Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning -- By: Ramesh P. Richard

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 143:570 (Apr 1986)
Article: Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance Part 2: Levels of Biblical Meaning
Author: Ramesh P. Richard


Methodological Proposals for Scripture Relevance
Part 2:
Levels of Biblical Meaning

Ramesh P. Richard

[Ramesh P. Richard, Pulpit Pastor, Delhi Bible Fellowship, New Delhi, India]

Some people twist Bible passages in an effort to make them relevant. But this amounts to tampering with God’s Word. Before investigating the relevance of the Bible to contemporary life, its inherent authority must be acknowledged. The previous article in this series dealt with aspects of “literal” interpretation. The “literal” sense must be preserved. A literal, plain, normal reading of Scripture on its own terms is necessary before probing the relevance of Scripture. This article considers the use of the Scriptures as a resource for relevance by examining the levels of meaning in interpretation.1

Determining the meaning intended in an expression is the goal of interpretation. Anything other than this meaning should be relegated to significance—the relationship of meaning to something else. So, primacy should be given to the biblical text in interpretation. Extratextual research on matters such as the biography of the author, his other writings, and his socio-economic, historico-religio-cultural background must be considered. This information helps answer questions pertaining to the original audience: What would the communication have meant to them? and How did they understand it? Answers to these questions help in arriving at the literal meaning.

However, in speaking of the “literal” meaning of the Bible, one must keep in mind that since it is a divine-human book, each of its

statements may have a range of meaning. Because of this feature the Bible has an authoritative claim on present-day living.

Intention, Meaning, and the Divine-Human Book

Should meaning be limited to the human author’s conscious understanding of all its implications, or should one entertain the possibility of meaning going beyond the human intention? Three positions are taken on this issue. According to Raymond E. Brown, “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.”2

In one way a sensus plenior is acceptable, for there can be an extension of the human author’s meaning. The promise-fulfillment theme and the use of the Old Testament by N...

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