The study of the types in Scripture concerns the relationship between parts of the OT (particularly the Pentateuch) and the NT. Thus in 1 Cor. 10, Paul, in describing certain events in the history of the children of Israel, reveals that “these things happened [as] types of us ... and have been written for our admonition” (vs 6, 11; my emphasis). The account is not merely historical but typological. Unsurprisingly (seeing it is written to the nation to whom the oracles of God were entrusted), the book of Hebrews is teeming with typological exposition. Melchisedec, for example, is “assimilated to the Son of God” (Heb. 7: 3), and the first tabernacle was “an image for the present time” (Heb. 9: 9).
Scripture does not leave us without clear instruction on the true definition of a type. The same Greek word translated type in 1 Cor. 10: 6, occurs twice in John 20: 25 where Thomas declares that “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (my emphasis). A type is thus an imprint imposed on a person, object or event that reveals a pattern that comes from elsewhere. The mark of the nails was not the same as the nails themselves, but it did reveal something about them. Thus Christ is our Passover (see 1 Cor. 5: 7). What does that mean? It means that the OT feast carries an imprint of the death of Christ—when we study the Passover we see features in it that increase our appreciation of what took place at Calvary. This is, in part, an explanation of how we can see in “all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27).
The study of the types ought therefore, to be a spiritually enriching experience, there being much in the detail of the OT types that is not given to us in the NT. Who would question for example, that Psalms 22 and 69 shed much more light on the sufferings of Christ than is ever given to us in the Gospels? Is this just imagination? No, for the Lord Himself declares that “all that is written concerning me in the ... psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24: 44). The great danger, of course, is to give free licence to our imagination, and to begin to see typological examples in every detail of Scripture. It is true, of course, that the apostles applied the OT Scriptures in ways that might not be readily apparent from the original text (see, for example, the correspondence Paul makes between Hagar and Jerusalem in Galatians 4: 25). However, we do not speak by revelation or write by inspiration as they did, the canon of Scripture is now closed (see Col. 1: 25) and we are to be characterised as those who persevere “in the teaching” (Acts 2: 42) of those same apostles. Where they describe OT Scriptures as figures and types of things in the NT then we may readily follow; where they are silent, then we need to exercise caution in order to be preserved from what is fanciful. Even where a type is clearly indicated, great care still needs to be exercised. There is an unfortunate kind of pious enthusiasm which once it gets hold of an idea pursues it almost to exhaustion. This ignores the fact that all the types fail at some point, and no type can correspond in every detail to its antitype. In Romans 5: 14, Adam is described as “[the] figure of him to come”, but clearly this did not apply to every detail!
What is abundantly clear is that a supposed type that lacks a corresponding antitype in the NT is not really a type at all. We are interpret the OT in the light of the NT, not the other way round. Give up this principle, and you will make Scripture say what you want it to say. If what you hold and practise has no basis in the apostle’s doctrine, then what you hold and practise (even if you can produce supposed OT types) is worthless. Indeed, I would go further and say it is positively damaging because it detracts from the one complete revelation that has been given to us (see Jude v3).