November 11, 2019 By: John Tuttle
The Bible relates the definitive and most crucial aspects of the story of salvation. It’s essentially the greatest story ever told, taken down by human authors in their own unique voices, who were moved by the Holy Spirit every step of the way. This written Word of God is one of the masterpieces of the spiritual life, meant to be reflected upon on a regular basis. Just as Christ, the Word of God incarnate, feeds our souls with his Body and Blood, so the written Word of God also nourishes the soul.
One of the many beautiful elements to Sacred Scripture is typology, the presence of paralleled persons, things, or events found in the Old Testament and their fulfilling counterparts in the New Testament. In such a relationship, the element found in the Old Testament is called a type, and its New Testament counterpart is referred to as the anti-type.
Marian and Christological Foreshadowing in the Old Testament
For instance, one of the most commonly known relations of typology is that which is seen between Adam and Eve and their fulfilling counterparts Jesus and Mary. We will often hear of Jesus being referred to as “the new Adam” and Mary as “the new Eve.” As Adam was our first parent, father of all of humanity’s descendants, so Christ becomes Son of Man, the God-Man, whose function is to reverse the Original Sin of Adam and restore an opportunity for life with God in heaven.
Furthermore, as Eve was “mother of all the living,” so Mary mothers the God-Man, Christ who takes us as his adopted siblings, bringing us into his family and into his divine life. The Immaculate Mother, similar to how Jesus reverses the sin of Adam, reverses the sin of Eve. The shared sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was rooted in pride. As the serpent said, the forbidden fruit would make them like God himself. The man and his wife were desirous of more power, though they had already been given dominion over God’s creation.
Both Mary and Jesus renounce this manifestation of pride, submitting themselves to lives of humility. Born into poverty, Christ permitted himself to be put to death in the most humiliating, degrading way imaginable. Mary, for her part, submitted her will to God’s at the Annunciation delivered by the Archangel Gabriel and throughout her whole life. And, as the prayer “Ave Maris Stella” illustrates in one of its stanzas, the Virgin Mother’s very glory comes in doing the opposite of what Eve did in Original Sin:
O! by Gabriel’s Ave,
Uttered long ago,
Eva’s name reversing,
Established peace below.
A Trove of Typology in the Fall
If you know where to look, there is a plethora of other types to be found in the early developments in Genesis. Consider the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and its fruit. It is through outright disobedience to God, through consuming the fruit of this tree, that Adam and Eve fall into sin. However, it is through another tree, millennia later, that redemption is brought about.
Jesus— the New Man
Christ, the new Adam, is obedient to God the Father, even unto death. Sin came into the world through a tree, and Christ brings salvation into the world through a tree, namely the Cross. Adam and Eve bring about the Fall, allowing physical and spiritual death to enter the human condition. Christ is raised high on the Cross, dies, and resurrects himself. Adam fell, and Christ rose. In the Old Testament, the fruit on the tree in Eden brought on death. In the New Testament, Christ gave himself, the “fruit” hanging on the tree, as the food of life.
“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day’” (John 6: 53, 54).
Adam, Eve, the tree, and the forbidden fruit are the types, and Jesus, Mary, the Cross, and the Eucharist are their anti-types, respectively. Later on in Genesis, we are introduced to Joseph, one of the twelve sons of Jacob, who is sold by his brothers into slavery. Joseph of the Old Testament is actually a type to St. Joseph, Terror of Demons, in the New.
Typology in Joseph of Egypt
Jacob’s son Joseph receives messages in dreams from the Lord. Likewise, God’s angelic messenger instructs Joseph of Nazareth in his dreams. Jacob’s beloved son ends up going to Egypt, eventually drawing his whole clan there; Joseph of Nazareth leads his family into Egypt. In both timelines, Egypt serves as a refuge from danger, at least initially.
Joseph of Egypt is given dominion over the land; he is second only to Pharaoh. And Joseph of Nazareth serves as head of the Holy Family. He is the foster-father of the Christ Child, given dominion over Jesus by the highest paternal authority: God.
Offering of Isaac—Foreshadowing of the Crucifixion
Another key incident filled with types is the sacrificial offering of Isaac on the part of Abraham. Abraham is the protagonist of this part of the story. But when it comes to typological symbolism, we are going to want to pay attention to Isaac.
Isaac and his father Abraham ascend Mount Moriah. Isaac is carrying the wood for the burnt offering. Once they reach the place where Abraham intends to carry out the sacrifice, he binds his beloved and only-begotten son, offering him up to God. Inevitably, an angel of the Lord comes and tells Abraham to refrain from harming Isaac in any way. It was a test, and Abraham had passed with flying colors. The substitute sacrifice is a ram found trapped by its horns tangled among a thicket.
Isaac is a Type of Christ
If we analyze this, it easy to see Isaac as one of the types to the (then) futuristic Jesus. Jesus, as Isaac’s anti-type, also carries the wood of his own sacrifice; he too ascends a mount. He himself is meant as the sacrifice. Moreover, just as Isaac was to Abraham, so Jesus is to his Heavenly Father: a beloved son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16).
The ram, of course, also bears some significance. And we can speculate that the ram is another type to Christ. Instead of man being sacrificed for his own sins, Christ is substituted. God provides the sacrifice; he himself is the offering. He is the Lamb of God.
Before we leave the Isaac sacrifice narrative, let’s not forget about Mount Moriah. Apart from the sheer symbolism around the ascent of two mounts, it is worthwhile noting that it is here where the Temple of Jerusalem was constructed. Even more astounding, is the fact that both sacrifices share great proximity with one another. It is believed that both incidents occurred on the same mountain.
The Significance of Typology
As we have only briefly seen, there are numerous types in the Old Testament which prefigure Christ and his redemptive work of guiding us to eternal life. It is important to remember that typology isn’t some element added by Old Testament writers to add literary merit. They were influenced and prompted to include what they did via God’s subtle direction.
If anything, typology should lead to a deeper appreciation for God’s awesome co-creative work with humanity. In seeing that many of the writings of the Old Testament predate those of the New by a span of centuries, that there was no way for the human authors to be aware of the significance of various key elements they included in their works, we ought to be humbled in the face of the God who dwells outside of time. It should increase our faith.
In all areas of Catholicism, we see an abundance of rich symbolism. Typology, like everything in our religion, has the purpose of drawing our attention to the center of it all: Jesus Christ, who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End!