It is understood by over a billion people in this world that the Gospels of the New Testament were divinely written, and that all of the aspects of the New Testament flow gently from the Old Testament as “prophecies,” “premonitions,” “predictions,” and the like. However, what many fail to understand is the idea of “typology,” or “parallelism” that was strategically used to connect the writings of the Hebrew Bible to what would be the “new” stories.
Because the Gospels were written 40-80 years after the historic accounts of the life of Jesus, the Gospel writers had to write a story that was two generations old. A comparison might be if you were told to write the life story of your grandfather, who had long passed away. You couldn’t ask your grandfather directly about his life, or his friends, as they had all passed away as well. All that is left is the stories of the children, and the stories second hand, which would, as you can imagine, leave some gaping holes in the timeline.
The Gospel writers had this challenge too. Therefore, they had to find a way to fill those holes with what they knew (the stories of the Hebrew Bible), and parts that would embellish the story, creating meaning for the followers.
Take, for instance, the birth story of Jesus, according to the Gospels. There is a wicked king (Herod), an infant hero (Jesus), agents of the king who ultimately disobey him (the Magi), an evil scheme to kill the hero (Herod kills all males under two), the hero flees until the king dies, the hero goes toward the Holy Land from Egypt, the hero fasts 40 days & nights in the Wilderness (following the Baptism), the hero delivers a Law on a mountain (the sermon on the mount), and the Law’s teachings are imparted in 5 sections (the sermon’s 5 divisions). These aspects are by no means original; rather they are a direct typology or parallelism of the birth story of Moses in Exodus, of which the Gospel writers had in front of them. A wicked king (Pharaoh), an infant hero (Moses), Agents of the king who ultimately disobey him (the midwives), an evil scheme to kill the hero (Pharaoh kills all first born males), the hero flees until the pharaoh dies, the hero goes toward the Holy Land from Egypt, the hero fasts 40 days & nights in the wilderness (at Mt. Sinai), the hero delivers a Law on the mountain (the Torah at Mt. Sinai) and the Law’s teachings are imparted in 5 sections (the five books of Moses).
Considering that the Gospel writers had no way of knowing the birth story of Jesus, they used the motif, the outline of the hero of the Hebrew Bible (Moses) and put it into place for their own hero, Jesus.
Here are a few more acts of typology:
Ahithrophel, David’s trusted advisor, hangs himself (2 Sam 17:23) / Judas, Jesus’ trusted companion, hangs himself (Matthew 27:3) or, Joab, in assassinating Amasa (David’s general), takes hold of him as if to kiss him (2 Sam 20:9) / Judas’ treacherous kiss.
Sometimes typology and parallelism take the form of actual usage of wording from the Hebrew Bible into the New Testament:
For instance, Jesus’ final moments on the cross parallel to Psalm 22 almost to the point of plagiarism.
Psalm 22:1 – My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Mark 15:34 – …Jesus cried…”My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
Psalm 22:6 -7- …scorned by men…despised by the people. All…mock at me..wag their heads.
Mark 15:29 – those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads…
Psalm 22:16 – …evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet…
Mark 15:24 – And they crucified him…
Psalm 22:18 – they divided my garments among them, …for my raiment they cast lots.
Mark 15:24 – and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them…
While so many believe that this is divine proof of prophecy, it is difficult for us to understand that belief, considering that the Gospel writers had the Hebrew Bible in front of them when they wrote these stories.
This typology and parallelism is reminiscent of modern day remixes. Musical artists take the “hook” or baseline, or musical score from one song and use it for a basis of their own music. Thus creating new music inspired by the old.
However, not only do the artists need permission to use the old music, they certainly do not claim ownership of the old, let alone claim that the old music divinely prophesied the new.
I am thankful for the work of Dr. Michael J. Cook who supplied the above examples of parallelism and typology in his work Modern Jews Engage the New Testament as well as other teachings.
Your thoughts are welcome.