Joseph and Jesus: Preliminary Thoughts on Typology

The Joseph Story is at the apex of world literature; it is not surpassed in sacred or secular lore. Moreover, the author shows skill as a historian as well, melding historical data together into a powerful and forceful account of how Israel ended up in Egypt. Hopefully we have seen something of the profundity of the story’s theology, and that sacred narrative opens up realms of spiritual insight for readers who desire to raise their souls to God. But in the end, the story as Scripture is something far more than sacred literature, history, or theology. It is eschatological in its core, pointing to Something to come who is far greater than itself through its characters, events and motifs. This Something is Jesus Christ, who is the Antitype to our story. The word “anti-type” is an old one that was used to describe an impression made by a die in the Greco-Roman world. The die itself was obscure and backward (the type), but the impression it made was clear (anti-type).

The study of typology is something Old Testament scholars are often reticent to discuss. Critical scholars reject the study of typology out of hand, associating it with a doctrinaire adherence to Christianity and/or a pre-modern hermeneutic. Often even believing scholars neglect it out of embarrassment, for they wish to appear scholarly and reasonable, preferring to discuss the story as a Hebrew text in its literary and historical context. Scholars of the ancient and medieval Church, however, along with certain traditions since that have not succumbed to the rationalistic presuppositions of the enlightenment, understood the Old Testament more in line with the New Testament writers; they saw it as an anticipation of the events in the life of Christ. For them all life was mysterious, and Christ was at the core of the mystery. It was the supreme task of scholars and theologians to bend their minds and souls to the mysteries.

The grand assumption of typology is that history repeats itself in patterns. The deeper one goes into the past, the clearer picture one has of the future. Scripture itself can be styled purely typologically; its contents form a series of patterns. For instance, a cursory look at the description of Eden in Chapter 2 of Genesis reveals close ties with the last chapters of Revelation where the Eternal City is described. Eden is the type, and the eternal city is the antitype. Everything in the future has its roots in the past. In fact, if we could go back far enough into the past so as to see and comprehend creation itself, we would see all the future with the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep. Christ is the Great Beginning, and He is the Great End, the Alpha and the Omega. To find the One is to find the Other.

Everything is therefore surrounded by God and penetrated with the mystery of Christ. There is nothing insignificant; everything is teeming with meaning. To be Christian is to understand the mysteries christologically. Consider these powerful words of St. Paul:

He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Col. 1:15-17

Christ is the Power behind every detail of creation and history. Therefore, to be a student of creation and the past is to be a student of Christ, if one wishes to be truly Christian. Everything is revelatory of Christ. This is why Paul further declares that the knowledge of God’s mystery is “Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

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