And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine.
Genesis 14:18 (ESV)
The Second London Confession of 1689 says in section 1.9, “It is an infallible rule that Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, that is to say, one part by another. Hence any dispute as to the true, full and evident meaning of a particular passage must be determined in light of clearer, comparable passages.” The Reformers were committed to destroy the prominent view of Scriptural interpretation prevalent in their day. This view of biblical interpretation began early in Church history and carried through all the way to Luther (though some even hold to this today!). This method is known by the Latin, “Quadriga”, or “the four-fold” sense. What this means is that the Medieval view was that each text of Scripture had four senses to it: 1) a literal sense, 2) an allegorical sense, 3) a tropological (pulling out the moral teachings) sense and lastly, 4) an anagogical (a mystical interpretation that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife) sense.
Those that held to this view could look at the verse above and say:
- 1) The literal sense – Melchizedek brought bread and wine and refreshed the soldiers of Abraham after battle and travel.
- 2) The allegorical sense – Melchizedek offers up Christ in the Mass.
- 3) The tropological sense – Melchizedek is giving bread to the poor. He is doing a morally good deed, so we should in like manner give to the poor.
- 4) The anagogical sense – As Christ is in heaven, he shall be the bread of life to the faithful.
The Puritan William Perkins said that such a method of interpretation “must be exploded and rejected because there is only one sense, and the same is the literal.” A text might demand an allegorical interpretation of course, if it is in its literary style an allegory. But we are not to go hunting for interpretations that the literal reading of the text does not warrant. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted. This literal sense has also been called the literal, grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible. It simply reads the Bible like one would read any other piece of literature, taking into account figures of speech, genres of literature, etc.
I should also make a distinction when it comes to the Bible. The Bible can be read like any other book, but it is NOT like any other book. The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired, inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient Word, and at the end of the day, only those in whom the Spirit of God dwells will really understand its message (1 Corinthians 2). Only those indwelt by the Spirit will love it as the Word of God and desire to live their lives by its teachings. The Spirit-inspired Word must be Spirit-illumined in our hearts. Let us never take the ministry of God’s Spirit for granted. When we come to the Bible every day, our heart’s cry should be for divine assistance to understand its message and apply its message by God’s grace and power. This He gives to His people. Let us in humility and trust come to His Word in the right manner of heart, reading it in the sense that it should be understood, but acknowledging every moment that it is NOT like every other book and that we need God’s help. Let us pour our lives and hearts into the Bible. I pray that we will read it to understand it and let its truth conform us into the image of Christ.
Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!)