A Brief Introduction:
The central concept within Rabbinic exegesis was ‘Midrash’. The word comes from the verb to ‘seek’ or ‘search’ out through study and repeatedly reading so as to interpret the Holy Scriptures. Most midrash is homiletical in seeking to teach and to bring out meaning.
It appears that early rabbinic interpretation was not so conscious of distinctions in methodology as seen from the 3rd/4th Century on. That there were developments in methodology and terminology is obvious from the progression of the 7 rules of interpretation (middoth) given by Rabbi Hillel,
to the thirteen middoth of Rabbi Ishmael and then to the thirty two rules of Rabbi Eliezer.
We should note the same progression and development within modern hermeneutical rules from twelve to nearly forty. The exegete or midrashist has then the ability to really divide the word of truth properly and see many levels within the Scriptures.
This development whether by Rabbinic or Western Hermeneutics shows an exegesis which goes more deeply than the literal meaning – into the spirit of the Scriptures, examining the text from all sides. Outside of some 40 exegetical rules of interpretation the increase of allegorical hidden meanings and number/letter meanings has led to eisegesis by interpreters from both sides. So we must sound a note of caution especially within the writings of the ‘kabbalah’ – ancient Jewish mystical and occultic writings.
The Talmud (Part 1 known as the Mishna [Oral Law] and Part 2 as the Gemara [Commentaries on the Oral Laws]) and the Midrashim writings [Homilies and Allegories] within Judaism are interpreted through methods or ways called either Midrash Halakhah or Midrash Haggadah. The one term referring to the full range of *rules to be used and the other generally having reference to the **type of material treated.
* Halakhah means the way to walk within Jewish law. Halakhic simply means law related commentaries. Halakhot is the name for halakhic rulings.
** Haggadah Pesach is the liturgy used in the passover meal (pesach seder – order of service).
We may classify early Rabbinic interpretation under four headings:-
LITERAL – MIDRASHIC – PESHER – ALLEGORIC.
Pesher is the only word needing an explanation here – it means ‘solution’ and it developed on from Midrashic interpretation as another level of understanding.
The following then are the 7 rules of interpretation developed or attributed to Rabbi Hillel:-
1. QAL WAHOMER – What applies in a less important issue will certainly apply in a more important issue.
2. GEZERAHSHAWAH- Verbal analogy from one verse to another. Where the same words are applied. to two separate issues it follows that the same considerations apply to both.
3. BINYANAB MIKATHUB ‘EHAD – Building up a family from a single text. When the same phrase is found in a number of passages, then a consideration found in one of them applies to all of them.
4. BINYANAB MISHENE KETHUBIM – Building up a family from two texts. A principle is established by relating two texts together and then this principle can then be applied to other passages.
5. KELAL UPHERAT – The general and the particular. A general principle may be restricted by a particularisation of it in another verse or conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle.
6. KAYOZE BO BEMAQOM ‘AHER – As is found in another place. A difficulty in one text may be solved by comparing it with another which has points of general (though not necessarily verbal) similarity.
7. DABAR HALAMED ME ‘INYANO – A meaning established by its context.
These seven middoth became the distinctive exegetical features of Pharisaic Judaism but they were added to as already mentioned in the first and then second centuries.
Some of these seven founding principles of interpretation are a matter of common sense and sound judgement. While others can and did with additional rules based on the seven lead to abuse and fanciful commentary within many midrashim documents. The last four middoth in the 32 attributed to Rabbi Eliezer show us this:-
1. (29) Gematria – Computation of the numeric value of letters and secret alphabets or substitution of letters for other letters.
2. (30) Notrikon – Breaking up a word into two or more, exposition of the single letters to stand for just as many words which commence with them.
3. (31) Mukdam shehu’ me’uhar ba-`inyan – Something that preceded which is placed second.
4. (32) Mukdam u-me `uhar shehu’ beparashioth – Many a biblical section refers to a later period than the one which precedes, and vice versa.
Midrash is normally composed out of already existing material and then accepted as authoritative because it stems from the Holy Scriptures or tradition and it is this last point that can be the problem.
Midrash starts from the text or a phrase or even a single word but it is not simply explained – its meaning is extended and its implications drawn out by every possible association, or on the ideas of the midrashist which can become eisegesis instead of proper exegetical interpretation.
We should always remember that the Scriptures are not just Christological in their make up but also eschatological in design and midrashic interpretation can be very useful in showing patterns etc.
Used correctly though midrash can really bring the message or spiritual application to the reader or hearer, and is very valid in this day when so much topical preaching is heard, instead of good expository preaching taken out of the Word of God and made alive through deep study, preparation and of course the anointing of the Lord.
