How To Properly Interpret The Bible: Lesson 6- Language and Cultural Usage

In Lesson 2 we talked about Circles of Context and how that included the cultural usage, as well. Today we will look a little deeper into that, along with the need to be familiar with the language.

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Let me start by saying you do not have to be fluent in either Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek to properly interpret the Bible, but only that you should be able to have a means of examining the original language used in a passage.

And there is more to it than that: you need to be able to know the historically correct cultural usage of the language in the Bible as it was used at that time, in everyday speech.

For instance, throughout the Bible we read about “the fear of Adonai”, but what is that? Does it mean to be afraid of God? Do we live our lives being scared of what God might do to us if we sin? That doesn’t seem to make sense when we consider how many times we are told that God loves us, he is merciful and compassionate, and that he understands our weaknesses and helps us to overcome them.

The proper cultural usage of the term “fear of the Lord” means to worship God. To “fear” God was not used, in those days, to be an expectation of physical harm or spiritual damnation, but to worship God as he commands us to do.

Of course, if you reject God then you do have something to be afraid of, which (who knows) maybe the reason they use the word” fear” to mean proper worship since improper worship would lead to damnation, and who, believing in God, wouldn’t be afraid of that?

In the book of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the writer’s conclusion is that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Now, how can being afraid be the beginning of wisdom, especially when we (using hermeneutics) consider that Shaul (Paul) tells his protégé Timothy (in 2 Timothy 1:7) that God gives us a spirit who produces not timidity, but power, love, and self-discipline?

What Shaul is saying is that when we worship the Lord we are not to be afraid, but rather to be strong and confident. This will sound like an oxymoron, but the proper fear of the Lord will make us fearless.

There are times, though, when we are supposed to be afraid. For instance, in Matthew 10:28 we are told not to be afraid of those who can harm the body, but the one who can destroy both body and soul. Clearly, that is something to be afraid of.

I have been studying Hebrew for a couple of years now; I used Rosetta Stone and now use Duolingo. I work at it about 15 or 20 minutes a day, and it is slow going. I used to be good at language learning, but (as studies confirm) now that I am an old fart it is harder for me to remember the words. It is especially hard since there is no one else here who is fluent in Hebrew to help me practice and correct me. Yet, this constant study of Hebrew has helped me, even with the little I know, to better understand what is written in the Tanakh.

Many years ago I earned a Certificate in Messianic Studies which included classes on First Century Jewish culture. Without understanding the historical meaning and usage of the words at that time, we can’t always know what people really meant when they wrote things down, which we now read in the Bible.

Here’s another example: in Matthew 5:17, which is, in my opinion, one of the most misinterpreted passages in the entire Bible, Yeshua says he did not come to change the law but to fulfill it. Many “experts” interpret this as meaning Yeshua completed the law and use that as a polemic against following the Torah, even though Yeshua said, plainly, that he did not come to change anything!

When we consider the cultural usage of the language, in First Century Rabbi-speak, to “fulfill” meant to interpret correctly. It has nothing to do with completing or doing away with anything. And when we use that understanding of the meaning of the word with what Yeshua taught in his sermon on the mount, we can see that he was interpreting the law more accurately than the Pharisees or Scribes had been doing, because he gave the spiritual understanding as well as the plain language meaning (remember P’shat and Remes?).

The same holds true when we read in some Bible versions the use of the word “trespass” in the Lord’s Prayer. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t walk on each other’s lawn; to “trespass” meant to misinterpret the Torah. Therefore, to fulfill the law would lead people to salvation whereas to trespass would lead people into sin.

The previous lesson covered using an Interlinear Bible and a concordance, which will give you the translations of the Hebrew and Greek used in the Bible, but if you really want to allow the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to lead you to what God wants you to see, I recommend studying Hebrew on your own. Now, for myself, I am not so worried about knowing Greek to understand the New Covenant better because I believe that when I know the Tanakh, I will be able to determine what in the New Covenant makes sense, hermeneutically, and what doesn’t.

And, yes- although it is outside the scope of this training series, I do believe there is much in the New Covenant that doesn’t need to be in the Bible. But, as I say, that is for a different time.

That’s it for this lesson, and next time we get together I will conclude this teaching series.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

How To Properly Interpret The Bible; Lesson 5- Concordance and Interlinear Bible

In the last lesson we talked about extra-biblical tools to use when interpreting the Bible, and today we will continue on this line with two more of what I consider to be essential exegesis tools: a concordance and the Interlinear Bible set.

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

The most well-known concordance is “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible”, which is a tremendously exacting study of every single word in the Bible and where to find every single occurrence of it. You also are given the Hebrew and Greek translation of the word.

And if nothing else, the tome is so heavy that using it will not only improve your understanding of the Bible, but it will tone your muscles, as well.

There are some who do not agree that Strong’s Concordance is the best one out there, and I am not going to argue one way or the other, because the focus of this course is to learn how to properly interpret the Bible, and as far as I am concerned, I don’t really care which concordance you want to use, just so long as you are using one.

