Typology as Prophecy (Fred Zaspel)
In the previous post we saw that typology entails a genuinely prospective element. That is, there is something about the “type,” even within the Old Testament itself, that anticipates a fuller realization elsewhere. In this post I would like to follow up on that just a bit and see how the New Testament treats types as prophetic, and even predictive in some sense.
Greg Beale and others have pointed out that there are, broadly, two forms of predictive prophecy in the Old Testament: direct verbal prediction, and indirect typological prediction.
That both of these may be described as “prophetic” and predictive in some sense is evident from the fact that in the New Testament both are said to find “fulfillment” in Jesus. In fact, the famous “fulfillment formulas” that introduce the fulfillment of a direct verbal prophecy are used equally in reference to the fulfillment of indirect typological prophecies also. Familiar expressions such as “in order that it may be fulfilled,” “as it is written,” “in order to fulfill this Scripture,” “thus it has been said,” and so on, may be used, as the selected passages from the Gospels below will quickly demonstrate.
Direct Verbal Prophecy
Indirect Typological Prophecy
|Mt.1:22? / Is.7:14||Mt.1:22? / Is.7:14|
|Mt.2:4-6 / Mic.5:2||Mt.2:15 / Hos.11:1|
|Mt.3:3 / Is.40:3||Mt.2:17-18 / Jer.31:15|
|Mt.4:12-16 / Is.9:1-2||Mt.13:35 / Ps.78:2|
|Mt.8:16-17 / Is.53:4||Mt.27:9 / Zech.11:12-13|
|Mt.12:17-21 / Is.42:1-3||Jn.13:18 / Ps.41:9|
|Mt.21:2-6 / Is.62:11, Zech.9:9||Jn.15:25 / Ps.35:19, 69:4|
|Lk.3:3-6 / Is.40:3-5||Jn.17:12|
|Lk.4:17-21 / Is.61:1-2||Jn.19:36 / Ex.12:46, Num.9:12|
|Jn.12:37-38 / Is.53:1|
|Jn.19:37 / Zech.12:10|
Now clearly, the sense of “fulfill” can vary. It can connote “this happened just as the prophet explicitly said it would.” Or it can connote a broader pattern, a type, that finds its ultimate realization in Christ. That is, direct verbal prophecy or indirect typological prophecy. But in either case there is at least the broad idea of prediction and realization / fulfillment, as these “fulfillment formulas,” common to both, demonstrate. Underlying either use is a recognition of redemptive-historical movement — expectation, progress, and fulfillment. And underlying both is also the conviction that, at least in the mind of the divine Author, the passage had some kind of anticipatory function. The way the Old Testament anticipates Christ varies, but both categories are properly understood as prophetic, even predictive in some sense.
Underlying the biblical notion of typology, then, are a number of presuppositions. First, there is the understanding of the relation of the Old Testament to the New Testament as essentially that of promise and fulfillment. This is reflected in the larger framework of the Old Testament and its patterns, and it is one aspect of typology specifically. The broad narrative of the Old Testament is incomplete in that its story never reaches a climax or conclusion. There is a hope still in place that awaits Christ.
Second, there is a recognition of history as revelation, a conviction that God reveals himself and his purpose in words, yes, but also in historical events and actions.
Third, there is an understanding of history as prophecy, an understanding that God directed and arranged historical events, institutions, and persons in a way that was not just analogous to but inherently prospective of a greater reality yet to come. There was a conviction that the patterns of history were illustrative and forward-pointing, portraying ahead of time the way God would yet work in history.
Fourth, then, the sovereignty of God in history is also presupposed, an unshakable conviction that as Lord of history he was all along arranging and directing events and people with his own purpose and goal in mind, thus establishing a framework and declaring ahead of time what he would yet do.
Fifth, typology also presupposes that history is redemptive in purpose and in design, that God is working in history toward the goal of his gracious saving purpose that culminates in Christ.
Sixth, typology also presupposes the centrality of Christ in history and in revelation. In a sense, typology is christology, for it all — history and revelation — culminates in him (Eph. 1:10).
Fred Zaspel (Ph.D., Free University of Amsterdam) is pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel.