Understanding 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 often used interchangeably produce 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 often is a symbol representing the Holy Spirit. Symbols relate to truth valid 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 definitions come from the use of the words in the Scriptures.

Related to type is also the word “antitype” We can understand this term 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 relationshi is important for us because by it we 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 errors by 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 in some interpretation.

Application of Interpretations

In the Gospel of Luke, our resurrected Lord interpreted Old Testament symbols related to Him as New Testament types, 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).