In the past, our publications often mentioned types and antitypes, but in recent years they have seldom done so. Why is that?
The Watchtower of September 15, 1950, defined a “type” and an “antitype” this way: “A type is an image or representation of something that will come to pass at some future time. The antitype is the reality of the thing which the type represents. The type may properly be called a shadow; the antitype, the reality.”
Many years ago, our publications stated that such faithful men and women as Deborah, Elihu, Jephthah, Job, Rahab, and Rebekah, as well as many others, were really types, or shadows, of either the anointed or the “great crowd.” (Rev. 7:9) For example, Jephthah, Job, and Rebekah were thought to represent the anointed, while Deborah and Rahab were said to foreshadow the great crowd. However, in recent years we have not drawn such comparisons. Why not?
The Scriptures do indicate that some individuals mentioned in the Bible served as types of something greater. As recorded at Galatians 4:21-31, the apostle Paul mentions “a symbolic drama” involving two women. Hagar, Abraham’s slave girl, represented or corresponded to literal Israel, which was bound to Jehovah by the Mosaic Law. But Sarah, “the free woman,” symbolized God’s wife, the heavenly part of his organization. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul links king-priest Melchizedek to Jesus, highlighting specific similarities between the two. (Heb. 6:20; 7:1-3) Further, Paul compares Isaiah and his sons to Jesus and his anointed followers. (Heb. 2:13, 14) Paul was writing under inspiration; thus, we gladly accept what he says about these types.
However, even where the Bible indicates that someone is a type of someone else, we should not conclude that every detail or incident in the life of the type is a picture of something greater. For example, although Paul tells us that Melchizedek is a type of Jesus, Paul says nothing about the fact that on one occasion Melchizedek brought out bread and wine for Abraham to enjoy after he had defeated four kings. Hence, there is no Scriptural basis for finding a hidden meaning in that incident.—Gen. 14:1, 18.
Some writers in the centuries after Christ’s death fell into a trap—they saw types everywhere. Describing the teachings of Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia explains: “They sought for types, and of course found them, in every incident and event, however trivial, recorded in Scripture. Even the most simple and commonplace circumstance was thought to conceal within itself the most recondite [hidden] truth . . . , even in the number of fish caught by the disciples on the night the risen Saviour appeared to them—how much some have tried to make of that number, 153!”
Augustine of Hippo commented extensively on the account where we read that Jesus fed about 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish. Since barley was considered to be inferior to wheat, Augustine concluded that the five loaves must represent the five books of Moses (the inferior “barley” representing the supposed inferiority of the “Old Testament”). And the two fish? For some reason he likened them to a king and a priest. Another scholar fond of looking for types and antitypes asserted that Jacob’s purchase of Esau’s birthright with a bowl of red stew represented Jesus’ purchase of the heavenly inheritance for mankind with his red blood!
If such interpretations seem far-fetched, you can understand the dilemma. Humans cannot know which Bible accounts are shadows of things to come and which are not. The clearest course is this: Where the Scriptures teach that an individual, an event, or an object is typical of something else, we accept it as such. Otherwise, we ought to be reluctant to assign an antitypical application to a certain person or account if there is no specific Scriptural basis for doing so.
How, then, can we benefit from the events and examples found in the Scriptures? At Romans 15:4, we read the apostle Paul’s words: “All the things that were written beforehand were written for our instruction, so that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” Paul was saying that his anointed brothers in the first century could learn powerful lessons from the events that were recorded in the Scriptures. However, God’s people in every generation, whether of the anointed or of the “other sheep,” whether living in “the last days” or not, could benefit—and have benefited—from the lessons taught in “all the things that were written beforehand.”—John 10:16; 2 Tim. 3:1.
Instead of viewing most of these accounts as finding their application to only one class, whether the anointed or the great crowd, and to only one time period, God’s people of either class and from any time period can apply to themselves many of the lessons the accounts teach us. Thus, for example, we need not limit the application of the book of Job to the experiences the anointed endured during World War I. Many of God’s servants, both men and women, both of the anointed and of the great crowd, have undergone experiences such as Job faced and “have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—Jas. 5:11.
Consider: In our congregations today, do we not find older women as loyal as Deborah, fine young elders as wise as Elihu, courageous pioneers as zealous as Jephthah, and faithful men and women as patient as Job? How grateful we are that Jehovah preserved the record of “all the things that were written beforehand,” so that “through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope”!
So for these reasons our publications in recent years have emphasized the lessons we can learn from Bible accounts instead of trying to find typical and antitypical patterns and fulfillments.