“The New Testament lies hidden in the Old, and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.” -St. Augustine
These beautiful words by such a beloved Saint are shown to be true over and over again as one reads, studies, and falls in love with the Scriptures. We see this, for instance, in various prophecies such as Isaiah 7: 14, where the prophet reveals that the Messiah will be born of a virgin and shall be named ‘Immanuel’.
We also see this in what is called the ‘typology’ that is present throughout Sacred Scripture.
WHAT IS TYPOLOGY?
Typology is the study of Scripture passages, usually those in the Old Testament, that are implicitly connected to those in the New Testament, most often Jesus. This is different from prophecy in that prophecy explicitly, or directly, states something concerning Jesus, such as the Isaiah 7: 14 passage mentioned above. Typology on the other hand does not directly say something about Jesus, the Messiah, or the like; rather, certain passages have connections to the Messiah which can only be recognized upon already knowing Jesus and the Gospels. Only then can a connection be made between the two.
In other words, you would know that a prophecy of the Messiah is, in fact, a prophecy even if you knew nothing about Jesus and the New Testament. But you would not know a ‘type’ of the Messiah if you knew nothing about Jesus and the New Testament because the ‘type’ can only be revealed as such by recognizing the similarities between the ‘type’ and the New Testament.
WHAT IS AN EXAMPLE OF TYPOLOGY?
Everyone knows the story of Abraham and Isaac, in particular the sacrifice of Isaac. In Genesis 22, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son on a mountain as an offering to Him. Abraham, despite Isaac being his firstborn son and the one he had been desiring to have for many years, willingly begins to take his son up and prepare for the offering. Just as he was about to sacrifice Isaac, however, an angel stops him and tells him he does not have to do it, for he has proven his faith.
This is a powerful and famous event in Judeo-Christian history that shows the importance of faith in God and giving all things to Him
But did you also happen to see Jesus within the passage as well?
Most likely not because he is not mentioned in the chapter, not explicitly anyway. However, through studying both the Gospels and this passage we can see that Isaac is a ‘type’ of Jesus, meaning Isaac is a prefigurement of the Messiah.
We see, for example that the entire story of Genesis 22, Abraham as a father willingly sacrificing his only son for his love of God, speaks directly to God the Father sacrificing His only Son for His love of us; the general narrative is exactly the same.
We see in Genesis 22: 6 that Isaac carries the wood for his own offering, just as Jesus did in carrying the cross.
We see, if you know a bit of biblical geography, that the mountain that Isaac and Abraham were going to for the sacrifice is the same mountain that Jesus was crucified on.
Perhaps most importantly, we see that Isaac allowed himself to be sacrificed. At this time Isaac was most certainly a man in his twenties or thirties. And though he did not know at first that he was going to be the main sacrifice for the offering he found out fairly quickly when, in verse 9, Abraham bound him and put him on the wood of the alter. He could have fought him off if he had wanted to (Abraham was well above 100 years old at this point), but instead he allowed it to happen and was willing to bear his sacrifice, just as Jesus did for our sake.
This reveals that Isaac is a ‘type’ of Jesus; he prefigures Him and His actions, yet without having knowledge of the New Testament it would be impossible for us to notice it because the New Testament is necessary in order for us to form any sort of connection between the two.
WHY IS THIS NECESSARY?
‘This seems nice,’ one might say, ‘but why do I need to know this? Why is it so important to know this typology?’
The answer lies in the words of St. Augustine. For the New Testament to lie hidden in the Old Testament implies that we can see the true depths of what the Old Testament has contained so long as the New Testament is used as a kind of key, unlocking truths from the Old Testament that otherwise could not possibly be explored.
Similarly, the Old Testament unleashes and uncovers a deeper understanding, appreciation, and love for Jesus as not only a fulfillment of the prophecies of the Messiah but as a fulfillment of all good that has been expressed throughout salvation history. Without the Old Testament we could not begin to appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice for us and everything that led up to it.
Typology is the words of St. Augustine put into practice. The typology of Isaac, for example, shows us that God has been planning to sacrifice Himself for us since before we could even fathom the necessity of such an act, since before we even knew that a Messiah would come to deliver us from evil.
It is through such revelations, the unlocking of treasures previously unseen and unknown, that we may grow just a little bit more in our comprehension and awe of the power, wisdom, and love of God.