Reviews of

Joshua Typology in the New Testament

In Hebrews, Joshua, Jude, Mohr Siebeck, New Testament, Nicholas J. Moore, Richard OUNSWORTH on October 3, 2013 at 11:40 am


2013.09.18 | Richard Ounsworth. Joshua Typology in the New Testament. WUNT II/328. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012. XI + 214 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978 3 16 151932 1.

Review by Nicholas J. Moore, Keble College, University of Oxford.

Many thanks to Mohr Siebeck for providing a review copy.

‘That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ What’s in a name? Well, pace the love-struck Juliet, quite possibly a great deal if your name happens to be identical with that of the Messiah. It is this possibility that Richard Ounsworth seeks to render plausible or even probable with regard to the presence in Hebrews 4.8 of the name Ἰησοῦς. In context this clearly refers to Joshua son of Nun, who brought the Israelites into Canaan but failed to give them (true) rest. Yet the mention of a Ἰησοῦς who led God’s people into the Promised Land invites comparison with a later Ἰησοῦς who achieved this definitively. This inferred Joshua typology is not merely an interesting add-on to the interpretation of Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3–4; it bears fruit when put to work resolving problems elsewhere in Hebrews, and offers resources to contemporary theology.

This monograph is the published version of the author’s doctoral thesis (Oxford, 2010, under John Muddiman and Christopher Rowland). The title might be thought at first to offer too much (Joshua typology in the whole of the NT?) and then, on reflection, perhaps too little (is there any Joshua typology in the NT?). In point of fact, Ounsworth’s attention focusses briefly on Jude 5 and thereafter on Hebrews. He is careful neither to claim an explicit Joshua typology in either text, nor to posit an authorially-intended typology; rather, his concern is with what a plausible first-century audience might have been able to infer. Explicit Joshua typologies in Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Aphraates, Ephrem the Syrian, and Origen demonstrate the early development of this thought. The latter three could possibly have been prompted by Hebrews 3–4 given their inclusion of a comparison with Moses (cf. Heb 3.1–6), though this strikes me as too much of a commonplace in any conception of Joshua to be evidence of Hebrews’ influence.

The discussion of typology is particularly instructive, and by Ounsworth’s own admission ‘perhaps controversial’ (19). Following Frances Young, he seeks to allow a definition to emerge from NT instances of the τύπος word-group. He notes the polyvalence of this vocabulary, which can refer both to that which is formed by something, and to that which forms something else; a τύπος can thus be a ‘mediating mould’ (37), as for example a cast formed from a statue can in turn be used to make further statues. A survey of NT occurrences (Rom 5; 1 Cor 10; Acts 7; 1 Pet 3; Heb 8–9) identifies several key aspects: correspondences between historical events, personalities, institutions, etc. which are providentially created and may themselves be formative of further correspondences. Such a definition reveals the distinctive flavour of this formulation: the crucial ingredient is ‘an emphasis on divine causation or providence’ (51); typology is thus an ontological rather than a purely literary phenomenon (contra Young). The NT texts assume both the reality of the type and its divine causation in order to foreshadow the antitype: ‘the literal meaning [of the original event] is neither replaced nor effaced but extended’ (52). To be sure, such an event must be ‘inscriptured’ for the correspondences to be available and exploited, so there remains an inexcisable literary aspect to typology. Yet in laying stress on the fundamental importance of perception of divine providence behind historical events, Ounsworth’s account seems to me to be closer to the outlook of the NT.

The core contention of an implicit Joshua typology in Hebrews 3–4 is supported by a number of considerations: Jesus’ superiority over Moses in 3.1–6; Kadesh-Barnea (i.e. Num 13–14, rather than Exod 17 or Num 20) with its emphasis on Joshua’s faithfulness as the background to Ps 94 [LXX] and its exposition in Hebrews; the mention of Ἰησοῦς at Heb 4.8, which is not necessary and would ‘cause a double-take, a moment of mental confusion’ (72); the similarity of patterning in a single person having already attained rest and thereby making possible God’s people’s entry into rest. In this connection it is surprising that Ounsworth omits mention of the possible reading of Heb 4.10 as a reference to Jesus (found at least as early as the seventeenth-century commentary of John Owen, and sporadically since then): ‘there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for the one who has entered his rest (i.e., Jesus) also rests from his works, just as God did from his’. This interpretation would offer a further subtle prompt in the direction of a Joshua typology. Even without this, Ounsworth mounts a cumulative and compelling case that the letter’s first audience could have inferred the comparison between Joshua and Jesus.

