Isaac Typology and the New Testament

Return to Index

This is a compilation for my students, begun in 1969 at Lichfield Theological College, England,  revised  in 1973 at the United Theological College, Bangalore, India, and further notated while at UTC in 1976.

Bibliography in English
        Dateable evidence in first century CE Judaism
        Rabbinic Judaism
        Use in the New Testament

Bibliography in English:
     J. Edwin Wood, "Isaac Typology in the New Testament", New Testament Studies Vol. 14, No. 4 (July, 1968), pp. 583-589, who draws on:
                H. J. Schoeps, "The Sacrifice of Isaac in Paul's Theology", Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. LXV (1946), pp. 385 ff.
                H. J. Schoeps, Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish History (London: Lutterworth, 1961).
                G. Vermes, Scripture and Tradition in Judaism (Studia Post-Biblica; Leiden: Brill, 1961), pp. 193-226.
                S. Spiegel, The Alexander Marx Jubiliee Volume (New York, 1950), pp. 471-547.
        N. A. Dahl, "The Atonement - an Adequate Reward for the Akedah? (Ro 8:32)", in E. E. Ellis & M. Wilcox, edd., Neotestamentica et Semitica (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1969), pp. 15-29.

Dateable evidence for expiatory view of Isaac's sacrifice in 1st century Judaism:
4 Macc. 7.14; 13.12; 16.20; 18.11 (pre-Philo, ca. beginning of 1st century CE)
says Jewish martyr offered his life in expiation as Isaac did.
Philo (ca. 20 BCE - c. 50 CE) on Balaam Deborah and Jephthah 18.6; 22.2-4; 40.2
-- Gen 22.18 "merits" of Isaac's self-offering gain expiation for Israel.
Josephus (c. 37-c. 100 CE), Jewish Antiquities I, xiii, 1-4
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
(dated variously: 140-110 BCE by R. H. Pfeiffer; 109-106 BCE by R. H. Charles; 200 BCE by E. J. Bickerman; post-Christian by DeJonge; probably at least some Christian interpolations),
Levi 18.6, 7: regarding Messiah --
'The heavens shall be opened, and from the Temple of Glory shall come upon him sanctification with the Father's voice from Abraham to Isaac, and the glory of the Most High shall be uttered over him, and the Spirit of understanding and sanctification shall rest upon him [in the water].'  ('in the water' - interpolation?)
Wood, p. 585, notes that the italicized words emphasize Gen. 22.8 where Abraham says to Isaac: 'My son, God will provide a lamb for the burnt offering'.
Rabbinic Judaism:
1)  Earliest liturgical texts
Attention paid to heroism of Isaac as well as obedience of Abraham  (Schoeps, JBL, p. 387, n. 9)
Rabbi Akiba (fl. ca. 120-140 CE) on Deut 6.5:
The loyal Israelite should love God with all the soul (or life) 'like Isaac who bound himself upon the altar.'  (G. Moore, Judaism [Harvard] I, 536.)
2) Rabbis: actual shedding of Isaac's blood would have been abhorrent to Israel's God   (Schoeps, JBL, p. 387.)
Rabbi Jehoshua bar Mananya said 1/4 of Isaac's blood was shed  (ibid., p. 389).
3) Rabbi Hoshaya (ca. 240 CE): Isaac is the perfect burnt offering (ibid., p. 389).
Midrash on Gen 22.6 says Isaac carried the wood on his shoulder as a man carries a cross;
on Gen 22.9 it says Isaac begged to be bound 'lest he tremble and the sacrifice become invalid.'
Rabbi Kahana (ca. 270 CE): 'Through the deserts of Isaac who offered himself on the altar,
the Holy One, praised be His name, will eventually raise the dead.' (ibid., p. 390)
4) Jewish explication of 'binding of Isaac' (cAqedat Yitshaq) as expiatory in the light of Isa 53:
a) Isaac 'bound' goes to the altar as the Servant of the Lord.  His offering is ordained of God, he is led like a lamb to the slaughter, yet in the Mount of the Lord his seed will be seen.  (G. Vermes, pp. 202, 203)
b) Just as the suffering of the Servant was vicarious and expiatory, so too the 'binding of Isaac' was an expiatory offering.
The Jerusalem and Jonathan Targums associate expiation, therefore, with Isaac's self-offering  (Schoepa, JBL, p. 388).
c) Canticles Rabbah i.14 says:
'Isaac lay bound upon the altar like a bunch of grapes, because he expiates the sins of Israel'.
(Schoeps, Paul, p. 145)
Midrash on Gen 22.14: Abraham implored God to be the intercessor for Isaac's descendants
by being mindful of Isaac's 'binding'.
Therefore, Scheops, followed by Wood, concludes that 'The expiating power of the cAqedat ['Binding'] is known from ancient times'.
Gibbs (1976) would say that the evidence of IV Maccabees, Philo & Josephus
indicate beyond any doubt that the idea is current in the first century CE, and that the rest of the evidence indicates that the expiatory sacrificial understanding of the Binding of Isaac continued until long after the completion of the writing of all the NT documents.
5) The rabbis even said that the sacrifices and festivals of Israel were efficacious by virtue of the 'binding of Isaac'.  The merits of Isaac were effective:
a) at the Red Sea (Mekhilta Ex. 14.15)
b) in the offering of the Passover lamb, and
c) in the rites relating to the redemption of the firstborn.
(G. Vermes, pp. 214, 215, says no association can be traced between the Binding of Isaac and the Day of Atonement.  But Schoeps, JBL, p. 388, quotes the 3rd century R. Abbahu:  'The Holy One, praised be His name, said: "Blow before me a ram's horn so that I may remember in your behalf the sacrifice of Isaac and that I may reckon it to your credit as if you let yourselves be bound for my sake."')
