The conversations surrounding sensus plenior center on the New Testament authors' 'odd usage' of the Old Testament scriptures. But the underlying principle is that there is a secondary meaning which may be unknown to the human author.

Is there any evidence that there may be secondary meanings in the New Testament scriptures?

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    I would think that if you could apply Sensus Plenior to any part of the Bible, it would apply to the whole equally, and for the same reasons.
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 8, 2011 at 14:47
  • It is interesting that there is a different way that it is applied in the New. The methods and metaphors apply the same way to resolve many issues. It I have not yet seen it in the personal letters. Hebrews speaks directly of it, and Revelation appears to be a Rosetta stone of sorts. I have unpacked some interesting parts. The most interesting is that Jesus actively participates in them. Zaccheaus means pure but he is the chief rep. of mammon, sitting in a tree (Christ bearing our sin) Jesus invites himself to dinner to complete the picture of going to the Feast after the cross.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 0:03
  • Lazarus (Eliezer name of the high priest) is a sickly high priest, who is resurrected. Jesus is not an effective high priest until after the resurrection. So Jesus raises him from the dead. His groaning is a Gethsemane experience as he is tempted once again to not face the cross.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 9, 2011 at 0:06
  • 5 years later... yes. All of the parables have it.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 3:44
  • @Richard "it would apply to the whole equally, and for the same reasons" 8 years later I am more assured of this than ever. Would you like to learn how? Children are now able to do it.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 6:15

3 Answers 3


I'm not sure if this is necessarily a direct answer to the question, but Peter hints at this in 2 Peter 3:15-16, talking about the writings of Paul. Specifically, he talks about three attributes of Paul's writings that bear consideration:

  • Some of it is difficult to understand - which implies that work must be dedicated to understanding it
  • Some people already attempted to twist his writings to their own purpose; this is not a direct indication of sensus plenior so much as an indication that they might contain some complex meaning
  • Peter considered them to be scripture

My understanding of sensus plenior agrees with Richard's:

Often, adherents claim that there are two separate meanings to text: the intentional (intent of the author) and the sensus plenior (intent of God).

A classic example of this is found in John 11:49-53 (emphasis mine):

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish."

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

John goes so far as to point out for the reader that Caiaphas did not intend to prophecy, yet because of his role that year as high priest, did so prophesy Jesus' death for the nation. This fits the pattern above.


Three types of sensus plenior are explained below. The first is contained in a literal history, the second is contained in a parable and the third are references to sensus plenior in the Old Testament which are problem passages for those who do not recognize sensus plenior.

Acts 12 contains sensus plenior hidden in history pointing back to the cross:

This is a picture of Christ as portrayed by the body of Christ (the church and Peter).

1 ¶ Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth [his] hands to vex certain of the church.

stretched forth his hands hands = works The works of Herod were to vex the body of Christ

Herod vexed the church Herod had ‘vexed’ Christ before his death (Pilot was junior to Herod) and now he vexes the ‘body of Christ. James, John, Peter, and the other disciples in prayer now represent the body of Christ.

2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

Herod as the Federal head of state over Pilate, had participated in killing Christ, ‘the usurping second son’ and now he has killed James (the usurper). Just as other brothers represented Christ, such as Jacob and Esau, Issac and Ishmael, etc. so do James and John. Together they represent Christ, and now, the body of Christ, the church. Together they are the ‘first and the last’ James was the first disciple killed, and John was the last, dying on Patmos. They define Christians as those who follow the teaching of Christ through the apostles. Here though they represent Christ who was killed and resurrected. We expect the story to tell of this. The fact that they represent the church as well as Christ does not violate our rule that there is only one metaphoric meaning. The meanings are in different voices and since “we will be like him” many of the pictures of Christ are also pictures of us.

by the sword Christ was not killed by a literal sword, but by the Word which is sharper than a sword. He was killed in accordance with the scriptures.

