Types and Shadows: The Old Testament Revealed

All things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
—2 Nephi 11:4

What is Typology?
As Latter-day Saints, we are accustomed to recognizing scriptural symbols. In general, a symbol may be thought of as something that represents something else. Well known scriptural symbols include the rainbow, a symbol of the promise the Lord made to Enoch that he would never again destroy the world with a flood, or baptism, a symbol of death and rebirth.
A type is a special kind of symbol. Though all types are symbols, not all symbols are types. Metaphors and similes, two common symbolic devices, usually pair two things which exist simultaneously, often a concrete object with an abstract concept: the King of Syria is a "smoking firebrand" (Isa. 7:4), "the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven" (D&C 121:45), and so forth. A type, on the other hand, connects two objects, persons, or events, that exist in entirely different points in time. The one prefigures the other: the Passover (the type) prefigures the sacrifice of Christ (the antitype). The type is a shadow of the antitype, and the antitype is the fulfillment or realization of the type.
Literary critic Northrop Frye defined typology in this way: "Typology is a figure of speech that moves in time: the type exists in the past and the antitype in the present, or the type exists in the present and the antitype in the future."1 The implications this has on our understanding of scriptural history are profound. According to Frye,
Typology... is a theory of history, or more accurately of historical process: an assumption that there is some meaning and point to history, and that sooner or later some event or events will occur which will indicate what that meaning or point is, and so become an antitype of what has happened previously.2
In other words, while many symbols are contrived by the author or speaker, types are prophetic in nature and can be thought of as manifestations of divine intention. The Lord's hand is involved in orchestrating the events of sacred history so that they point forward to other, more significant events or antitypes. Frye goes on to point out that "everything that happens in the Old Testament is a type or 'adumbration' of something that happens in the New Testament." Thus, references to the Old Testament "extend over every book—not impossibly every passage—in the New Testament."3
Historians traditionally interpret events as the result of causality: 'A' caused 'B' which, together with 'C' and 'D,' caused 'E.' This approach is logical. Typology turns this whole approach upside-down. It looks on history with an eye of faith and accepts the possibility that some past events were intended to be prophetic precursors to future events. In a sense, the future event 'B' could be thought to "cause" past event 'A.'
A Key to the Scriptures
Frye goes so far as to suggest that, at least from a Christian perspective, the typological method of interpreting the Old and New Testaments is the "right" way to interpret them. The two books, in his words, "form a double mirror, each reflecting the other."4 He explains, "[The] typological way of reading the Bible is indicated too often and explicitly in the New Testament itself for us to be in any doubt that this is the 'right' way of reading it." 5 In other words, the writers of the New Testament themselves make it all to clear, with their constant references to Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in New Testament events, that the Old and New Testaments are inextricably and typologically linked. The two are to be understood in a mutual context.
The New Testament authors were not alone in their belief that the Old Testament was a collection of types realized in their day. Book of Mormon prophets agreed. Nephi's approach to his study of what we call the Old Testament was definitely typological: "Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him" (2 Nephi 11:4).
An interesting example of how a typological approach can lend fresh perspective on the scriptures is Joseph Smith's commentary of the parables in Matthew 13. These parables are usually interpreted metaphorically: For example, we say the seed is the gospel, and the soil is the heart of the hearer, or the mustard seed is a testimony. These interpretations are valuable and important in their own way. However, Joseph Smith chooses to interpret the parables in Matthew 13 typologically—not as vague abstractions but as types of definite events that were unfolding his day. For instance, he sees in the mustard seed, a type of the Book of Mormon
which a man took and hid in his field, securing it by his faith, to spring up in the last days, or in due time; let us behold it coming forth out of the ground, which is indeed accounted the least of all seeds, but behold it branching forth, yea, even towering, with lofty branches, and God-like majesty, until it, like the mustard seed, becomes the greatest of all herbs. And it is truth, and it has sprouted and come forth out of the earth, and righteousness begins to look down from heaven, and God is sending down His powers, gifts and angels, to lodge in the branches thereof.6
In Joseph's view, the antitype of which the parables were types, was the apostasy of the primitive church and restoration of the gospel in preparation for the second coming. He goes on to compare the sowing of the tares to the apostasy that followed the death of Jesus' apostles, the mustard seed to the Kingdom of God in the last days, the three measures of meal to the three witnesses, and the gathering and separation of the fish to the last judgment.
