Understading Biblical Symbols, Types and Shadows

To understand the connection between Old Testament and New Testament we must consider how to interpret symbols and types.

Concepts and Terminology

These two terms that are often used interchangeably and that produces confusion. The proper use is as follows:

  1. Symbols are the representation of spiritual facts or principles in a visible form. For example, a dove is often used as a symbol representing the Holy Spirit. Symbols relate to truth operating at the time the symbols are used.
  2. Types are spiritual truths that will become real in the future. This concept comes from Rom 5:14 that says, Adam was a type of Christ. In this way, the sacrifice of the passover lamb was a type of Christ’s sacrifice.The types are “shadows” of the real thing.

These defnitions are derived from the use of the words in the scriptures.

Related to type is also the word “antitype”.  This can be understood by considering a “mold” and the “object it produces”. The object is the type and the mold is the antitype.  Accordingly , if Adam is a type of Christ, Christ is the antitype of Adam.

Interpretative Principles

In general, before we can determine what something in the Old Testament “typefies” in the New Testament, we must understand what it “symbolizes”. This element is important for us because it is the key to understand the connection between the Old and the New Testament.

Further, we must always consider that the relationship of type to antitype reflects a progression in God’s plan of redemption. This avoids possible accidental resemblances. An example of this type of error is establishing a relationship between the four lepers of Samaria (2 Kings 7) with the four Evangelists, which I have seen.

Application of Interpretations

The interpretation of Old Testament symbols as New Testament types was also done by our resurrected Lord when He met the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:27).

Types are present in Ceremonial Law and in historical events and figures. For example, Melchizedek was also a type of Christ (Rom 5:14, Psa 110:4, Heb 5:6, 6:20).