For me, the concordance is most valuable when I am trying to find other places in the Bible where a certain word or phrase is used, to help make sure that what I believe it means is hermeneutically (remember that word?) validated by where it appears elsewhere in the Bible.

The other valuable extra-biblical exegesis tool I want to tell you about is the Interlinear Bible. Here is a picture of the one I use:

These volumes give you the English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek translation of every single word, in the order they appear. That means that syntax and placement of the words are not going to be like any other translation you read because the word order is literally as it is printed.

For example, right from the start, we read in Genesis 1:1 that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, but when we look at the interlinear word-by-word translation it says in the beginning, created God the heavens and the earth. This is a small change, but it helps to better understand the issues that happen when translating from one language to another, especially when the placement of adjectives, adverbs, and syntax have different rules.

The Interlinear Bible series has the English translation with the Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Covenant writings and the English translation of the Greek for the New Covenant. Of course, there are no Hebrew New Covenant writings available, although you can find articles stating that the Gospel of Matthew was probably originally written in Hebrew. Perhaps one day we may find a viable copy of a Hebrew New Covenant letter or book, but as it is now, the interlinear can only give us the Greek to English translation for the B’rit Chadashah (New Covenant.)

As we finish our discussion about extra-biblical resources, let me mention that the two I have discussed above are not the only extra-biblical resources available. You can read the Apocrypha (found mostly only in Catholic Bibles) to enhance the narratives about biblical people and events, and the Talmud to get rabbinical commentary on the events in the Tanakh, as well as learning HaLacha, the Way to Walk, which is the Jewish lifestyle. You can even learn Jewish mythology. I use the Talmud because it has been composed by the great Rabbis of the past and I respect their learning and wisdom. That doesn’t mean I accept what they say or believe it all to be “gospel”, but it does help to know what they think when forming my own conclusions.

There are other resources, some of which people consider to be scripture, such as the Book of Enoch, the Gospel of Judas, the Zohar (Kabbalist) and, let’s not forget, the New Covenant source document called the Codex Alexandrinus.

Let’s get real, people- anything out there which can help you better understand the language, usage, and culture of those who actually wrote the Bible is valuable in helping to properly interpret what you read, but I would also add this caveat: what God says to us is “scripture” and what people say is not. There is a difference between God directing Moses to write something down or giving a Prophet the words to say, and Shaul (Paul) writing a letter to one of his Gentile congregations with his instructions regarding how they should follow what God said.

Extra-biblical resources are written by people, not by God, so remember that as you use them.

To end this topic, remember also that the best guide to understanding the Bible is to ask God to show you, through the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) what he wants you to see in his word. There can be multiple messages within the same sentence or passage, and each could be correct for the person reading it. For example, there are prophecies that are considered dual, meaning they have an immediate future impact and a far-reaching future impact, as well. Two different meanings from the same passage and both are correct within the context of their separate timelines. So always be aware, always be open to being led by divine understanding, and never stop reading the Bible.

The more times you read it, the better your understanding will become.

In our next lesson, we will be discussing a totally different aspect of properly interpreting the Bible, so until then…

L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

How To Properly Interpret The Bible: Lesson 4- Chumash and Commentaries

So far in this series, we have reviewed those tools that can be used by the reader when trying to interpret, for themselves, what is in the Bible. These tools are valuable, and we should always look for what God has for us, alone, when we read his word.

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.
(PS: I have a new microphone so the sound levels will be good.)

But that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t have a proper interpretation, or a message that he or she was given which can edify us. That is why there are some extra-biblical tools we should use, as well, when seeking out the meaning of God’s word.

One of my favorite books for studying the Torah is the Chumash. Here is the one I use, which is the Soncino edition:

“Chumash” is a form of the word חמשת ,which is Hebrew for the number 5, representing the first five books of the Bible, i.e. the Torah. This book has the Torah, the English translation, and a commentary on the passage, as well. There are also detailed commentaries at the end of each book of the Torah.

Besides the Torah readings (called the Parashah), it also has the Haftorah readings, which are sections from other parts of the Tanakh that are read after the Torah portion and used to enhance the Torah reading by showing how what we read was performed (or failed to be performed) in later history.

What I love most about the Chumash is that it is just so very Jewish. It is, if you ask me, essential for Gentiles who want to know what the Torah means to Jews to read this book, and use it constantly when they come to something in the New Covenant that refers back to the Torah so they can see what Yeshua or an Apostle was thinking about when they said what they did. I say this because the Messiah and his Apostles thought much closer to the way the commentator of the Chumash thought than any Gentile commentator ever could.

Other examples of commentaries are below:

These are commentaries I use when I want to verify or see what someone else thinks about a passage I might be wondering about; however, these are not the only ones out there. In fact, there are many, many different commentaries written by all types of people, so when you look for one, try to find one that as you peruse it (before buying, of course) you can see if it seems to be in line with your understanding.

