The topic of Abraham, Moses and David came up in a conversion I had with some educators yesterday. We were talking about the importance of the major characters of the Old Testament, and it occurred to us that we rarely discuss, in the classroom, the fact that these men bear similarities to Jesus Christ.
For members of the Jewish faith, Abraham, Moses and David are important figures in their own right. At some point, God establishes or re-affirms a covenant with these three men. God promised Abraham offspring as numerous as the stars and the grains of sand because of his obedience to YHWH. In fact, the covenant between Abraham and God is repeated four times in Genesis (Gen 12:1-9, Gen 13:14, Gen 15:1-17, Gen 22:15-18). Moses, despite his character flaws, led his people out of slavery in Egypt. David was chosen by God as king of the Israelites, and he established a united Israelite kingdom that prospered under the rule of his son, Solomon.
For Christians, these prominent characters of the Old Testament also serve as “types” of Jesus Christ. In Abraham’s case, his son Isaac serves as a type for Jesus. A “type” in Scriptural theology is a person in the Old Testament that seems to foreshadow or anticipate another person in the New Testament. “Types” can also be events. For instance, the parting of the Red Sea and the Israelites escape from slavery is regarded as an Old Testament “type” for baptism, whereby through the waters of baptism we escape the bondage of sin.
Some scholars insinuate that biblical typology has fallen out of favor. The difficulty that biblical scholars have with typology is that scripture research is supposed to be unbiased, and it is supposed to consider the text in the context of the date and place that it was written. Typology tends to compare, in the eyes of the biblical scholar, apples and oranges. These scholars object, for instance, to comparing New Testament texts, written in the first century CE, with Genesis texts, first recorded somewhere between the 6th and 10th century CE.
These scholars forget that Holy Scripture is the inspired word of God. It is not an encyclopedia of quasi-historical texts. Therefore, we ought to look for confirmation of the New Testament in the Old. If we see no connection between the Old and New Testament, then we should not profess to be Christians.
Some biblical scholars defend typology. Most notably would be R.T. France, whose commentary on Matthew’s Gospel is regarded as one of the best ever published. In his book Jesus and the Old Testament (Vancouver: Regent, 1968), France catalogs a roster of major scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth century who discuss typology in the study of Scripture.
Gerhard Von Rad, Westermann, Rudolf Bultmann, and Jean Danilou all consider the importance of typology. Bultmann published an article on the question of typology in historical-critical scholarship. Goppelt has an entire book on the question of typology. While acknowledging the use of typology, these scholars argue that the Old Testament should first be considered on its own merits. In other words, from the perspective of a scripture scholar, typology is not the place to start when researching Old Testament passages.
While scholars may object to comparing scriptural texts written hundreds of years apart, Christian believers are, on the other hand, called to recognized and acknowledge that the Incarnation and Resurrection were foreshadowed, in some mysterious way, in Hebrew Scripture. The bible is, after all, a work of God, not man.
In Genesis 22:1-18, God challenges the obedience of Abraham. God asks him to sacrifice his Son, Isaac, in order to test his fidelity. Yet Abraham is obedient, and prepares to sacrifice his son when, at the last moment, an angel stays his hand. God blesses Abraham for his obedience, telling Abraham that God will make his descendants “as abundant as the stars in the sky and the sands of the seashore.” This event in Genesis is a type for God sacrificing his own Son, as the fourth Gospel tells us in John 3:16.
Joseph is also an archetype for Jesus. Joseph a favored son of Jacob. He was also rejected by his brothers, who sold him into slavery (Gen 37:1-36). Joseph eventually finds himself in charge of Pharoah’s Court, and ultimately reconciles with his brothers. As a favored son who was rejected by his brothers, Joseph is also a type for Jesus Christ. His reconciliation with his brothers speaks to the Christ’s triumph over death and ultimately, his love for his people, including those who do not accept him initially.
to be continued