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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > T > Types in Scripture

Types in Scripture

Types, though denoted by the Greek word typoi, are not coextensive with the meaning of this word. It signifies in John 20:25, the "print" of the nails in the risen Lord's hands; in Romans 6:17, the "form" of the Christian doctrine; in Acts 7:43, "figures" formed by a blow or impression, "images" of idols made for adoration; in Acts 7:44, and Hebrews 8:5, the "form", or "pattern", according to which something is to be made; in Philippians 3:17, 1 Timothy 4:12, etc., the "model" or "example" of conduct. It is to be noted that, in all instances in which the word typos indicates the similarity between something future and something past in either the physical or the moral order, this similarity is intended, and not a matter of chance resemblance. It is, therefore, antecedently probable that in another series of texts, e.g. Romans 5:14, in which a type is a person or thing prefiguring a future person or thing, the connection between the two terms is intended by him who foresees and arranges the course of history. The types in the Bible are limited to types understood in this sense of the word. But while they do not extend to all the various meanings of the word typos, they are not restricted to its actual occurrence. In Galatians 4:24, for instance, the type and its antitype are represented as allegoroumena, "said by an allegory"; in Colossians 2:17, the type is said to be skia ton mellonton "a shadow of things to come"; in Hebrews 9:9, it is called parabole, a "parable" of its antitype. But the definition of the type is verified in all these cases: a person, a thing, or an action, having its own independent and absolute existence, but at the same time intended by God to prefigure a future person, thing, or action.

Natural basis of types

It has been pointed out that in the various degrees of nature the higher forms repeat the laws of the lower forms in a clearer and more perfect way. In history, too, the past and present often resemble each other to such an extent that some writers regard it as an axiom that history repeats itself. They point to Nabuchodonosor and Napoleon, to the fleet of Xerxes and the armada of Philip. After Plutarch has informed his reader (De fortuna Alexandri, x) that among all the expressions of Homer the words "both a good king, and an excellent fighter in war" pleased Alexander most, he adds that in this verse Homer seems not merely to celebrate the greatness of Agamemnon but also to prophesy that of Alexander. What is true of nature and history in general is especially applicable to the economy of salvation; the state of nature was superseded and surpassed in perfection by the Mosaic Law, and the Mosaic Law yielded similarly to the Christian dispensation.


In the two earlier periods of Revelation there is no lack of men, things, and actions resembling those of the Christian economy; besides, the New Testament expressly declares that some of them typify their respective resemblances in the new dispensation. Hence the question arises whether one is justified in affirming to be a type anything which is not affirmed to be so in Revelation, either by direct statement or manifest implication. Witsius Cocceius (d. 1669) were of opinion that the types actually indicated in Revelation were to be considered rather as examples for our guidance in the interpretation of others than as supplying us with an entire list of all that were designed for this purpose. Cocceius and his followers contended that every event in Old Testament history which had any formal resemblance to something in the New was to be regarded as typical. This view opened the door to frivolous and absurd interpretation by the followers of the Cocceian and Witsian school. Cramer, for instance, in his "De ara exteriori" (xii, 1) considers the altar of holocausts as a type of Christ, and then asks the question, "quadratus quomodo Christus fuerit"; van Till (De tabernaculo Mosis, xxv) presents the snuffers of the sacred candlestick as a type of sanctified reason which destroys our daily occurring errors. Hulsius, d'Outrein, Deusing, and Vitringa (d. 1722) belong to the same school.


In the Würtemberg school of pietism the types of the Old Testament were no longer considered an isolated phenomena, intended to instruct and confirm in the faith, but were regarded as members of an organic development of the salvific economy in which each earlier stage prefigures the subsequent. Bengel points out (Gnomon, preface, 13) that as there is symmetry in God's works down to the tiniest blade of grass, so there is a connection in God's works, even in the most insignificant ones. In his "Ordo temporum" (ix, 13) the same writer insists on the unity of design, which makes one work out of all the books of Scripture, the source of all times, and has measured the past and the future alike. One of Bengel's disciples, P. M. Hahn, compares (Theologische Schriften, ii, 9) the development of revelation to the growth of a flower. The formative power hidden in the seed manifests itself more and more by the addition of each pair of leaves. This view was followed also by Ph. Hiller in his work ("Neues System aller Vorbilder Christi im Alten Testament" (1758), and by Crusius in his treatise "Hypomnemata theol. propheticae" (1764-78). The last-named writer is of the opinion that the figurative development of God's kingdom changes into an historical growth at the time of David; he considers the Kingdom of David as the embryo of the Kingdom of Christ.

