Sensus Plenior?

No, not the comment service I use(d) (Plug: They are great!) but what the Reformers referred to as the “fuller sense” of the scriptures. Sometimes it gets a rough ride from scholars. Especially Biblical scholars (such as NT and OT professors) and I know Dispensationalists are not very keen on it. But this Sunday in Sunday school the issue came to the fore for me. We were discussing Lot in R. Kent Hughes’ book Set Apart. Hughes speaks of Lot as a righteous man who was troubled about the culture he lived in, but he still clung to it. Then in reference to Lot’s daughters, he said, “We see, then, that it is possible for believing people like us who are truly distressed by the course of this world to live lives that are so profoundly influenced by the culture that Sodom is reborn in the lives of those we love the most” (p 15).

So back to the sensus plenior. Some in the class were uncomfortable speaking of Lot in this fashion. They pointed out that the angels didn’t deride him nor did Peter (2Pt 2:7-8) but he was declared a righteous man. So does Hughes have room to criticize Lot in the fashion he is? Well, I would go even one step further and point to Abraham’s exchange with God just before the episode with Sodom and Gomorra in which God promised not to destroy the cities if there were 10 righteous in them. He didn’t find that number and so he extracted the righteous and destroyed the city. So there are three witnesses to Lot being righteousness. May we fairly criticize him? Well, if you read Genesis alone you would be hard pressed to declare him righteous. The temptation, based on some of the events in Lot’s story, would be to say that God was blessing him strictly because of his relationship with Abraham. After all, when Sodom was raided and Lot taken captive, God blessed him with delivery because it was Abraham doing the delivering. The events of Lot’s life were not what we would call righteous. It is only because the Apostle later tells us that he is righteous and distressed that we recognize it. Perhaps there was some OT grist for that mill though.

What about Jephthah? In Judges 11:30-31 he makes a foolish vow to kill whatever walks out of his front door. His daughter walks out and in verse 39 he fulfills his vow. What is our reaction to this? Would we call Jephthah righteous or foolish for making such a vow? In Hebrews 11:32 he is listed amongst the faithful heroes. It seems that according to verse 33 it is because he conquered kingdoms rather than the fact that he made and kept foolish vows. But if we didn’t have Hebrews what would we think of him, how would we remember his time as a judge of Israel? Would the end of his time overshadow the good parts?

In the end, we have to acknowledge that the NT corrects and informs our reading of the OT. That doesn’t mean that it overrules or changes the meaning, but in the examples above it merely amplifies and confirms what our suspicions might be. These people in the OT are a lot like us. They sinned and did stupid things. We sin and do stupid things. Yet, God considered them righteous as he does us. Not because we do enough good so that it outweighs our bad, but because he has fixed his love upon us and justified us so that we are righteous in his sight, sinners though we be. Without the sensus plenior, we are tempted to judge the OT saints the way we may all too often judge the NT saints. Only by their most recent episode, be it good or bad. When it comes to our brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is the sensus plenior. They are righteous because they are in Christ. That does not mean that we ignore the bad they do. We can agree with Peter that Lot was righteous and yet not ignore the bad things he did. Offering his daughters to the mob to protect the angels, no matter how you slice it, is a bad thing. No hospitality code may compel us to send our daughters into a situation in which we know that they will be raped and abused. The better answer was “no” all the way around. “No you cannot have my guests and no I’m not going to offer anyone in their place just to sate your wicked lusts.”

So yes, I think Hughes was justified in his critique of Lot. He affirmed with Peter that Lot was righteous and yet remained critical of Lot’s actions. This is not odd. We can affirm in our own lives that our justification in Christ does not always match our actions.

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  • I am looking for someone with whom to discuss sensus plenior.

    Recently in my studies, I have been permitted to see shadows of Christ everywhere in the scriptures.

