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.

In our previous article we showed that those institutions and transactions of the old dispensation that are in Theology called types are in Scripture designated shadows. It is these Old Testament shadows, or prefigurations, which will be the object of our attention in our study of typology.

We now inquire into the character, nature, and function of the Old Testament shadows. In doing so we must take Scripture as our only guide, and not reason from premises to Scripture.

Definition of the terms used to designate the shadows

Concerning the shadows of the old dispensation, Scripture furnishes us with firsthand information. We shall set out by taking a look at the terms which Scripture uses to signify the prefigurations of the Old Testament. The terms simile (parabolee), shadow (skia), antitype (antitypos) are of importance. From these names we may derive a proper and adequate definition of the prefigurations under discussion. These very names are expressive of their character and function.

The types were shadows. A shadow is a deprivation of light, representing the form of a body which intercepts the rays of light. The shadow is unreal and lacks substance. The body is the reality. There can be no shadow without the body. The appearance of the shadow is absolutely dependent upon the presence of the body. If there were no body, there could be no shadow. Further, although unreal and unsubstantial, the shadow is nevertheless a representation of the body. Between the two there is a resemblance.

The prefigurations of the old dispensation were likewise not the realities. The body, so the apostle Paul asserted, is Christ. He is the truth, the reality, and the substance of the shadowy institutions and transactions of the Old Testament. Further, as there can be no shadow without a body, so there would have been no types without the Christ. As the body casts the shadow, so the Christ is responsible for the appearance of the Old Testament types. The Christ even then was there. Israel, during its wanderings in the desert, drank from the spiritual rock which was Christ. So we read: “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:4). Thus, in the old dispensation Christ, as it were, was casting His shadow. He Himself did not appear until the fullness of time when the Word became flesh. Nevertheless, He was there, from the very beginning, yea, from everlasting. His anointing is a matter of eternity.

As the shadow is a representation of the body, i.e., its shadowy replica, so the Old Testament shadows were, likewise, copies, patterned after the body or model, Christ and the realities centering in Him.

Now then, the term antitype. The preposition anti signifies over against or opposite to. The meaning of the term type has already been given. A type is properly an impression. The shadows of the Old Testament were impressions or images of objects and realities of a higher province. The shadows stood, as it were, opposite or over against the realities (the antitypes) of which they were the impression.

The term simile, literally parable (parabolee), also denotes that the shadows were pictures or images of objects of a higher realm.

There is one more term to which we call attention. The term deiyma, meaning a thing shown, brought to view or representation, is also used in Scripture to designate the shadows.

The shadows as prophetic images

The above terms are not the only source of information about the character and function of the shadows. The epistle to the Hebrews is a commentary on the types. Let it be said that the terms which we have been studying do not compel one to conclude that the shadows of the old dispensation were images of events of a future epoch. In other words, the terms as such do not indicate that the shadows were prophetic images. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes it plain, however, that such was indeed the case. We quote the following: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:7-10).

Mention is made of two covenants — the first, and the better. Peculiar to the former was the shadows. The better covenant consisted in this, that God put His laws into their minds and wrote them in their hearts. These were events of a coming day, however. Of these events, lying in the future, the types of the first covenant were shadows. It is plain that the shadows of the old covenant were at once prefigurations, that is, prophetic symbols of better things to come.

The shadows as symbols

Now the question is in order whether the prophetic types or shadows of the old dispensation were also symbols — the term symbol now taken in the theological sense. That is, do the shadows not only (as types) prefigure future objects and events but also (as symbols) signify present realities? Our answer is ready. The elements constituting the sum total of the shadows of the old dispensation did indeed symbolize or signify present realities. The typical institutions and transactions served a twofold purpose. They prefigured future realities and objects of a higher province; and they exhibited to the believer of the old dispensation the spiritual realities of the covenant of grace and demonstrated to him the great principles of sin and redemption. Let us give a few examples: the rite of circumcision was a visible demonstration of, i.e., symbolized, regeneration; Levitical purity symbolized holiness; the fumes of incense, the prayers of the believers. The lamb and the priest, on the other hand, prefigured the Christ.

One can regard the slaying of the sacrificial animal as a symbol of the mortification of the old man of sin. This may be done. Scripture calls the sufferings and death of Christ that were typified by the sacrificial victim a model, pattern, or example of the sufferings of the believer in this world. “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example (tupon), that ye should follow his steps” (I Pet. 2:21). And then this Scripture: “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). Passages such as these clearly indicate that we may regard the crucifixion of Christ as a model or example of the crucifixion of the flesh by the believer. We are not losing out of sight that the death of our Savior was more than a pattern or example. His death was the meritorious cause of our salvation. We are also bearing in mind that there is a vast difference between the character, nature, and purpose of the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of the believer.

Since the sufferings of Christ were an example of the sufferings of the believer, it follows that the types of the Old Testament may be looked upon as symbols of the believer’s moral death.

Let us now connect up with our main thought. We said that the types of the Old Testament were at once symbols of existing or present realities. This must be true, for the shadows were prefigurations of future objects, events, and realities. Hence, there was a resemblance, as to form and content, as to the shell as well as to the kernel, between the shadows and the matters prefigured. It follows, therefore, that the shadows demonstrated the same great truths permeating the objects and events typified.

Character and function of the shadows

We are now prepared to make a statement concerning the character of the shadows of the old dispensation. The shadows were phenomena which God caused to appear for a threefold purpose:

In the first place, they exhibited to the believers of the old covenant the fundamental truths of God’s economy of redemption.

In the second place, the shadows prefigured those objects and events of the gospel which were due to appear in the fullness of time.

Finally, the shadows of the Old Testament were made to appear for the benefit of the believers of the new covenant as well. To them also they are vehicles of much valuable instruction.

Thus not only the character but also the function of the shadows has been set forth.