The Book of Matthew-Introduction

When studying any book of the Bible, there are certain things to keep in mind, and we will briefly go over these things in this introduction of the book of Matthew. One of the main errors people make is that they do not go beyond what is called the literal level of interpretation. However, in this study we will be using the rules of Pardes interpretation. Pardes, meaning “paradise”, is an acronym consisting of four letters (PRDS) that make up the four levels of interpretation found in the Scriptures. They are: Peshat (meaning the simple, grammatical level) and it means the plain meaning of a verse. The next one is Remez (hint or allegorical level) where there is a “hint” to another meaning. The third level is Drash (teaching, or parabolic level) and that is when the Peshat can be applied in an allegorical sense. The last level is Sowd (mystery) where a hidden, secret or mystical meaning can be done with a verse. The four Gospels were written according to these four levels. Mark was written in the peshat, Luke in the remez, John in the sowd and Matthew in the drash, or parabolic level. That is why there are more parables in Matthew than in any other book. The book of Matthew will have many examples of these levels and they will be pointed out at times. Now, we will look at the book through its proper context which is made up of several areas, some of which are ignored in most Bible Studies. Obviously we will look at the literary context, but there is a religious and cultural context that will influence our meanings. We need to understand that the statements of Yeshua and others must be understood in the religious context of first century Judaism and how they looked at things while the Temple stood. It will take into consideration the first century Jewish understanding of the Gentile world, Hebrew idioms, phrases and concepts that where well understood at the time. We also will take into consideration the historical and political relationships at the time and how things were understood in the Roman world. What we need to do is renew our minds because most people look at the Scriptures from a western, Gentile point of view, thousands of years removed from when these books were written. Usually a person interprets the Scriptures using an approach that is formed by their particular church back-round, their culture and education and what family they are from. No matter how hard they try to be objective, they still understand the Scriptures from these perspectives. Complex Hebraic thought and concepts have been lost when it was translated into Greek, then into a modern language of today. We need to put a verse into the context of the Hebrew authors. This may sound simple to some, but this is a huge obstacle to overcome when trying to understand a Hebrew book living in 21st century America or any other country. The first step in identifying and overcoming these things in order come to a proper understanding of Matthew or any Gospel or Epistle is to put it back into its proper Hebrew context. In order to do that, we must do the following things. First, we must remember that these were Hebrew writers of the first century with a first century understanding of Hebraic concepts like salvation, law, grace, eschatology and other concepts. They were never meant to be interpreted with a 21st century mindset that has been influenced by Gentile or even anti-Semitic theology. Secondly, they were written with the idea that the readers would have a solid grounding in the Torah. There are some books that assume that the reader will have a deep understanding of the Torah, like the book of Hebrews and Revelation. These books were written at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Israel and any Gentile coming into the faith was coming out of a very anti-Semitic culture and had little regard for things Jewish. These attitudes carried over once they became believers. Also, these book were written when there was a very high expectation of the Messiah and along with that came a variety of opinions that pervaded their eschatology. Some talk of the Judaism of the first century, but in reality, there were “Judaisms” with even the Pharisees having many groups within themselves that disagreed with each other. For example, when Yeshua discussed halakah with the “Pharisees” you can tell what “school” they were from by what was being said.
There are also misconceptions that need to be brought out here that you will find in many bible studies. One misconception is that you don’t need anything other than the Bible to understand the Bible (called “sola scriptura). Now, it is true that the Scriptures are a good source for interpreting the Scriptures, but it cannot give you a complete understanding of what is written without going to outside sources. If you use the “sola scriptura” approach it can get you into a lot of error in understanding the Hebrew books you are studying. Everyone, therefore, would be free to interpret the verses in any manner they choose, leading to all sorts of interpretations, which in fact we see today. You would have no idea where the author was coming from. Typically, when people let the Scriptures speak for themselves, they usually give meanings to verses based on whatever denomination they are in. In other words, Baptists see the Scriptures like Baptists, Catholics as Catholics, Lutherans as Lutherans and so on. Another misconception is letting the “Holy Spirit guide you to understanding.” Although he does help, that is no excuse for misinterpreting verses because of your own prejudices. You must put the verses into its Hebrew context. The Holy Spirit will not contradict the context he has already lead the authors to write in. There are many examples of people arriving at different or even contradictory interpretations because they say the “Holy spirit showed me.” This will not be the approach we will use in studying this, or any book, on this site. We have gained insight on the Scriptures from many sources, including the Mishnah, Rabbinic commentaries, historical accounts like Josephus, various Jewish and non-Jewish writers and experts on the first century. Many things that Yeshua taught were already there in Jewish thought of the first century and many of his teachings were not entirely new and can be found in these sources. These sources, and others, have a variety of opinions but with proper use we have been able to gain valuable insight into understanding the Gospels and Epistles and this will help us arrive at a proper Hebraic and first century understanding of the book of Matthew.
Another misconception people have is that the “New Testament” was written in Greek. It is true that the New Testament texts and manuscripts we have are in Greek, that doesn’t mean that they were originally in Greek. The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures for those in the non-Jewish world written a few hundred years before Yeshua, and it is the same thing with the New Testament Scriptures. At some time, the Hebrew texts were translated into Greek for a non-Jewish world, but these texts remain Jewish and must be understood with a Hebraic mindset. That’s why studying a verse to see what it “means to us” is fruitless and gets us nowhere. Many scholars have concluded that the New Testament was written originally in Hebrew and many Hebrew idioms and concepts can still be seen even after being translated from Greek to English. In our study of Matthew, all these things have been taken into consideration so that you will get a true, Hebraic sense of what is being presented. There is no way that this study, or any study, has the complete understanding needed, but you will have a good “feel” for what is being presented by Matthew in its Hebraic context and the goal is that you will understand this book in the way it would have been understood in the first century.
Sources used in this study are:
The NASB and KJV and Concordance
Babylonian Talmud
Danby Mishnah
Yashanet Matthew Study
John Gill Commentary
Hertz Siddur
Hertz Pentateuch and Haftorahs
The Interlinear Bible
History of the Jewish People-Second Temple Era (Artscroll)
Josephus
Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus
Idioms in the Bible Explained and a Key to the Original Gospels
The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text
Rosh ha Shanah and the Messianic Kingdom to Come
The Jewish Encyclopedia

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Understanding the New Testament, Verse-by-Verse Bible Studies

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