Saturday, September 13, 2008

The eclectic grammatical-historical literary method and sensus plenior

In our last THREAD an “eclectic grammatical-historical literary method” (EGHM) was explored. This EGHM, as espoused by Dr. Beale and Dr. Carson, is the method that I personally hold much in common with—with one very important exception: I add elements of what is known as sensus plenior. What is sensus plenior? Dr. Raymond Brown provides a concise definition:

The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelation or development in the understanding of revelation.” (Raymond E. Brown, The Sensus Plenior of Sacred Scripture, p. 92.)

One fairly recent Evangelical author affirms sensus plenior as one of the methods of interpretation utilized in the Scriptures. Please take careful note of the following extracts:

When interpreting the Old Testament and NewTestament each in light of the single grammatical-historical meaning of each passage, two kinds of New Testament uses of the Old Testament surface, one in which the New Testament writer observes the grammatical-historical sense of the Old Testament passage and the other in which the New Testament writer goes beyond the grammatical-historical sense in using a passage. Inspired sensus plenior application (ISPA) designates the latter usage. Numerous passages illustrate each type of New Testament use of the Old Testament. The ISPA type of use does not grant contemporary interpreters a license to copy the method of the New Testament writers, nor does it violate the principle of single meaning. (Robert L. Thomas, Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 241)

Clearly the New Testament sometimes applies Old Testament passages in a way that gives an additional dimension beyond their grammatical-historical meaning. This does not cancel the grammatical-historical meaning of the Old Testament passage; it is simply an application of the Old Testament passage beyond its original meaning, the authority for which application is the New Testament passage. Such an application is ISPA. (Ibid., page 251.)

The ISPA of Old Testament passages by New Testament writers raises several questions. First, can today’s interpreter imitate what New Testament writers did in assigning additional and different meanings in applying Old Testament passages? No, they cannot, because that would depart from grammatical-historical interpretation and violate the principle of single meaning. Current interpreters and preachers may apply the Old Testament passages to different situations, but their applications are not inspired, as are those of New Testament writers.

But someone will say, “Why can’t we imitate the principles used in the New Testament writings? Don’t we learn our hermeneutics from them?” The difference in qualifications is the answer. New Testament writers possessed the gift of apostleship and/or the gift of prophecy that enabled them to receive and transmit direct revelation from God. No contemporary interpreter possesses either of those gifts. Those gifts enabled the gifted ones to practice what is called “charismatic exegesis” of the Old Testament. That practice entailed finding hidden or symbolic meanings that could be revealed through an interpreter possessing divine insight. It was similar to the technique called midrash pesher that members of the Qumran community used, but neither did the members of that community possess such gifts as apostleship and prophecy.

Another way of expressing the differences in qualifications is to point out that New Testament writers were directly inspired by God, but today’s interpreters are not. That allowed New Testament authors prerogatives that readers of Scripture do no enjoy. Through direct revelation from God, they could assign applications based additional meanings to Old Testament passages. That rules out ISPA of Old Testament texts to new situations other than those applications that appear in the New Testament.

A second question relates to the principle of single meaning. Does not the New Testament’s assigning of an application based on a second meaning to an Old Testament passage violate that principle? That a passage has two meanings is obvious, but only one of those meanings derives from grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament itself. The other comes from a grammatical-historical analysis of the New Testament passage that cites it. The authority for the second meaning of the Old Testament passage is the New Testament, not the Old Testament. The Old Testament produces only the literal meaning. The sensus plenior meaning emerges only after an ISPA of the Old Testament wording to a new situation. The New Testament could assign such new meanings authoritatively because of the inspiration of what they wrote.

A third question is, “Did God know from the beginning that the Old Testament passage had two meanings?” Obviously He did, but until the New Testament citation of that passage, the second or sensus plenior meaning did not exist as far as humans were concerned. Since hermeneutics is a human discipline, gleaning that second sense is an impossibility in an examination of the Old Testament source of the citation. The additional meaning is therefore not a grammatical-historical interpretation of the Old Testament passage. The additional meaning is the fruit of grammatical-historical interpretation of the companion New Testament passage. The Old Testament passage has only one meaning
. (Ibid., pages 252, 253.) [All emphasis in the above quotes are in the original.]