    Here is an example of what I am finding:

    God was so intimately involved in history that:
    a town was named Timnath (the appointment)
    a law was given requiring that a brother give his deceased brother and heir
    a daughter-in-law lost two husbands without an heir
    a father-in-law denied her his third son
    the daughter-in-law played the harlot to her father-in-law
    she was promised a goat
    she asked for assurance for the goat
    she was given three items as an assurance: rod, ring, bracelet
    she had twins their names mean “breaking forth” and “the sunrise”
    God was so involved in the life of the author that the author recorded this odd transaction without really knowing why it was important. But God used the history, and the author, to paint a picture of the birth of His own Son such that:

    Tamar:Mary made herself available near the appointment:the appointed time
    Tamar:Mary was promised a goat:scape goat “for he shall save his people from their sins.”
    When Tamar:Mary asked for assurance of the promise, she was given three things:
    Rod: “The power of God will overshadow you”
    Signet ring: “He shall be called the Son of God”
    Bracelets: Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife (in Numbers an empty vessel without bracelets is unclean. Mary was not unclean, and Judah was told “there was no prostitute here”
    Tamar:Mary conceived , not by her legitimate husband, but by his father Judah:God
    Tamar:Mary was going to be killed:divorced until the father was identified.
    Afterwards she was honored.
    Tamar:Mary had twins: God-man
    their names mean “breaking forth” and “the sunrise” ::dayspring
    Phares:Jesus though born to Tamar:Mary first, was really the second breach:second man
    God was so involved in the history and lives of the people and authors that the human scribes were almost typewriters incarnate, and God left his fingerprints throughout his word with such shadows as the story of Tamar. The inspiration of the scriptures goes well beyond our conception of it. Every jot and tittle had real history behind the living, observation and recording of it. Every paragraph had God’s hand on the whole of the author’s life.

    I am not sure why God is allowing me to see these shadows nor what I should be doing with them. I have stumbled across some papers referring to sensus plenior. I believe the same hermeneutic that flushes out the shadows explains the NT authors’ use of the OT.

    I am sharing more diagrams at

    Thanks for the look, I hope they bless you.

    Bob Jones

  • Bob, I would only caution you to not find too much where the Bible doesn’t. Some of your observations listed above are a bit of a stretch. For example, Mary didn’t have twins, Jesus wasn’t a god and a man, he was 100% God and 100% man in one person.

  • Hi Tim,
    I appreciate the difference. Do you see that the twins represent the dual natured God-man Jesus?

    I would never say that Jesus was anything less than 100% man and 100% God.


  • No Bob, I don’t. That employs a hermeneutic principle called “spiritualizing” which was popular in Alexandria from about 200BC to about 300 or 400AD and allows on to read just about anything into a text.

    Do you think Moses, when he wrote Genesis, told the story of Rachel’s twins knowing that the Messiah would have a dual nature? It seems to me that the priority of the meaning of the text should be 1) authorial intent and 2) later Apostolic interpretation. Anything beyond that might be interesting, but should be handled with caution and care.

    I didn’t think you would confuse Jesus’ incarnation, I just wanted to point out what that interpretation could mean.

  • Actually it does not use “spiritualizing”. It uses a hermeneutic that is more rigorous than literal-historical methods.

    1. Every word is established by two or three witnesses. So a shadow is not considered valid until the witness verses are identified. Sometimes the witness can be a thematic pattern that adds to it.
    2. God’s word is established in the heavens and does not change. So a shadow must be the same everywhere it appears. Note that people have many roles, so that a person may play many parts in the shadows depending upon the role.
    3. God thought every jot and tittle was important enough to preserve, so we do not fully understand scripture until we understand why each jot and tittle is important to God.

    Adherence to these rules would be next to impossible unless the shadows are really there.

    The literal-historical methodologies are not so rigorous.

    In fact, I do not think the human authors saw the double entendre in their own writings. I think they are evidence of God’s fingerprints on the scriptures.

    God blinded the Israelites by hiding the prophecies in the double entendre that could only be seen after the fact. If sinful men knew ahead of time that the Messiah was to be born of a woman suspected of adultery, they would have opened brothels to help usher him in.

    Check out the web site. It’s not fancy but I am posting drawings illustrating double entendre everywhere. I hope they bless you.


  • Dear father, consider this;

    Lot offered his daughters in the hope that their desire for a continued family line would be satisfied. Since they were refused by the men of Sodom they sought to satisfy that desire in the cave after it’s destruction. It was at the very least an inculpable act due to the apocalyptic conditions and the lack of knowing it’s limitations.

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