Can’t Appreciate the Bible? Try Typology.

by Edmond Lo

Typology, a powerful and indispensable method for reading and understanding the Bible, “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). When St. Paul says Adam is “the type of the one who was to come”, he is reading the creation account of Genesis typologically to see in Adam the prefiguration of Christ, the New Adam (Rom 5:14). It’s impossible for us mere mortals to understand how God is able to do it, but He mysteriously knows how to use Adam, whose freely committed transgression has caused condemnation to all, to foretell Christ, whose righteous and self-giving act on the cross has brought life to all (cf. Rom 5:18).

Another good example of typology can be found in this Sunday’s readings. In the first reading, God foretells through Jeremiah the restoration of Israel after a long and humiliating exile: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng” (Jer 31:8). Through the lens of typology, we see in the restoration of Israel the prefiguration of the restoration and eventual vindication of all of God’s people - His Holy Church, the New Israel.

They who have “departed in tears” - who have been led astray by the evil of sin to leave God’s land of freedom and happiness - will return to “brooks of water” and “level road so that none shall stumble”. More than a mere manifestation of God’s power and mercy, the gathering of the blind, the lame, and the mothers with child signifies a restoration of the glory (vs. the darkness of the blind), freedom (vs. the physical restriction of the lame), and love (vs. the fear of “the mothers with child” during the exile) that constitute the dignity of human life – a dignity so precious that it’s worth the redemptive sacrifice of the Son’s own life.

Through the lens of typology, we see Jesus’ restoration of the blind man’s sight, depicted so powerfully in this Sunday’s gospel, as one of many healing acts of our Lord that are meant to declare the end of the exile of humanity and its full restoration to glory. “Master, I want to see” suggests not only the desperation of the blind man, but also the innermost desire of all of God’s waylaid children through the ages. Their hearts are yearning to emerge from the long shadow of darkness to behold the splendor of the kingdom of God; their weary bodies dying to escape the punishing terrains of this hostile world to walk in the safe haven of the New World order. Through Christ, they will return to live in peace and harmony once again with God in the garden of Eden where the whole history of salvation first began.

For those who truly understand and appreciate typology, its power to evoke awe and reverence in the hearts of the readers lies not so much in the accuracy of its prediction or promise. After all, predictions or promises fulfilled down to a T, though impressive and important, are not uncommon in the Bible. What is really hard to fathom about typology is God’s mysterious ability to use certain people (e.g. Adam, David), or events (e.g. the great flood, crossing the Red Sea), or institutions (e.g. the Jerusalem Temple, the Levitical priesthood) that have happened freely in history, to prefigure Christ and other things or events that subsequently happened to him and his followers. Through the theme of this Sunday, the exile and restoration of Israel, we experience once again the mysterious power of typology that leaves us awestruck. Now we know why the author of Hebrews says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12).