“It sure seems that the story of Joseph is a typological foreshadowing of the life of Jesus,” mused Peter Leithart recently, and I have to agree. It sure seems so! Leithart went on, in his post, to describe the kind of mental abstraction required to read the Joseph story that way; a “Proppian structural move that captures a common morphology” [had to look up “Proppian!“]
There’s a reason Leithart needed to spend some time theorizing about how to make the case. The peculiar and stubborn fact is that the New Testament never invokes the Joseph story as something fulfilled or figured out in the life of Jesus. So preachers who want to make Christological hay with Joseph have to do it on their own, without explicit scriptural warrant.
That may not seem especially daring, but as it turns out, it’s a bit of a watershed in typological interpretation. It’s one thing to follow the lead of the New Testament in seeing Christ in certain specific figures of the Old Testament. But if we venture beyond that specific guidance and start finding types all over the Old Testament, what will restrain us from the blunder of finding types where there are no types, from fancifully finding Jesus under every rock and behind every tree, from seeing faces in clouds and beasts in the stars?
The careful, conservatizing case was classically put by 19th-century Anglican bishop Herbert Marsh, in his Lectures on the Criticism and Interpretation of the Bible. Marsh asked himself, “By what means shall we determine, in any given instance, that what is alleged as a type was really designed for a type?” and answered himself,
the only possible source of information on this subject is Scripture itself. The only possible means of knowing, that two distant, though similar, historic facts, were so connected in the general scheme of divine Providence, that the one was designed to pre-figure the other, is the authority of that Work, in which the scheme of divine Providence is unfolded.
Even more specifically, Marsh says that we have no warrant for claiming to see a type unless a passage from the New Testament has expressly declared that the type is there. “There is no other rule … by which we can distinguish a real from a pretended type, than that of Scripture itself.”
This passage has come to be called “Marsh’s Dictum,” and in its favor we can say that it takes typological interpretation seriously as something revealed: types are not a game, but the word of God. Cautioning us against the dangers of departing from his guideline, Marsh reminds us of what anybody who has read around in pre-modern interpretation knows: “Volumes have been filled with types and antitypes, which exist only in the fancy of the writers.”
But Marsh’s dictum seems to entail that the number of biblical types is finite; in fact small; in fact easily countable. Although Jesus told the disciples everything about himself “beginning with Moses and all the prophets,” we as readers will only have a few dozen actual types to count up. Better safe than sorry?
But “behold, this dreamer cometh,” this Joseph who saw such visions and took up so many chapters of Genesis and lived such a dramatic arc of humiliation and exaltation. “It sure seems that the story of Joseph is a typological foreshadowing of the life of Jesus.”
Don’t take my word for it. Check out this list of more than 100 parallels, drawn up by Bible teacher Ada Habershon (a remarkable woman, author of the song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” –no kidding). Some of them are weak; at best devotional and surely not apodictic. But some are quite strong, and would make any adherent of Marsh’s dictum feel like they were surely missing something, pretending not to know something that we in fact know. See for yourself:
Feeding the flock (Genesis 37:2).
The Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14).
Their evil report (verse 2).
Their deeds evil (John 3:19. 20).
Loved (by his father) (verse 3).
My beloved Son (Matthew 3:17).
Hated (by his brethren)(verses 4, 5).
Hated without a cause (John 15:25).
Not believed (verse 5).
Neither did His brethren believe in Him (John 7:5).
Obeisance (verse 7, 9).
In all things the pre-eminence. (Colossians 1:18).
“Shalt thou indeed reign over us?” (verse 8).
We will not have this man (Luke 19:14).
Envied (verse 11).
Delivered for envy (Mark 15:10).
His father observed the saying (verse 11).
His mother kept all these sayings in her heart (Luke 2:51).
Sent to his brethren (verse 13).
I will send my beloved Son (Luke 20:13).
Here am I (verse 13).
Lo, I come (Psalm 40:7, 8).
Bring me word again (verse 14).
Now come I to Thee (John 17:13).
