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Magazine • A to Z of Apologetics

Typology

The Old Testament foreshadowing the New

In order to understand Jesus’ relationship to the Old Testament, or to fully understand the sacraments or the Virgin Mary, it is crucial that we understand typology, which “discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son” (CCC 128).

This way of understanding Old Testament events dates back to the New Testament itself. The book of Hebrews’ description of the Mosaic Law as “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (10:1) succinctly captures the heart of typology. Likewise, St. Paul speaks of Adam as a “type” (typos) of Christ (Rom. 5:14) and of Christ as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). When we speak of the Passover as foreshadowing the Eucharist, or of Mary as the “New Eve,” or of Naaman’s washing as prefiguring baptism, we’re using typology.

This is more than a simile. When St. Peter describes how Noah and his family “were saved through water,” and says that “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:20-21), he’s not simply making an analogy. He’s saying that Noah’s Ark foreshadowed something greater: our salvation through baptism. The events of the Old Testament are significant as in their own right, but also as foreshadowing and prefiguring greater realities in the New Testament. St. Paul reads Exodus the same way, describing the Israelites as “all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). These Old Testament events are not mere history, but “were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11).

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