 6) In later Jewish thought: the birth, cAqedat, and death of Isaac were all dated on Nisan 15 'when the passover lamb was slain' (says Wood, p.585, wrongly - for the lamb was slain in the afternoon (on Nisan 14) and the meal was eaten after sundown (which was now Nisan 15); cf. 1 Cor 5.7)  (Schoeps, Paul, p. 147, n. 2).
However, the Book of Jubilees, chap. 18 (?150-?100 BCE) dated the binding on Nisan 14 (Vermes, p. 15).
(GIBBS: Either way, however. the Binding was strongly associated with Passover, either when the lamb was sacrificed [Nisan 14] or after sundown when the feast was eaten [Nisan 15].)
7) The Midrash on Lev 1.5 says that the sacrifices of Israel were memorials of Isaac's self-oblation (Vermes, p. 209).
(This is akin to Philo, who says that the offering of Isaac, being voluntary, was therefore much more efficacious than the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament.)
8) GIBBS, 1976: After seven years of working with this material (1969-1976), I am increasingly convinced that the NT use of the 'Binding of Isaac' typology, especially as found in Paul (Romans & 1 Cor) and the Fourth Gospel, while it indeed using something of the expiatory sacrifice element of the typology, is instead, especially as applied to Christ (rather than the Christians) is much more along the lines of Dahl's article, namely:
The primary use in Paul and John of the Binding of Isaac imagery concerns the depth of God's love for us, the costliness of his love, in giving his beloved Son as Abraham gave his beloved son.  (Cf. Rom 5.8-10; 8.3, 32; Jn 3.16)
Use in the New Testament
There are few explicit references in the NT to any Isaac typology used with reference to Christ's death.
Barnabas 7.3 (ca. 135 CE): earliest reference in which Isaac on Moriah is made a type ('the type established in Isaac') of Christ on Calvary.  Thereafter the idea is frequent.  (Schoeps, JBL, p. 386)
Isaac did not actually die; Suffering Servant of Isa 53 is explicitly stated to be an expiatory sacrifice by actually dying to make men righteous.
Thus, although Isaac and the Suffering Servant apparently were initially linked in Jewish thought, the Christians appear to have shifted in time to the Suffering Servant, Isa 53, and not to have emphasized Isaac.
This would explain (1) continued Jewish emphasis on Isaac, and (2) Jerusalem Targum's shift of Suffering Servant's sufferings from Messiah and/or Israel onto the Gentiles (since the Christians were using Isa 53 so much).
1.11 "Thou art my son1, the beloved2, in thee I am well-pleased3"
                   1Ps 2.7; Exod 4.22       2Gen 22.2 LXX                     3Isa 42.1
Gen 22.2, LXX: 'the son, the beloved'  ('beloved is not in Ps 2.7, Exod 4.22 or Isa 42.1)
15.21 "And they compel a certain one passing by, Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, in order that he might take up his cross."
G. W. H. Lampe & K. Woolcombe, Essays on Typology (SBT 22, London: SCM Press, 1957), p. 40 & n. 1:
Alexander = a man who defends himself  (alexi-anér) = Israel = wrestler with God (Gen 32.28 = Jacob
= red = Edom (which means 'red'), another name for Esau.
Thus in Mk 15.21 12 have: Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau, bears the wood of the cross (Gen 22.6).
paragein, 'to pass by', otherwise used in Mark only of Jesus' passing by in epiphanous situations (1.16; 2.14 - see 'Passing by' in the Gospels); parerchsthai, 'to come by', ditto (6.48 of Jesus on water; used without Jesus as subject: 13.30, 31 (bis); 14.35).
'take up his cross' = Mk 8.34.
Thus the episode looks like the restoration of Simon Peter to the way of the cross (as per Jn 21.18 f.) in terms of an Isaac typology.
Gen 22 1 Cor 15 John 3 (see below for Passion details) 1 John 4  Rom 8.324
(Isaac as bound at Passover) (5.7: our passover, Christ, has been sacrificed for us) (1.29 the Lamb5 of God who is taking away the sin of the world)
v. 2: Thine only son, the beloved 16: that he gave his only begotten son 9: sent his only begotten son He ... spared not his own son
v. 4: On the third day 4: On the third day according to the Scriptures
v. 5: We will come again to you 5: ... and was seen 14: And we have seen and bear witness
v. 9: God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering 3: Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures 17: That we should be saved through him. 16: To be the expiation for our sins but delivered him up for us all.
4 The Passover lamb was not a sin-offering.  It is only in terms of the connecting of the Binding of Isaac, the sacrifice par excellence, with Nisan 14/15 that Jn 1.29 makes sense, since a lamb was never a sin-offering.
5 Dahl, op. cit.: God is presented as giving his son in response to Abraham's giving his.
John:  In the Passion narrative the evangelist not only identifies Jesus with the regulations concerning the passover lamb such as (1) the timing of the crucifixion (eve of Passover, when lambs slain), and (2) no broken bones (Jn 19.36, citing Exod 12.46; Nun 9.12), but adds details matching Gen 22:  at his arrest Jesus is bound (18.12) like Isaac (Gen 22.9), and Jesus carries the cross (19.17) as Isaac bore the wood (Gen 22.6)