Typology in the Biblical canon ALMOST always points to a (i) need for fulfillment, (ii) lack of fulfillment from God in the historical moment, (iii) One who will come and provide “yes and amen” (2 Cor 1:20) to all the needs, and lacks in prior shadows. Unlike an analogy or illustration (which always breaks down) – biblical typology, when rightly understood, is a mine of precious treasures to be delved into and kept close to the heart. If the typology begins to break down at a certain point, we need to be careful and watchful lest we tread into heretical waters tempting apostasy.
Question: Is Elijah (and also therefore accompanying disciple Elisha) a type or foreshadowing of Christ?
“It seems that in some ways Elijah was a type of Christ. In 1 Kings 17, he multiplied food and raised from the dead the son of a widow. Jesus feeds the five thousand and raises the son of a widow in Luke 7, which to me seems to be too specific to not be a coincidence. And then they both ascend to heaven, rather than die. Are there any other parallels, or possibly scripture that talks about this relationship more explicitly than Hebrews teaching on the types and shadows? And then do you have any resources that teach on the topic of Elijah being a type of Christ?”
When we are engaging with a passage that we think there may be typological foreshadowing (or typological fulfillment) there are a couple of helpful frameworks to keep in mind:
1. The Object Casting the “Shadow”
Typology inherently involves identifying potential patterns or connections between multiple biblical passages. There are many differences between typology and other aspects of interpretation and biblical fulfillment (such as biblical prophecy, eschatology, inerrancy, and Christology). One distinctive typology is rooted in the distinct authorial intent of the inspired Biblical writer to draw a line between one person, place, or thing (like an event) and another person, place, or thing. In this way, one of the most helpful illustrations of biblical typology is that of casting a “shadow”. In order for something biblical to be typological of something else, it must have a prior referent (the darkness that is the shadow). Conversely, the thing typified must also have something coming after (object casting the shadow). We need to identify when doing typology both the shadow, and the thing potentially casting the shadow.
2. Looking for Clues
When we are asking questions of typology we’ve got to ascertain a level of biblical overlap expressed in the potential typological passage (using the historical-grammatical method, looking for words, references, illustrations, allusions, or explicit typological connections). Oftentimes the clues that are left will be genre-specific. The major and minor prophets often speak typologically about many things through heavenly comparisons. The historical books give narratives that can be sequenced or parsed to similar or near exact replication in future related typological passages. Phrases or words are repeated and used in a wide variety of genres including wisdom literature that are then picked up by NT authors in typological application or fashion (such as the New Covenant, Christ, or a host of other objects). We need to break apart (identify) the various clues that are leading us to consider a passage as typological.
3. Finding Fulfillment
Once we have identified the shadow and thing causing the shadow (#1) and considered the various clues leading us towards a typological possibility (#2), we’ve then got to consider the consequences in the potential fulfillment or inter-related relationship between the biblical passages (truths) typified. There are gross heresies that have spread about (paedocommunion being one of them, baptismal regeneration, and Nestorianism to name a few) due to their failure to recognize this third aspect of typology. If our typology leads to a fulfillment that is contrary to the rest of the scripture, we need to quickly be willing to admit our own faults, failures, and lack of understanding, and go back to the drawing board. Typology in the Biblical canon ALMOST always points to a (i) need for fulfillment, (ii) lack of fulfillment from God in the historical moment, (iii) One who will come and provide “yes and amen” (2 Cor 1:20) to all the needs, and lacks in prior shadows.