By the way, I really recommend the commentary called “Parashot Drashim.” I happen to know the author really well and think he has a pretty good idea of what he is saying.

Commentaries are very useful tools for properly interpreting the Bible, but just as with any tool, you need to use the right tool for the job. What I mean is, if you want to become familiar with the “Jewish mindset”, make sure the commentary you get is a totally Jewish one, meaning not Messianic and certainly not written by a Gentile. You might be surprised, and maybe even a little dismayed, at the negative tone it might have when referencing Christian interpretations of the messianic passages.

On the other hand, when you want to know what the New Covenant is saying, then you need to get a commentary written by a Gentile because you won’t find any Jews who want to have anything to do with the New Covenant, unless it happens to be a Messianic Jew.

This covers today’s lesson, and next time we will discuss other types of extra-biblical resources you can use when you are trying to properly interpret the Bible.

Oh, yeah, one more thing…even though this is a teaching series, I welcome any comments or additions you feel you would like to submit regarding any of these lessons.

So, until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

How To Properly Interpret The Bible: Lesson 3- PaRDeS

In the last lesson you learned that to properly interpret the Bible you need to read contextually so that the word makes sense within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, and so on. But that isn’t enough: you also need to use hermeneutics as you interpret what you are reading to ensure that whatever message you get is the same message throughout the rest of the Bible.

Today we will take this a step further and talk about the spiritual understanding of the words and passages we read.

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

The Jewish system of biblical exegesis you will learn about to day is called PaRDeS: I have bold-printed specific letters because this is not a word, it is an acronym.

The “P” stands for the word P’shat. The P’shat is the literal, or plain language meaning of the words. It is, at best, a topographical understanding of the Bible and is sort of like the old saying:

What you see is what you get!

The “R” stands for the Remes. This is a deeper, more spiritual meaning of the word(s) we read. I will be giving an example of the difference between the P’shat and the Remes later in this lesson.

The “D” represents the Drash (sometimes called a Derash). A drash is a story with a spiritually moral ending. When people refer to the lessons of Yeshua they call them parables, but they are, in essence, a drash.

Finally, the “S” represents the Sod. This is a mystical understanding, the kind revealed through a revelation or vision.

When we read in the Gospels how people said that Yeshua taught and spoke differently from anyone else they had ever heard, that he talked as a man with authority, it was because all they had been taught by the Pharisees and Scribes was the plain language of the Torah, the P’shat. Yeshua took the people one step deeper into God’s word, which is why they were so astounded at his understanding and interpretation.

The best example I have found, which I use often, to demonstrate the difference between the P’shat and the Remes is the Sermon on the Mount.

When teaching about adultery and murder, Yeshua would begin with “You have heard it said…” and follow up with “…but I tell you…”; in this way he showed the difference between the P’shat and the Remes.

He told them that they shouldn’t murder (P’shat), but then he taught that if you so much as hate in your heart, that is the same as murder (Remes).

He also said we are told not to commit adultery (P’shat), but that if we lustfully look at another, we have already committed adultery (Remes).

Yeshua showed us the spiritual understanding of the literal words, i.e., physically hating someone is spiritual murder, and lusting after someone, even if not acted upon, is spiritual adultery. This is what was so impressive to the people, who had never been given the deeper revelation of God’s word.

The parables (drashim) Yeshua told were stories that had a spiritual moral, but the people didn’t understand because they had only been taught to listen to the words, the P’shat, and were unable to grasp the Remes of his messages. I believe the reason Yeshua often said that those who have ears should listen, and those with eyes should see is that he was trying to tell them to listen with their spirit.

The Sod is something that I really find hard to describe, as it is mystical and, as such, a difficult subject to grasp. Perhaps good examples are Daniel understanding the writing on the wall and interpreting the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar, or Joseph interpreting the dreams that Pharaoh had. These were visions that were indecipherable from a literal view, but on a mystical level were understood to be prophecies about events that would happen in the real world.

There is a “catch”, however, with regard to using the Remes (and Sod) when you are interpreting the Bible: you need to have spiritual eyes to see spiritual things, and (I believe) the only way to get spiritual eyes is to see through the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit. When we read the Bible we will be shown the Remes by the Ruach, but if we don’t have the Ruach, we have no better chance of seeing God’s spiritual messages than color-blind people have when taking one of those “what number do you see” tests you get when applying for a driver’s license.

Maybe this is why so many people with biblical knowledge have so little understanding of what they “know”.

That’s it for today’s lesson. You now know you must read the Bible for yourself and how to use Circles of Context and Hermeneutics so you can properly interpret the meaning of the words you read. You also now know there is a deeper, spiritual meaning to the written words and to ask the Ruach HaKodesh to show it to you.

In the next lesson we will talk about extra-biblical resources available to further help you properly interpret the Bible.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!