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Allow for the Fuller Meaning of Scripture

1 Peter 1:10-12 - Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
One of the basic principles and safeguards for the interpretation of any Scripture is to "always proceed from then to now." Determining what a text of Scripture meant in its original setting and context is known as the historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture. Using this approach preserves us from eisegesis (reading into Scripture) when we make our applications for today. So, as a rule of thumb, we should never make present-day applications of Scripture before we have determined, as best we can, what was meant when the Scripture was written.

A Logical Question

When discussing the historical-grammatical method, a natural and logical question arises: Is there ever a hidden meaning or deeper meaning to the text? That is, were the human authors always aware of all that they were writing? Did the process of inspiration ever allow the human authors to write "over their heads"? In other words, does the historical-grammatical approach to interpreting Scripture exhaust the text of all its meaning, or is there sometimes an expanded or fuller meaning to a text of Scripture?

1 Peter 1:10-12 seems to indicate that the Old Testament prophets did not completely comprehend all that they were writing. They "searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of God was pointing when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow." These prophets probably had more insight into what they were writing than we generally realize, and they did receive revelation (v12) that their writings were for a future generation. But the phrase, "they made careful search and inquiry" would logically mean that while these men of God comprehended much of what they wrote, they did not completely understand the full content of what they were writing. A complete appreciation of this fuller meaning is impossible apart from New Testament revelation. Thus 1 Peter 1:10-12 indicates that the writings of the prophets can have a "fuller meaning."

Acorns and Oak Trees

We should never think of the fuller meaning of Scripture as another or additional meaning, or a new meaning that changes the original meaning of a text. No, the original meaning remains unchanged, and the fuller meaning is an expanded or extended or more fully developed meaning--a meaning which could not be seen until fuller understanding came with further revelation. Thus there is not a different meaning, but a fuller meaning. A mature oak tree and an acorn look very different, yet they're not different in essence--the leaves, bark, sap and everything else are contained in the acorn. It's just a matter of time before the "fuller sense" of the tree is revealed. In the same way, through the process of inspiration, God sovereignly had the human authors of Scripture write in such a way that all the depth and beauty of the fuller meaning was in "seed form" from the start.

For example, an understanding that the Old Testament prophecies cover both the first and second comings of the Messiah is impossible apart from New Testament revelation. When Isaiah wrote that the Messiah would "proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God" (Isaiah 61:2), he could not have comprehended that the first phrase of the verse would be fulfilled at the peaceful first coming of the Messiah, but that the second phrase would await the Messiah's later second coming in judgment.

Consider Hosea 11:1 as another example. When Hosea wrote "When Israel was a youth I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son," he was probably not thinking of an event in the life of the coming Messiah. Most likely he was thinking of God's love for His people when He brought them out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus. But God inspired Matthew to quote this verse as a prophecy of the Lord Jesus returning from Egypt as a child, after the death of Herod (Matthew 2:15).

In view of 1 Peter 1:10-12, Hosea may have realized that more was contained in this verse than he could appreciate at the time, but he certainly could not know the details of the Messiah's early life. However, God used Matthew to expose the fuller meaning of this Scripture. Notice that Matthew did not impose a new meaning on Hosea's prophecy, a meaning that the Spirit of God did not have there originally. No, Matthew revealed the fuller meaning of Hosea 11:1.

If the Old Testament authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "served us" (v12) by writing prophetic Scripture that they did not completely comprehend, it stands to reason that there might indeed be a fuller meaning to other Scriptures as well. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, Paul expands on Deuteronomy 25:4, "For it is written in the Law of Moses,'You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.' Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely He says this for us, doesn't He? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest." In this passage Paul states categorically that the Mosaic Law regarding the welfare of oxen has an extended meaning. When Moses wrote Deuteronomy 25:4 he was probably unaware that a principle for Christian service was "built into" this law, but there's no question that God intended this fuller meaning! And 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 makes it quite clear that the Christian service aspect of the interpretation is not just an application, but an integral part of the fuller meaning of Deuteronomy 25:4.

