Thursday, December 31, 2020

Types and shadows (again)

One of the more interesting characters in the Old Testament is Joseph. There are some very clear parallels between Joseph and the Lord, but the New Testament doesn't seem to notice them. So is Joseph a type of Christ?

As far as I can tell, Joseph is mentioned only a handful of times in the New Testament:

  • John 4:5
  • Acts 7:9–14, 7:18
  • Hebrews 11:21–22

(There is a mention in Revelation 7:8, but it's a reference to the tribe of Joseph, not to him as an individual.)

So there are three places Joseph is mentioned in the New Testament,  and in none of those is the he brought up as prefiguring the Lord. 

But if we read the story of the woman at the well in Sychar (John 4:5–42) a little more closely, there is a hint lurking a little deeper... The story of the the woman at the well begins with the first mention of Joseph in the New Testament (not that there are many of those), and as far as I can tell, it's a reference to Genesis 48:21–22. We're told that Sychar is "near to the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph". 

While I don't claim to be very wise, I have learned to pay attention to these passing references when I read Scripture. There are a whole lot of "Wait... what?" moments, and I've learned to slow down and let them sink in. It's not for nothing that Scripture throws these mentions into a story.

So there is a very slight connection between Joseph and the story of the woman at the well. But there are two more very slender threads connecting her story to Joseph. Both come from Genesis 41:45. There, Pharaoh calls Joseph  Zaphnath-paaneah. If we look in the margin, we find that  Zaphnath-paaneah means "Savior of the world" in Egyptian, and "Revealer of Secrets" in Hebrew. Notice that both of these play into the story of the woman at the well.  First, the woman describes Christ as "a man who told me all things I had ever done" (John 4:29) – the Revealer of secrets. Then the Samaritans call the Lord "the Savior of the world" (John 4:42).

So is Joseph a type of Christ? I honestly don't know.  Those connections are real, but they're awfully slender. It seems to me there are a lot of those in Scripture, where "type" seems like it might be too strong a word, but there's more there than just coincidence.

There are some striking features to the story of the woman at the well. It's very rare that we see anyone invite the Lord to stay in their home. The Samaritans asked the Lord to stay, and He stayed with them two days (John 4:40). I'm sure there were others who hosted the Lord, we know about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (John 12:2) and Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10). But it's certainly not a common thing in Scripture for someone to invite the Lord into their home. What's even less common is the Lord refusing an invitation; off the top of my head, I can't recall the Lord ever doing so.

And then we have the title "Savior of the world," which I can only find twice in the New Testament (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14). It seems like the Samaritans in Sychar had seen a truth much more clearly even than the disciples did at the time. And that's not because the Samaritans were smarter than the disciples. It's because God was revealing His Son to them.

The Lord's promise of "living water" to the woman is a striking feature of the story as well. I used to think the Lord was speaking to her about eternal life, but that's not what "living water" is. Yes, living water results in eternal life (John 4:14), but "living water" refers to the Holy Spirit (John 7:38–39). So here the Lord is, talking to a woman who is apparently lost, and He jumps to the indwelling Spirit of God. Doesn't that seem strange? It's like He's skipping a step. I would expect the Lord to hit her with "you must be born again" (John 3:3–7). But that's not what He does.

At Sychar, the Lord reveals Himself as the Man who can give the Spirit of God. Let that sink in: He is a Man and He can give God as a gift! 

I've written too long about this already, and this post is long overdue, so we'll just wrap this up here. The connections between Joseph and John 4 aren't accidental. I'm not willing to commit to saying that Joseph is a type of Christ (well... not yet), but there is certainly a "Joseph character" to John 4. And the more I look at that chapter, the more surprising it is, especially as early as it appears in the Gospel. Here we have idolaters who recognize Christ for who He is, take Him at His word, and acknowledge Him. Almost sounds like Asenath, doesn't it?

Friday, December 18, 2020

Types and shadows

I've been thinking about Isaac. Genesis doesn't spend a lot of time discussing Isaac, compared to Abraham, Jacob, and even Joseph. But when we turn to the New Testament, Isaac shows up in some interesting ways.

Having spent many years around "brethren", I've heard a lot of talks about types and shadows in the Old Testament, especially in Genesis. I admit that I've become a bit jaded by some of those talks: not everything recorded in the Old Testament has deeper shades of spiritual meaning. But while I say that, I have to admit that the New Testament explicitly describes symbolic meanings in the accounts of Isaac's life.

Galatians 4:21–31 makes the statement that the story of Isaac and Ishmael has "an allegorical sense" (Galatians 4:24).  It then goes on to say that Hagar represents the Law, while Sarah represents "the Jerusalem above" (Galatians 4:26). And then it tells us that "the son of the maid servant shall not inherit with the son of the free woman" (Galatians 4:30). The conclusion being that we can't have both law and grace: we need to take our place as those under grace, and eschew putting ourselves under law.

