Typology and Seemingly Unfulfilled Old Testament Prophecy

The Old Testament prophets speak at times of future events whose fulfillment is not so easy to identify.  The book of Joel, for example, describes divine deliverance from the locust plague, but does so in remarkably extensive language.  Not only is the locust army expelled, Jerusalem is said to dwell in everlasting safety: “And my people shall never again be put to shame” (Joel 2:26, 27).  What is more, after this event is the outpouring of the Spirit of God followed by the great and awesome day of the Lord; God will gather the nations in a particular locale – the Valley of Jehoshaphat – and enter into judgement with the nations (3:2).  Indeed, Judah and Jerusalem will be inhabited forever (3:20).

Does this refer simply to the events of the day of deliverance from the locust plague?  Or does it refer to the return from exile?  Or does it instead refer to the end of time?

Which is it?  Or is this even the right question to ask?

In his book, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation, G.K. Beale presents a very fine discussion of typology.  He defines typology as follows: “the study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in their meaning” (pg. 14).  He expands and clarifies this definition in the following pages, but one paragraph in particular stood out as particularly relevant to our questions above using Joel as an example:

A similar kind of typology involves OT prophets who issued prophecies that were to be fulfilled in the short term, at least at some point within the OT epoch itself.  When the prophecy is fulfilled, it is clear that the full contours of the prophecy have not been consummately fulfilled.  Then the partial historical fulfillment itself becomes a foreshadowing of or points to a later complete fulfillment in the latter days.  Good examples of this are prophecies of the “day of the Lord,” which predict judgment on a catastrophic scale.  Although these “day of the Lord” prophecies are fulfilled in various events of judgment within the OT period itself (such as parts of the prophecy of Joe, where the phrase occurs five times), all the details of the predicted destruction are not.  Consequently, the nature of the fulfillment within the OT itself contains a pattern that points yet forward to the climactic period of such fulfillment when the pattern is fully filled out (the “day of the Lord” par excellence).

Pg. 16

This approach reorients our expectations and questions, causing us to think of prophecies and types not as focusing on one event at the utter exclusion of others, but as drawing our attention to a culminating or “consummate” event anticipated and foreshadowed by other typological fulfillments, what Beale nicely calls “partial” fulfillments.

When I purchased Beale’s massive A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New in late 2011 I was hesitant to purchase his Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament that appeared just a few months later.  What a mistake!  The handbook covers some of the same ground as the larger volume, but is much more geared toward methodological instruction, not just methodological demonstration.  As it turns out, both volumes complement each other exceptionally; I regret not purchasing the handbook sooner!

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA


7 comments on “Typology and Seemingly Unfulfilled Old Testament Prophecy

  1. Chuck says:


    Thank you for this review/comment on Beale’s book. You make me want to immediately read it. This book would really help me in interpreting all of Scripture. Even your short quotes have helped.

    Would you recommend starting with this book or Beale’s larger work?

    Thanks again,


    • Hi Chuck, sorry for the delay. Boy, that’s a hard question to answer … I kind of think each book has a different purpose. The advantage of the “Handbook” is that it is shorter and covers the methodological information about how to do this kind of exegetical work. The larger book is, well, HUGE and can be a bit overwhelming. The content, however, is incredibly rich and it allows the reader to see how a biblical theologian of Beale’s caliber uses this method to write a comprehensive biblical theology. I guess it just depends on what someone is looking for in a book; I think some people might be better served reading the big one first, and others the shorter one.

      • Chuck says:

        Hi Andrew-

        Thank you so much for taking time to write back! I appreciate your comments. Thank you as well for giving reviews of books for us. It’s alot of fun and encouragement visiting your all’s website.

        God bless you,


  2. Dante says:

    Chuck, If I could jump in … I’d suggest starting with this Themelios article by Beale available here and here:
    Beale has written many other journal articles, such as on Gal 6:16, Rom 9, the new perspective, responses to Peter Enns, etc. His article on Gal 5:22 is available here:
    If by larger work you mean his NT theology, I’d suggest reading “The Idea of Biblical Theology” by Geerhardus Vos in his Biblical Theology, a fuller and older version of which is found in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation ed. by Richard Gaffin. Gaffin’s own introductory essay to that volume is also extremely helpful. Also important is ch. 1 in Vos’ Pauline Eschatology.
    Beale’s “Handbook” would be easier and fundamental to his NT theology. Beale is also indebted to MG Kline (“Kingdom Prologue”). I think Beale’s NIGTC entry on Rev is considered to be the commentary on Rev that Kline never wrote.

    • Chuck says:

      Hi Dante,

      I am sorry I have taken so long to respond to your helpful “jumping in” as you put it. I just now saw that you had written. Thank you very much for the help you gave. I have already read the Vos essay for my ST class. I loved it.
      I also hope to read the links you shared that contain Beale’s journal articles. They will be wonderful I am sure.
      For a while now, I have been toying with buying his Revelation commentary- it looks like a gem. I didn’t know about his connection to Kline.
      Anyway- I also think I’ll start with Beale’s “Handbook.”
      Again- thanks, Dante for taking the time to offer your suggestions, resources, etc!

      God bless you,


  3. Lon says:

    had the privilege of studying under Beale at Gordon-Conwell in 1988-89. The definition of typology you quoted sounds very, very familiar. What a helpful (and justified and Christological) understanding of how to embrace the Old Testament for every age.

  4. Monty Ledford says:

    Right, excellent description of typology.

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