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.

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(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.

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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!

Lesson 2- Circles of Context and Hermeneutics

Have you ever thrown a pebble into a quiet pool of water? The waves emanate from where the pebble entered the water, outwards in concentric circles until the wave dissipates into the pond.

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When we read a passage in the Bible, we need to remember that there is no such thing as a single thought, or a single word, which represents the entire message God has for us. Like the pebble, the word is part of the sentence, which is part of the paragraph, which is part of the chapter, which is part of the book, which is part of the entire Bible.

The meaning emanates from the word all the way out until it is understood within the context of the entire Bible, which brings us to another tool for proper interpretation called Hermeneutics.

OK, so why the big word? I mean, I had enough trouble trying to remember what exegesis means, so who’s this Herman guy?

Let me give you a very simple explanation of what hermeneutics is, with regard to interpretation of the Bible: it means that whatever we read, wherever we read it, the meaning should be the same as we read in other messages or thoughts or lessons within the rest of the Bible.

For example, we read in Genesis that we should not eat the blood, and several times again in Leviticus, and again in Deuteronomy, in Ezekiel, in Acts, in Hebrews, in John, and even in Revelation. The one message is the same, throughout the Bible. So, if we were to have someone tell us that a particular passage says we can eat the blood, it would not be correct because it isn’t hermeneutically confirmed.

Let’s get back to Circles of Context.

Hebrew is a consonantal language, which doesn’t mean it originated in Europe- it means it is composed solely of consonants, with no vowels. Of course, there are vowel sounds used when we pronounce the words, but these are not found in the original Hebrew in the Torah. The Masoretes developed a system of vowel identification, called Masoretic Text or Cantillation Marks, between the 6th and 10th Centuries in order to secure a standard pronunciation of the Hebrew in the Torah. This was to help those who did not have an advanced ability to read Hebrew properly pronounce the words, thereby being able to interpret their meaning correctly, as well.

As an example, let’s take the two letters, G and D…does it stand for God? Maybe it means the word good? Is it Gad? Is it Aged? Is it Goad? Is it Egad!

The only way to properly understand the meaning of these two letters is to see how they make sense within the sentence (first circle), then to look at that sentence within the paragraph (second circle), and so on.

Circles of Context also applies to the author and the audience. For example, in the letter to the Hebrews the author is writing to Jews, but in the letter to the Colossians, the author is writing to a congregation of (mostly, if not all) converted pagans who are not that familiar with either Jewish law or lifestyle.

One letter is written to those who know how to understand Jewish logic and the other is written to ex-pagans who probably never talked to a Jew, except to give him or her orders and have no real understanding of Jewish logic.

What the heck is “Jewish Logic“? It’s my own term, and it describes how a Jewish person will present an argument, which is that he will tell you everything it isn’t before he tells you what it is. The trouble with this, as with the letters Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Gentile congregations he formed, is that he first proposed arguments against following Torah until he, eventually, showed how those very same arguments were wrong. The letter to the Romans is a great example; over the centuries it has been used as a polemic against the Torah, justifying that Believers in Messiah do not have to follow the Torah, but he wrote it as an apologetic to confirm the importance of Believers in Messiah to continue to follow the Torah.

The wrongful interpretation is not justified, either by proper use of the Circles of Context within the letter, or hermeneutically by comparing it with the rest of the New Covenant writings, especially the Gospels, or the Old Covenant.

Many people believe that Shaul stopped going to Jewish temples early in his ministry, but when we read all of the New Covenant Epistles, we can see throughout them the constant references to how Shaul did go to the Temples first. This is how hermeneutics helps us to understand the Bible correctly- Shaul never stopped living a Jewish lifestyle or being a Pharisee- he NEVER converted to anything and always went to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles. And that is hermeneutically confirmed by the prophecies in the Book of Isaiah, which state the Messiah would be a light to the Gentiles.

To properly interpret the Bible, we need to look at each word within the sentence, the sentence within the paragraph, all the way out until we take into account the entire Bible, as well as remembering who wrote what to whom. When Moses and the Prophets wrote and spoke to the Jewish population, the laws and the lifestyle were known, but when Shaul and other Disciples wrote to the new Believers who were Gentiles, they had to change their way of writing to (pardon the expression) “dumb down” the message and the interpretation so that these converting pagans wouldn’t have too much forced on them at one time.

When you read Galatians you have to remember this was written to new Believers who were Gentile, but being told by the Jewish Believers they had to convert to Judaism, completely, overnight! That’s why Shaul was so mad at those “Judaizers”: he knew that much of a paradigm shift of lifestyle and worship would cause more to apostatize than to convert. By using Circles of Context and Hermeneutics, we can see the true meaning of what Shaul was saying to the Galatians.

Todays lesson was to explain Circles of Context and Hermeneutics and show how they are essential tools to help you better understand and properly interpret what you read in the Bible.

Next time we will talk about another tool of biblical exegesis (there’s that word again!) called PaRDeS.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

How To Properly Interpret the Bible, Lesson 1: Read the Book, Yourself

That’s right. How can anyone really know what is in the Bible if they have never read it?

