Methods of Textual Analysis
Some make the curious argument that the difficulty of offering any rational reason or explanation for the minute details of an analyzed text “proves” that the text must be a metaphor about something else and thus requires a metaphorical explanation.
This kind of logic is somewhat akin to how some scholars “study” the Scripture. They say that since the literal reading is unsatisfying, another level of interpretation is required. And they while departing from the plain reading of the text start seeking the answers on a “deeper” level, which very often leads to misinterpretation of the text in question, because the simple meaning has been lost.
Such a method of textual analysis is more common than we think it is. Nevertheless, this is not how the textual analysis is supposed to be conducted.
In the following, we would like to posit another way to look at the Scripture study, specifically the methods the present author uses in his studying. A good departing point to describing the textual analysis is to explain the four levels of interpretation.
Four levels of interpretation
Textual analysis of a scriptural text should be done on four levels of interpretation or exegesis. These four levels are called פַּרְדֵּס PaRDeS, Hebrew for “orchard”, especially the Garden of Eden, from the first letters PRDS. This is also the Aramaic word Paradis for “paradise”. These four levels of interpretation of the Biblical text are:
- Peshat פשט “simple”: The Peshat is the literal, plain, and simple reading of a text without interpretation or embellishment. Peshat reading is limited to the explicit meaning of a word or text.
- Remez רֶמֶז “hint”: This is the implied meaning of the text through the allegoric or metaphoric interpretation and allusion. As such Remez is a figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity. Often Remez uses fictional characters and events to describe some subject by suggestive resemblances; hence Remez is an extended metaphor.
- Derash דְרָשׁ “search”: The analyzed text is searched for peculiarities that are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than conveyed by its Remez meaning. This method searches for odd or unusual characteristics and distinguishing traits in the text.
- Sod סוֹד “hidden”: Sod is the inner, esoteric meaning of the text confined to and understandable by only truly elevated in the Torah study righteous people to whom YHVH has revealed the hidden meaning of the text.
For instance, when the Creation is read on the Sod level, it reveals not only the mysteries about the Creation but also about the Creator Himself, the nature of Adam and Chavah, the Garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the tree of life.
Some examples of esoteric experience and evidence of mystical levels in the Tanak are: Ya’akov’s vision of the ladder to heaven, Mosheh’s encounter with the burning bush, the parting of Red Sea, the Creator’s revelation on Mount Sinai, Ezekiel, and Daniel’s visions in Heaven.
Sod is the deepest level of studying and interpretation of the Scripture. This deep level of interpretation is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of the text. Sod often involves seeking Bible codes encrypted in the Hebrew text and/or turning the Hebrew letters of a word to their numbers (aka Gematria) and seeking connection with other words or phrases with the same number in order to reveal a hidden meaning. The best example of Sod level is found in Rev 13:18 concerning the number of the beast, 666, and in Eze 38:2 concerning Gog of Magog.
The best example of Sod interpretation found in the Apostolic Writings is in the Gospel according to Yochanan, as we read,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with Elohim, and the Word was Elohim. He was in the beginning with Elohim. All came to be through Him, and without Him not even one came to be that came to be. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (Joh 1:1-5)
With that said, below are two example of Remez level of an implied meaning of the text through the allegory or metaphor.
Literal or metaphoric tefillin
In Judaism, the males are required to make tefillin of the arm and of the head and wear them when praying. This practice the Rabbis have derived from the literal reading of Deu 6:4-9, the Shema declaration of faith,
Listen up, Israel, Yehovah our Elohim, Yehovah is one! And you shall love Yehovah your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your might. And these Words which I am commanding you today shall be in your heart, and you shall impress them upon your children, and shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up, and shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deu 6:4-8) See also Exo 13:9, 16, Deu 11:18.
While there are various interpretations to the verses as written in the Torah, the reader must be cautious that while it is important to be aware of what the Torah really means, the simple explanation of the words is primary to the understanding of the Shema.
The symbolic meaning of “shall be in your heart” is clear, and from it, also, the meaning of the whole passage is not difficult to perceive. Noticing this simple meaning of the Shema, Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir), one of the greatest medieval scholars of the plain meaning of the Torah (peshat), understands Deu 6:4-9 metaphorically, not literally. He says that these verses do not require, nor do they even suggest the literal wearing of tefillin. The intent therefore of the verses is to be understood as a metaphor, meaning, “keep the words of Elohim with you always, as if they were written on your hand and on your heart”.
