Hebraic Methods of Biblical Interpretation

How to properly interpret the Bible is a lost art these days. People go by how they feel or “by the spirit” and these methods have led many into false teachings and conclusions. You can’t interpret the Scriptures by what you think the Lord has said to you, or a feeling of some sort. So, let’s look at some basic rules and concepts that will help you in your studies. We are going to look at the four levels of interpretation called “Pardes” and also the seven rules of Hillel. Along with that we will look at many concepts associated with these techniques that will broaden your prospective. First, let’s look at what is called the Mystery of the Messiah. 

Certain clues will be given and you try to think of the answer. Your thoughts are like trees in a garden. On each tree there are leaves and the leaves are words that are blown by the wind that can utter a myriad of meanings. We are thinking about someone in history that left an indelible mark on mankind. Without a biological miracle in the womb of his mother, no birth would have been possible. As an infant he was called the “son of God.” He was taken to Egypt to preserve life. He returned to the land of Israel and was hated by those around him, he was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. He was hated so much that he was executed by the Romans. On the third day he will come back to life. He will never die again.

Now, if you were thinking of  Yeshua you were right, but this also applies to Israel. This is a small example of how you must broaden your view on how to look at the Scriptures. Yeshua brought Israel’s meaning to its fullest depth. So, let’s begin to look at the four levels of interpretation called “Pardes”, which is an acronym for “Peshat, Remez, Drash and Sowd.” 
Pardes means “paradise or garden” and it brings to mind the Garden of Eden because it was there that the Lord talked freely with man and he knew what the Lord wanted. It was a place of perfect fellowship and God-given revelation. So we will look at each level and give some understanding to it.

Peshat means “simple” and it means the plain meaning of the text. It brings out the meaning of Scripture in its natural, plain sense using the meanings of words, the history and culture of the setting. No verse can get away from its plain meaning. It is the common and simple level, easily understood by the most uneducated.

The next level is called “Remez” and it means a “hint” and it is where another meaning is alluded to in the verse. For instance, the Bible says that the Lord hates a false balance. The peshat level tells you that the Lord does not approve of a merchant who cheats on his scales, but the remez alludes to a person’s life where he is favoring one over another or using false judgment. It also has an allegorical aspect to it and a little more noble and aristocratic. 

For instance, Yeshua is the son of Joseph in the peshat, but remez alludes to the fact he is the suffering servant, also called the son of Joseph in Jewish eschatology and the concept of the Two Messiahs, which we have taught on in a previous post.

The next level is “Drash” and it means to explore or ask. It means a teaching or explanation of the peshat or remez. It cannot be used to take away the peshat meaning of the portion studied or contradict it. It also uses other scriptures to interpret other scriptures and to give you definitions of something allegorical.

For instance, the seven headed beast rising out of the sea in Revelation 13 is interpreted as Leviathan from other verses like Isa 27.1 and Psa 74. It is “parabolic” and more “regal” than the other levels.

The last level is “Sowd” and it means “mystery or hidden.” It is the mystical level and is used a lot in the book of Revelation. It carries the idea of a “secret” and it is the deepest level of all four. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written according to these four levels. In Ezekiel 1.10 we have the four living creatures described as having the face of a man, lion, ox and eagle. These will illustrate aspects of the Messiah seen in the four gospels.

The book of Mark is written in the “peshat” level because he was a common guy, a laborer and a servant. He writes to common people, on his level, and presents Yeshua as the “ox” or Servant of the Lord. His style is “to the point” and appeals to the understanding of the common people.

The book of Luke is written in the “remez” which is the more aristocratic, professional level. Luke, being a physician, writes in this manner because that was his training and he writes to people on his level. He presents Yeshua as the “Son of Man” and is symbolized by the face of a man.  

The book of Matthew is written in the “drash” level. Matthew was also called Levi and this denotes a more majestic, regal aspect. He was a tax collector and gives the long form of the life of Yeshua (28 chapters). This book has more parables than any other and is more midrashic than any other book and presents Yeshua as the King and the “lion” in Ezekiel. 

The book of John is written in the “sowd” level and is more mystical than the other books. He was the writer of the apocalyptic book of Revelation and presents the story in a heavenly, deeper way. There are mysteries, secrets and hidden meanings in John that you do not find in any other gospel. Many give a new believer a copy of the book of John because of the way it is written, and the beauty of the stories are not found elsewhere. However, this would be the last book that should be given to a new believer because of the depth of it all. John presents Yeshua as the Son of God and heavenly, as seen by the “eagle” in Ezekiel. 

So, Mark is presented in the peshat, Luke in the remez, Matthew in the drash and John in the sowd. Now, let’s look into the seven rules of Hillel for biblical interpretation. Hillel lived at the time of Yeshua and his school was known for trying to understand the spirit of the Law. By contrast, the School of Shammai was more strict and these two school were in conflict during the first century. Yeshua’s teaching agreed with Hillel more often than Shammai. These rules were not developed by Hillel, and can be found in the Old Testament, but he was the first to write them down. These will be presented in short form and so they can be basically understood. If you need more information, these can be researched more deeply from other sources.

The first rule is called  “light to heavy” (Kal v’khomer) meaning that if an argument can be made from something of lesser weight, how much more can it be argued from something of greater weight.  Jer 12.5 gives an example of this where it says that if running with the infantry has worn you out, how can you keep up with the cavalry. The phrase “how much more” is often found with one making this argument. Yeshua used this rule in Matt 6.26; 7.11; 10.25 and 12.12. Paul uses it in Rom 5.8-9; 1 Cor 9.11-12; 2 Cor 3.7-9 and Phil 2.12.

The second rule is called “equivalence of expressions” (G’zerah Shavah) which means an analogy is made between two scriptures on the basis of a similar word, root or phrase. Examples can be found in Judges 13.5 and 1 Sam 1.10. Another example is when the commandments are mentioned in the Torah, we know that commandments in the New Testament can mean the same group of mitzvoth.

The third rule is called “building of the father from one verse” (Binyan av mikathuv echad) meaning one passage serves as foundation to constitute a rule (father) for all similar verses. Heb 9.11-22 applies “blood” from Exo 24.8 to Heb 9.20 to Jer 31.31-34. 

The fourth rule is called “the building of the father from two or more verses” ( Binyav av mishene ketuvim) meaning that there are two verses that serve as a foundation for a conclusion. In Heb 1.5-14 Paul uses Psa 2.7; 2 Sam 7.14; Deut 32.43; Psa 97.7; Neh 9.6; Psa 103.4; 45.6-7; 102.25-27 and 110.1 to build the rule that Yeshua was of a higher order than the angels.

The fifth rule is called. “the general and the particular” (Kelal uferat) which means that a general statement is made and another is made with more detail. For example, Genesis 1.27 tells us that God created man and Gen 2.7,21 gives more detail on how he did it.

The sixth rule is called “an analogy is made from another passage” (Kayotze bo mimekom akhar) meaning that if two passages conflict, a third can be brought in to clarify the matter. For example, Lev 1.1 says that the Lord spoke to Moses from the tent of meeting, but in Exo 25.22 he says he will speak to him from between the wings of the Cherubim. This “contradiction” is solved when you bring in Num 7.89 which says that the Lord spoke to Moses from between the wings of the Cherubim that was located in the tent of meeting.

The seventh rule is called “an explanation is obtained from the whole context” (davar himad me’anino) meaning that the total context where the passage is located must be examined in order to get an accurate interpretation.

In conclusion, this is not a detailed examination on how to study the scriptures but hopefully the above will give you a better idea on how to interpret scripture and to rightly divide the word of truth using these tools.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanak, Tying into the New Testament

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