In your last “Now, That’s a Good Question,” you affirmed that “the New Testament writers saw much of the Old Testament as having typological significance.” My question is: When should we regard something as typical, and when should we not? Should we not regard anything in the Old Testament as typical only if the New Testament affirms that it is a type, whether directly or indirectly?

Typology is not an easy subject to discuss in brief in such a column as this. I would recommend for you to consult Patrick Fairbairn’s Typology of Scripture (Kregal, 1989), if you would like a more in-depth study.

Nevertheless, on your question: It is indeed the view of some commentators that we should only take anything as a type if we can find a clear New Testament affirmation of its as being a type. Such a view, however, is unnecessarily restrictive, and, as Fairbairn warns, “destroys to a large extent the bond of connection between the Old and the New Testament Scriptures, and thus deprives the Christian Church of much of the instruction in divine things which they were designed to impart” (op. cit., 20).

Moreover, the writer of Hebrews suggests to us that there is much more typological significance in the Old Testament than we may see on the surface when he points out that Melchizedek is a typological figure which his readers had failed to appreciate (Heb 5:11), and that he was not, at present, able to expound on all the typological significance of the furnishing in the tabernacle (Heb 9:5, 9). This suggests to us that many things in the Old Testament have typological significance, which are not explicitly highlighted as types in the New Testament, whether explicitly or implicitly.

I believe that we may legitimately regard an Old Testament entity,—be it an object, person, ordinance, or event,—as a type when we can demonstrate that it is purposefully and divinely designed to pre-figure a New Testament reality, especially when a meaningful correspondence may be shown at more than one point.

Fairbairn concurs with this view:

Understanding the word type,… in the theological sense,—that is, conceiving its strictly proper and distinctive sphere to lie in the relations of the old to the new, or the things which, by general consent, are held to enter into the constitution of a type. It is held, first, that in the character, action, or institution which is denominated the type, there must be a resemblance in form or spirit to what answers to it under the Gospel; and secondly, that it must not be any character, action, or institution occurring in the Old Testament Scripture, but such only as had their ordination of God, and were designed by Him to foreshadow and prepare for the better things of the Gospel (op. cit., 46).

Can such an approach not be abused into a form of allegorising exegesis for texts, which are not intended to be allegorical? Certainly: As Geerhardus Vos puts it: “Of course, it is inevitable that into this kind of interpretation of Old Testament figures an element of uncertainty must enter. But after all this is an element that enters into all exegesis” (Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments [BOT, 1975], 147). But the danger of abuse is not really as severe as some may imagine, for in exegeting a type we ought always to observe the rule: Scripture interprets Scripture, and also the corollary that no theological propositions foreign to the Old or New Testaments should be derived from types.

Moreover, the danger of seeing Christ where Christ is not, is not as great, I believe, as to fail to see types in the Old Testament, which may have great edification values, or to fail to see Christ typified everywhere in the Old Testament (cf. Lk 24:27, 44). To quote Fairbairn again:

Were men accustomed, as they should be, to search for the germs of Christian truth in the earliest Scriptures, and to regard the inspired records of both covenants as having for their leading object “the testimony of Jesus,” they would know how much they were losers by such an undue contraction of the typical element in Old Testament Scripture (op. cit.,20).