George Ophoff was Professor of Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Seminary in its early days. Reprinted here, in edited form, are articles which Ophoff wrote at that time for the Standard Bearer. Previous article in this series: February 1, 2003, p. 210.

In a previous article, attention was called to the fact that the typical-symbolical materials of the old dispensation are not confined within the boundaries of the ceremonial law. The utterances of the prophets and the apostles indicate that events and persons other than those covered by the precepts of the ceremonial law were designed by God to exhibit the realities of the kingdom of heaven. Adam and Elijah were, according to the testimony of Scripture, figures of Christ just as really as were the priests. The symbolical-typical persons and transactions lying within the circle of the law may for convenience be called ritual types, whereas persons and events not covered by the law may be called historical types.

In respect to this latter class of types the following questions arise: (1) What is the extent of this field? (2) What is its scope? These questions, it will be seen at once, need not be raised with respect to the ritual shadows of the old dispensation, for this province is clearly marked off by the law. But concerning only some of the historical types do we have Jehovah’s word for it that they may be considered types. The following persons or characters and transactions are specifically identified in Scripture as types: 1. Persons and characters: Adam (Rom. 5:11, 12I Cor. 15:22); Melchizedek (Heb. 7); Sarah and Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac, and by implication Abraham (Gal. 4:22-35); Moses (Gal. 3:19Acts 3:22-26); Jonah (Matt. 12:40); David (Ezek. 37:24Luke 1:32, etc.); Solomon (II Sam. 7); Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zech. 3, 4Hag. 2:23). 2. Transactions or events: the preservation of Noah and his family in the ark (I Pet. 3:20); the redemption from Egypt and its passover-memorial (Luke 12:15, 16I Cor. 5:7); the exodus (Matt. 11:15); the passage through the Red Sea; the giving of manna; Moses’ veiling of his face while the law was read; the water flowing from the smitten rock; the serpent lifted up for healing in the wilderness, and some other things that befell the Israelites there (I Cor. 10John 3:14John 5:33Rev. 11:18). (The above list was taken from Fairbairn’s The Typology of Scripture.)

But it cannot be true that only the above personages and events may be regarded as prefiguring similar events under the gospel. It must not be supposed that the inspired writers meant to identify every historical type of the old dispensation. It appears, rather, that they selected materials from a storehouse where many more are to be found.

What then is the scope of this field? It is possible for one to discover its boundaries. This can be done by examining the examples introduced by the inspired writers. These examples soon yield the principles to which these writers adhered when making their choice.


First Principle of Interpretation


The first of these principles is that there must be an inner agreement between two events or transactions if they are to be considered to have a relation of type and antitype, shadow and body. To express it negatively, a transaction should not be considered to be a type simply because it is outwardly similar to the event which it is supposed to prefigure. Two events or personages must embody the same ideas and truths if the one is to be regarded as a shadow of the other. To this should be added that the type necessarily exhibits the divine truth of that which it typifies, though on a lower and earthly scale.




That this rule is a proper one is seen at once when applied to such typical events and persons which have the sanction of Scripture. According to the testimony of Paul, Adam is a figure of Christ. “Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come” (Rom. 5:14). The point of convergence is expressed by the following Scripture: “For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). The relation that the first man sustained to the human race was that of head. In like manner, Christ is the head of redeemed humanity. Hence, as Adam’s sin was imputed unto the entire race of humanity, so the righteousness of Christ became the property of those whom He represented. The inner agreement between type and antitype is, in this case, the headship.




Melchizedek prefigured Christ. “For that after the similitude of Melchizedek there arises another priest” (Heb. 7:15). There are several points of convergence. Melchizedek was, as is Christ, priest of the most high God, king of righteousness, king of Salem, which is king of peace. Both are without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life. Both Melchizedek and Christ exhibit, in their persons and in their work, the same great principles of truth. There is, then, inner agreement between them. From this it does not follow, however, that Melchizedek and Christ were of equal rank and that one plane of action was common to both. The very terms “type” and “antitype” signify that such was not the case. Melchizedek was man, Christ was the Son of God. His priestly and kingly duties had a value and meaning of their own. The fact remains, however, that the life and work of both these personages display striking similarities. Each is priest and king, truly devoted to the cause of God. Hence, each is without beginning and without end.

