Proto-Types and Anti-Types

“Prototype” is an English transliteration of the Greek for an original mold from which copies are made. “Antitype” is Greek for copies made either from that mold, or from an improved one based on the original. For example, a mold taken of a smaller masterwork statue could be scaled larger to make a larger copy of it.

I have been helped tremendously in my understanding of Bible themes by Christian and Jewish typology. Looking at first instances – prototypes in Genesis – to enrich my understanding of the antitypes that come afterward. It may help that I am left-handed, as typological study is very right-brain in approach. We can’t base everything on it, but it enriches Bible study when we come to the end of what we can learn from the text of various passages by themselves.

This is not the place for an extended aside on left and right hemispheric dominance, but I mention it for the benefit of the majority right-handed members of the family who sometimes shun typology because it is handled differently from other methods of study. There are rules for the application of prototypes and antitypes that are well-codified and easy to understand. When typological study produces unbiblical conclusions, it may be that the interpreter did not use the same rules New Testament writers followed.

We need both brains, right and left, to get a clear picture, both of what the Bible plainly says, and of things expressly implied by what it says. These implied meanings may correctly be called mysteries, things not revealed at first, but understood more fully later on. The Law of Moses provides a macro-example of this, as it was given in brief in Exodus, but amplified in Deuteronomy. The prototype in Exodus is the skeleton, while its antitype in Deuteronomy puts flesh upon it. Jesus, quoting it more than any other book, breathed life into its nostrils.

Types – stories and parables – gave Jesus a simple way to speak publicly in plain language, but divide the audience into those who understood what he meant, and those who didn’t (see Mt.13:10-17 and skip to 13:51-52). Here is his rule: “Therefore every scribe [Bible teacher] instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” Matthew followed this rule, interpreting events as fulfillment of prophesy by citing Old Testament passages. Peter did it too. So did Paul, James, Jude, and John.

They also cited extra-biblical sources. Paul quoted Greek poets, and the apostles referenced apocryphal books that were in circulation at the time. They used old stories familiar to their readers to enrich their understanding of how the “new” teaching is built upon things they already accepted.