Now, Dr. Thomas has made a very important distinction, he terms the sensus plenior method used in the Scriptures as the “inspired sensus plenior application” (ISPA)—I concur with his distinction. I would also add that there is an “inspired eclectic grammatical-historical literary method” used within the Scriptures. Dr. Thomas believes that post-Biblical interpretation must utilize an uninspired GHM (I would substitute this with EGHM), but emphatically states that one should NOT employ an uninspired SPA—it is here that I strongly differ with our esteemed author; and much more importantly, so does the Pontifical Biblical Commission document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” (April 15, 1993) [English translation available online HERE - see II.B.1-3.]

In ending, what I find particularly interesting is that among Evangelicals, the majority of those who believe that the Scriptures clearly utilize the ISPA, then go on to deny that apostolic hermeneutics should be employed by post-Biblical interpreters; however, the majority of those who deny that the Scriptures use the ISPA then proceed to affirm that post-Biblical interpreters should attempt to duplicate apostolic hermeneutics.

Anyone else have some thoughts on this?


Grace and peace,

David

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow Dave,

Great timing. I was just working on some questions from your other thread, and you have answered the main ones. I suppose I can see why those who deny an inspired sensus plenior would encourage the apostolic hermeneutic. Would it be because they simply used natural gifts and rules of interpretation, and therefore we have the ability?

But I do not see how we can avoid an inspired sensus plenior. Does the grammatical historical method reveal the virgin birth of Christ in Is. 7? It seems to me like the plainest and most obvious "sign" given to Ahaz, who refuses to ask for a sign, cannot possibly be the birth of Christ 700 years later. Rather, Isaias' wife bares the child in ch. 8, and who before he reaches and age of accountability, "the land before whose two kings you are will be deserted." The sensus plenior of Mt. 1:23 even interprets the "young woman" specifically as a virgin, which could not possibly have been foretold form Is. 7 alone, without an inspired second sense.

I must misunderstand the other position. The way I am imagining it seems untenable. So do those who deny the inspired sensus plenior argue that the virgin birth of Christ was the sign foretold to King Ahaz and known via the GHM? Surely not. I know you disagree with them Dave, but can you tell me how they would answer?

Thanks,

R

Chris said...

David,

You said that you reject the notion that we should not employ an uninspired ISPA. Since the first letter of ISPA means "inspired", the concept of an uninpired ISPA strikes me as something of an oxymoron. I'm afraid that the text to which you linked regarding the Catholic approach to biblical interpretation is far too lengthy for me to attempt to read. Could you perhaps summarize for me what you feel is the primary thrust of that document? Is the Catholic magisterium claiming to do ISPA in the same way as the Apostles? Or is it somehow engaging in un- or less-inspired ISPA?

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

Just briefly checking the blog during a game time-out (Ducks vs. Boilermakers)...

My bad, the uninspired use of sensus plenior should read “uninspired SPA” not ISPA (I apologize for the confusion); a silly typo on my part, will correct the main post now, and then get back to the game.

As for Rory's comments/questions both here and in the previous thread (as well as yours), will try to address them all tomorrow after church (I am in a college football mode today!).

Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hi Rory,

You posted:

>>I must misunderstand the other position. The way I am imagining it seems untenable. So do those who deny the inspired sensus plenior argue that the virgin birth of Christ was the sign foretold to King Ahaz and known via the GHM? Surely not. I know you disagree with them Dave, but can you tell me how they would answer?>>

Me: Certainly not via a strict GHM; that is why Beale uses the phrase, “eclectic grammatical-historical method”. He speaks of a “broader context” and “canonical approach” when dealing with apostolic exegesis. IMHO, he sometimes qualifies traditional terminology to the extent that the original meanings are almost lost. (For some additional thoughts on this, see Chris’s post in the combox of the previous thread, and my response.)


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

So David,

Just to clarify with respect to your own (the Catholic?) position: you are arguing that the Catholic magisterium employs an ISPA in the same sense and with the same authority as the Apostles?

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

You posted:

>>Just to clarify with respect to your own (the Catholic?) position: you are arguing that the Catholic Magisterium employs an ISPA in the same sense and with the same authority as the Apostles?>>

Me: Good question...