At the pleasure of the Jews

3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

It pleased the Jews to kill Jesus rather than Barrabas, and once again the body of Christ is taken at the pleasure of the Jews. Both Jesus and Peter were taken just before Passover.

unleavened bread - leaven is 'teaching'. Prior to the cross te Jews were 'untaught' not understanding the riddles that Jesus spoke. After the cross, their eyes were opened.

Peter represents Christ as the Rock.

4 And when he had apprehended him, he put [him] in prison, and delivered [him] to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

in prison – Jesus was placed in the grave.

four quaternions – wheels within wheels each having four faces are the Word of God as spoken by prophets, priests, kings and judges as that word is being worked out in the world.

guarded – Jesus was guarded in prison by the word of God. It had been prophesied that he would be the Lamb of God, sacrificed at Passover. No amount of beating in prison would kill him, for had he died in prison, had the days of his tribulation not been shortened, no flesh would be saved.

5 ¶ Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

Christ prayed without ceasing. At Gethsemane, the church slept. But now that they were the body of Christ, they kept watch through the night as Jesus had.

6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

when Herod would have brought him forth – the morning after the Passover. This is resurrection day! Peter was sleeping between two guards as Christ was dead between two thieves.

bound with two chains – the Word of God bound him in death as did his love for the world.

keepers before the door – They guarded Jesus’s tomb.

7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon [him], and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from [his] hands.

a light shined in the prison – A light shined in the tomb.

smote … on the side – Jesus was poked in the side by the spear

8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

and the angel said – to Jesus in the grave (not recorded, applied by drash),

gird thyself - Arise!

sandals – continue your life on earth (resurrection)

garment - continue your works (not exactly the right words for describing this)

9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.

10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.

three barriers – three days in the grave. The grave opened by it self.

11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and [from] all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

of a surety - the resurrection was real… not a dream or delusion.

12 And when he had considered [the thing], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.

considered the thing – he thought about it. He saw the connection to the cross and the actions that followed were intentional in order to fulfill the picture.

came to the house of Mary – Mary was the first one to see Jesus so he went to Mary’s house. (It does not matter if it is the same Mary, they are all one in riddle.)

13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.

God communicates back by arranging details that Peter could not.

Rhoda – rose, khab-ats-tseh’- leth in Hebrew with a pun of Kibbutz salah meaning ‘community of the rock’.

knocked - Christ stands at the door and knocks.

14 And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.

ran in - Just as Mary had run to tell the disciples of the resurrected Christ Rhoda runs to tell the disciples.

15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.

mad - the disciples had to see for themselves just as they disbelieved Mary.

16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened [the door], and saw him, they were astonished.

17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

shew these things to James – But James was dead! Even the dead rose with Christ.

departed - Jesus departed after meeting with his disciples and Peter does to fulfill the picture.

18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.

Jesus only was seen by his disciples, not by unbelievers.

19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that [they] should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and [there] abode.

examined the keepers – Those who did not see him were judged.

Judea to Caesarea – He went from “praise” to being “cut off”.

This follows the nature of OT sensus plenior. The only question is, did Luke see it when he put it there. Since he records that Peter had made the connection between the circumstances and the sensus plenior being played out, it is likely that Luke saw it too. So the sensus plenior here was the drama being played out in real life which Luke knowingly recorded.

Sensus plenior also exists in the New Testament within the parables. For example:

God says he will reveal his riddles to Isreal.

'harp' or 'kinnowr' is a pun of 'kannah nor' meaning 'freshly plowed vinyard'.

Ps 49:4 I will incline mine ear to a parable: I will open my dark saying upon the harp.

In what way was Israel 'freshly plowed' at the time of Christ? Consider John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord.

We expect to find sensus plenior in the parables:

Ps 78:2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Parable of the sower

Some will object and say that the meaning of the parable was explained. This is true. The literal meaning of the parable was explained by Jesus to his disciples. The confusion arises when we don't understand what 'literal' means.

