Tupos: Matching the Pattern

Word of the Week

June 4, 2022

Tupos: Matching the Pattern  


Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:14


Are you old to remember using a typewriter?

You had to hit a metal key attached to a mechanism that slammed a steel bar into an inked ribbon.  A raised letter of the alphabet left an imprint of that letter on the paper.

I know it seems primitive.  Today we correct mistakes with a finger tap; back then you had to type the correct letter over the wrong one, hitting it hard enough to hide the mistake.  Or you could use a special ink eraser, being careful not to wear a hole in the paper!

Our word typewriter springs from a Greek word that has left its imprint on our theology and some practical issues of Christian living.

The Greek word is tupos, variously translated as “pattern, example, model or type.”  You can find it about 15 times in the New Testament, each time describing two things that match, much as the letter on a piece of paper matches the image on the typewriter key.

How does this word show up in the New Testament?

Tupos could describe a literal imprint from a blow, like the prints of the nails in Christ’s hands (John 20:25).

It might be a summary version of a letter written by a Roman officer, faithfully conveying the gist of the original message (Acts 23:25).

Idol-worshippers would cast or sculpt images of their false gods, conforming to their mental pictures of these pseudo-deities (Acts 7:43).

Moses constructed the tabernacle, carefully following a pattern that God showed him on Mount Sinai (Hebrews 8:5).

Beyond these physical imprints, the word is used for spiritual realities.  Many Bible students instinctively think of the theological concept of types when they see the word tupos.  A type in Biblical literature is a divinely designed illustration in which an Old Testament person or object foreshadows Christ and His work.

Romans 5:14, for example, clearly states that Adam was a type of Christ.  Though there were vast differences between Adam and Jesus, they were alike in at least one crucial respect: each held the fate of the human race in their hands.  Adam’s act of disobedience brought ruin on us all, while Christ’s climactic sacrifice made salvation available for us all.

There are many other parallels between Jesus and the Old Testament, but this is the only New Testament passage that uses the word tupos to describe it.

Tupos usually occurs in passages about following the right examples.  God has arranged things so that we can best grow in spiritual maturity by matching our behavior to the pattern of holiness that others have set.

  • Paul asks the Philippians to pay attention to those who walk according to the pattern he and his co-laborers have set (Philippians 3:17).
  • He offered himself as a model for the Thessalonian church to imitate (2 Thessalonians 3:9).
  • He instructed Timothy and Titus to live in a manner that provided a pattern for the churches (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
  • In fact, Peter urges all elders to become examples to their flocks (1 Peter 5:3).
  • Even the events of the Old Testament narrative serve as examples to us (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).

That’s God’s plan for growth – not just memorizing the rules, but watching – and imitating – those who have learned to walk closely with the Lord.  You can catalog the names of people who have influenced you – and God calls on you to provide the kind of tupos that makes a deep impact on others.


Study Hint:

Before I studied this word, I assumed that there were many passages where it was used for the kind of Old Testament foreshadowing of Christ that I had learned about.  It was a surprise to find that it only carried that meaning in Romans 5:14.  That’s not to say that the concept of Old Testament types is irrelevant.  Paul talks about “Christ our Passover” in 1 Corinthians 5:7, clearly making the connection between the Old Testament sacrifice and Christ’s atonement for our sin.  But he doesn’t use tupos there.

The moral of the story is that we sometimes develop a theological concept that seems connected to a Greek word when the word itself is usually used in another way.



Q – I understand that the early Greek manuscripts of the New Testament use very little punctuation.  How did they tell when a sentence ends if there were no periods?

A – You’re right about the lack of punctuation in early New Testaments.  The words just roll on and on, with no indication of where to take a breath.  It sounds confusing, but a person who knew Greek could figure it out readily.

Try reading this English passage with the punctuation removed:

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you quench not the Spirit do not despise prophetic utterances but examine everything carefully hold fast to that which is good

I suspect that you could figure it out readily.  I notice that many of the worship songs projected on the screens in contemporary church serves have no punctuation and, frankly, that annoys me a little. But I can still decipher it most of the time.

It would be harder to do in Greek, since we don’t know the language that fluently.  That’s why we trust the Greek scholars who added the periods and commas to the Greek texts that we use.


Coming Up

Does God sometimes have to push you to do His will?  Next week we will look at a Greek word that shows Jesus shoving His disciples into a situation they would not have chosen.

©Ezra Project 2022

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