Typology: How God Targets Your Desires

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Here is a woodenly literal translation of 1 Corinthians 10:6: “These things became types of us, so that we might not be desirers of evil things, as they desired.” Clumsy English, but incredibly illuminating.

Paul says it again in verse 11 a little differently: “These things happened as types to them, and were written down for our admonition” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

The implications here for how God changes our desires are astonishing. But first we need to clarify some details in the text.

Looking Closely at the Text

What do “these things” refer to? (Verse 6: “These things became types.” Verse 11: “These things happened as types.”) In verse 6, the phrase refers to four things in the history of Israel: 1) the pillar of cloud that guided them (verse 1), 2) the Red Sea that they went through (verse 1), 3) the water they drank from the rock (verse 4), and 4) the manna from heaven that they ate (verse 3).

Paul compares the first two to baptism (“all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” verse 2) and he compares the second two to the Lord’s Supper (“all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink,” verses 3–4).

The emphasis falls on “all.” They all experienced this kind of “baptism,” and all of them ate this same spiritual food. Then comes the point in verse 5: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.” So take heed! “These things became types of us, so that we might not be desirers of evil things, as they desired” (verse 6).

In other words, Paul is saying this: If you embrace evil desires (verse 6), your baptism and your participation in the Lord’s Supper will not save you any more than Israelites were saved by their participation in the miracle cloud and sea, or by their participation in the miracle food and drink.

The Specific Warnings

Then Paul gets very specific in 1 Corinthians 10:7–11 about the sort of thing that is threatening the church at Corinth, just as Israel was threatened.

  • Don’t be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (verse 7)
  • Don’t indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. (verse 8)
  • Don’t put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents. (verse 9)
  • Don’t grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. (verse 10)

The point is the same as in verses 1–6: Don’t share the desires of Israel, because you will be destroyed like them if you do.

What Is a “Type”?

In both paragraphs (10:1–6 and 10:7–11), Paul says that “these things” happened to Israel as “types” — specifically, types “of you.” What does that mean?

Here are the three features of a “type,” as William Moorehead describes them in the The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

  1. A type is “a true picture of the person or the thing it represents or prefigures.” That is, the original type resembles in some way the coming “antitype” (in this case passing through the Red Sea resembles baptism).

  2. “The type must be of Divine appointment. . . . Both type and antitype are preordained as constituent parts of the scheme of redemption.” This is clear in both 1 Corinthians 10:6 (“these things took place as types of us”) and 1 Corinthians 10:11 (“these things happened to them as types”). God planned the correlation.

  3. “A type always prefigures something future. A Scriptural type and predictive prophecy are in substance the same, differing only in form. This fact distinguishes between a symbol and a type.” In other words, the good things God ordained for Israel (and even the punishments) pointed forward to better or greater things to come in God’s developing good purposes for his people.

All for the Sake of Our Desires

Now we can turn to my main point. Typology is designed by God to transform human desires. That is what verse 6 says, “These things became types of us, so that we might not be desirers of evil.” The words translated “so that” are designed to show purpose. What purpose? That we not be desirers of evil. God planned types and antitypes to transform our desires. This is clear.

I draw five implications.

First, since types are designed by God in history many years before, we know that God was working in history 1,400 years before the New Testament to bring about the transformed desires of the Corinthians — and us.

Second, these God-designed types were captured in words for the purpose of being read centuries later so that the words would be used to change our desires. “These things happened to them as types, but they were written down for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11) — instruction aimed at changing our desires (verse 6).

Third, since typology is not always easy to follow and assumes a fairly developed intellectual capacity, we may infer that God ordains that serious mental effort is one of his ways of transforming our desires.

Fourth, since the whole unit (1 Corinthians 10:1–11) is a warning (verse 10, “Don’t grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed”), we may learn that God aims to change our desires through threats as well as promises.

Fifth, since the warnings are aimed specifically against presumption based on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we learn that our desires are to be transformed through the understanding that the ordinances are not saving by virtue of themselves alone.

From these five implications, each relating to the change of our desires, it should be clear that God regards our desires as realities of paramount importance. Let us pray, therefore, that all who handle the word of God — even those who give the greatest scholarly efforts to grasp the typological scope of Scripture — will target the desires the way Paul did: “These things took place as types, that we might not desire evil.”