It should be obvious by this time that the concept of the fuller meaning of Scripture is not without its potential problems. Once the proverbial "door is opened" to the fuller meaning of Scripture, dangerous consequences are a possibility. What prevents even well-meaning Christians from allegorizing Scripture, and reading in "truths" that are not really there? Who determines the "when and what" that God intended as the deeper meaning of Scripture? Where are the restraints on those who would make the interpretation of Scripture an "eisegetical field day"? It is for these very reasons that some Christians reject the fuller meaning, or "sensus plenior," and insist on the single meaning only, as determined by the historical-grammatical method of interpretation.

Because of 1 Peter 1:10-12, we believe that this is too rigid a position. However, we must proceed with extreme caution when we attempt to recognize fuller meaning in Scripture. The fuller meaning must always be subject to the clear meaning and to the testing of the rest of Scripture. While it's true that we have the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us in the interpretation of Scripture (John 16:13), the Holy Spirit is not the Author of novel or far-out "interpretations" that come from our own creative imaginations!

Messianic Psalms

The Messianic psalms are a good example of how God designed an expanded meaning for some Scriptures. God ordained that David would go through certain experiences in life, and that he would record them in such a way that our Lord's experiences--the fuller meaning--was intrinsic to what was written. In Psalm 16:8-10, for example, David describes his deliverance from death in such a way that the fuller meaning of Christ's resurrection is included, as shown clearly by both Peter and Paul in Acts 2:25-32 and Acts 13:35-37. John shows that the fuller meaning of David's personal experience of persecution as recorded in Psalm 69:4 was a description of Christ's rejection (John 15:25).

Types

The types of the Old Testament are examples of Scriptures that awaited New Testament revelation for full understanding. Simply defined, a type is an Old Testament person, place, event, or other item, which was sovereignly ordained by God to picture or illustrate New Testament truth. Besides the typological Messianic Psalms and the typologically fulfilled prophecies such as Hosea 11:1, all types probably go beyond what the human authors understood when they lived and wrote up the Old Testament historical record of persons, places and events. When Moses "lifted up the serpent in the wilderness" and wrote about that wilderness event (Numbers 21), it is highly unlikely that he knew the fuller meaning, revealed by our Lord in John 3:14-15.

The fuller meaning of some Old Testament types is given in the New Testament. The fuller meaning of others is not explicitly stated, but the Spirit-filled believer can recognize these types. For example, Isaiah's denunciation of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:4-21) and Ezekiel's inspired record of the fall of the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:11-19) go beyond these human kings and reveal the supernatural power source behind these pagan kings--namely, Satan. Thus these ancient kings of Babylon and Tyre are types of Satan. Although this is nowhere stated in the New Testament, in light of the teaching of the rest of Scripture this fuller meaning is hard to miss. Obviously, we must always use extreme caution when recognizing Old Testament types that are not expressly referenced or covered in the New Testament!

Divine Arrangement

Another broad area of fuller meaning is the divine arrangement of Scripture. A classic example here would be the divine arrangement of the Gospels: Christ is presented as "The King" by Matthew, as "The Perfect Servant" by Mark, as "The Son of Man" by Luke and as "The Son of God" by John. These inspired writers were probably unaware of a divine arrangement to their writings.

Another example would be the annual feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23), which not only commemorated events in Israel's history but also portrayed Israel's future in perfect chronological order. They are divinely arranged in history and Scripture for our edification. The death of Christ (portrayed by Passover), and His resurrection (represented by First Fruits), followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) was not a coincidence! How much more will the fuller meaning of Scripture be realized in the future with the regathering of Israel (represented by the Feast of Trumpets), Israel's coming national repentance (portrayed in the Day of Atonement) and Israel's place of blessing in Christ's future earthly kingdom (seen in the Feast of Tabernacles)? Here again, we must use extreme caution when analyzing any divine pattern of Scripture, so that we don't read "meaning" into God's Word which was never intended by God Himself!