According to Catholic theology ISPA ended with the apostolic age. The faithful employ USPA and UEGHM; in rare occasions the Holy Spirit imparts the gift of infallibility conerning certain dogmatic decisions of the Magisterium, which is a different category than the immediate inspiration (i.e. revelation) given to the authors of sacred Scripture.


Grace and peace,

David

Chris said...

How is the Sensus Plenior reliably determined if inspiration is not present?

Dean said...

There are some interesting thoughts on the Grammatical-Historical Method and how it applies to Catholic theology in the light of evangelical exegesis at Jonathan Prejean's blog.

A summary of his thesis is this:
"The grammatico-historical method is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for objective meaning of Scripture."

Perhaps some good posts to start with would be these:
- Argument from a hypothetical Evangelical.
- Sixteen Word Objection to Evangelicalism.
- Ummmmm, no.

David Waltz said...

Hi Chris,

I am going to suggest that there is a difference between reliable and infallible. SP can be reliable if the interpretation falls in line with the infallible Tradition.

But to know if an interpretation is infallible, that would only occur if it becomes part of the infallible Tradition.


Grace and peace,

David

David Waltz said...

Hello Dean,

Thanks for the links. BTW, Jonathan has been in my “Links” sidebar since the beginning of this blog (though he has not be very active of late…)

Grace and peace,

David

Bob Jones said...

Hello,
The assumption that the NT authors required inspiration is the weak link in the argument. In fact, each usage complies with midrash techniques formalized by Rabbi Eliezer and were available at the time of Christ.

In Gen 2:21 each word has multiple meanings in Hebrew: took also means married, flesh:mankind, sleep:death, etc. You can verify these then substitute Christ for Adam. It now reads "And God caused Christ to die and he died and he married a certain limping side and redeemed mankind" This is verifiable sod or sensus plenior. The limping side of Christ is the side with the bruised heel.

The story of Tamar contains the birth of Christ, Ehud and Eglon are a picture of Christ on the cross, etc. Each picture is verifiable using uninspired techniques. And the techniques explain the apostle's usage of the OT.

I hope this blesses you.

David Waltz said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for posting; you wrote:

>>The assumption that the NT authors required inspiration is the weak link in the argument. In fact, each usage complies with midrash techniques formalized by Rabbi Eliezer and were available at the time of Christ.>>

Me: Beale and Carson (and others) are not convinced that Jesus and the apostles employed midrashic interpretation; however, other EV Biblical scholars believe that they did (plus pesher and allegorical methods). For an excellent introduction see Richard N. Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period (2nd ed.), pages 6-35.


Grace and peace,

David

Bob Jones said...

I would be interested in your comments on the new examples I unpack at http://idontknownuthin.com

We can guess about what they did or didn't do, but I believe that once we are able to do it too, the guessing will end.

This site is not really a public site, mostly non-linear notes to help me remember what I have found so far, and various way to try and explain them.

Although they look like allegory, look for the old main page to see the rules that constrain the meaning.

Thanks.

David Waltz said...

Hi Bob,

Thanks for the link! WOW, you have compiled a lot of material...It will take some time for this Beachbum to digest it all...will try to comment later, Lord willing.

Grace and peace,

David

P.S. Would be very interested in your comments concerning the two questions I asked in my "The Tetragrammaton" thread.

Bob Jones said...

Thanks David,

There is much more that I haven't documented.

I know it sounds crazy, but I believe that there are four layers of legitimate interpretation that are firmly attached to the words used.

When you get your mind around it, it sounds even crazier. There are three more Bibles contained in the same Bible.

So far I have not found a single hint of contradicting the literal.

The Jews and early church both believed in four layers of interpretation, we have just lost how they did it. I believe the stuff I am documenting will allow everyone to rediscover it for themselves.

Children in our fellowship are getting the swing of it.

I hope to hear from you. The contact page at the site has my email.

Bob Jones said...

Hi David,

I was hoping to hear from you after you had a chance to look at the web site.

Since scripture is not of a private interpretation, I am most anxious for others to correct errors in my observations.

Thanks.