Viewing not only parables, but also scriptural history in this way is extremely helpful in understanding why certain events happened the way they did and why they are described the way they are. The episode of Moses' exclusion from the promised land, after his long years of service to the Lord and to Israel, is a good example of this. Causal analysis leads us to conclude that Moses was not allowed to enter the land of promise 1) as a chastisement for not having acknowledged the Lord's hand in the miraculous provision of water at Horeb, and 2) because the Lord wanted to take the Melchizedek Priesthood from the midst of the children of Israel because of their unrighteousness. These are adequate reasons and both are supported in scripture (Num. 20:10-13; Deut. 3:23-26; D&C 84:22-26). However, if we view the episode from a typological standpoint an additional insight emerges: Moses' exclusion was a type of the fact that the Law of Moses, of which Moses himself was the personification, is not sufficient to save (Acts 13:39). Moses took the children of Israel as far as he could but it was Joshua (a Hebrew form of the Greek name Jesus) who led them across Jordan and into the promised land. In similar fashion, the law was a schoolmaster to bring Israel to Christ, but it is Christ alone who can make exaltation possible (Gal. 3:24).
It is important that we not only look for types in specific events, people, or objects, but that we also broaden our sights to examine extended series of events as types. Perhaps the most obvious bundle of events that functions as a type in its larger context, is the exodus of the children of Israel. The Egyptian bondage, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the theophany at Sinai, and Moses' exclusion are all significant types on their own, but when taken as a group, the present another type: the exodus, with its themes of departure, bondage, deliverance, covenant, and return, is a type or shadow of the plan of salvation.
Types and Antitypes
There are a few monumental events or central figures to which most scriptural types point. The saving mission of Jesus Christ is the most significant antitype in scripture. Other important antitypes include the structure of the plan of salvation (pre-mortal existence, mortal trial, death, resurrection and exaltation), the restoration of the gospel in the last days, and the second coming of the Savior.
Because the number of antitypes is necessarily small, and because as Nephi said, "all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, are the typifying of Him," the sacred history of the scriptures becomes very repetitive or cyclical. We encounter the same stories over and over again. They are like leitmotifs that run through the scriptures. Abraham escapes his idolatrous homeland and journeys to a promised land; the children of Israel are delivered from bondage and wander to a promised land; the Nephites depart from wicked Jerusalem and travel to a promised land; the early Latter- day Saints flee persecution and trek to a promised land. Stephen E. Robinson describes this propensity of sacred history to repeat in these words:
The cast of characters is constant in every dispensation; they are these same archetypical categories into which all things can be placed. From the apocalyptic [or typological] point of view there is only one script, one plot, from the foundation of the world until its end. The characters in the play and the lines they deliver are always the same from dispensation to dispensation, although the individual actors who play the roles and speak the lines may change with time.7
Thus, according to tradition, Abraham's birth "had been read in the stars by Nimrod" who decided to kill every child in his kingdom "if it be a boy."8 Abraham's life is miraculously preserved. Later Moses assumes the role. Pharaoh, fearing the growing strength of the children of Israel, has his troops kill the infant male Israelites, but Moses is delivered (Ex. 1:22, 2:2-5). Finally, Christ's birth was heralded by a star, report of which concerned Herod who had the male children in his jurisdiction killed to prevent a usurper from robbing him of his position, but the infant Savior is preserved by miraculous means (Matt. 2:1-2, 13-16).
Another example of this kind of repetition is what has been called the "exodus pattern." The main characters (Abraham, the children of Israel, the Nephites, the Latter-day Saint pioneers) depart from their homeland (Ur, Egypt, Jerusalem, New York), wander in the wilderness, make covenants with the Lord (Abrahamic covenant, Sinai, Lehi is promised a land of inheritance, Nauvoo Temple), receive divine aid in their travels (saved from idolatrous priest, Manna/quails/water from Horeb, Liahona, quail for the camp of the poor), and eventually arrive in a land of promise (Canaan, America, Utah). Each of these is a type of the descent into mortality, the travails of earth life, the gospel covenant, the aid of the Savior, and the return, through death and resurrection, to the presence of the Father.
Being a Type: A Divine Birthright
Often the actors in the play—the participant's in a typological episode—have a sense of awareness of the import and significance of what they are doing. Early in his record Nephi writes that his father examined the brass plates and discovered that he was "a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine. And they were also led out of captivity and out of the land of Egypt, by that same God who had preserved them" (1 Ne. 5:14-15).
