October 10, 2007


Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Genesis,Hermeneutics :: Permalink

It’s come to my attention that there are some people who teach that we shouldn’t identify something in the Old Testament as a type of Christ unless the New Testament makes that identification explicit.  So it’s okay to say that the rock in the wilderness was a type of Christ because Paul says so in 1 Corinthians 10.  But it’s not okay to say that the story of Joseph is a type of Christ because the New Testament never says so, even though it should be clear to any Christian reading Genesis that Joseph is rejected by his brothers, goes down to the pit, rises again in glory, ascends to the throne at the right hand of the king, is reconciled to his brothers, and ends up feeding the world, so that all the nations are blessed in him.  In spite of how much that sounds like Christ, this view says, the New Testament doesn’t say explicitly that Joseph is a type of Christ and therefore we shouldn’t either.

Here’s a question I have for such people: When God says in Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, do you think that’s talking about Christ’s victory over Satan?  Surely the answer would be “Yes.”  I don’t think that’s the only thing that promise refers to.  It includes other victories over enemies, other crushings of the heads of serpents, such as Jael’s crushing the head of Sisera or David’s crushing the head of Goliath.  But surely that promise ultimately points to Christ’s victory over Satan, the crushing of Satan’s head.

But where does the New Testament ever make that typology explicit?  There are certainly passages which talk about Christ triumphing over Satan (e.g., Col. 2:15), but they don’t allude to Genesis 3:15.  In Revelation 12:9, we hear about the “great dragon,” who is “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan,” but even here we don’t hear that Christ crushed his head.  Instead, we’re told that war broke out and Michael won the victory and cast the serpent to the earth.

The only fairly clear allusion to Genesis 3:15 that I can think of in the New Testament is in Romans 16:20: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.”  But here it’s the church which has Satan crushed under its feet.  Granted, the church is the body of Christ, and so this may be (and I think is) a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, but it certainly doesn’t state explicitly that Genesis 3:15 is speaking about Christ.

Furthermore, the only explicit connection to Genesis 3:15 here in Romans 16 might be the term “crush.”  After all, Genesis 3:15 says nothing about feet, and Romans 16:20 says nothing about the serpent, its head, or its bruising of someone’s heel.  In fact, you’ll search the entire New Testament and never once find any reference to the serpent bruising someone’s heel, let alone Christ’s heel.

If you can find another passage in the New Testament that explicitly indicates that the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 is a type of Christ, please point me to it.  But I don’t think there is one. 

On the principle of the people I mentioned in the opening paragraph, then, we may not say that Genesis 3:15 is speaking of Christ.  But surely it is.  And just as surely, then, the principle must be wrong.  If it is the case that we may not identify something as a type unless the New Testament does, then Genesis 3:15 doesn’t speak of Christ.  If Genesis 3:15 does speak of Christ, then we may indeed draw typological connections even if the New Testament doesn’t.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:41 pm | Discuss (14)

14 Responses to “Types”

  1. Sean Says:

    Great post. Interestingly the same professor who taught us in seminary the principle of “only explicit NT warrant for types” also taught the Gen-Deut class that was sometimes jokingly referred to as “Gen 3:15-Gen 3:15”, because he made a great deal of that passage, and taught that it was a type of Christ. I must have been sleeping not to catch the contradiction.

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  3. Ben Shafer Says:

    Doesn’t a type have to be a historical person or event that points forward to it’s antitype? What is the historical event in Ge 3:15? Isn’t that technically a prophecy, not a type?

  4. John Barach Says:

    Hmmm…. You may be right, Ben, though I’m not sure that you can distinguish “types” from “prophecies” quite that clearly in Scripture.

    I suppose I was thinking broadly of the symbols in Scripture as “types,” and the whole prophecy in Genesis 3:15 is symbolic: the woman is presented as a seed-bearing plant, the serpent is portrayed as crushing the heel of the woman’s seed, the woman’s seed crushes the head of the serpent.

    None of that is literal; all of it is symbolic, and I guess in my mind “type” and “symbol” are pretty much the same category. And I suppose that the same people who say, “You can’t claim something as a type of Christ if it isn’t explicit in the New Testament” would also say the same thing about symbols.

  5. Ben Shafer Says:

    I can see that types and symbols are very similar, but there seems to be a distinct difference between say, a sacrifice which is a symbol or type of Jesus’ atoning work, and God saying “such and so will happen,” even if he uses symbolic language to say it.

  6. Sean Says:

    Even if that is the case, why wouldn’t a prophecy have to meet the same condition, i.e., be explicitly declared in the NT to be fulfilled by Christ?

  7. garver Says:

    Perhaps the broader category is “prophecy” of which types are one variety. Recall that the Jews included a number of historical books among the prophets, in part because they viewed the events of salvation history as themselves proleptic.

  8. Paul Baxter Says:


    I don’t remember if I’ve seen you mention it, but there is some tremendous material on this issue in the book The Art of Reading Scripture ed. Ellen Davis and Richard Hays. Just read it recently and thought it was terrific.

  9. Ben D. Says:

    Seems like the scapegoat would be another obvious typology of Christ that is not explicit in the NT. This typology is so assumed by most Christians (I certainly assumed it for a long time) that it comes as something of a shock to realize that the connection is not made explicitly in the NT. Heb 9 talks of the blood of bulls and goats foreshadowing Christ’s bloody sacrifice, but these OT sacrifices are not the scapegoat.

  10. Dan Glover Says:

    I don’t recall anywhere in the NT where Israel is identified as a type of Christ, but the narrative also seems quite clear that this is so when you examine the parallels in the stories (both called out of Egypt, both tested and tried in the wilderness, both baptized in the Jordan, both a light to the Gentiles, etc.). Also, Moses is clearly a type of Christ (Both destined to lead Israel, both threatened in their infancy to be killed by an evil king, both called out of Egypt, both deliver the law to Israel from a mount, both intercede on behalf of a sinful Israel, both enter the presence of God representing the people, both betrayed by their kin, etc.) and again, no specific reference in the NT to this connection, that I can think of anyway.

  11. Dan Glover Says:

    The same could be said for the Christ-Isaac comparison, the Christ-Solomon connection (unless you consider the son of David language, but most evangelicals I know of see this as a reference only to the fact that Jesus descended from David, not that he is a greater Solomon), and many others.

  12. John Barach Says:

    You’re right, Dan.

    And as another friend of mine pointed out, when Paul says that Christ “rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” what passage(s) in the Scriptures did he have in mind?

    Surely a resurrection on the third day is something that Paul learned from the typology of the Scriptures, not something that is directly stated as an event that will happen in the life of the Messiah.

  13. Christopher Witmer Says:

    If we shouldn’t identify something in the Old Testament as a type of Christ unless the New Testament makes that identification explicit, what’s the point of doing typology?

  14. Barach on Types « The Uber Goober Says:

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