The medieval church utilized a four-fold system of Biblical interpretation which they labeled the quadriga. It attempted to interpret the Scripture in four senses:
- Literal- This is the meaning of the passage in the context of the book that contains it.
- Allegorical- This would be the significance of the passage as a type or allegory for the gospel or some aspect of the Christian life.
- Tropological- This is the moral sense of the passage, describing how it might apply to the believer today.
- Anagogical- This is the sense pertaining to the last day and the glories of the new heavens and the new earth.
Though most people would completely and utterly reject such a taxonomy of Biblical interpretation, I do wonder if there is a way to revive this scheme for people.
- Literal – This is the meaning of the passage in the context of the book that contains it.
- Canonical Meaning – This explains the passage in its salvation historical context, how it fits into the gospel story, and whether/how it is fulfilled in the New Testament. This also compares the book to other perspectives in the canon. If the collectors of the canon included Chronicles and Samuel, they certainly knew about the utterly different perspectives on David. Thus, it would seem, that this level of significance might compare the historical utility or the rhetorical place of each perspective in the life of ancient Israel and even for the Christian today.
- Tropological – This explains how the passage is morally relevant to the person today. Perhaps it is a negative example, such as Abraham’s cowardice. It could also be a positive example, such as Paul’s custom of working with his hands. I suppose here too, the use of imagination is important. Believers can see themselves in their struggles as somebody whose faith is akin to those listed in Hebrews 11. Thus, such figures, in their flaws and quests that seem irrelevant to us, become types for our own struggles to conform ourselves to Christ. Another example might be preaching Jeremiah’s message of repentance and then immediately showing how his message was taken up by John the Baptist and Jesus.
- Eschatological – This is a further exploration of the text’s significance in salvation history, but with a view toward the eschaton. So, you see in stories about God’s judgment (even ones that make no sense considering the New Testament picture of God) a picture of a final righting of wrongs on the last day.
Am I crazy for admiring the quadriga? I’m not crazy for that particular reason. I do find that the quadriga provides a way for people to see multiple layers of significance to Biblical passages without doing violence to the immediate intent of the authors, editors, and framers of the canon.