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The word 'type' is a self-antonym.

As used in Christian theology, a type is something that looks forward or back to an anti-type. The usual idea is that the type is a partial or incomplete reality looking toward a more complete reality. So David is a type of Jesus as a precursor of a Messiah with some messianic elements, or the temple is a type of Christ as taking a form that looked forward to what he would institute in the church. The temple is also a type of the church (the people, not the building), where the church is God's dwelling.

I was listening to a Bloggingheads conversation between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, and McWhorter used the term 'type' in this way. He said Jesse Jackson is a type, meaning that he exemplifies some elements found within a generalized group of black leaders.

In philosophy, a type is not the specific instance, where someone has some elements of some general form. The type is the general form, and the tokens are the specific instances. The type would be black leaders of a certain sort, and Jesse Jackson would be the token.

I don't think it's just immersion in philosophical circles for 15 years that makes me think the philosophical use is the closer of the two to ordinary usage. I've always found the theological use to be strange, but it's only just occurred to me that it's not just strange but backwards. Every time I hear someone use it in a sermon without explaining it, I think the ordinary person isn't going to get it, and it's just occurred to me why. If you say David is a type of Christ, people will think that means he's a kind of Christ. In loose usage, that doesn't mean he's a category rather than a person, but theologians who say such things don't remotely mean that David's a messiah. They mean he's a precursor of the Messiah.

I don't think the ordinary usage is exactly opposite the theological usage, but this kind of funny use, which becomes second-nature for some with a lot of theological training, is at odds with how most people will hear the term, and that's something preachers would do well to keep in mind.


This isn't adding up. I'll agree that the theological use of a type is different from ordinary usage and that the philosophical use is closer to ordinary usage. In neither case, however, is this in the way that you've suggested. In everyday use, a type implies greater specificity. Apple is a type of fruit, Kentucky Blue a type of grass, Persian a type of cat. Moreover, I don't believe that the coiners of the philosophical type/token distinction ignored this point. The original context of this distinction was in the philosophy of language and applied to words. Each word type merits its own lexicographic entry. A word token is a particular instantiation of a word type. While there is only one of each word type, there is another token every time the type is used. In this sense, the type is general and the token specific. But to move from this to the idea that, in philosophy, types are always general is to miss a key point. Saying that something is a type begs the question 'type of what?'. A word type is just that- a type of word. There are words in general and word types specifically. The fact that word types can be represented by a limitless number of tokens does not affect the specificity of the type. Even in your own example of philosophical types, you couldn't refrain from implying specificity. Jesse Jackson is not just a token of leaders in general, but of “black leaders of a certain sort.”

The terminology of type and antitype is not just theological, but biblical. These terms are transliterations of the Greek. The first can be seen in Romans 5:14 where Adam is a called “a type of the one who was to come.” The second is in I Peter 3:21 where baptism is the antitype of the flood. Yet another use of antitype demonstrates that types do not look back but always come first. In Hebrews 9:24, Christ does not enter into the holy places made with hands but into heaven itself. Contrast this with Hebrews 8:5, in which Moses is told to construct the tabernacle according to the pattern, or type, shown to him on the mountain. The holy places made with hands, components of that tabernacle, are subsequently called copies, or antitypes, of the true things in heaven.

There is a contrast between partial and complete reality, but this shouldn't be thought of in terms of quantification such that Jesus has his full complement of messianic elements and David doesn't. If that were the case, what of situations in which an institution is the type? The OT sacrificial system has far more elements than the one time sacrifice of Christ, but this hardly means that the antitype is incomplete. The contrast is more often expressed in terms of shadow and fulfillment (that is, when the fulfillment comes later). The idea that types exemplify some elements of the antitype has allowed you to think in terms of moving from specifics to generalities. Nevertheless, in its theological usage, the type/antitype contrast is between two specific things. David, a specific person, is a precursor of the Messiah, another specific person. In most cases, Christ is the antitype. In no case is he a generality.

What alternative phrasing would you recommend when speaking about types of Christ?

I suspect that the theological usage has to do with the meaning of τυπος in Koine Greek. The noun comes from the verb τυπτω, which means 'to strike'. The noun is used in John 20:25 to refer to the mark of the nails in the Lord's hand. It can also refer to a die that has been struck, though I don't think it is used in the Bible with that meaning. The way I summarize the less literal meaning for myself is as "a think or person that bears a derivative resemblance to another thing or person, as if by imprinting".

For what it's worth, the use of 'type' in computing is probably closer to the common and philosophical usages than it is to the theological usage. It refers to a particular kind of data, e.g. integer, character, list, etc. The compilers for some programming languages do type-checking, to ensure that, when a function expects a decimal number it isn't being given a character or an integer.

Kevin, I wasn't trying to say that we're dealing with exactly opposite meanings. In fact, I think I said quite the opposite. But there does seem to be an opposite emphasis, at least as the connotations come across in some cases.

Stephen, I think more people would get it without deeper explanation (which sometimes is fine to give) with terminology having to do with precursors, prefiguring, looking forward to something, anticipating, partial fulfillments of prophecy, fulfilling aspects of what would come, and so on. I'm not arguing for precision of language here or even consistency, just not recommending the use of terms that can be confusing without some explanation. It's like using the term 'chiasm' without explaining it, when all you needed to do was describe a pattern that then reverses itself or to call something an inclusion when you could have said something served the function of bookends.

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