Hebrews 11:17–19 retell the story of Abraham offering up Isaac (Genesis 22:1–19). It tells us that Abraham expected the Lord to raise Isaac from the dead, "whence also he received him in a figure" (Hebrews 11:19). So when we read through Genesis, we're supposed to understand that Isaac died "in figure" on the mountain, and came back down the mountain resurrected "in figure." J. N. Darby points out that the entire character of the promises to Abraham change at the point Isaac is offered:

The promise of the blessing of the nations was not given to Abraham and his seed. It was made to Abram alone in Genesis 12; and so in Galatians 3 we read in the original, "And to Abram were the promises made, and to his seed." So again, the promise which was confirmed before of God to Christ (not in Christ). Hence it is the apostle insists upon its being one, for the promises to Abraham, as father of the Jews, were made in common to him and to his seed together; and it was promised that his seed should be as the stars of heaven, and as the sand which is by the seashore, innumerable. Whereas the promise of the blessing of the nations was given to Abram first, and then confirmed to the one seed, Isaac, figure of Christ sacrificed and risen again, with no mixture of anyone else, nor mention of a numerous posterity.  ("Connection of the cross with the entire development of God's ways with man", Collected Writings, Volume 22, pp. 365–372)

It's in Hebrews 11:17 that we read Isaac is Abraham's "only begotten son."  This is the only place I can find where that expression is used of someone other than Christ. And here's the amazing part: it's not literally true. Isaac had an older half-brother and several younger half-siblings. He might have been Sarah's only son, but he wasn't Abraham's. 

Scripture does this sort of thing sometimes: it makes statements that aren't literally true, and we're expected to understand that they're not literally true. And when that happens, we need to slow down and pay attention. The Scripture is emphasizing a point, and it does so by making us ask, "Wait... what?"

And of course that brings us to Romans 9:6–13 where Isaac's birth, and the birth of his children, are used to demonstrate "Divine, sovereign, individual election". Isaac's place as Abraham's only begotten son is not true in the strictly historical sense, but it's true in God's reckoning. That's really the whole point of the first half of Romans 9.

So I've come full circle, so to speak. When I was much younger, I was eager to see types and shadows in the Old Testament. And then I began to suspect that most or all of that sort of thing was really eisegesis: it's something read into – not out of – Scripture. But now I appreciate that the New Testament does, indeed, support the idea that there are types, shadows, and hidden meanings in the Old Testament.

Now, I don't want to lose sight of an important lesson here. When the New Testament tips us off to some deeper meaning in the Old, we should dive in to see, understand, and appreciate it. But I still view with skepticism some of those interpretations, at least until I can see justification for it in the text. But perhaps that's a rant for another time.




Friday, December 11, 2020

Salvation and baptism – baptism (again)

There is some question about "baptism" in Romans 6:3–6. Does that mean baptism in water? Or does it refer to something else, perhaps baptism of the Holy Spirit? It's not a trivial question, and there are probably problems no matter which view you take.

Clearly 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches that each individual believer has been baptized spiritually, above and beyond baptism in water. But I don't think that's what Romans 6 is referring to. I think Romans 6 is referring to water baptism.

Now, I'm sure that each believer, baptized or not, is united to Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Galatians 2:20 brings up our union with Christ, with no mention of baptism. So I'm not saying that a believer who isn't baptized in water hasn't died with Christ.

But Romans 6–8 is all about our life down here, in a wicked world, in fallen bodies (Romans 8:10). It's not about our life in the world to come, nor about our place with Him in heaven. It's dealing with our practical walk as those united with Christ in this life, and that's what baptism is all about.

Notice that the issue in Romans 6 isn't what God sees, but what we see. It's about our reckoning, not God's (Romans 6:11). And when we're talking about what we see, we're talking about an outward reality; we're talking about baptism.

Friday, December 4, 2020


As an earthly king, the Lord Jesus ties together two successions from Scripture. As King of Israel, He succeeds David (2 Samuel 5:3; John 1:49). As King of Kings, He succeeds Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:37; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). It seems to me that the title "Son of God" corresponds to the first title (John 1:49), while the title "Son of Man" corresponds to the second – it's the Son of Man who is given a kingdom that shall never end (Daniel 7:13–14).

When David announced Solomon as his successor, he had him ride through Jerusalem on a mule (1 Kings 1:32–48). God announced His own Son as David's successor in the same way (Matthew 21:1–16). I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but we see the Lord riding only twice in Scripture: once on a donkey, once on a white horse. And these two scenes correspond to the titles "King of Israel" (Matthew 21:5) and "King of Kings" (Revelation 19:16). 

It's easy to forget that God Himself set up Nebuchadnezzar as King of Kings (Daniel 2:37–38; Jeremiah 27:4–8), but it's true. God set up Nebuchadnezzar as king just like He set up David as king (Psalm 78:70–72). By the time we get to Nebuchadnezzar, the Old Testament has detailed how the nation of Israel had fallen into disrepair. It was, indeed, a nation in ruin. So it's easy to see Nebuchadnezzar as a judgment brought on Israel (and he was), but we shouldn't let that overshadow what God was doing with him. The Most High rules in the kingdoms of men, and He gives them to whomever He wills (Daniel 4:31–32).

But the fact is, when we refer to the Lord as "King of Kings," we are using a title He gets from Nebuchadnezzar and the gentile kings (cf Ezra 7:32). It's a title God gives Him, but just like "King of Israel," the Lord is the last, and not the first, to hold it.

So when we read the captivity and post-captivity books of the Bible, we get another glimpse of the Lord as King. It's not the same point of view that we get when we see the lives of the kings of Israel, but it's equally true.

I wouldn't actually say that the Lord will have two kingdoms: but I could be wrong about that. I remain convinced that the New Covenant is exclusively between the Lord, Israel, and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:7–11). I don't see that the gentiles have any part in that. The title "King of Kings" is given to both Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:37) and Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:32), but they definitely had two separate kingdoms. So it's not apparent to me that these two kingly titles necessitate two kingdoms: "King of Kings" doesn't seem to be tied to a specific kingdom.