A literal understanding recognizes figures of speech as figures of speech, whereas a literalist understanding butchers meaning by insisting that words have only one meaning such that when Jesus says he is the Rock, it is interpreted to mean that he is literally a piece of granite.

Therefore when Jesus tells a parable, and explains what it means, he is explaining the literal meaning of the allegory or metaphor. Sensus plenior expects to see another metaphor hidden within the first because of Psalm 78. The second metaphor would not be revealed until after his resurrection.

Mt 13:3 And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; 4 And when he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: 5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: 6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

As Jesus explained the literal meaning he gave us clues to the hidden meaning.

The seed is Christ

Lu 8:11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

JOhn 1:1 ¶ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Joh 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John tells the same story plainly

John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

John tells of three appearances of the Word. First: He was in the world, and the world didn't know him. Second: He came to his own, and they didn't receive him. But those few who did, he gave power to become the sons of God. Third: He was made flesh.

The first is general revelation. God has spoken to all men through his Son. The time from the beginning to the exodus, God revealed himself through Christ, but the world did not know him.

The second is his Special Revelation through Israel, 'his own', but they did not receive him.

The third is the revelation of God in the person of Jesus.

The parable has four revelations of the word and John only mentions three to this point. The rest of the book of John will tell the details of the third and his book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ will tell the fourth.

Ambiguity, the source of riddle

Mt 13:4 And when he sowed, some [seeds] fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

The word 'seeds' does not exist in the original Greek. It has been placed there by the translators to 'clarify' what 'fell'. The Greek says 'some fell'. When we consider that John tells us that the first revelation of the Word was to all men, and that some fell by the way, Remez leads us to Genesis where they knew the Word of God, and the consequence of their sin was that "the way" was guarded by two angels.

This is the hint to the riddle.

We now can say that the Word was revealed to Adam and Eve and they 'fell by the way'. Who then devoured them?

We have seen elsewhere that the Holy Ghost is represented by the foul, and just like the water and the fire, the foul can give grace or judge.

Adam and Eve were devoured or 'judged' by the Holy Ghost.

Israel on rocky ground

John tells us that the second Revelation of the Word happened to Israel. So we must ask, "In what way is Israel the 'rocky ground'?"

This verse may give us a clue:

Ex 28:21 And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.

The stones appear to represent Israel.

Israel scorched

In what way was Israel "scorched"?

Ex 17:1 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. Ex 17:2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? Ex 17:3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?

The third revelation of the Word

John tells us that the third revelation of the Word was the incarnation:

John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Among the thorns

7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

In what way was Jesus, the Word, among thorns?

Jesus says the thorns represent "cares of the world" and the "deceitfulness of riches":

Mr 4:19 And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.

There are two things that held Isaac's ram in the thorns as well:

Ge 22:13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

The sacrifice, the Ram as a representation of Christ, was caught in the thickets by it's horns. In the flesh, Christ was killed by men who were afraid to lose their power over the people. In the spirit, his "care for the world" and his "total devotion to the Father" nailed him to the cross, dying desolate.

Only in resurrection was he "fruitful and multiplying". Which is the fourth revelation of the Word.

Sensus plenior by reference

The third type of sensus plenior consists of passages that seem obscure to those unfamiliar with sensus plenior, but which are easy to understand in the context of it.

The Nazarene

Mt 2:23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Since a prophecy cannot be found in the Old Testament concerning this using literal methods, there is speculation that some scripture must have been lost. However, this is a reference to the Nazarite law being a prophecy of Christ.

Body of Moses

Jude 1:9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.

Again, literal methods cannot find any reference for this passage which generates much speculation concerning it's source. However, in sensus plenior:


Michael refers to David as 'one who is like the Lord'. He is considered the 'archangel' or "primary messenger' because he is the principle type of Christ in the Old Testament.


The reference to the devil is to Saul:

1Sa 16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.