Then, throughout his recounting of his family's history, he repeatedly compares their situation with that of the children of Israel. The camp of Israel was delivered from destruction in the land of its birth by a prophet- leader (Ex. 12, 13). So were the Nephites (1 Ne. 2). The camp of Israel murmured because of fatigue and the lack of food and were chastised by their prophet (Ex. 17:2; Num. 14:2, 29, 16:2). Laman and Lemuel murmured in strikingly similar language and were rebuked as well (1 Ne. 3: 29-31, 16:35- 36). The Lord miraculously provided the camp of Israel with food, water, and guidance in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21, 16:12-18). The Lord also provided Lehi's family with food and direction in miraculous ways (1 Ne. 16:16, 18, 17:12).
It is apparent that Nephi considers the fact that he and his family were descendants of Israel significant. He identifies himself with them and feels as if it is his calling to be an actor in the divine play, to fulfill the role of a type. His descendants also seem to be aware that they are, as a people, bound in some way to follow in the footsteps of their ancestor Joseph of Egypt. He was cast out by his brethren and led to Egypt where, through his food preservation efforts, he became the means of saving not only Egypt, but his family as well (Gen. 38-45). In the Book of Mormon, a remnant of the tribe of Joseph is cast out by its brethren, and in the last days, through the preservation of its scriptural record, will be the means of bringing salvation to the entire world, including the house of Israel (Alma 46:23-24).
This attitude is a distinguishing characteristic of the Lord's covenant people in every dispensation. The Pilgrims, who considered themselves descendants of Israel, felt a kinship with their spiritual forebears. The viewed their trek across the ocean as a type in the tradition of Israel's exodus. The early Latter-day Saint pioneers also had a keen sense of how their experience mirrored the experience of their remote ancestors. As a people of covenant and heirs to the Judeo-Christian tradition, we are meant to identify with the children of Israel and to see ourselves and interpret our experience, individually and collectively, as a continuation of that tradition.
Ritual and Celebration: Redactions of the Antitype
In addition to creating a framework for understanding the scriptures, typology gives us insight into the meaning and purpose of celebrations, rituals, and ordinances. Often, ordinances are types that have been redacted or reduced to form. Formalized as ritual, these types are reenacted as a means of recalling the meaning of the original action or to establish identity with the original participants.
A good example of this, and one that is elucidated by Paul in Hebrews, was the sacrifice of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. He wrote:
[T]he priests went always into the first tabernacle [the Holy Place], accomplishing the service of God.
But into the second [the Holy of Holies] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people...
Which was a figure for the time then present...
But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb. 9:6-14)
The arrangement of the tabernacle/temple was intended to recall the Garden of Eden: the eastward orientation, the cherubim guarding the way, the tree of life (menorah), and so on.9 Thus, the priest passed the angels standing to guard the way, and returned into the presence of God, reversing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Likewise Christ, the Great High Priest, forged the way back to the Father's presence through his sacrifice of atonement.
Other examples include the Passover and the modern temple endowment. The typology of the Passover is well-known. The lamb, without blemish represented Christ, the Lamb of God. By his blood, those who covenant with the Father will be 'passed-over' by the destroyer.
The temple endowment is a symbolic journey from the telestial world back to the presence of the Father in which each participant is instructed to assume the role of Adam or Eve.
Quaker teacher Rufus Jones wrote of the "two ways of dealing with the nature of things." The first is that of the spectator and the second, the "vital experience, the discovery of reality by living your way into the heart of things."10 We participate in ordinances because by acting the part we are able to better understand, to discover reality by living our way into it. As Bruce R. McConkie wrote, the Lord "uses ordinances, rites, acts, and performances; he uses similarities, resemblances, and similitudes so that whatever is done will remind all who are aware of it of a greater and more important reality."11
In conclusion, as we study the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Exodus, let us pay close attention to the ways in which that remarkable story is a shadow of other, even greater events. In addition to the doctrinal gems such as the ten commandments, let us seek to understand why those events happened the way they did—not only with the historians penchant for causality, but with the prophet's eye for typology.


1 Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (New York and London : Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 80.
2 Ibid, 81.
3 Ibid., 79.
4 Ibid., 78.
5 Ibid., 79-80.
6 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., introduction and notes by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932-1951), 2:268.
7 Stephen E. Robinson, "Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 3 and 4," in Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., First Nephi: The Doctrinal Foundation (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1988), 182-183.
8 Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1909-38), 1:266.
9 Donald W. Parry, "Garden of Eden: Prototype Sanctuary," Temples of the Ancient World (Salt Lake Coty: Deseret Book Company, 1994), 126-152.
10 Rufus Jones, Rufus Jones Speaks to Our Time (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 111.
11 Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1978), 377.
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