The tracing of themes throughout the various books of the Bible is another example of how the sovereignly-imposed divine arrangement of Scripture incorporates a fuller meaning to the text of Scripture. As we trace the theme of the Sacrificial Lamb in Scripture, for example, we find a sacrificial lamb for the individual in Genesis 4, a sacrificial lamb for the family in Exodus 12, and a sacrificial lamb for the nation in Leviticus 16. The foundation is laid for the climax of the theme in John 1, where we see the Sacrificial Lamb for the world! What treasures of the Word we would miss if we did not allow for the fuller meaning of Scripture!

The "Law of First Mention" also falls into the category of the divine arrangement of Scripture. In Genesis 22:2, we have the first mention of the word "love" in the Bible. It is in the account of Abraham's love for Isaac, his beloved son, who is to be sacrificed. Is it just coincidence that the first mention of love sets the stage for the unfolding of God's sacrificial love for us throughout the Bible? Look up other biblical words such as "believe" and "redeem" and "holy" and observe how the Law of First Mention shows a fuller meaning of Scripture.

Believers will differ on whether the arrangement of certain items in Scripture is truly a fuller meaning intended by God, or is just coincidence, or has just been forced on the text by over-eager, creative interpreters! The arrangement of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 is a case in point. Does their arrangement by the Holy Spirit incorporate a fuller meaning of a seven-stage historical sketch of Christ's universal church? If so, then here again is an example of the fuller meaning of Revelation 2 and 3 going beyond what the apostle John understood when he wrote Revelation.

Numbers and Science

Most Christians are aware of the fact that certain numbers in the Bible seem to have a consistent meaning. This is true of more than just the number seven--God's number of perfection and completeness. One obvious example is the number forty, which means "tested by God." 40 days and 40 nights of rain upon mankind during the Flood; 40 years of wandering in the wilderness; 40 days and 40 nights of testing for our Lord in the Judean wilderness--these are just a few of the "40's" in the Bible. Once again, in the consistent meaning of numbers throughout the Bible we see an example of how God arranged Scripture to convey a fuller meaning than what the authors realized. We need to be careful, however, about being carried away by placing too much emphasis on the meaning of all numbers in the Bible, as well as the questionable practice of what's called gemetria or biblical numerics. The same is true of reading too much of modern science into the text of Scripture.

Going To Extremes

Spiritualization of Scripture is probably the area of fuller meaning on which Christians will most often differ. When does spiritualization become extreme, and go beyond what God intended? Should the Lord Jesus' command to His disciples to follow the man with water (Mark 14:13), be extended to mean that we should follow teachers of the Word of God (those who carry the water of the Word)? Or is this spiritualization not part of the fuller meaning, because neither John nor God intended this meaning from this text?

There appears to be a divinely-intended spiritualization of certain Scriptures such as the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the book of Nehemiah being likened to the building of strong spiritual walls in the lives of God's people today. But even here Christians will differ and disagree as to where the lines are to be drawn concerning extreme spiritualization. Let's be forbearing--but careful--as we allow for the fuller meaning of Scripture.

The conclusion of this very involved hermeneutical (interpretation) question is that, on the basis of 1 Peter 1:10-12 and its logical implications, we must allow for the fuller meaning of Scripture. We should always start with the historical-grammatical approach when interpreting any Scripture. What did the human author mean when the text was written? Any fuller meaning must be subject to the clear teaching of the rest of Scripture.

And then we must be extremely careful not to impose "fuller meanings" on the text which are products of our own creative imaginations and were never intended by God! God is the ultimate Author of all Scripture, however, so we must allow for the possibility of an expanded meaning that the human author did not fully comprehend. Let's not miss out on the beauty found in the divinely-intended depth and fuller meaning of Scripture.
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