How to interpret scripture using the rules of Sensus Plenior
Jer 17:9 The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately
wicked: who can know it?
Our assumptions about scripture and the rules we use to guide our interpretation effect the ultimate meaning that we get from scripture. It is important to evaluate those assumptions and rules to ensure that they permit the scriptures to speak for themselves rather than permitting us to impose our own meaning upon them.
My assumptions and convictions are these:
- The Bible is the word of God which has been protected for us in such
a manner that it is considered infallible in every jot and tittle.
By using the proper methods of interpretation, as taught by the
apostles, errant manuscripts may be discerned.
- The meaning of the Bible is contained in multiple layers as
described by the church from the earliest days, as a literal and a
spiritual layer. These layers are in complete agreement with each
other in every way.
- The hidden spiritual layer is discerned using methods taught by the
apostles in the New Testament. It is called the meat of the gospel,
whereas the literal meaning is called the milk of the gospel. The
milk is sufficient for salvation. The meat provides the spiritual
nourishment to enable a mature faith and walk.
The rules are discerned using the same methods as discerning SP, so it should be expected that those practicing literal methods may disagree with how the rules are determined. That doesn't matter. SP needs to be evaluated to see if it is self-consistent as well as if it produces verifiable orthodox results.
These are the principles (strict rules) which I use to determine the meaning of scripture:
Since God has said that not a jot or tittle will pass away, until one knows why each jot and tittle is there, a complete understanding has not been derived. (This keeps us humble)
Such humility is exemplified by one who listens to others’ opinions and based on scripture, tests all things and holds fast to those things which are good. Such humility is missing in one who insists that only his opinion is correct, and uses phrases like “The Bible says so” while pulling passages out of context and displaying an attitude of unwillingness to discuss the meaning or context of those passages.
Since man shall live “by every word”, a doctrine is not sound until it sums up and includes all that God has said about it. (This keeps us searching)
This attitude of searching recognizes that the Bible is full of meaning, and that perhaps one person in his own studies has not yet identified or considered all the applicable passages. This attitude is missing when a few verses are used as a shotgun to force a discussion to a preconceived conclusion.
Since every word must be established by two or three witnesses, every shadow must have at least two supporting scripture witnesses. This means we cannot define a shadow with a single verse. (This keeps us rigorous in methodology)
A shadow is a hidden meaning which is not contained in the literal meaning (Rom 10.1). Shadows are not the product of a wild imagination and are therefore verifiable by the scriptures. When a shadow has two or three witnesses, it should be regarded as a tentative meaning. This rule specifically forbids a single verse from becoming definitive.
Since God’s word is established forever, a shadow means the same thing everywhere is it used. So, since a donkey is a shadow of a prophet, everywhere there is a donkey, it is a shadow of a prophet. This rule alone makes the shadows humanly impossible to fabricate as it requires the interlocking of a double entendre found in all the scriptures. (This keeps us in awe)
Free-for-all allegory has been properly criticized because allegorical or metaphoric meanings have no way to be verified, and we are persuaded by the loudest proponent of a meaning. This rule dis-allows free-for-all allegory by setting an impossible standard for the use of allegory. Every donkey is a prophet, every garment is a work, etc. such that every scripture participates in a hidden picture of Christ. Such a phenomenon is impossible for men to produce and therefore when we observe it occurring, we can have confidence that it is God’s intended meaning.
The riddle of Samson tells us Christ is the answer to all the riddles. If the shadow doesn’t look like Christ, it isn’t a good shadow. (This keeps us focused)
Jesus told the disciples on the road to Emmaus that all the scriptures spoke of him, and chastised the scribes and Pharisees for searching the scriptures to seek life, but rejecting him, since they spoke of him. If we don’t see Christ in the scriptures, we have missed the primary purpose of the scriptures. And if Christ is not central to a proposed SP interpretation, it is to be rejected. This rule alone separates SP from Gnosticism, Kabbalah and Midrash.
And since we are to “let everyman be a liar and God be true”, outside references are not required to solve the riddles and see the shadows. (This keeps us devoted)
Not only are we not going to bring in extra-biblical books to determine the meaning of scripture, but we will not make apostles out of historians by elevating their writings as to the meaning of scripture. We will not make apostles out of document critics. Errors to documents spoil the hidden narrative and so once the hidden narrative is known, the proper document can be discerned. Nor will we accept what God has shown you personally, unless He has shown it to you through the scriptures.
Because of the rules, a formal scoring may be used.
If it proposed that 'leaven' means 'sin' we count how many times it is used:
Seor is used 5 times
Chametz is used 11 times
We must understand each word individually. Give a point when a proposal fits in each case, and -1000000 points if it does not fit. To say that a proposed meaning absolutely is true, Seor must get 5/5 and Chametz must get 11.
To 'fit' it must sensible participate in the local narrative and be theologically significant as well as non-contradictory to the literal.
Response to Mike's answer
Although Brown popularized the term sensus plenior in time for modern debates, he never was able to actually unpack it, saying that he had never used it in preaching. One should not have expected Brown to have defined 'strict rules'.
The quotes from Luther and Owen only show that they believed that sensus plenior existed. They are nice quotes that help establish the belief in the fact, not the practice.
Though Jonathan Edwards strove to see Christ in all the scriptures, he could only see the hints and filled in the gaps with instinct and allegory. He often did well, but this is not SP.
Thus God's making Eve of Adam's rib, was to typify the near relation
and strict union of husband and wife, and the respect that is due, in
persons in that relation, from one to the other. (Jonathan Edwards,
Volume 9, Page 12)
Edwards ignored Paul's statement that marriage spoke of Christ and the church. The ante-type target of Edwards in this passage is marriage, falling short of the SP target of Christ.
Let's examine the SP interpretation so that the difference between allegory and SP is clear.
21 ¶ And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he
slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead
Each word has multiple meanings in Hebrew
sleep also means death
*Adam* also means man and he is a type of Christ
rib means limping and side, etc.
When the double entendre is read it says:
And God caused the man to die and he died; and he married a certain limping side and delivered mankind.
This is the riddle which points to Christ.
He married the church with his limping side (the flesh).
Drash ties in the bruised heel of the woman, and Jacob's withered thigh to show us pictures of Gethsemane where his flesh was made to 'limp' in order to be obedient to the Father.
Edwards practiced free-for-all allegory.
If one skims through the rules without comprehending them, or like Naaman hears the instruction but is insulted at their apparent simplicity, SP will look like nothing but the free-for-all allegory of others. It should not be expected that using the Syrian waters of free-for-all allegory should produce a result any different than before; free-for-all allegory with none of the verifiability of SP.