William Whitaker is a key figure preceding the Westminster Assembly. Much of his language appears in the Westminster Confession of Faith and, consequently, the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1677). He is a contextual voice regarding confessional hermeneutics making him a trustworthy source in discerning what the Protestant Reformed hermeneutic looked like in the late 16th and 17th centuries.

The below transcript has been taken from A Disputation on Holy Scripture, Titus Books. Kindle Edition. Loc. 5906-5946. The wording as it appears in that volume has been preserved below.

The Jesuit divides all these senses into two species; the historic or literal, and the mystic or spiritual. He defines the historic or literal, as that which the words present immediately; and the mystic or spiritual, that which is referred to something besides what the words express; and this he says is either tropological, or anagogic, or allegorical. Thomas Aquinas, in the first part of his Sum. Quaest. i. Art 10, says out of Gregory, Moral. Lib. xx. c. 1, that it is the peculiar property of scripture, and of no other authors, that not only the words, but the things also, have a signification; and this he says is denoted by that book mentioned Ezek. ii. 10, and Revel, v. 1, which was “written within and without.” The words of Gregory cited by Thomas are these: “The sacred scripture transcends other sciences in the very manner of its expression, since in one and the same discourse it discloses a mystery while it narrates an event.” Nazianzen compares the literal sense to the body, the mystical and spiritual to the soul. The Jesuit uses a different simile: “As,” says he, “the begotten Word of God hath two natures, the one human and visible, the other divine and invisible; so the written word of God hath a two-fold sense: the one outward, that is, historic or literal; the other, inward, that is, mystic or spiritual.” Then he determines that this spiritual sense Is threefold, allegorical, anagogic, and tropological, as we have said before that others had determined also. These things we do not wholly reject: we concede such things as allegory, anagoge, and tropology in scripture; but meanwhile we deny that there are many and various senses. We affirm that there is but one true, proper and genuine sense of scripture, arising from the words rightly understood, which we call the literal: and we contend that allegories, tropologies, and anagoges are not various senses, but various collections from one sense, or various applications and accommodations of that one meaning.


Now the Jesuit’s assertion, that the literal sense is that which the words immediately present, is not true. For then what, I beseech you, will be the literal sense of these words, Ps. xci. 13,“Thou shalt go upon the adder and the basilisk; the lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under foot?” For if that be the literal sense of these words, which the words immediately present, let them shew us the lion on which Christ trampled, the adder or basilisk on which he walked. Either, therefore, the literal sense is not that which the words immediately present, as the Jesuit maintains; or these words have no literal sense, which he dares not affirm. For they say that all the senses mentioned above are to be found in every passage of scripture. Besides, what will they make the literal sense of Isaiah xi. 6, 7, 8, and lxv. last verse? where the prophet says that “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the sheep shall dwell together, and the calf and the bear pasture together,” &c. Certainly no one can shew where and when this prophecy was fulfilled according to the letter, if we determine the literal sense to be that which the words immediately suggest Finally, if this Jesuitical definition of the literal sense be true, what literal sense, I pray you, will remain in those words of Christ, Matt. v. 29, 30, “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off?” Origen, indeed,’ though elsewhere too much given to allegories and mystical senses,, interpreted these words according to the letter, but absurdly. The literal sense, then, is not that which the word immediately suggest,’ as the Jesuit defines it; but rather that which arises from the words themselves, whether they be taken strictly or figuratively. If the discourse be figurative, it is not to be explained according to that meaning which the sound of the words would at first and immediately suggest This is what Alphonsus de Castro seems to affirm, Contra Hoeres. Lib. I. c. 3, where he defines the literal sense better than the Jesuit, making it that which either the words, or the things expressed by the words, denote. For example, the literal sense of these words, “The seed of the woman shall crush the serpent’s head,” is this, that Christ shall beat down Satan, and break and crush all his force and power; although the devil neither is a serpent, nor hath a head.


As to those three spiritual senses, it is surely foolish to say that there are as many senses of scripture as the words themselves may be transferred and accommodated to bear. For although the words may be applied and accommodated tropologically, allegorically, anagogically, or any other way; yet there are not therefore various senses, various interpretations and explications of scripture, but there is but one sense, and that the literal which may be variously accommodated, and from which various things may be ‘collected. The apostle, indeed, Galat. iv. 24, interprets the history of Abraham’s two wives allegorically, or rather typically, of the two Testaments. But there he does not make a two-fold sense of that history, but only says that it may be allegorically interpreted to his purpose, and the illustration of the subject which he hath in hand. Indeed, there is a certain catachresis in the word ἀλληγορούμενα, for that history is not accommodated by Paul in that place allegorically, but typically; and a type is a different thing from an allegory. The sense, therefore, of that scripture is one only, namely, the literal or grammatical. However, the whole entire sense is not in the words taken strictly, but part in the type, part in the transaction itself. In either of these considered separately and by itself part only of the meaning is contained; and by both taken together the full and perfect meaning is completed.