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During the Patristic Period in the Middle Ages practiced an exegetical tactic known as the fourfold sense of Scripture. What are these four senses and do these ideas about the nature of Scripture still serve as the underpinning for modern Biblical Hermeneutics?

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This hermeneutic was developed in the early church, and primarily related to understanding the Hebrew Scriptures. Each passage in Scripture is understood to have four meanings:

  • Literal: What the passage says about past events
  • Allegorical: What the passage can tell us about Christ
  • Moral: What the passage can teach us about how to live
  • Anagogical: What the passage tells us about our ultimate fate
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Seems like a bad idea to use this method. How would we ever know that God intended every passage to have a four-fold meaning? I'm not trying to argue, but I am actually curious what the argument is for this hermeneutic. – Patrick Szalapski Oct 17 '11 at 0:25
@PatrickSzalapski You might look into this question regarding the anagogical sense for more info about that. – Richard Oct 18 '11 at 12:29

Always remember that to effectively use the Quadriga, you must start with the literal (i.e. grammatical-historical methodology) first. If one cannot apply a literal method then you are automatically forced to use a spiritual (allegorical) methodology. The allegorical method is then further divided into topological and anagogical where a text not only gives a spiritual meaning but has a moral and eschatological message as well.

Example: The Crossing of the Re(e)d Sea.

  1. It was literal because Moses and Israel actually crossed it.
  2. It was spiritual because it represents our baptism and new life.
  3. It was moral because we cross-over life's difficulties (Egypt) into our personal earthly blessings (Promise Lands).
  4. It was eschatological because we look forward to the final crossing-over from death to eternal life in heaven.

Hope it helps.

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Welcome to BH! I like how you addressed how we can apply it today. I changed your square brackets to parentheses (the two have different meanings and parens work with what you are trying to say). I also placed your example into the numbered list to show the four levels more clearly. I hope you stay around and answer more! – Frank Luke Oct 31 '12 at 20:03

The method referenced above is called the "Quadriga". You may find that the Quadriga is a faint memory of sensus plenior where God speaks in four voices: Prophet, Priest, King, Judge.

The voice of King speaks literally and historically. The voice of Judge speaks God's moral view upon the literal-historical. The voice of Prophet speaks of Jesus's literal life. And the voice of Priest speaks of the esoteric Son of God as second person of the Trinity.

When Moses jumped back from the rod which had been turned to snake: The King speaks literally of Moses and the rod. The Judge says that Moses was guilty of murder in wielding his authority in Egypt, but that he was forgiven and was given God's authority again. The prophet speaks of Jesus facing Gethsemane and being made to be sin on the cross. He prayed "remove this cup" then "thy will be done". The priest speaks of the moment in eternity when the second person of the Trinity decided to become incarnate and endure the cross. At first the idea of being made to be sin was so abhorrent that he refused, then submitted to the will of the Father. This is also reflected in the parable of the two sons, one said he wouldn't but did.

You can see that sensus plenior is parallel to Quadriga but not exactly the same.

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