(I am having issues with my webcam so there won’t be a video today)

And I don’t mean to go buy one of those “Read a Bible Passage a Day” calendars. That’s like telling someone you are bringing a cake to their party and showing up with eggs, flour, salt, and some water. It may be what is in a cake, but it ain’t the same thing.

Maybe you’re thinking, “But Steve, I hear the Rabbi or Priest or Minister tell me what is in there every time I attend services.”

No, you don’t.

What you hear is what that person thinks the Bible is saying, and most likely because that is what he or she was taught it means, from people who were taught, from people who were taught, from…well, you get the idea.

Christianity has been teaching the same stuff for millennia, and they have never gotten most of it right. Why do you think there are so many different Christian religions? If they had it right, they wouldn’t have so many followers think it should be something else. In truth, if they had it right, they would be Jews, but now we’re getting way off-topic.

If you ask me, most of the religious leaders are doing nothing more than parroting their teachers. “Parroting” means repeating what you have been told without understand what you are saying, and that is what you learn when the only thing you learn about the Bible is what others tell you.

Do you know who Tarzan of the Apes is? Do you agree with me (and you should) that Johnny Weissmuller was the best Tarzan portrayer, ever? And that Tarzan lived in a treehouse, spoke English worse than Tonto, and had an adopted son named Boy?

The truth is quite different: I have read the entire series of Tarzan books (there are 27 of them) and Tarzan was fluent in French (his first human language), English, and some African dialects, as well as being able to converse with animals. His son was not called “Boy” but had a name, Korak. And they lived in a large plantation deep in the jungle, protected by a fierce warrior tribe of Africans who were Tarzan’s friends.

Now ain’t that a kick in the tuchas! You thought you knew about Tarzan, but I’ll bet very few of you did. So, do you think maybe, just maybe, there might be more to learn from the Bible than what you have been told or seen on TV?

You bet there is! And you will never know what is in there until you read it for yourself. If you don’t read the Bible, it is possible you are being taught an improper understanding of God’s word and you need to understand this- you will be held accountable for what you have learned, whether it is right or wrong.

When you get a new job, you read the Employee Handbook (if you’re smart) so you know what is expected of you and to stay out of trouble. When you get a new power tool, you read the instructions so you know how to use it without hurting yourself. When you have a new medication, you read the warning label so you know what to be aware of if you have a bad reaction. You read these instructions to ensure you are safe while alive, so why wouldn’t you read the instructions for how to be safe for all eternity?

One of the most wonderful things about the Bible is that no matter how many times you read it, there is always something new in there for you. When we get to a later lesson about the Jewish exegesis system called PaRDeS, you will see that underneath the written word is a spiritual message, and often you will not understand or comprehend that message when reading the words. But then, many readings later, you suddenly have an epiphany and say to yourself, “WOW! So that’s what it means…how come I didn’t see that before?”

When this happens to me, and it has many times over the past two decades or so I have been reading the Bible, I figure the reason I didn’t see it before was simply that I wasn’t ready for it. There is a certain level of spiritual maturity at which we all have to be in order to grasp the deeper meaning of the words we read, whether in the Bible or even in an Employee Handbook. There is a lot to be “read between the lines”, but until you have had enough exposure to the lines, you won’t be able to see what is between them.

I know many people don’t read the Bible because they tell themselves they don’t have the time or they can’t deal with all the “begots” and “begets” or the tough language. Well, don’t use a King James Version (I would never recommend that version, anyway, but that’s for a different time); use an NIV or CJB or some other version of the Bible written in easy to understand language.

As for not having the time, do what I do: I keep my Bible in the bathroom. Yes, that’s right- it is on the back of the toilet tank in a little basket with other reading material. I keep it there because that is the one place I know I will be spending 5-10 minutes, every day, with no one disturbing me. I read a chapter or two each day, and if you follow my example, you will be surprised how quickly you go through the book.

It makes me feel a little closer to God, knowing that he is on his throne and here I am, on mine.

And, one last thing: the Bible is from the first line of Genesis to the very last line of Revelation: it is one book, about one God, who choose one people to bring his instructions for how to worship him and treat each other to the world; it also tells of the Messiah he sent to help us to be forgiven of our sins so that we can be with God throughout eternity when this life is over. Don’t skimp on what you read, even the boring parts (and yes, there are some pretty boring sections but you have to muddle through them) because you never know what God will reveal to you, and to you, alone.

I believe there is something for everyone in the Bible that is uniquely for them, and God is just waiting for you to come to that point in your spiritual growth when he can show it to you. But you will never get there if you do not read the book.

Reading the Bible is not just part of being able to properly interpret it, it is the very keystone of interpretation. Without reading the Bible, you will never really know what is in there.

In our next lesson, we will begin learning about some different methods of Bible exegesis.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

How To Properly Interpret the Bible: Introduction to the Lesson

Properly interpreting the Bible is about as easy to do as digging a tunnel through a sand dune. With each new shovel full of sand you remove, another shovel full takes its place; the same thing happens when we delve deeper and deeper into the Bible, and as our understanding of what it says increases.

