Interpreting the Holy Bible


How the "Senses" of Scripture Provide the Foundation for a Proper Interpretive Stance


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Introduction



"In His goodness and wisdom God chose to reveal Himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of His will by which through Christ, the Word made flesh, man might in the Holy Spirit have access to the Father and come to share in the divine nature."(1) This is revelation: the self-revealing of God. One of the means by which man is able to encounter this divine revelation is through the Sacred Scriptures. This divinely inspired book reveals to man salvation history: from the creation and fall of man to his redemption and salvation and his final end. In order to "come to share in the divine nature", man must understand the revealed Word of God. Thus, the interpretation of Scripture is necessary. This involves discovering the multiple meanings of the Bible’s passages including the intention of both the human and the divine author. Once these senses are detected, the interpreter can relate them to one another, leading to their explanation. However, interpretation goes beyond just explication; an understanding of the Biblical text must also occur. This twofold process of interpretation opens up the Scriptures for man to enter into and in doing so "have access to the Father".

The passages of the Bible have always been seen in the life of the Church as having the potential for more than one meaning. The Patristics, for example, were fond of searching for references to Christ within the pages of the Old Testament. The Middle Ages offer one of the best-known differentiations of these senses of Scripture; the Medieval Fathers ascribed up to four possible meanings to passages from Scripture: the Literal, Moral, Allegorical, and Anagogical. Today the Church recognizes two main distinctions in the senses of Scripture: the Literal and the Spiritual. Further, the Spiritual sense can be distinguished into the ‘more than literal’, typological and fuller (or sensus plenior) senses. These senses should not be thought of as being separate, but rather as being distinct from one another.


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