Moderate use of types

Owing to their lack of a clear distinction between type and allegory, Martin Luther and Melanchthon did not esteem the typical sense of Scripture at its true value. Andreas Rivetus attempted to draw a line of distinction between type and allegory (Praef. ad ps., 45), and Gerhard (Loci, II, 67) closely adhered to his definition. But practically types were used for parenetic rather than theological purposes by Baldwin (Passio Christi typica; Adventus Christi typicus), Bacmeister (Explicatio typorum V. T. Christum explicantium), and other writers of this school. They would have had more confidence in the typical sense of Scripture had they followed the view of Bishops von Mildert and Marsh. For these writers did not leave the typical sense to the imagination of the individual expositor, but rigidly required competent evidence of the Divine intention that a person or an event was to prefigure another person or event. Even in the Bible they distinguish between examples that are used for the sake of illustration only and those when there is a manifest typical relationship and connection. It is true that Calovius (Sytem. theol., I, 663) and Aug. Pfeifer (Thes. herm., iii, can. 10) insist on admitting only one sense, the literal, in Scripture; but as the literal sense clearly indicates several types, writers like Buddeus, Rambach, and Pfaff point out that such an insistence on the literal sense differs only in words from the admission of a limited typical sense. Rambach goes further than this; in order to increase the parenetic force of Scripture, he attributes to each word as wide a meaning and as much importance as the nature of the subject matter allows (Instit. herm., 319). The "Mysterium Christi et christianismi in fasciis typicis antiquitatum V.T." by Joachim Lange, "Jüdische Heiligthümer" by Lundius, and "Der Messias im A.T." by Schöttegen are other works in which the element of edification is chiefly kept in view.

Socinian influence

While in Cocceian and Lutheran circles typology flourished either unrestrictedly or within certain bounds, it began to be considered as a mere accommodation or as a subjective work of parallelizing a number of Scripture passages by the Socinians and by all those who failed to see the unity of God's work in our history of Revelation. Clericus, writing on Galatians 4:22, refers typology to a Jewish manner of interpreting Scripture. The derivation of the Mosaic worship from Egyptian and Oriental cults, as explained by Spencer, rendered void the typical sense advocated in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Hence, Henke considers typology as an exploded system; Semler (Versuch einer freieren theologischen Lehrart, 1777, p. 104), does not wish that types should be considered any longer as belonging to the true religion; Döderlein (Institutiones, 1779, n. 229) requires in a type not a mere resemblance, but also that it should have been expressly represented in the Old Testament as a figure of the future; moreover, he believes that at the time of Moses no one would have understood such figures. But how explain the fact that the Apostles and Christ Himself employed the typical sense of the Old Testament? They adapted themselves, we are told, in their use of the Old Testament to the condition of the Jewish people, and to the hermeneutical principles prevalent in the Jewish schools. It followed, therefore, that the use of the typical sense in the New Testament is nothing but Rabbinic trifling. This point of view is followed in Döpke's "Hermeneutik der neutestamentlichen Schriftsteller" (Part I, 1829), and also in the exegetical works of Ammon, Fritzsche, Meyer, Rückert, and others.

Reaction against the Socinian view

On the other hand, there was no lack of defenders of the typical sense of Scripture. Michaelis (Entwurf der typischen Gottesgelährtheir, 1752) points out that, even if we follow Spencer's view of the origin of the Mosaic worship, borrowed rites too may have a symbolic meaning; but the writer's blindness to the distinction between type and symbol is the vulnerable side of his treatise. Blasche shows himself a stout adherent of typology in his "Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews" (1782). Herder in his thirty-ninth letter on the study of theology (1780) believes that, though each stone of a building does not see either itself or the whole building, it would be narrow-mindedness on our part to pretend that we do not see more than any given part can see; it is only in the light of historic development that we can appreciate the analogy of the whole to each of its parts. Rau (Freimüthige Untersuchung über die Typologie, 1784) reverts to a study of Spencer's derivation of the Mosaic worship; and grants that the Jewish rites may be symbols of the New Testament, but denies that they are types in the stricter sense of the word.

Revival of symbolism and pietism

At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was a revival of taste for symbolism, and of an appreciation of Bengel's typicism. Starting from symbolism, de Wette ("Beitrag zur Characteristic des Hebraismus" in "Studien von Daub und Creuzer", 1807, III, 244) concludes that the whole of the Old Testament is one great prophecy, one great type of what was to come, and what has come to pass. F. von Meyer* and Stier wrote in the same strain, but they are men of less note. Influenced by Bengel's view, Menken explained in a typical sense Daniel 2 (1802-1809), the brazen serpent (1812), Hebrews 8-10 (1821); from the same point of view, Beck wrote his "Bemerkungen über messianische Weissagungen" (Tübinger Zeitschrift für Theologie, 1831, part 3), and also explained Romans 9 (Christliche Lehrwissenschaft, I, 1833, p. 360). The same principle underlies the view of Biblical history as presented by Hofmann, Franz Delitzsch, Kurtz, and Auberlen. Ed. Böhmer in his treatise "Zur biblishcen Typik" (1855) adopts a similar point of view: One idea prevails through the whole of creation; in nature the lower grades are types of the higher; the material order is a type of the spiritual; and man is the antitype of universal nature. The same law prevails in history; for the earlier age is always the type of the subsequent. Thus the Kingdom of God, which is the climax of Creation, has its types in nature and its types in history.

Rationalistic contention and Catholic doctrine

Needless to say rationalistic writers repudiate the typical sense of Sacred Scripture. The Catholic doctrine as to the nature of the typical sense, its existence, its extent, its theological value, has been stated in EXEGESIS. — (2).

About this page

APA citation. Maas, A. (1912). Types in Scripture. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Maas, Anthony. "Types in Scripture." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael C. Tinkler.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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