Interpreting the Torah

Did they really use the word “Church” in the Gospels? I mean, when they were written, not when the Council of Nicene rewrote and compiled them. When Yeshua said, in Matthew 5, that He came to “fulfill the Law” did He mean to finish it so that it doesn’t apply anymore?

The Bible was written in a foreign language, and interpreting a foreign language is hard. If that language isn’t your first tongue, you need to understand more than just the words. You need to know the definition, as well as the denotation, and the connotation, too.  You need to understand the cultural context, the historical meaning and the current meaning. It isn’t easy.

When you have a consonantal language such as Hebrew, it makes it all the more difficult. Especially when the cultural context is thousands of years old.

I was taught that when we interpret the Torah (as well as all the other books that make up the complete Bible) we need to use “Circles of Context.”  Think of a rock falling into a pool of water, sending out concentric circles. When we interpret what is written, the first circle is the context of the sentence or paragraph(s). We need to know who is writing, what the person is writing about and to whom.

The next circle out from that one is the context of the chapter or book. What came before this section, and what is coming after it.

The next circle is one that is hermeneutic. We need to look at how what we are interpreting fits into the entire Bible, since we know that God doesn’t say one thing now and then a totally different thing later, He is the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Since the Bible is more than just God’s Word ( it is who He is), the Bible is hermeneutically sound; therefore, our interpretation needs to be that way, also.

We still have other circles. There is the cultural context, there is the historical context, and there is the actual language, itself.

Finally, we have to completely rid ourselves of any personal bias or desire to have something mean what we want it to mean. For instance, the word “Christian” is only used twice, in Timothy, and didn’t mean then what it means today. When Yeshua said He came to fulfill the law, He didn’t mean to complete it, as many have been taught. In First Century “Rabbi-speak” (i.e., the cultural context) to fulfill the law meant to interpret it correctly. To give an improper interpretation would be a “trespass” against the law. And the word “Church” was never used in the original writings; it was introduced by King James.

Here’s a good example: the word “Synagogue” today is known as a Jewish place of worship, but in the Greek it means a gathering. It could be a gathering of people with a similar purpose or belief, or a gathering of rocks in a pile. When the Bible was written it meant nothing more than a bunch of people gathering together, without any reference to a specific religion. Today, however, it means a place where Jews worship. If we didn’t understand this, when reading Revelations and coming to where Yochanan (John) writes about the “Synagogue of Satan” we would, naturally, associate it to Jews because everyone knows that a synagogue is where you find Jews. But that is a totally wrong interpretation.

The best way to interpret the Bible, in my opinion, is to read it and ask the Ruach haKodesh to open your eyes and heart to what God wants you to get from His word. There are three levels, the P’Shat (written word), the Drash (hidden meanings) and the Sud (deeply spiritual or mystical understanding). Anyone can read the words, but to really understand their intent and spiritual meaning we need the Ruach to guide and interpret for us.

One day (it’s on my bucket list) I want to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that I can really find out for myself what the Bible says. Until then, and for all of us that have to work with the English versions, we need to take into account the Circles of Context when we read the Bible, especially because it is someone else’s interpretation. God’s word never returns void, so even with interpretations that are not always the best (most New Covenant interpretations are subtly anti-Semitic) if we let the Ruach lead us and remember to use Circles of Context, we can see new truths every day in the same words we have read dozens of times.

That’s what is so wonderful about reading God’s Word- every day it is the same and every day we can get something different from it.

Comments welcomed (just be nice)