The body of Moses

Since Moses is a type of Christ, the body of Moses is the body of Christ or the church. Saul wrestled with David, over the kingdom as a picture of the devil wrestling with Christ over the church.

The Lord rebuke you Repeatedly, David refused to take matters into his own hands, having many opportunities to kill Saul, but instead he trusted the Lord to establish him as king. Likewise Jesus did not use his divinity in the flesh to conquer the devil, but waited to be established through the cross.

Jude's language is common among those discussing sensus plenior since the metaphors involved are presumed to be understood. Others listening in who do not understand the symbolism think that they speak gibberish. Jude was merely 'taking the shortcut' to communicate his thoughts to those whom he presumed would understand.

---added 2020-03-14---

I can now say that the meaning of symbols in sensus plenior derives from the formation of Hebrew words, that is, from the combined meaning of the letters within words. The example of Adam is instructive:

Adam אדם was formed from the ground 'adamah' אדמה. He is formed of blood 'dam' דם and spirit א . The blood is the commandment ד fulfilled by the son ם.

We know that Adam 'understood' because when he came from the ground, his ignorance ה was dropped. Adam sinned with his eyes opened. The woman was deceived.

Doctrines are formed by repeating patterns. When scientists look for signs of intelligence in the universe, they look for patterns. When you teach a child, you say the same thing in different ways. God does this with the doctrine he wishes to teach.

For example: God is the creator:

The aleph Genesis begins with 'In the beginning' 'bereshith' בראשית . The bet ב declares "God revealed to man'. Inquiring minds want to know what was there before God revealed himself to man? From the alphabet, the aleph א comes before the bet, with the meaning of "God spoke and created the heavens and the earth". The aleph is a silent letter, and in Genesis 1:1 is also is invisible. From this the we derive, with the prophets, that when God spoke and created the heavens and the earth, there was no one to see or hear him do it.

The first word 'In the beginning' 'bereshith' בראשית Read letter-by-letter it says:

A revelation to man ב

It is revealed ר

God spoke and created the heavens and the earth א

His word did not return void but with an increase ש

What he intended to do י

He finished ת

The first sentence: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The first chapter: God created the heavens and the earth. Each day is a pointer to one of six sections of scripture which together declare that God is the creator.

God is angry because we do not acknowledge him as the creator. Rom 1:18ff. Add to this all the plain statements that he is the creator.

The Gospels appear to be the sermon on the road to Emmaus which was remembered in more detail as they studied the OT and the Spirit guided them in the things Jesus taught them. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were written 10-15 years apart as a snapshot of what the apostles were teaching in the Hebrew church, to relate the sensus plenior discoveries to the Greek church which only wanted to know the bare minimum of "Christ and him crucified".

Things in the gospel are there because they have sensus plenior sources in the OT. A NT doctrine is not fully understood until you have found the OT source.

Sensus plenior is derived by strict rules which eliminate free-for-all allegory. And can now be validated by any who wish to learn.

*formation of words is called: Notarikon - Interpretation by dividing a word into two or more parts in the 32 rules of Rabbi Eliezer ben Jose de Galili

  • Seems like a lot of effort to get to "it is likely that Luke saw it too." Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 18:07
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    @GalacticCowboy: While I agree, I appreciate Bob putting in the effort. I rarely agree with his conclusions, but I admire his persistence. Sensus plenior isn't really mainstream (I don't intend this as an insult to Bob, but my personal observation), so it just takes a lot more work to use that hermeneutic on the site than the methods most of us use. Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 18:46
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    It was not my intent to downplay his effort, and in fact I really appreciate the detail he put into it. Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 19:43
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    Th equestion is if there is sensus plenior in the NT. Whether Luke saw it or not, is a side point, and I have used words to indicate that it is not a sure thing that he did or did not. The parallels to Christ are there whether Luke knew it or not.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 21:29
  • An argument against SP is properly derived from the rules of SP, not by applying Greek methods. Trying to mix them will inevitably produce the confusion displayed.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 20:46

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