Typology and Christian Discipleship
Text: 1 Cor. 10:1-6
Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
A lot of times you hear people say that infant baptism is not found in the Bible. Even folks who believe in it will often agree that it’s not explicitly in there. They have their arguments for why it’s ok, but they will usually agree that you don’t see it talked about in the Bible. Well, I’m here to tell you this morning that they’re wrong. Infant baptism is found in the Bible. The Israelites, all of them, even their children, were baptized in the Red Sea, coming out of Egypt. Does that sound a little funny to you? Am I being cute? No, look at what Paul says “I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all our fathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”?
In fact, Paul goes even further. He says that the children of Israel ate “spiritual food” and drank “spiritual drink.” He says that they drank from Christ! That sounds pretty cool, but what in the world is he talking about?
Paul is clearly trying to make a point. He’s reading the Old Testament in a certain way, and he says that the Old Testament stories were written as “types” for us. So we’re going to look at “types” and try to learn what they are. This is important because the New Testament writers very often read the Old Testament in a typological way. They are looking for “types” all over the place. We need to be able to do this too, but we have to do it well. This is important for understanding the Scriptures, but it’s also important for understanding how to apply the Scriptures.
This morning we are going to look at typology. We are going to see what it is, we are going to see how Paul uses it, and we are going to see what it can teach us about our own spiritual walks today. Typology is a tool for reading the Bible, but it’s more than that. Typology is also a tool for Christian discipleship.
What is typology?
Typology is the study of “types” (tupos) in Scripture. The word type literally means “imprint.” We see it used this way in the gospels. For instance, John 20:25 speaks of the nail marks in Christ’s hands, and it uses the word tupos. It can also mean “example,” a sort of mental imprint that someone or something leaves on us. Paul tells Timothy to be an example for the congregation under him in 1 Tim. 4:12, and he uses the word tupos. Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 5:3, and he uses the same word, tupos or type.
But there’s one more meaning for “type,” and it’s the one we are concerned with this morning. “Type” in this section of 1 Cor. is being used about literature. It refers to an example or a figure that has been employed to teach us something by pointing to a bigger or more central idea. “Type” is used twice in 1 Cor. 10, in verse 6 and verse 11, and in both places it is being used to tell us that the Old Testament events happened in order to teach us a lesson. It also tells us that those Old Testament events correspond to things in the New Testament, things that are happening to us.
This idea of a repeated figure or symbol which corresponds to later more central events is what “typology” is all about. The Bible is full of types which point towards something else, something which they are trying to teach us. A few more examples would be Romans 5:14, where is says that Adam was a type of Christ. Paul’s point there is that Adam is a parallel to Jesus. All of the things that Adam did which affected the rest of humanity, Jesus has now undone, through similar work but redemptive work. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).
Tupos is also used in 1 Peter 3:21, but it’s actually “antitype” in that verse. “When cone the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God).” Peter says that Noah’s ark and the flood correspond to Christian baptism. That’s still typology, but it starts with the new and points back to the old. So a type is a symbolic parallel that points forward to something in the New Testament, and an antitype is a symbolic parallel that points backward to something in the Old Testament.
We need to make one important qualification at this point. Typology is different from allegory. Allegory is a literary device where the names or characters are only symbolic. They are not real or historical. They are just meant to give you an idea. Think about Pilgrim’s Progress. The main character’s name is “Pilgrim.” He fights the Giant “Doubt.” He eventually changes his name to “Christian.” Some of his companions, “Pliable” and “Obstinate,” are unable to follow the call of God. Each of those names are meant to teach us about ideas. They aren’t real people. They don’t have to be. That’s allegory.
But typology is historical and real. The Israelites really did pass through the Red Sea. When they did that, it made all the sense in the world as a historical event. They didn’t even have to know that it was a type of baptism. For them it was a real-life deliverance from the Egyptians. The event is a “type” when it is put into the whole story of the Bible and connected to God’s redemptive history. It’s not “either” real or symbolic. It is both real and symbolic. And it fits a measurable pattern that we can reasonably detect. Typology is not finding “what the text means for you.” It is finding how the text fits in the larger story and making connections with other things in that story.
Paul’s Typology in 1 Corinthians 10
So how is Paul using typology here? His main point is that the Christian Church is like Israel. We have many of the same blessings they had, and we have the same temptations they had. His pastoral plea is for us not to do the same things they did.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we are exactly like Israel in every way. That’s not the point. But it does mean that there is a fundamental parallel in the way salvation worked in Israel and the way it works in the Church. Paul can even say that Israel had the sacraments. Look. They were “baptized” in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor. 10: 3). Those were water events which initiated the Israelites into a covenant community, and they even provided deliverance from their enemies. So, they were types of baptism.
Paul goes even further. He says that Israel had the Lord’s Supper. Israel had Christ! They “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (vs. 3-4).
What does Paul have in mind here? He certainly wants us to think about the miraculous manna that fell from heaven. Jesus had compared himself to that manna in John’s gospel. “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. …I am the bread of life” (John 6:32-33, 35). So it is true that the manna was a type of Christ.
But Paul also points to the “Rock which followed them.” This is the rock which Moses struck with his staff to provide water in the wilderness (see Ex. 17:5-7, Num. 20:11). But Paul explains to us that this, just like the other miracles, was not only meant to be a provision for earthly water. It was meant to teach us about God’s miraculous grace. So, Paul says, “That Rock was Christ.” In that provision, Christ was working to provide grace and salvation to His people, even in the Old Testament. Isn’t that incredible?
