Typology is a big part of the Catholic faith. The entirety of salvation history revolves around Jesus Christ, so it’s only natural that the story of Israel in the Old Testament would foreshadow the story of Jesus and the Church in the New Testament. However, this way of reading Scripture also raises a question for us: why does it matter? Sure, typology may be interesting, but it can be tough to see what real impact (if any) it has on our faith, so in this article, I’d like to take a crack at this question. I would suggest that typology is in fact genuinely important to our spiritual lives, and there are at least three reasons why.
First, typology shows us that God had one plan from the beginning. If the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament, then Jesus wasn’t a divine do-over or a plan B. No, from the moment Adam and Eve messed everything up in the garden, Jesus’ cross and resurrection were the plan. God always intended to send his son to open up the gates of heaven for us by dying and rising from the dead, and everything before that was simply preparation for his definitive act of salvation.
This is significant because it shows that the Old Testament isn’t a dead relic of an obsolete religion; rather, it has real importance for our Catholic faith. A proper understanding of the Old Testament is essential for correctly interpreting the New Testament. Without knowing how God prepared for Jesus’ coming, we can’t fully understand his teachings or the meaning of his death and resurrection, and typology can help us recognize that.
Teaching Important Truths
Secondly, Old Testament types can teach us important truths about the New Testament realities they foreshadow. For instance, Jesus tells us that his death on the cross was foreshadowed by a statue of a snake that Moses made in the Old Testament (John 3:14-15), and the story of that statue helps to reinforce an important truth about our salvation. Back in the book of Numbers, the Israelites rebelled against God, so God punished them by sending snakes to bite them and kill them. When the people repented, God told Moses to make a statue of a snake and lift it up on a pole, and when people bitten by the snakes looked at the statue, they would be cured (Numbers 21:5-9).
This is a really weird story to connect to Jesus’ death, but that connection actually contains an important truth for us. When the Israelites looked at the statue, they didn’t merit the healing they received. They didn’t heal themselves, nor did they do anything to earn it. Rather, it was a free gift from God, and the requirement to simply look at the statue reinforced its gratuitous nature.
Similarly, the salvation that Jesus won for us on the cross is an entirely free gift as well. We don’t save ourselves, nor can we do anything to earn our salvation. Jesus won it for us all by himself, and he gives it to us as a gift. This is important to keep in mind because people today have a tendency to forget it. We often think that we earn our salvation by doing good works or that we deserve to go to heaven because we’re good people, but that’s not actually the case. Instead, salvation is a gift from God, and just as the Israelites didn’t earn their salvation from the poisonous snakes, so too are we entirely unable to earn our salvation from sin and death.
And other typological connections are like this. Every Old Testament type either helps us to realize things that aren’t immediately obvious in the New Testament or reinforces truths that are taught clearly but that we need to hear as often as possible. Either way, typology is an important tool that God uses to teach us about himself and about the way he intends to get us to heaven.
The Beauty in Typology
Finally, there is a certain beauty in typology. The connections between the Old and New Testaments are often really interesting and beautiful, and there’s value in that. Earthly beauty is a reflection of God’s infinite goodness and beauty, so experiencing it is an important part of our lives. It gives us a foretaste of heaven, a glimpse of what we ultimately live for, so it’s important for us to experience beautiful things. And since typology is beautiful, it provides one of these foretastes, one of these glimpses into just how great God really is.
I’m sure there are other reasons why typology is important, reasons that I haven’t thought of, but these three are at least a good start. They show that typology isn’t just a random quirk that God arbitrarily chose to put in the Bible. No, he had good reasons for doing so, and we should pay attention to those reasons in order to better understand what God wants to teach us through the Scriptures and the typological connections they contain.