The Yoke of Heaven
Come to me, all you who are weary and who are enduring labor, and I will help you to bear your yoke. Take my yoke as your yoke and learn of me that I am humble and good and pure of heart, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is soft, and my burden light. (Mat 11:28-30) The ancient Hebrew text of the Gospel of Matthew aka Shem-Tov’s Hebrew Matthew, by George Howard, Mercer University Press, 1995.
Note: Notice the difference between the Hebrew and Greek texts.
A simple (peshat) reading of this verse is that Yeshua will give rest to those who are burdened and weary, if they come to him. To them he says, “Take my yoke as your yoke”. What is the “yoke” Yeshua speaks of?
On a deeper (derash) level, Yeshua is teaching us to take what in the Judaism is known as the “yoke of Heaven”. This derash teaching of the yoke of Heaven is based on the Hebrew understanding of the word “rest”.
But first, what is the yoke of Heaven in this teaching of the Messiah? Is he talking about a “new” yoke, lighter, and easier to carry, or this is the yoke spoken of by the prophet. We read,
And I taught Ephrayim to walk, taking them by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with ropes of man, with cords of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. And I bent down, fed them. Hos 11:3-4.
The help Yeshua offers is the yoke with which we are bound to him. Man’s supreme purpose of life is to know his task in the world, why he has been created, what his goal is, and for what the Creator needs him. Once he understands his purpose in the world, he should bind himself to the Creator, His sovereignty and authority, majesty and grandeur and accept the yoke of Heaven.
There are those who do not perform the commands of the Torah and claim that God looks at their hearts. They excuse themselves from observing the commands with these words. But the Torah teaches that it is insufficient to merely keep the words of the Torah in one’s heart. It is absolutely necessary and incumbent on everyone at all times, to actually perform them.
We often forget that we are bound, yoked, to the Almighty by a Covenantal relationship, the Torah, as it has been said, “I am Yehovah your Elohim, teaching you what is best, leading you by the way you should go. If only you had listened to My commands!” (Isa 48:17-18). And the conclusion of the entire matter of the yoke of Heaven is this: Fear Elohim and guard His commands, for this is the duty of all mankind! (Ecc 12:13)
With that said, to what we can compare the correct scriptural interpretation? We can compare it to the drilling of the earth strata in the hope reaching the core of the earth.
- The first stratum to explore is the most superficial layer of the Earth: The Crust. It corresponds to the plain and simple meaning of the text. This is the Peshat reading, where the knowledge of what the text says can be obtained.
- The next stratum just below the Crust is the Upper Mantle. It corresponds to the implied meaning of the text through the allegory or metaphor. This is the Remez interpretation of understanding.
- Deeper down is the Lower Mantle, which corresponds to the search in the text for unusual characteristics and distinguishing traits. It corresponds to the Derash level of deep wisdom.
- The deepest layer of the Earth is the Outer Core. It corresponds to the inner, esoteric meaning of the text hidden for most of the scholars. This is the Sod level of interpretation, where the fear and awe of the Creator YHVH are hidden in the text.
And deep down in the Earth is the Inner Core, which corresponds to the inaccessible essence of the Creator, the absolute Truth of Him, hidden for all.
As it is impossible therefore to reach the deepest stratum of the Earth without going through the upper three strata, so is it impossible to reach the deepest understanding of the Scriptural text without first obtaining knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
Of him who has the full access to the Creator YHVH is said,
And a Rod shall come forth from the stump of Yishai, and a sprout from his roots shall be fruitful. The Ruach of Yehovah shall rest upon Him, the Ruach of wisdom and understanding, the Ruach of counsel and might, the Ruach of knowledge and of the fear of Yehovah and shall make him breathe in the fear of Yehovah. (Isa 11:1-3)
A better understanding of the four levels of interpretation will be obtained if we understand that there are four types of laws in the Torah.
Four types of laws in the Torah
Although the four level of interpretation is an excellent tool in correctly analyzing a text in question, we also need to know the four types of law in the Torah; they are mitsvot, mishpatim, torot, and chukim.
- Mitsvot (commands): These types of law are the “dos” and “don’ts” of the Torah. They give explanation as to why we should do them. We should not however do mitsvot because we understand them and they make sense to us, but because they are YHVH’s will. And this also extends to the laws we think we understand, like the other types of laws which follow.
- Mishpatim (rights): Commonly translated as “judgments”, the mishpatim are the rights, by which the national life is to be formed into a civil commonwealth. These rights have reference to the relation in which the individuals stood one towards another. Thus understood, the mishpatim are instruments to regulate the civil norms and how to deal in cases of disagreements.