Out of the vale of Hebron (fellowship) (v. 14)
The glory which I had with Thee. (John 17:5:24).
He came to Shechem (verse 14).
To a city of Samaria which is called Sychar (or Shechem) (John 4:4, 5).
Wandering in the field (verse 15).
The field the world (Matthew 13:38).
Not where to lay His head (Luke 9:58).
I seek my brethren (verse 16).
Come to seek and to save (Luke 19:10).
Went after his brethren (verse 17).
Going after that which is lost (Luke 15:4).
They conspired against him (verse 18).
Took counsel against Him. (Matthew 27:1; (John 11:53).
We shall see (verse 20).
That we may see (Mark 15:32).
Stripped (verse 23).
They stripped Him (Matthew 27:28).
The pit (verse 24).
The horrible pit (Psalm 40:2; 69:2, 14, 15).
They sat down (verse 25).
Sitting down they watched Him there. (Matthew 27:36).
Twenty pieces of silver (verse 28).
Thirty pieces of silver. (Matthew 26:15; 27:9; Exodus 21:32).
Into Egypt (verse 36).
Out of Egypt have I called My Son. (Matthew 2:14, 15).
Servant to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard (Genesis 39:1; Psalm 105:17)
A servant of rulers (Isaiah 49:7).
The form of a servant (Philippians 2:7).
The Lord with Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21:23).
The Father is with Me (John 16:32).
The Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand (Genesis 39:3).
The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand (Isaiah 54:10).
All put into his hand (Genesis 39:4:8).
Hath given all things into His hand (John 3:35).
Blessed for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:5).
Blessed in CHRIST (Ephesians 1:3; 4:32).
Left all in Joseph’s hand (Genesis 39:6).
Able to keep (II Timothy 1:12).
A goodly person (Genesis 39:6).
Altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16).
Well favoured (Genesis 39:6).
Increased in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52).
How can I do this great wickedness (Genesis 39:9).
Yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Where the king’s prisoners were bound (Genesis 39:20).
When they had bound Him, they led Him away (Matthew 27:2).
Whose feet they hurt with fetters (Psalm 105:18,19).
They pierced My hands and My feet (Psalm 22:16).
Two of Pharaoh’s officers . . . in the place where Joseph was bound (Genesis 40:2, 3)
There were also two other malefactors (Luke 23:32).
(To one a message of life) Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head and restore thee unto thy place(Genesis 40:13).
To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
I do remember my faults this day: . . . and there was with us a young man, an Hebrew (Genesis
We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss (Luke 23:43).
He served them (Genesis 40:4).
I am among you as He that serveth (Luke 22:27).
Wherefore look ye so sadly to-day? (Genesis 40:7).
What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
Think on me (Genesis 40:14).
This do in remembrance of Me (I Corinthians 11:24).
Show kindness, I pray thee, unto me (Genesis 40:14).
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done It unto Me
Make mention of me (Genesis 40:14)Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father (Matthew 10:32).
Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him (Genesis 40:23).
Yet no man remembered that same poor man (Ecclesiastes 9:15).
Here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon (Genesis 40:15).
Which of you convinceth Me of sin? (John 8:46-45).
Out of the dungeon (Genesis 41:14).
Out of prison He cometh to reign (Ecclesiastes 4:14).
The king sent and loosed him (Psalm 105:20)
Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death (Acts 2:24).
It is not in me (Genesis 41:16).
God hath shewed Pharaoh (Genesis 41:25).
The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do (John 5:19)
A man in whom the Spirit of God is (Genesis 41:38)
Anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power (Acts 10:38).
God hath showed thee all this (Genesis 41:39)
The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth (John 5:20).
None so discreet and wise (Genesis 41:39)
All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
Over my house (Genesis 41:40)
As a Son over His own house; whose house are we (Hebrews 3:6).
According unto thy word shall all my people be ruled (Genesis 41:40).
The government shall be upon His shoulder (Isaiah 9:6. 7).
Without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot (Genesis 41:44).
Without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5).
Bow the knee (Genesis 41:43)
That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:10).
