Isaac Typology in the New Testament
The writer of Hebrews describes Isaac using
μονογενῆ, monogenēs. This term is used four times in the LXX (cf. Judges 11:34, Psalm 22:20, 25:16, 37:17). However, nowhere in the Hebrew or Greek Old Testament is Isaac described as an only-begotten:
He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love... (Genesis 22:2 ESV)
And He said, "Take your beloved son Isaak, whom you love... (LXX-Genesis 22:2 NETS)
Isaac was your only son...whom you love which the LXX interpreted as your beloved son...whom you love. Using monogenēs to describe Isaac is unique to Hebrews.
Leroy A. Huizenga contends Matthew often described Jesus with language resembling Isaac:
In general, the Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of Jewish Scripture and tradition resemble each other to a remarkable degree: both are promised children conceived under extraordinary circumstances, beloved sons who go obediently and willingly to their redemptive deaths at the hands of their respective fathers at the season of Passover. It is my contention that when read rightly as a coherent narrative in the first-century cultural setting, the Gospel of Matthew presents a significant Isaac typology.1
Beloved son is one of many verbal and syntactic similarities with Jesus' baptism and transfiguration and Abraham offering of Isaac:
...the simplest solution to the allusive riddle of Matthew 3:17 is Genesis 22:2, 11-12, and 15-16. These texts have much more verbal, syntactical correspondence with each other than Matthew 3:17 does with either Psalm 2:7 or Isaiah 42:1...If all this is correct, we may indeed have the beginning of a significant narrative typology: the Matthean story of God and Jesus may parallel the story of Abraham and Isaac, thus revisioning God in the image of Abraham.2
Matthew uses the correct Old Testament language to describe Jesus. This forms the basis of comparing Jesus to Isaac. The writer of Hebrews used
μονογενῆ and in so doing, reverses the comparison, comparing Isaac to Jesus.
Huizenga focuses on tradition and intertextuality to show the Isaac typology and so does not consider the letter to Hebrews. However, his thesis would explain why monogenēs was used; it makes the comparison with Jesus and Isaac explicit:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises, offered up his only begotten son; 18 (To whom it was said: In Isaac shall thy seed be called.) 19 Accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also he received him for a parable. 20 By faith also of things to come, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. (Hebrews 11 DRA)
πίστει προσενήνοχεν Ἀβραὰμ τὸν Ἰσαὰκ πειραζόμενος καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ τὰς ἐπαγγελίας ἀναδεξάμενος 18
πρὸς ὃν ἐλαλήθη ὅτι ἐν Ἰσαὰκ κληθήσεταί σοι σπέρμα 19
λογισάμενος ὅτι καὶ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγείρειν δυνατὸς ὁ θεός ὅθεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐν παραβολῇ ἐκομίσατο 20
πίστει καὶ περὶ μελλόντων εὐλόγησεν Ἰσαὰκ τὸν Ἰακὼβ καὶ τὸν Ἠσαῦ
The two key terms are
παραβολῇ, monogenēs and parabolē.3 The letter not only described Isaac in a new and unique way, it calls the Akedah a parable.
The Akedah as Parable
A parable is "the putting together of one thing along side of another by way of comparison or illustration," it is simply an analogy.4 D.E. Nineham explains their use in Gospel times:
Parables were constantly used by the rabbis at and after the time of Our Lord, and the very numerous examples of their parables which have been preserved make it clear that they used them for the sole purpose of clarifying and driving home their teaching. When we observe the very close similarity of many of these rabbinic parables to Our Lord's - both in form and subject matter - it seems natural to suppose that he used parables in the same sort of way, and with the the same purpose, as the rabbis. That is to say, his general purpose in using parables was to make the truth as fully understood as possible; he may well have used parables, as the rabbis did, to provoke reflection and so bring his hearers to a recognition of the truth.5
As suggested by the OP, identifying Isaac as monogenēs invites a comparison with Jesus which goes beyond carrying the wood. In fact, when the offering of Isaac and Jesus are compared side-by-side there are more similarities:
|Beloved Son [Only-begotten]
|Beloved son [Only-begotten]
|Bound to the cross
|Bound to the wood
|Was the Lamb of God
|Asked for the lamb
|In the tomb after
|Missing from the narrative after
The last point in particular, explains a curious aspect of the Genesis account:
So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba. (Genesis 22:19)
After the offering, Isaac "disappears" from the narrative. The omission of Isaac on the trip back to Beersheba is done to parallel the crucifixion. Since the trip from Beersheba took 3-days (22:4), the return would take 3-days. Undoubtedly Isaac was present, but his absence from the narrative foreshadows the absence of Jesus for 3-days after He was offered.
The post-crucifixion parallels in Genesis continue after the Akedah event. The next mention of Isaac is when Abraham's servant returns with Rebekah:
Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb.
After being offered, Isaac "reappears" to see his bride-to-be. He returns from beer-lahai-roi, באר לחי ראי which means, "well of the Living One seeing me. This is the place Isaac lives after Abraham dies (25:11), and points to similarities in the Akedah in which Jesus compares with Abraham:
|Arrived riding a donkey
|Arrived riding a donkey
|Went to the Temple Mount
|Went to Mount Moriah
|Died with two others
|Brought two servants
|Was the Lamb of God
|Knew God would provide Himself a Lamb
These agree with John's Gospel where Jesus claims unity with the Father:
I and the Father are one. (John 10:30)
John's also begins with Jesus in Jerusalem, the place where He would later die. This parallels the life of Abraham who was instructed to offer Isaac to go "lekh-lekha" which otherwise only occurs in Genesis 12:16:
Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
Just as Abram was sent from his father's house; Jesus was sent from His Father's house to the place Abram first went and would return to offer Isaac.
The term monogenēs as used in Hebrews does convey more than a "single of its kind." It confirms a New Testament Isaac typology by comparing Isaac with Jesus. In addition, by calling the Akedah a parable the events of Abraham offering Isaac are to be compared with Jesus being offered. Not only does the offering have more comparisons than carrying the wood, the description of Isaac after the offering foreshadows the resurrection and return of Christ Jesus.
1. Leroy A Huizenga, The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew, Brill, 2012, p.2.
2. Ibid., p. 185
3. Only Wycliffe and Doughy-Rheims translate
παραβολῇ as parable. Most English translations opt for figure or figuratively speaking. The avoidance of what is without question parable is likely due to the extensive use
παραβολῇ in the synoptics where it describes hypothetical or fictitious events. Since Abraham offering Isaac was an actual event, it should not be called a parable. However,
παραβολῇ does not exclude real events.
4. D.E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark, The Seabury Press, 1963, p. 128
6. Jon D. Levenson, The Jewish Study Bible, Edited by Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 45