For example, following the giving of the Covenant (the Ten Commandments), the Torah discusses numerous civil laws in Exodus 20 dealing with honest and ethical business practices and social relationships. These laws teach us that YHVH demands not just faith, but ethical conduct as well.
- Torot (instructions, instructions): Torah (singular of torot) imparts knowledge describing a formal statement of a command or admonition as to how something is or not to be done.
The mitsvot, mishpatim, and torot are laws that give the reason give why certain things are to be done or not to be done. But it is not so with the next types of law: the chukim.
- Chukim (decrees): these laws do not provide any explanation why they are be done or not; their performance requires faith alone, not reasoning. The decree is a take-all-or-nothing law of the Torah.
The word חֻקָּה chukah (“decree”) literally means something “engraved”. It is derived from the verb חָקַק chakah, which means to carve, to engrave; by implication to enact (laws being cut in stone or metal tablet), as a carved work cannot be erased; chukak thus denotes something permanent.
The Torah comes only in two forms: written and engraved. Mosheh inscribed the Torah on parchment scrolls, but this written Torah was preceded by the engraved Covenant given in the form of Ten Commandments, which were carved by the finger of YHVH in two tablets of stone.
This teaches us that when something is written with ink, the substance of the letters remains a separate entity from the parchment they are written on, as the ink can be erased. On the other hand, letters engraved in stone are forged in it; the words and the stone thus became one stone: the words are the stone, and the stone is the words.
Similarly, there is an aspect of Torah that is “inked” on our lower soul, nephesh, our emotions, personality, and consciousness. But there is a dimension of Torah that is chukah, engraved in our higher soul, neshamah, that connects man to his Creator. For further knowledge on the matter of soul, the reader will do well to read what we have written in How the Creator Connects with the Soul – Time of Reckoning Ministry.
How to study the Word
In addition to the foresaid methods, below are the ten basic principles that the present author uses when studying the Scripture.
- YHVH does not change, and He does not change His Word.
For I am Yehovah, I shall not change, (Mal 3:6)
Every good gift and every perfect gift are from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of turning. (Jas 1:17)
Often, we can hear from preachers and teachers that His Torah was done away with, that He changed His mind regarding what is food and what is not food, etc.
Picture a world whose god starts changing not only his social and moral laws, but also the laws of gravity, chemistry, and biology. How can such a god be served? If our Creator had changed His instruction (Torah) by which we should live, what makes us think that He would not change His mind again regarding the promise of everlasting life of the righteous ones?
- Neither did Yeshua nor the apostles change Torah, not even one letter. See also Joh 8:28, Act 25:8, Rom 7:12.
Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to complete. (Mat 5:17)
Do we then nullify the Torah through the belief? Let it not be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah. (Rom 3:31)
For more information on whether the Messiah Yeshua has annulled the Law of His Father on the cross, compare what we have written in Has the Messiah Abolished the Law of God? – Time of Reckoning Ministry
How about His disciples and more particularly Shaul who allegedly taught that the Law of the Creator “has been nailed on the cross?” Shaul knew that his teachings were being misunderstood and twisted when he asked the rhetorical questions in Rom 3:8. He was very upset when he learned that he was accused of teaching against the Law (see Act 21:20-26).
In order to prove that this was nothing more than a slander, Shaul took actions demonstrating that he himself kept the Torah (Act 21:24). He also circumcised Timothy (Act 16:1-3), took the Nazarite vow (Act 18:18; Act 21:17-26), taught and observed Passover and Unleavened Bread (Act 20:6; 1Co 5:6-8; 1Co 11:17-34), and Shavuot (Act 20:16, 1Co 16:8). He fasted on Yom Kippur (Act 27:9) and performed animal sacrifices in the Temple (Act 21:17-26, Act 24:17-18). We may ask the question if this is the same “Paul” who taught the gentiles that the Law was done away with.
Speaking of Shaul’s teaching, Shimon is warning in 2Pe 3:15-16 that “untaught and unstable” persons were “twisting” Shaul’s words some of which are hard to understand as they do also to other Scriptures. The chilling warning in Kepha’s words is that they do this for their own destruction.
Yet, how can we understand such difficult passages as “the Christ is the end of the Law”, “you are not under the Law”, etc.? Yes, we are saved by grace, but what is grace? How can we reconcile Shaul’s teachings with Ya’akov’s (James), who seemingly made opposite statements? There is a great deal of misunderstanding of Shaul’s teachings partially based on poor translations and partially on a religious baggage, as we touched upon this issue in Misunderstanding Paul.
