In the past, our publications often mentioned types and antitypes. However, in recent years, this is rarely done. Why?
The Watchtower of September 15, 1950, gave a definition of a “type” and an “antitype.” It explained that a type is a person, an event, or an object that represents someone or something greater in the future. An antitype is the person, event, or object that the type represents. A type was also called a shadow, and an antitype was called a reality.
In the past, our publications said that faithful men and women such as Deborah, Elihu, Jephthah, Job, Rahab, Rebekah, and many others were types who represented either the anointed or the “great crowd.” (Revelation 7:9) For example, we said that Jephthah, Job, and Rebekah represented the anointed and that Deborah and Rahab represented the great crowd. However, in recent years, we have not made similar comparisons. Why is that?
The Scriptures do teach that some Bible characters are types that represent someone or something greater in the future. For example, at Galatians 4:21-31, the apostle Paul refers to “a symbolic drama” that involves two women. The first woman is Hagar, Abraham’s slave girl. Paul explains that she represented the nation of Israel, which was bound to Jehovah by the Mosaic Law. The second woman is “the free woman,” Sarah, Abraham’s wife. She represented God’s wife, which is the heavenly part of God’s organization. Paul also mentions the many similarities between the king-priest Melchizedek and Jesus. (Hebrews 6:20; 7:1-3) In addition, Paul compares the prophet Isaiah and his sons to Jesus and the anointed Christians. (Hebrews 2:13, 14) Jehovah inspired Paul to make all these comparisons, so we can be sure that these types and antitypes are accurate.
However, even when the Bible shows that a person is a type, we should not assume that every detail or event in that person’s life represents something greater in the future. For example, Paul explains that Melchizedek represents Jesus. Yet, Paul does not mention the time that Melchizedek brought out bread and wine for Abraham after he defeated four kings. So there is no Scriptural reason to search for a hidden meaning in that event.—Genesis 14:1, 18.
Some writers in the centuries after Christ’s death made a serious mistake. They made almost every Bible account a type. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia describes the teachings of Origen, Ambrose, and Jerome, explaining: “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 [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!”
Another writer, Augustine of Hippo, explained that the Bible account in which Jesus fed 5,000 men with five barley loaves and two fish had a symbolic meaning. He said that the five barley loaves represented the first five books of the Bible. And because barley was thought to be inferior to wheat, this meant that the “Old Testament” was inferior to the “New Testament.” Also, he explained that the two fish represented a king and a priest. Another scholar explained that Jacob’s buying Esau’s birthright with a bowl of red stew represented Jesus’ buying the heavenly hope for mankind with his red blood!
If those explanations seem hard to believe, you can understand the problem. Humans cannot know which Bible accounts represent something greater and which do not. Therefore, what is the wise thing to do? When the Scriptures teach that a person, an event, or an object represents something greater in the future, we accept that explanation. However, we should not give a symbolic meaning to a Bible account when there is no Scriptural reason to do that.
How, then, can we benefit from details and accounts that we read in the Bible? The apostle Paul wrote: “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.” (Romans 15:4) Paul was writing to the anointed Christians in the first century, telling them how they could benefit from Bible accounts. However, since that time, all Christians, including the “other sheep,” have benefited from the lessons found in the Scriptures.—John 10:16; 2 Timothy 3:1.
Most Bible accounts, therefore, do not apply to only the anointed, the “other sheep,” or Christians during one specific time in history. Instead, most Bible accounts have benefited all of God’s servants, both in the past and present. For example, Job’s suffering does not represent only the suffering of the anointed during World War I. Many of God’s people, both men and women, both of the anointed and of the “other sheep,” have suffered like Job and have benefited from studying that account. They “have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—James 5:11.
In our congregations today, we find faithful older women who are loyal like Deborah, as well as young elders who are wise like Elihu. We also find pioneers who have zeal and courage similar to that of Jephthah, as well as faithful men and women who are patient like Job. We are very thankful that Jehovah made sure that “all the things that were written beforehand” are available for us today, so that “through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope”!
So for these reasons, we do not try to find a symbolic meaning or future fulfillment in every Bible account. Instead, our literature now focuses more on teaching valuable lessons from the Scriptures.