The “Fuller Meaning” of Scripture: A Hermeneutical Question for Evangelicals -- By: Jack R. Riggs

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 07:2 (Fall 1986)
Article: The “Fuller Meaning” of Scripture: A Hermeneutical Question for Evangelicals
Author: Jack R. Riggs

The “Fuller Meaning” of Scripture:
A Hermeneutical Question for Evangelicals

Jack R. Riggs

A brief review of the sensus plenior debate in Roman Catholic circles lays a foundation for understanding a similar debate among evangelicals and raises pertinent questions. The debate conducted among evangelicals focuses attention on the need for careful exegesis of Scripture passages (such as Dan 8:16, 19; 12:8 ; 1 Pet 1:10–12; and John 11:49–52) as well as the need to reexamine the NT use of the OT (e.g., the use to which Matthew puts Psalms 22 and 69 ). Furthermore, the evangelical debate points out the need to think through the implications of sensus plenior for such key doctrines as biblical infallibility and biblical inerrancy. A final issue raised by the debate concerns the reliability of the grammatical-historical method of hermeneutics as applied to the biblical text.

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Evangelical scholars are aware of the hermeneutical debates that are taking place both without and within evangelicalism. Biblical interpretation is an essential field of study in theological science because it attempts to answer the question: “What did God and, for that matter, the human authors mean by what they said in the Bible?” One question of recent concern for evangelicals has been over the proposed sensus plenior or “fuller meaning” of certain Scriptures found in the OT. The purpose of this article is to discuss two alternative answers of evangelicals to the question, “Is there a fuller meaning to Scripture?” The one view is an affirmative response. The other view is a negative response to the question in that it affirms a single meaning for all the texts of Scripture. To prepare for the discussion of these two views, there will be a brief review of the background and the discussion of the idea of a fuller meaning to

Scripture in Roman Catholic thought, since the idea seems to have developed first within that theological tradition.

Roman Catholic Background and Discussion

The first use of the term sensus plenior as a label to classify a meaning of Scripture was by Father Andrea Fernandez in the late 1920s. His idea was not unheralded, for around the turn of this century there were Catholic scholars who suggested a sense to Scripture very close to the concept of se...

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