- All Scripture is inspired, not only part of it:
All Scripture is breathed out by Elohim and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for setting straight, for instruction in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16)
- Torah is to be in our hearts, See Deu 32:46, Isa 51:7, Jer 31:33.
And these Words which I am commanding you today shall be in your heart, (Deu 6:6)
The Torah of his Elohim is in his heart; His steps do not slide. (Psa 37:31)
I have delighted to do Your pleasure, O my Elohim, And Your Torah is within my heart. (Psa 40:8)
From the very beginning of the revelation of the Covenant and Torah at Mount Sinai we learn that the Word has been meant to be in our hearts. But because we all sinned the Torah became external to us. However, one day, declares YHVH, He will put His Torah in our inward parts and write it on our hearts, as it is said in Jer 31:33.
- Torah and its commands are everlasting. See Exo 31:16, Psa 119:112.
That I might guard Your Torah continually, Forever and ever; (Psa 119:44)
- Torah is true, perfect, and trustworthy. See Deu 12:32, Pro 30:6, Rev 22:18-19.
Do not add to the Word which I command you, and do not take away from it, so as to guard the commands of Yehovah your Elohim which I am commanding you. (Deu 4:2)
The Torah of Yehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul; The witness of Yehovah is trustworthy, making wise the simple; (Psa 19:7)
Your righteousness is righteousness forever, And Your Torah is truth. (Psa 119:142)
If something is perfect, it cannot be changed, nothing can be added to or subtracted from it. Torah cannot be even improved.
- Sabbath is a sign between the Creator and His people forever.
And you, speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘My Sabbaths you are to guard, by all means, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, to know that I, Yehovah, am setting you apart. (Exo 31:13)
These are the signs between YHVH and His people: (1) Shabbat: Exo 31:13, Eze 20:12, Eze 20:20; (2) Circumcision: Gen 17:11; (3) Passover and Unleavened Bread: Exo 13:6-9. (4) the Covenant and Torah: Deu 6:4-9, Deu 11:18-21, Jer 31:31-33.
- One Torah for all, native and non-native: Lev 24:22, Num 9:14, Num 15:15, Num 19:10, Deu 29:10-12, Deu 31:12, Jos 8:34-35, Act 15:8-9, Rom 2:14-15.
There is one Torah for the native-born and for the stranger who sojourns among you. (Exo 12:49)
Also, the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to Yehovah, to serve Him, and to love the Name of Yehovah, to be His servants, all who guard the Sabbath, and not profane it, and are holding onto My covenant – them I shall bring to My set-apart mountain and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their ascending offerings and their slaughtering are accepted on My slaughter-place, for My house is called a house of prayer for all the peoples. (Isa 56:6-7)
Let us hear the conclusion of the entire matter: Fear Elohim and guard His commands, for this is for all mankind! (Ecc 12:13)
When Israel left Egypt, many non-Hebrews left with Israel. Then, they all entered into the Covenant of YHVH at Mount Sinai, and they all received the Torah, and they all declared that they would do all commands. The non-Hebrews, who left Egypt with Israel, became the grafted wild branches in Israel, thus, they became one nation with one Elohim.
- Guarding Torah and faith of the Messiah are necessary for salvation of the remnant. Many are told that faith in Christ alone is sufficient for salvation. However, the verses below tell that the saints are these who guard the Torah and the faith of Yeshua. Notice, it is not said either-or, but both: the Torah and faith of Yeshua.
And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to fight with the remnant of her seed, those guarding the commands of Elohim and possessing the witness of Yeshua Messiah. (Rev 12:17)
Here is the endurance of the set-apart ones, here are those guarding the commands of Elohim and the faith of Yeshua. (Rev 14:12)
By this we know that we love the children of Elohim, when we love Elohim and guard His commands. For this is the love for Elohim, that we guard His commands, and His commands are not heavy, (1Jn 5:2-3)
- The Scripture is not for private interpretation but by two or three witnesses a matter is established. “Private interpretation” is the Biblical definition for “personal opinion”.
at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. (Deu 19:15)
knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture came to be of any private interpretation, (2Pe 1:20)
Faithful reader of Time of Reckoning Ministry needs no reminding, as we have stated in other occasions, that we all learn until Mashiach comes. When He comes, he will explain all obscured passages in the Scripture. Until then the methods of establishing a matter in the Scripture are available for studying and edifying.
Knowledge known to only a few will die out. If you feel blessed by these teachings of Time of Reckoning Ministry, help spread the word!
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!