There are five general levels of development of the Holy Scriptures using Midrashic rules of exegesis. Two others are not used; level six where the midrashist puts his own thoughts or interpretation into a text and level seven being the kabbalist (Jewish mystics) interpretations. This is not meant to be a comprehensive work but rather a simple aid to those wishing to be able to study using midrashic exegetical rules to understand the scriptures from a Hebraic cyclical thought pattern. It is not my intention to go too deeply into classical Midrash and the Midrashim writings
that are available within Jewish book shops. However Midrash is neither hard to understand nor to use in application, once several examples are shown. After prayer the Lord will lead you into many wonderful insights within His glorious Book of Life. The patterns are everywhere as ‘the old is revealed in the new and the new is hidden within the old’.
The following then are the 5 main rules of interpreting the Holy Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective:
The word p’shat means ‘simple rendering’. What is being said and to whom. In other words this encompasses the first four rules of exegesis known within western hermeneutics. The literal, grammatical, contextual and historical meaning of the text or verse being studied.
Literal meaning – what is the verse actually teaching within the form of words in their usual or primary sense of meaning. In other words applying the ordinary rules of grammar without mysticism or allegory or metaphor.
Grammatical meaning – interpretation of a word or words into their grammatical form. It is the science of dealing with inflexions and syntax, the elements and rudiments of comparison and relation between two or more words. Thereby conforming to the rules of grammar or to the formal principles of grammatical distinctions between words written or spoken.
Contextual meaning – what do the verses or passage show as a whole within context to the rest of Scripture? Many scholars see this as the first exegetical rule so that a teaching is not taken out of context. A verse taken out of context becomes a pretext!
Historical meaning – to whom was the passage or verse written to? What then is its historical setting, meaning and teaching? Historical is not legend nor myth but what actually happened. So it is the exegetical rule of dealing with what actually happened and what can be learnt from this event in history.
Drash means to ‘search out’. Here we ‘compare and contrast’ verses with one another. This can be seen in Bibles where there is a central column reference section showing verses cross-referencing with one another. In other words we can see that our Hebraic heritage has not been lost within Christian Hermeneutics. We should note that within Jewish Hermeneutics two schools of thought developed. (Please see the teaching article on ‘Two Rabbis’) One favoured the ‘Literal’ interpretation and the other favoured ‘Allegorical’ insights. Midrashic thought uses allegory quite heavily without going overboard to ‘illuminate and illustrate’ scripture. There is a fair amount of allegory within the Holy Bible and so God must see it as a way of demonstrating truths as He gave us His word in the first place.
Remez means ‘to hint’. In other words something else is being seen and so typology, symbolism, analogy is being hinted at. For many a year typology was frowned upon by reformation hermeneutics. However, beautiful pictures of Scriptural truth can be illustrated or illuminated. Our Lord Jesus used picture teaching to the minds of His listeners in all His parables. When ‘remez’ is used we are looking at another strata or level of understanding and not just seeing the plain p’shat simple meaning or rendering of the verse or passage. The use of ‘remez’ begins to bring a new level of understanding to the mind of someone seeking and searching out the depths of God’s Word.
Sod means ‘secret’ or the ‘numerical’ meaning within the text. The Holy Bible speaks of secrets and mysteries as well as the covenants and dispensations of God. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that the secret things belong to God and Paul tells us of a mystery in that we shall not all sleep but be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here then within the ‘sod’ of midrash we can place the Septennary design of the Holy Scriptures and the Bible Code which was given so much publicity within the last several years. We can also see that Jewish names have a meaning illustrating a truth within a teaching as the meaning of the name itself lends to the truth of the story or exposition of the Scriptures.
Here is classic allegory, where one thing stands for another. Allegory can also be seen as extended metaphors. A metaphor is the application of a name or a descriptive term of an object to which it is not literally applicable. (i.e. the Lord Jesus did not teach cannibalism in eating the bread at communion, which figuratively shows His body. A simple mistake perhaps within interpretation that has become a profound error to this day within the Catholic Church. Our Lord instructed that believers should all partake of the cup of remembrance and yet only the priest is allowed to drink the wine. Once we go beyond what is written error will be seen. The Doctrine of Transubstantiation is just one of Catholicism’s heretical teachings that comes against the plain simple meaning of Holy Writ and the sufficiency of the work of the Cross through our Saviour’s shed blood).
Midrashic thought relies heavily on using allegory to again illuminate and illustrate a teaching. Picture forming is again placed into the mind of the reader or hearer so that the message is more clearly understood. We have really gone full circle now within Hebraic thought pattern. At the beginning I sounded a warning in using allegory too much, however, it is our God who has given us allegorical understanding in His Word. Lest the reader be sceptical, here is a list of some of the main allegorical passages within the Holy Scriptures:-
The Shepherd Psalm – Psalm 23.
The Grape Vine – Psalm 80:1-14.
God’s Vineyard – Isaiah 5:1-7.
The Great Eagle – Ezekiel 17:1-10.
The Lioness – Ezekiel 19:1-9.
The Bread of Life – John 6:26-51.
The Vine – John 15:1-7.
The Sheepfold and Shepherd – John 10.
The Christian Foundation – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
The Whole Armour of God – Ephesians 6:10-17 and finally
Hagar and Sarah – Galatians 4:21-31.
Date : 30/11/-0001