Sensus Plenior as Implication in Views of E. D. Hirsh and K. J. Vanhoozer’s Hermeneutics

In biblical studies and homiletics, the argument of sensus plenior is to see whether the NT writers wrote texts with a fuller meaning than the OT writers, or whether the NT writers merely applied the OT writers’ intentions in a new context. E. D. Hirsh argued that the meaning of a text is inseparable from the intention of the author. Hirsch’s distinction between meaning and significance can provide a theoretical foundation of human interpreter’s knowability for the validity of interpretation. Hirschian sensus plenior is a kind of “implication,” which is “a specific significance or an extended meaning” implied from the meaning in the original context within the original writer’s willed type, which is the intentional verbal meaning. The willed type of the original writer is not fully recognized in the immediate context, because there are both conscious and subconscious meanings. The intentional verbal meaning can be recognized later in the fuller sense, when the subconscious meaning has been extended into de facto knowledge. For Hirsch, verbal meaning is both willed type and shared type, in that the original willed type guarantees “determinacy” of meaning, while shared type embraces the “shareability” of meaning in a communicative act.
In bridging the gap between what it meant and what it means, Hirsch provides the notion of “transhistorical intention.” Vanhoozer thinks that Hirsch’s transhistorical intention allows that a certain application may belong to the meaning rather than significance. The term “application” is ambiguously used in either “implication” or “significance” in this regard. For sure, implication must be part of an author’s intention, while significance is a reader’s response to the authorial meaning, while significance includes both implication as a shared type in the author’s willed type and application as an occurrence in the reader’s willed type.
In this paper, transhistorical intention is argued as a revised explanation of implication, a shared type within the author’s willed type that includes both conscious and subconscious meaning in a communicative act. For Christian interpreters, transhistorical intention is a legitimate implication of the meaning of biblical texts, which the original author can tolerate as part of willed type. In other words, transhistorical intention is also the shared type, which must be included in both extended meaning and multifaceted significance except for application. Nevertheless, the willed type can be recognized in its fuller sense when the subconscious meaning has been clarified by the shared type in a later communicative act. Specifically, in biblical intertextuality, the authorial intention of a human biblical writer in his original context neither contravened God’s intention for the text nor exhaustively revealed God’s full intention for the canonical context. The problem of sensus plenior is the matter of God’s progressive revelation, that is Christ as God’s transhistorical intention.

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