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No. 84: Committed to the Form of Teaching

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 84
April, 1996
Copyright 1996 Biblical Horizons

In his study of the use of the Greek word tupos in the New Testament, Richard M. Davidson argues that a tupos is essentially a hollow mold; a tupos is stamped with the image of the original and also impresses that form on a third thing (Typology in Scripture: A Study of Hermeneutical Tupos Structures [Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1981]). A jello mold has been hollowed out in some manner, and its shape follows the contours of whatever instrument or machine stamped the metal into the form of a jello mold, and it also forms jello into its shape. A tupos thus mediates between an original and a copy. Thus, for example, when Paul instructs his readers to imitate him as a tupos, the implication is that Paul’s pattern of conduct (his "walking") has been formed by Christ, and that same conduct should, in turn, mold and shape that of the believers under Paul’s charge (Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:9). The conduct of one group of believers, which involves an imitation of Christ, can also serve as a tupos for other churches (1 Thessalonians 1:7).

On Romans 6:17, Davidson suggests that the genitive in "form of teaching" ("of teaching" is in the genitive case) is best understood as appositional, that is, "the form, the teaching" (pp. 147-153). Thus, the teaching itself is a mold that, having been shaped by the God who revealed it, shapes those who become obedient to it. Davidson notes that the word translated as "committed" (paradidomi) does not have to do with the transmission of apostolic tradition, but "is common in secular Greek for describing the transfer of persons from one owner (or custodian) to another . . . . The Christians, then, are not masters of the teaching, but themselves are mastered and possessed by it" (p. 148). The emphasis is not on the believer’s acceptance of the teaching, but on the fact that by grace Christians are placed under the authority of that teaching. In context, Paul is asserting that this transferral to the tutelage of the "the tupos, the teaching" occurs in baptism. We are baptized into union with Christ and also by baptism delivered over to be molded by the teaching that takes place in the church.

It is possible that something a bit more is going on here, however. The word tupos, as Davidson points out, is used in only a few passages in the Greek Old Testament. Significantly, it translates the Hebrew, tabnit, the word used with reference to the "pattern" of the tabernacle and temple that God revealed to Moses and David (Exodus 25:9, 40; 1 Chronicles 28:19). Davidson discusses the possible senses of tabnit at some length, concluding that what Moses and David saw was either a model of the heavenly tabernacle or the heavenly tabernacle itself (pp. 367-388). In either case, by making the tabernacle and temple according to the tabnit, Bezalel and Solomon were constructing architectural replicas of heaven and of the glory of the Lord. The earthly tabernacle was a copy of the heavenly, and through being given a glimpse of the tabnit, Moses and David mediated the heavenly pattern to earth (see Hebrews 8:5; 9:23; James Jordan, Through New Eyes, chapter 4).

Two dimensions of the tabernacle and temple need to be kept in mind here. First, the sanctuaries not only served as houses for the Name of the Lord, but also as architectural representations of the people of God; in His dwelling in the tabernacle, Yahweh fulfills His promise to dwell among His people. Paul picks up on this imagery of people-house when he speaks of the various kinds of vessels that are found in a "large house" (2 Timothy 2:20-21). Paul’s exhortation does not have an individual focus, as if the vessels were various kinds of deeds and dispositions, good or bad, within the individual believer’s experience. Rather, the people are themselves the vessels, and by cleansing themselves of the poison of "wrangling about words" (v. 14), "worldly and empty chatter" (v. 15), "youthful lusts" (v. 22), and "foolish and ignorant speculations" (v. 23), the believers will become honorable and useful vessels for the Master of the house. In this imagery, Paul is drawing out what is already apparent in the Old Testament, that the tabernacle and temple, with their numerous and varied vessels, are images of God’s people gathered around for service to the King enthroned above the cherubim.

Second, the tabernacle and temple were also representations of the individual man. As Meredith Kline has shown, the priest’s garments as well as the tabernacle were formed after the pattern of the glory-cloud (Images of the Spirit, pp. 42-47); the priest was a human tabernacle. Jesus, the True Man, "tabernacled" among us (John 1:14) and said His body was a temple (John 2:19-22). Thus, Paul remains well within the scope of Old Testament models when he refers to the individual believer’s "body" as the "temple of the Spirit" that must be kept from defiling fornication (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

With this in mind, we can return to Romans 6:17. Jesus, the greater Moses and Son of David, not only sees the pattern of the glory on the mount, but is Himself the personal incarnation of the tabernacle and temple. The tupos has descended from the mount; Jesus is now the model, the tupos, to which the church and each individual believer is to be conformed. He does nothing but what He "sees" the Father doing, and His disciples are to become like their heavenly Father by following His example. Practically, Christ is reproduced in church and believer through the mediation of the tupos didaskales, the teaching that has been molded by the life and words of the Word and that in turn molds the lives of those who are given over to its care. As we who have been baptized into the custody of the teaching obey that teaching from the heart, we are molded into the image of the Glory and become living tabernacles after the pattern of the One who tabernacled among us.