The remainder of the study serves a twofold purpose: applying this Joshua typology elsewhere demonstrates its fruitfulness and simultaneously increases its plausibility. Hebrews 11, the structural and thematic counterpart to chapters 3–4, contains two notable lacunae in its list of heroes of faith: the absence of Joshua (especially given the fall of Jericho is mentioned) and the crossing of the Jordan. These omissions point the audience to its own situation in the wilderness/in exile, not yet having crossed the Jordan, and to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (12.2) – one who has made the journey and enables the audience to make it. An increasing structural breakdown in the list supports this reading: individuals cease to be the agent of faith in 11.29 and 30, and historical sequence and coherence disintegrates after v. 32. It seems unlikely, however, that this breakdown begins as Ounsworth contends in 11.23 (where the faith must be Moses’ parents, and not his own, as he is only three months old); to criticize a newborn for lack of faith might be thought somewhat unfair.

Turning to the cultic section of the letter, the focus is three passages which have to do with the movement of Jesus as high priest across a boundary (6.19–20; 9.1–14; 10.19–25). While the supposed chiasm which links these three is not especially persuasive, the common presence of a veil justifies considering them together. Ounsworth does not claim the distinct typologies of pioneer and priest match exactly, and he is content to preserve ambivalence at a number of levels; but he does highlight the similarity which lies in ‘the crossing of a barrier, the access granted by God to the otherwise inaccessible and forbidden place that lies beyond’ (170). This is certainly an important common feature, and Joshua typology plays a significant role in drawing the ‘ecclesiological’ sections (Heb 3–4, 11) even more closely together with the christological central section (Heb 5–10) by highlighting the entrance of a representative individual as the decisive factor in granting access to others.

Ounsworth’s reading of these difficult passages is capable and incisive; for example, he sees Jesus’ flesh as the veil in 10.19–20 (the most straightforward reading of τοῦτ’ ἔστιν) and cuts through commentators’ objections by pointing out that it is not Jesus who is said to enter through his own flesh, but us; Jesus is presented as the veil, re-interpreted as the boundary which no longer represents exclusion but access. It seems clear that the motifs of priest and pioneer are closely interrelated in Hebrews, but to my mind Ounsworth underplays at least one significant disjuncture: Jesus’ priestly role is linked to the present and repeated access of his people, whereas as pioneer he has gone somewhere that believers have yet to enter – and these patterns reflect their respective typologies, suggesting that there is something importantly different between regular access via the tabernacle and a one-off entry into Canaan. Indeed, building on the cautious mention of the sacraments in the conclusion, one might suggest that a productive tension between the one-off (baptism?) and the ongoing (eucharist?) is fundamental to Christian perseverance.

Alongside this gentle nod in a sacramental direction, there is an eminently sensible treatment of the issue of supersessionism. Hebrews does not present the Christian dispensation as the replacement of the old covenant; rather, the letter forms part of an intra-Jewish debate about covenant renewal. Typology is crucial to this, enabling Hebrews to discern ‘a divinely intended obsolescence that God planted in that covenant from the beginning’ (178). Yet Ounsworth is equally clear that such a reading of the OT has as its necessary condition the Christ event, and therefore that a modern (non-Christian) Jew would not accept it. This position carefully defends Hebrews from the label of (cruder forms of) supersessionism whilst accepting that there is a certain sense in which, as a Christian document (i.e., one which accepts Jesus as the Messiah), the letter will always be susceptible to the charge of misreading the Jewish Scriptures.

Ounsworth’s prose is dense – not turgid but thick and rich, repaying careful reading; he fits into fewer than 190 pages what some would struggle to say in 300. A few minor errors have slipped through, but do not distract or confuse; the whole is produced to Mohr’s usual high standards, with full indices. There is much here for the exegete to wade through profitably (and, on occasion, to contend with), but there is also much of value for the theologian. While Ounsworth is tentative in developing theological implications and suggestions, it is clear that he understands exegesis to give rise to theology. The main theological thrust of the study, latent throughout though coming to the fore at certain points, is that a Joshua typology relates Jesus’ heavenly journey to the exodus and conquest, in which both he and the believer through him participate; such an image suggests the (currently rather unfashionable) corollary that the believer might indeed ‘go to heaven’ when he dies – that through death, the believer makes the same journey as Christ. Ounsworth’s study contributes to our understanding of typology, the integrity of Hebrews, and the tight bond between the Christian journey and the Ἰησοῦς who makes it possible.

Nicholas J. Moore
Keble College, University of Oxford
nicholas.moore [ at ]

  1. […] (BT) and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (TIS). The prompt for this is an excellent review by Nicholas J. Moore of Richard Ounsworth’s book, Joshua Typology in the New […]

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