13. What does the term “sensus plenior” mean?
“Sensus plenior” is a Latin term which means, literally, “fuller sense,” or
“deeper meaning”. The term “sensus plenior” is used to refer to those passages
which, at their most obvious level speak of one person or event, but which also
have a deeper meaning hinted at through that specific event in question. In
other words, “sensus plenior” is the term which acknowledges that some
historical persons and events in the Old Testament are really “types,” and that
the passages treating of those persons and events speak not just of themselves
alone, but also of the “antitypes” (i.e., the fulfillments of the types) which
A good example of a case in which the principle of “sensus plenior” must be applied is Moses' striking the rock in the wilderness, so that water flowed out to nourish the people. This passage relates a very real historical event, and its most basic level of meaning refers simply to a physical rock that flowed with physical water; but this event was also a type of how Christ, the Rock of our Salvation, was struck with the rod of divine justice, and henceforth there flowed from his wounded body the forgiveness and spiritual life that we need. In other words, there is a “sensus plenior,” or deeper meaning to this event than just the real, historical occurrence. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul gives express instruction for us to see a “sensus plenior” in this passage; and a little later, he says that all the things recorded in the Old Testament were written as “types” for our instruction (1 Cor. 10:11), thus giving us warrant to see a “sensus
plenior” in all the scriptures.
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