Thirty years old (Genesis 41:46)
About thirty years of age (Luke 3:23).
Joseph gathered corn . . . very much . . . without number (Genesis 41:49).
The unsearchable riches of CHRIST (Ephesians 3:8).
Manasseh – forgetting (Genesis 41:51)
He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied (Isaiah 53:2)
Ephraim – fruitful (Genesis 41:52)
Much fruit (John 12:24).
As Joseph had said (Genesis 41:54)
His disciples remembered that He had said this (John 2:22).
Go unto Joseph (Genesis 41:55)
Lord, to whom shall we go? (John 6:68).
What he saith to you, do (Genesis 41:55)
Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it (John 2:5).
Famine over all the face of the earth (Genesis 41:56, 57).
A mighty famine in that land (Luke 15:14).
The famine waxed sore (Genesis 41:56)
Not a famine of bread, (but of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 8:11).
Joseph opened all the storehouses (Genesis 41:56)
The windows of Heaven (Malachi 3:10)
While He opened to us the Scriptures (Luke 24:27, 32).
All countries came to buy (Genesis 41:57)
My salvation unto the end of the earth (Isaiah 49:6).
He it was that sold (Genesis 42:6)
Blessing upon the head of him that selleth it (Proverbs 11:26).
He knew them (Genesis 42:7, 8).
He knew all men (John 2:24:25).
But they knew not him (Genesis 42:8).
The world knew Him not. He came unto His own and His own received Him not (John 1:10, 11).
Joseph made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them. He put them altogether
into ward three days. (Genesis 42:7, 17
If they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction; then He sheweth them their
work, and their transgressions, that they have exceeded. He openeth also their ear to discipline
His blood is required (Genesis 42:22)
His Blood be on us, and on our children (Matthew 27:25).
They knew not that Joseph understood them (Genesis 42:23).
Of quick understanding (Isaiah 11:3).He spake unto them by an interpreter (42:23)
He shall receive of Mine and shall shew it unto you (John 16:13:14).
Ambassadors for Christ (II Corinthians 5:20).
He turned himself about from them and wept (It is mentioned seven times that Joseph wept:
Genesis 42:24; 43:30; 45:2, 14; 46:29; 50:1, 17)
He beheld the city and wept over it (Luke 19:41).
Joseph commanded to fill their sacks with corn (Genesis 42:25)
Filleth thee with the finest of the wheat Psalm 147:14).
Of His fulness have all we received (John 1:16).
To restore every man’s money into his sack (Genesis 43:25)
Without money, and without price (Isaiah 54:10).
To give them provision for the way (43:25)
All your need (Philippians 4:19).
Thus did he unto them (Genesis 43:25)
All came to pass (Joshua 21:45; 23:14).
As much as they can carry (Genesis 44:1)
As much as they would (John 6:11).
Bring these men home (Genesis 43:16)
Compel them to come in (Luke 14:23).
Make ready (Genesis 43:16)
All things are ready (Matthew 22:4).
The men were afraid (Genesis 43:18)
Perfect love casteth out fear (I John 4:18).
They came near to the steward, and they communed with him (Genesis 43:19)
He shall teach you all things (John 14:26).
Other money have we brought down (43:22)
Going about to establish their own righteousness (Romans 10:3).
Peace be to you! Fear not (Genesis 43:23)
All joy and peace in believing . . . through the power of the Holy Ghost (Romans 15:13).
They drank, and were merry with him (43:34)
They began to be merry (Luke15:24).
God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants (Genesis 44:16).
He will convince the world of sin (John 16:8, 9).Joseph made himself known (Genesis 45:1)
Their eyes were opened, and they knew Him (Luke24:31).
At the second time (Acts 7:13}
They were troubled at his presence (Genesis 45:3)
They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him (Zechariah
I am Joseph your brother whom ye sold (45:4)
I am Jesus whom thou persecutest (Acts 9:5).
Come near to me (Genesis 45:4)
Made nigh (Ephesians 2:13).
God did send me (Genesis 45:5, 7)
God sent His only begotten Son (John 4:9).
