Home > Hermeneutics > It is ever to be borne in mind that there is a fullness, as well as a depth, in the words of God which pertains not to those of men, so that rarely will a single and brief definition adequately explain a scriptural term

It is ever to be borne in mind that there is a fullness, as well as a depth, in the words of God which pertains not to those of men, so that rarely will a single and brief definition adequately explain a scriptural term

22. Double reference and meaning. It is ever to be borne in mind that there is a fullness, as well as a depth, in the words of God which pertains not to those of men, so that rarely will a single and brief definition adequately explain a scriptural term. For that reason we must constantly be on our guard against limiting the scope of any Divinely inspired statement, and saying that it means only so and so. Thus, when we are told that God made man in His own image and likeness, those words probably have at least a fourfold allusion.

First, to the incarnation of the Son, for He is distinctly designated the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Second, to man’s being a tripartite creature, for “God said, Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26)—a trinity in unity, consisting of “spirit and soul and body” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Third, in His moral likeness, which man lost at the fall, but which is restored at regeneration (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).

Fourth, to the position assigned man and the authority with which he was invested: “let them have dominion over” (Genesis 1:26). Adam was a “god” or ruler, under the Lord, of all mundane creatures.

In view of what has been pointed out, it is evident that the favorite dictum of Dispensationalist —“application is manifold, interpretation but one”—is erroneous, for the above are not four interpretations of the “image of God” from which we may choose, but the actual fourfold meaning of the term itself. To say that “interpretation is but one” is also flatly contradicted by our Lord’s explanation of the parable of the sower, for when He defined its terms He gave three or four different significations to the “thorns”— compare Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:18, 19; Luke 8:14. We are in hearty accord with paragraph nine in the opening chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when it says, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly,” except that we dissent from the limitation mentioned in the parentheses. We much prefer to side with Joseph Caryl (one of the framers of the Westminster Confession), who, when commenting on a verse the words of which were susceptible of various meanings, and which had been diversely explained by expositors, said, “In a Scripture which may, without the impeachment of any truth, admit divers sense, I would not be so positive in one as to reject all others.”

Even if it were true that the grammatical meaning of a verse be only one, nevertheless it may have a double reference, as is certainly the case with some of the prophecies in Holy writ, which possess a major and a minor fulfillment. In his introduction to the book of Revelation in Ellicottcommentary, when writing upon prophecy, its annotator said, “The words of God mean more than one man or one school of thought can compass. There are depths of Truth unexplored which lie beneath the simplest sentences. Just as we are wont to say that history repeats itself, so the predictions of the Bible are not exhausted in one or even many fulfillments. Each prophecy is a single key which unlocks many doors, and the grand and stately drama of the Apocalypse has been played out perchance in one age to be repeated in the next.” We greatly fear that it is nothing but narrow-minded partisanship which has caused so many to disdain such a concept, and made them reject all other interpretations which accord not with their own particular system. David said, “Thy commandment is exceeding broad” (Psalm 119:96): let us see to it that we do not contract or limit the same.

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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