-13). When dealing with the issue of immorality in the church in Corinth, Paul draws a message from two aspects of the Passover ritual. Firstly, he describes Christ as "our paschal lamb who has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7), so we are spiritually saved by the blood of Christ, and receive new life through him. Then, also, just as the Israelites had to clear out the old yeast before celebrating the Passover festival (Ex 12:19), so Paul calls the believers to remove the yeast of immorality from the church.

Parallels are even drawn out from small details of the Passover ritual. Just as the Passover lamb (Ex 12:5), as well as the other sacrifices (eg. Lev 1:10), had to be without blemish, Peter described Jesus as a lamb without defect or blemish, by whose precious blood we were ransomed from our past lives (1 Pet 1:19). Also, not a bone of the lamb was to be broken (Ex 12:46), so John noted that when the legs of Jesus were not broken by the Roman soldiers as a fulfilment of scripture (Jn 19:34,36). John sets the crucifixion of Jesus on the Day of Preparation for the Passover (Jn 19:14,31,42), the day the Passover lambs were killed (Mk 14:12), thus making the identification of Jesus as the true Passover lamb.

Types in Matthew’s Gospel

The most extensive use of typology in the NT is to be found in the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Hebrews. As these are probably the most Jewish books in the NT, it would suggest that the use of typology was familiar to Jewish readers. Matthew uses typology extensively to affirm his message the all the hopes and expectations of Israel find their fulfilment in Jesus. Jesus is the true king David, and the true Moses, and the true Israel.

In Matthew’s account of the birth narratives, one theme that he brings out is that Jesus retraced the route of exodus. One example is when he quotes Hosea, “out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos11:1, Matt 2:15). Although Hosea was originally remembering God showing his love for his people by delivering them out of Egypt, Matthew sees this as a prophecy that was being fulfilled when Jesus and his family fled to Egypt to escape from Herod the Great. Matthew considers that Jesus is the true Israel who is bringing a new Exodus, so Israel’s experiences were a type of Jesus’s experiences. The practical lesson is that to belong to Israel, a person must belong to Jesus.

Types in the Book of Hebrews

As noted above, the author of the Book of Hebrews makes continuous use of typology to show the superiority of Jesus over the institutions of the old covenant. Each institution was good in its historical situation when they were originally established by God. Each one of them can be identified as types as they all foreshadowed the coming of Jesus, the redemption he attained, and the new covenant he established. Through this, he fulfilled their purposes and brought them to an end.

The divine origin of types is shown when Moses was shown the pattern (type) of the tabernacle on the mountain (Heb 8:5), and was told to make the tabernacle according to the pattern he had seen (Acts 7:44). Christ, as the great high priest, passed through the greater and perfect tent, and entered in to the Holy Place with his own blood (Heb 9:11). It appears that Moses actually saw something physical on the mountain (Ex 25:9, 40), rather than merely receiving verbal instructions for the building of the tabernacle. It is possible he was permitted to see God’s heavenly dwelling place, and then instructed to make an earthly copy of it, which would become God’s dwelling place in the midst of Israel (Ex 25:4). In this understanding, the Levitical priests served in the replica or shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, where Christ served as the great high priest. The tabernacle also foreshadowed the presence of God with his people in the new covenant. In the former, only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies (Heb 9:25), but in the new, we are all urged to draw near with boldness to the throne of grace (4:16), because we can enter the heavenly sanctuary by the blood of Jesus (10:19-20).

Types not specifically identified in the NT

As noted above, some evangelical scholars limit types to those expressly identified in the NT. However, it is possible that there are other types in addition to those. One is the Scapegoat on the Day of Atonement. Through the laying on of hands, all the sins of Israel were transferred onto the head of the goat, which was then sent out into the wilderness, away from the camp of Israel, hence taking all their iniquities away (Lev 16:22). This can be seen as a type of Christ, who bore all our sins and took them away.


The study of types in the OT gives a rich and inspiring insight into the person and ministry of Christ, especially his sacrificial death. Typology shows the continuity between the two testaments, that God’s plan of redemption started through his workings in the history of the people of Israel, and came to its climax and fulfilment through the death of Christ. However, there are excesses to avoid if the Biblical text is to be handled with integrity.

Ashley, T.R. The Book of Numbers. New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT). Eerdmans 1993.
Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Eerdmans 1990.
Bruce, F.F. The Gospel of John. Eerdmans 1983.
Bruce, F.F. Typology in Illustrated Bible Dictionary. ed. JD Douglas. IVP 1986. Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall. IVP 1992.
C.A. Evans Typology in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Ed Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, I Howard Marshall. IVP 1992.
Fee, G.D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Eerdmans 1987.
France, R.T. Matthew. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (TNTC). IVP 1985.
France, R.T. Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher. IVP 1989.
Ladd, G.E. A Theology of the New Testament. Eerdmans 1996.
Moo, D. The Epistle to the Romans. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Eerdmans 1996.
Morris, L. The Gospel According to Matthew. Pillar Commentary. Eerdmans 1992.
Payne, J. Barton, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy. Baker 1973.
Rad, G von, Old Testament Theology. Harper and Row 1962.
Vos. G, Biblical Theology. Banner of Truth 1948.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

New Testament History

Articles which give additional information about the history and culture of the first century, giving helpful background knowledge for the Gospels and Paul's travels.

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey.

More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Early Church Fathers

These are a series of pages giving biographical information about some of the more significant early church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian, as well as some important groups and events in the first centuries of the church.

Artifacts in the British Museum relevant to Biblical studies

These are a series of pages describing artifacts in each gallery of the British Museum, which have a connection with the Bible.

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Historical documents

These are a series of pages containing historical documents which give helpful information for Biblical studies. These include Hittite suzerainty treaties with a similar structure to the Book of Deuteronomy, different lists of the New Testament books and quotations from Josephus and other ancient writers.

Life Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.