A great deliverance (Genesis 45:7)
Who delivered us from so great a death (II Corinthians 1:10).
Not you . . . but God (Genesis 45:8)
By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23).
Tarry not (Genesis 45:9)
Behold, now is the accepted time (II Corinthians 6:2).
There will I nourish thee (Genesis 45:11)
He that cometh to Me shall never hunger (John 6:35).
Joseph nourished . . . all his father’s household, with bread as a little child is nourished (Genesis 47:12).
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (Psalm 23:1).
Behold your eyes see that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you (Genesis 45:12)
Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me and see (Luke 24:39).
Ye shall tell my father of all my glory (Genesis 45:13).
The gospel of the glory of Christ II Corinthians 4:4).
His brethren talked with him (Genesis 45:15)
Jesus Himself drew near, and went with them (Luke 24:15).
Come unto me (Genesis 45:18, 19)
Come unto Me (Matthew 11:18).
Regard not your stuff, for the good of all the land of Egypt is yours (Genesis 45:20)
Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before
Joseph is yet alive (Genesis 45:26, 28)
One Jesus, . . . whom Paul affirmed to be alive (Acts 25:19).
Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not (Genesis 45:26).
They believed not for joy (Luke 24:11, 41).
Now let me die since I have seen thy face (Genesis 46:30)
Now lettest thou Thy servant depart in peace, (for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation (Luke
My brethren (Genesis 46:31; 47:1)
Not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:11).
Why should we die in thy presence? (47:15, 19).
I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25).
Our money is spent (Genesis 47:18)
When he had spent all (Luke 15:14; Mark 5:26).
Nothing to pay (Luke 7:42).
There is not ought left . . . but our bodies (Genesis 47:18).
Present your bodies (Romans 12:1).
I have bought you this day (Genesis 47:23)
Bought with a price (I Corinthians 6:20).
Lo, here is seed for you, and ye shall sow the land (Genesis 47:23)
Seed to the sower, and bread to the eater (Isaiah 4:10:11; II Corinthians 11:10).
When Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead . . . they sent a messenger unto Joseph,
saying, Forgive. (Genesis 50:15-17)
And Joseph wept (Genesis 50:17)
Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me? (John 45:9).
God meant it unto good . . . to save much people alive (Genesis 50:20)
In bringing many sons unto glory (Hebrews 2:10).
Now therefore fear ye not, . . . and he comforted them (Genesis 50:21)
Let not your heart be troubled (John 14:1).
Joseph is a fruitful bough . . . whose branches run over the wall (Genesis 49:29).
I am the Vine, ye are the branches (John 15:5).
A fruitful hough by a well (Genesis 49:22)
In him a well of water (John 4:14).
The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him (Genesis 49:23)
A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
His how abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the
mighty God of Jacob (Genesis 49:24)
I have laid help upon One that is mighty (Psalm 89:19).
From thence is the Shepherd (Genesis 49:24)
That great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20).
The stone of Israel (Genesis 49:24)
The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner (Matthew
Let the blessing come upon the head of Joseph (Deuteronomy 33:16; Genesis 49:25, 26)
Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows (Psalm
Separate from his brethren (Genesis 49:26)
Separate from sinners (Hebrews 7:36).
The birthright was Joseph’s (I Chronicles 5:2)
The firstborn among many brethren (Romans 8:29).
Not grieved for the affliction of Joseph (Amos 6:6)
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? (Lamentations 1:12).
A new king (which knew not Joseph (Exodus 1:8)
Which none of the princes of this world knew (I Cor. 2:8).
The house of Joseph shall abide in their coasts (Joshua 18:5)
Abide in Me, and I in you (John 15:4).
Joshua spake unto the house of Joseph, (saying, Thou art a great people and hast great power
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13).
I am a great people forasmuch as the Lord hath blessed me hitherto (Joshua 17:14)
Blessed with all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
The hand of the house of Joseph prevailed (Judges 1:35)
More than conquerors through Him that loved us (Romans 8:37).