This morning I was reading in Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. I read Kaiser’s chapter on the single referent view. It seemed that part of his problem with the sensus plenior approach was that it was formulated by Catholic scholars and that it only would only work within a Catholic context. He states:
Since (Raymond) Brown takes it (meaning) out of the hands of the human authors who stood in the counsel of God, the question is: In whose hands now does the final court of appeal rest for discovering the authoritative meaning of a biblical text? Roman Catholic scholars, of course, can fall back on the magisterium of the church, to the ecclesial tradition. But to what can Protestants appeal that matches such additional grounds of appeal?
I wondered if maybe I was reading a bit much into this to take offense, but it’s almost as if he’s saying that something like the sensus plenior approach couldn’t possibly be correct because it emerged in a Catholic context and could only work in a Catholic context. But, I was glad to see I was not alone because Peter Enns calls him out for this in his response to Kaiser’s essay. He states:
Kaiser’s discussion of sensus plenior is likewise problematic. By citing Roman Catholic scholar Raymond Brown, Kaiser seems to be using guilt by association to undermine sensus plenior. Brown is able to take meaning “out of the hands of human authors who stood in the counsel of God” because Brown’s Catholicism has an ecclesiastical tradition that allows him to treat scripture so shabbily. I am no Catholic, but I was a bit offended by such a caricature, since Protestant scholarship owes so much to the careful nuanced work of Roman Catholic scholars. Moreover, it is somewhat beside the point to portray Roman Catholics as manipulating the meaning of scripture so casually. The real hermeneutical issues before, generated as they are by the NT evidence itself, will not be settled by such rhetoric.
Kudos to Peter Enns (who actually has an excerpt from Divino Afflante Spiritu on his blog). I’m quite certain I could not have said that better myself. I have appreciated the work of Enns for quite some time on account of this kind of clarity of thought. I’m not saying that I personally agree with the sensus plenior approach, but it really doesn’t matter one way or another where it came from or in what context it might work. What matters is how the NT authors themselves actually treated the Old Testament. In fact, I think this is the gist of Enns’ critique of Kaiser, namely he doesn’t really deal with the raw data of the New Testament.