Typology (theology)

The Ascension from a Speculum Humanae Salvationis c. 1430, see below.

Typology in Christian theology and Biblical exegesis is a doctrine or theory concerning the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament. Events, persons, or statements in the Old Testament are seen as types pre-figuring or superseded by antitypes, events or aspects of Christ or his revelation described in the New Testament. For example, Jonah may be seen as the type of Christ in that he emerged from the fish's belly and thus appeared to rise from death.

In the fullest version of the theory of typology, the whole purpose of the Old Testament is viewed as merely the provision of types for Christ, the antitype or fulfillment. The theory began in the Early Church, was at its most influential in the High Middle Ages, and continued to be popular, especially in Calvinism, after the Protestant Reformation, but in subsequent periods has been given less emphasis.[1] In 19th century German protestantism, typological interpretation was distinguished from rectilinear interpretation of prophecy. The former was associated with Hegelian theologians and the latter with Kantian analyticity. Several groups favoring typology today include the Christian Brethren beginning in the 19th century, where typology was much favoured and the subject of numerous books and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Notably, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, typology is still a common and frequent exegetical tool, mainly due to that church's great emphasis on continuity in doctrinal presentation through all historical periods. Typology was frequently used in early Christian art, where type and antitype would be depicted in contrasting positions.

The usage of the terminology has expanded into the secular sphere; for example, "Geoffrey de Montbray (d.1093), Bishop of Coutances, a right-hand man of William the Conqueror, was a type of the great feudal prelate, warrior and administrator".[2]


The term is derived from the Greek noun τύπος (typos), "a blow, hitting, stamp", and thus the figure or impression made on a coin by such action; that is, an image, figure, or statue of a man; also an original pattern, model, or mould. To this is prefixed the Greek preposition ἀντί anti, meaning opposite, corresponding.[3][4]

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