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There is just so much to learn from this book, and the more we mature, spiritually, the more deeply we will understand what is written. Just like digging in a sand dune, as we remove some sand, more comes to fill in the hole we just made. So, too, when we get past the plain understanding of the words, the spiritual meaning will then be made clear to us. And the deeper we dig, the deeper our understanding, until we even get to a level of nearly mystical knowledge of what God is saying to us.

It is like when Yeshua (Jesus) taught during his Sermon on the Mount: the Pharisees and Scribes had taught the people only the literal meaning of the words, but Yeshua taught them the spiritual meaning, which is why they said he taught as no one had before.

In these lessons, I will share with you what I have learned over more than 2 decades of studying the Bible. I do not profess to be a “Bible expert”, but I have learned a bit and have had many people over the years confirm that I have a gift, if you will, for understanding God’s word and teaching. I say this not to brag, but simply to justify why it might be worth spending the time to go through these lessons with me. They will be short and at a very introductory level, and even maybe a little entertaining.

After all, what could it hoit to listen?

The lessons will be covering what I consider to be the basic building blocks for properly interpreting the Bible, which are:

– Reading the book yourself;

– Different methodologies of biblical exegesis;

– Use of extra-biblical resources; and

– Knowing the history and languages used, especially the cultural usage of the languages at that time.

These lessons will be posted on Tuesday and Thursday instead of my normal “Drash to Start the Day” messages until we complete the series. On Friday I will still post the Shabbat parashah message.

As we go through these lessons, please do not hesitate to make comments or ask questions about the topic I cover. Let me repeat that this is what I believe are the basic tools to use when interpreting the bible, and (as I said before) I am not professing to be the ultimate expert or that what I am teaching is the only means of properly interpreting the Bible: it is just what I have learned and what has helped me to better understand the Bible.

I pray that it will help you, as well.

This coming Tuesday, the 23rd of November 2020, we will cover the first lesson: read the book, yourself.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch haShem!

Salvation From Both a Jewish and Christian Perspective- Final

To date in this teaching series, we have examined both the Jewish and Christian perspective regarding salvation and the Messiah.  We have seen why it is so difficult for Jews to accept Jesus (Yeshua) as their Messiah and why Christians have become so separated from their roots (Judaism) that their perception is skewed, as well. Bigotry, persecution, and ignorance have led to the animosity and extreme differences that these two religions have regarding the Messiah, who is the same person for both. We have also discussed some ways in which we can span this chasm of hatred and distrust when talking to Jews and Christians about Yeshua. Today we will conclude this teaching.

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There is a need for both the Jewish and Christian religions, including all sects of each, to come together as one body, one belief about God, the Messiah and God’s commandments to all of us. Of course, we all know that this will never happen. As we have been told, the pathway to salvation is not wide, and the gate is small. Many are called but few are chosen (I have always thought this to mean that few choose) so how can we help to bridge the gap and reconcile everyone we can to God and his Messiah?

We start by telling the whole story, from Genesis to Revelation so that all can see this is one narrative of God creating the world and the people, choosing a representative who was faithful (Abraham) to spawn a nation of priests  who will carry God’s instructions (Torah) to the world and be an example of how to live these instructions. He provided a Messiah to be our Intercessor, and through faith in that Messiah, we can achieve forgiveness of sin and eternal communion with God.

We have to be able to show that the messianic prophecies are valid and analyze them with an open mind. This we do, as has been suggested in this series, by approaching Jews with references only from the Tanakh, and using the terms “Yeshua” and “Messiah” instead of “Jesus” or “Savior.” We also approach Christians by showing them that the New Covenant is based entirely on the Old- there is nothing “new” in it, and that the modern form of Christianity is not what Yeshua taught but what Constantine created.

Most important is to demonstrate and remind everyone that Abraham’s righteousness did not come about by obedience as much as it did through faith. He was righteous not because he obeyed what God told him to do, but because he believed what God said, and that faithful belief was demonstrated by his obedience. Faith is something that we choose to have; there will never be absolute proof of the Messiah or of God, for that matter, because scientific proof is the antithesis of faith.

Ultimately, it won’t be by argumentation, or by archaeological evidence or even by the scriptures that will help someone believe in God and the Messiah, Yeshua: these things are helpful to bring someone to salvation and reconcile the chasm between Jews and Christians, but ultimately it must be their choice to accept the truth.

God has given each of us Free Will to believe what we want to believe, to act as we want to act and to be the kind of people we want to be. There is no one else responsible for what we do other than ourselves, and when we choose to reject God we choose to be outside of his protection and blessings. The greatest blessing of all, of course, is to be with him and bask in his presence throughout all eternity. This can only be done with the faithful acceptance that Yeshua IS the Messiah he promised throughout the Tanakh, and to live in accordance (as best as we can) with the instructions God gave us explaining how to worship him and how to treat each other found in the Torah.

There are thousands of years of wrongful teaching, on both sides, and people have trusted their religious leaders, who trusted their religious leaders, all the way back to the First Century. It will be difficult to change their minds, but try we must. You now have the tools you need to begin building a bridge across this gap of misunderstanding, so let’s get started!

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Thank you for being here, share me out and don’t forget to check out my books. I welcome your comments (be nice) and look forward to the next time we are together.

Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!