Canon as Context: The Function of Sensus Plenior in Evangelical Hermeneutics -- By: Douglas A. Oss

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 09:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Canon as Context: The Function of Sensus Plenior in Evangelical Hermeneutics
Author: Douglas A. Oss


Canon as Context:
The Function of Sensus Plenior
in Evangelical Hermeneutics

Douglas A. Oss

Since the canon of Scripture is a unified literary work, the sensus plenior of a given text is simply that which emerges when the text is subjected to the light of all of biblical revelation. Thus the use of sensus plenior as a hermeneutical method does not involve allegorization or eisegesis, but involves discerning in a text all the strata of meaning that the canonical context warrants. The progress of revelation dictates that the meaning of scriptural texts became deeper and clearer as the canon unfolded. The exegete, by considering the Bible as an integrated whole, reaches a fuller understanding of individual texts of Scripture. That fuller understanding involves strata of meaning, all of which the author expressed, whether or not he intended to express them.

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Introduction

Even a cursory reading of recent literature treating the topic of evangelical hermeneutics reveals the intensity of the debate surrounding the use of sensus plenior in the process of interpretation and in the construction of a systematic theology. At issue for many evangelicals is the authority of God’s word and the normative significance of theology. Should the meaning of Scripture be restricted to the results of a rigid grammatical-historical exegesis? Or is there a deeper meaning that goes beyond the results of grammatical-historical analysis? If a deeper meaning exists, how does one ascertain what precisely it is? What is the relationship between the divine author’s meaning and the human author’s meaning? These are a few of the concerns that recently have been raised in the evangelical community with respect to sensus plenior.1

Since God has chosen to communicate through Scripture, one must assume that his method of communication is adequate, and therefore comprehensible. This perspective, however, does not resolve the dilemma over hermeneutical methodology, namely determining the most effective and accurate method for understanding biblical texts. It is the thesis of this article that a circumspect and judicious use of sensus plenior should be part of a proper hermeneutical methodology. The discussion presented below will, therefore, propose some legitimate functions for sensus plenior in evangelical hermeneutics. Before turning to the functional aspects of the method, however, the term needs to be clearly defined. Its diverse connotations have resulted in much confusion.

A Functional Definition of Sensus Plenior

The definition offered for purposes of this discussion ...

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