For this reason, he to whom Abraham gave a tenth is referred to as a prefiguration of that great High Priest, who is passed into the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God.




David prefigured the Christ. This is evident from the written record of the utterances of Ezekiel.

And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd; they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever.

Ezek. 37:24, 25

David had been elevated to a position of theocratic king over the inheritance of Jehovah. He was the prime minister of God to whom had been assigned the task of ruling and protecting, as the servant of Jehovah, the subjects of that symbolical kingdom of heaven, the real legislator and judge of which was no one less than God. David and his kingdom were types of that spiritual kingdom of heaven, the citizens of which are the redeemed, and the King of which is Jesus Christ. The former could very well typify the latter in that both kingdoms, together with their kings, exhibited, each in its own way and in its own sphere, the power, the sovereignty, the justice, the holiness, and the mercy of God. Here again we are able to discover an inner agreement between type and antitype.

Ishmael and Isaac:

Again Ishmael and Isaac are named types by the inspired writer Paul. The passage reads:

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

Gal. 4:29-31

Ishmael is here presented as a type of the world. The point of contact is his manner of behavior toward Isaac, the child of the promise and a type of the church. Of Ishmael it is recorded that he persecuted Isaac. The world likewise assails the church. The inner agreement between type and antitype is, so it appears, there.




So it is also with respect to the Passover memorial. The entire transaction is a vivid picture of the peace and safety of those covered by the blood of Christ. There are corresponding elements throughout. The Passover, as well as the cross of Christ, reveals the justice and mercy of God.

Let us now apply the above principle of interpretation to some such events in sacred history that the inspired writers, in their search for suitable figures, passed by. Let us do so for the purpose of ascertaining whether the above rule, if adhered to, aids one in making a proper selection.




Joseph is held to be a type of Christ by some typologists but not by others. We need not hesitate, however, to place him in a class with the types. The events constituting his life and the principles of truth which that life of his exhibits are such as connect him with Christ. Here again there is inner agreement. Joseph as well as Christ was hated by his wicked brothers because of his genuine piety. The sacred record asserts that the evil conduct of his brothers filled his soul with resentment, that he was wont to bring to his father their evil report. For this reason he was hated by his brothers, who sold him to heathen merchantmen, who brought him to Egypt. There he was added to Potiphar’s household. He soon gains Potiphar’s confidence, with the result that he, Joseph, is made overseer over his master’s house. His integrity is rewarded by a prison term. Thereupon he receives insight into Pharaoh’s dreams. Recognized by Pharaoh as one in whom the Spirit of God was, he is subsequently set over all the land of Egypt. Only in the throne was Pharaoh greater than he. As the exalted one, Joseph now feeds those who had sought his ruin. His brothers come to him for bread. By dint of circumstances the entire land of Egypt, with all its inhabitants, becomes the personal property of the king who, through Joseph, provides for his subjects as for his children.

“Through suffering to high honor” is applicable to Joseph, as well as to Christ. Joseph and Jesus were made to pass through the valley of the shadow of death on their way to glory. The exalted Christ, having suffered for sin, feeds His brethren. He alone has bread. His is the bread of life. To Him the sinner must turn, would he live. Joseph, too, provides his brethren with bread. He alone has bread. To him must men turn would they not perish. It is Joseph, then, who stands between his brethren and death. That inner agreement is there. Hence, we may feel assured that Joseph is a shadow of Christ.*


A failure to adhere to the rule in question accounts for it that the stone that Jacob used as a pillow is looked upon by some as a type of Christ. But what concord hath this particular stone with Christ? There is no common principle connecting the two. True, as Christ is the support of a redeemed people, so the stone served to support the head of the slumbering Jacob. As Fairbairn points out, however, “the use which Jacob made of the stone was quite different from that in respect to which Christ is exhibited as the stone laid in Zion—being laid, not for the repose or slumber, but for the stability and support of a ransomed people. For this the strength and durability of a rock were absolutely indispensable; but they contribute nothing to the fitness of what Jacob’s necessities drove him to employ as a temporary pillow. It was his misfortune, not his privilege, to be obliged to resort to a stone for such a purpose.”

*For another view of Joseph, which does not make him a type of Christ, see H.C. Hoeksema, Unfolding Covenant History, vol. 3, pp. 105-210.