So we learn that Israel had the same things we have, but in a different outward form. They had sacraments (this is one text that helps us understand what sacraments are, by the way) in the miraculous signs that God gave them. These signs were not only symbols to look act, either. They were historical means that God used to bring about His own works of deliverance. One involved water. The other involved food. And they each had a spiritual component—Jesus Christ.
This teaches us that Israel was saved the same way we are. They had to be saved by the messiah, and they had to have faith. The Epistle to the Hebrews draws the same parallel between Israel in the Wilderness and the Christian Church, and it says that Israel’s big problem in the wilderness was unbelief. “They could not enter [the Promised Land]because of unbelief” (Heb. 3:19). They should have seen Christ in their sacraments. They should have believed.
But sadly they did not believe. They chased after idols, and most of them fell away. As Paul says, “with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5). Israel had the sacraments, they had baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and yet it wasn’t enough. Israel had Christ—and still fell away!
Why? How? Because they didn’t believe. They didn’t see Christ in the Rock. They didn’t put their trust in God’s delivering grace. They only used the outward appearances, and they used it selfishly. After a while, the turned to something else, to other gods, and they were destroyed.
Now, having said all of this, what’s Paul’s big point? Why is he making this argument? He tells us in verse 6, “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.” Israel’s story is an example of us. It’s an example to teach us what not to do. We are like them in the blessings we have. Let’s don’t be like them in the faithlessness they showed. We can’t become presumptuous. We can’t think that merely being in the covenant and merely possessing the sacraments will ensure faithfulness on our part. So watch out. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
Typology and Discipleship
Paul wants us to learn a lesson from Israel, so he uses typology. This tells us that typology is both an interesting literary tool and an important part of discipleship. In order to help form our Christian character and development, we’ve got to read our bibles. And in order to read our bibles, we’ve got to know how to read our bibles, how to read them fully and consistently. Typology helps us do that.
Typology helps us understand the unity of the Bible. As we said earlier, typology is not a treasure hunt. We aren’t finding anything we want in the Scriptures and justifying it by calling it symbolic. Jacob’s sheep are sheep. David’s five stones are five stones. But the Red Sea is a type of baptism because it fits the larger pattern in Scripture. It is a water event that delivers the covenant people from their enemies, binds them into a single community, and shows God’s grace. It connects to the central theme of redemption through the covenant of grace. And it took faith to make it personally applicable. Just as it is today, it was then.
So we see how to read the Bible. It is a series of smaller stories, but when we read them together, it is really one story. There are common characters, common symbols, and common plot patterns. We see lots of Adams, Noahs, and Abrahams. We see lots of water, wine, and bread. There are all sorts of small deaths and resurrections. Serpents are always showing up, and they always need crushing. God’s covenant is always at the center. Salvation is always by faith in His promise.
We also see that the Christian Church is like Israel. In fact, the Christian Church is Israel, but in a mature and fully-developed form. Paul says that the children of Israel are “our fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1). But he’s writing mostly to Gentiles. Because they stand in the line of Israel, receiving the testimony of the Scriptures, being engrafted into the covenant, and trusting the same Christ, then the Church can be said to be Israel’s true descendant. As we are told elsewhere, Abraham’s seed are those with Abraham’s faith (Gal. 3:29).
Since the Church is the offspring of Israel, the Church is like Israel in how it is structured. It is a community of people. It has boundaries. The sacraments mark those boundaries. You are not “in” the Church until you are baptized. You are “out” of the Church if you are barred from communion, if you are excommunicated.
The church includes families. The parents and their children were baptized in the Red Sea. So the Christian church follows that same pattern. This is one reason we believe that it is good and right to include the children of believers in both baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are paying attention to the impression of Scripture.
And just like Israel, the Church may include some false members. This is why Paul is warning us. Don’t be like Israel in their faults. Don’t fall into idolatry as they did. It’s possible. Watch out. Guard your hearts. Place your faith in Christ.
All of this means that typology teaches us how to read the Bible and it forms us around the Bible. We need to actually become like the characters and types we see in the Bible, and we need to learn to be formed by the same covenant and the same sacraments that have been forming God’s people throughout the Bible. We need to use typology in our lives in order to progress in our discipleship. We need to see the church as God’s covenant people, baptism as our water-deliverance, and the Lord’s Supper as our continued sustenance. And we need to see all of this for what it truly is, not the external markers but the spiritual fulfillment. We need to see Christ.
We will only grow in grace as we grow in Christ, and we will only grow in Christ as we learn how to find Him. We find Him in His Word and in His visible words, the sacraments which are given as promises to us. And as we regularly use Christ’s word and His words, and put our trust in Him, we can maintain a faithful walk throughout our lives.
So we see that typology helps us to read the Bible rightly, and it helps us to apply the Bible to ourselves today. It opens up the whole Bible—the Old and the New Testaments—for our sanctification and discipleship. We should be like Israel in the ways that Israel was elect and blessed, but we should not be like Israel in the ways that Israel was idolatrous and stubborn. We should be a covenant community united by a promise and the signs of that promise, but we must be a true and faithful covenant community that holds fast to Christ.
And to do this, we need to see how Christ provided deliverance, both for Israel and for us. We need to see His grace and provision in defending us from our enemies, in washing away our sins and drowning Satan and his forces. We need to see Christ’s grace and provision in feeding us with the true bread from heaven, the bread that gives us eternal life and feeds our soul. We need to see Christ’s death as the means of our life, and we need to pattern our covenant community after that sacrifice.
We should see all of this united in our Bibles, and it should drive us to wonder and to worship. It should strengthen our faith to see how everything works together. It should give us gratitude that these blessings have been given to us. Typology should teach us, and typology should bless us. It should make us more like Christ.
Let us pray.