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 Interpret the Bible Correctly

Let me start off by saying I am not professing to be an expert on Biblical exegesis (although I do know some of the fancy words), and that I am not saying this is the absolute and only correct method of Bible interpretation, but I have seen and corrected many wrong interpretations and know that what I am going to talk about is valid and necessary.

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Something happened just recently which made me think it might be a good idea to (at least) give a small lesson on how to properly interpret what we read in the Bible.

Two methods I always incorporate when interpreting the Bible are PaRDeS and Hermeneutics. PaRDeS is a Jewish form of exegesis and is an acronym for the following:

P=P’shat, the literal meaning of the written word (i.e., what you read is what it means);

R=Remes, the deeper, more spiritual meaning (as Yeshua demonstrated in his Sermon on the Mount);

D= Drash, a story or lesson which has a spiritual meaning (such as the parables Yeshua told); and

S =Sud, a mystical meaning that no one can fully comprehend.

That is one method I use, and the other is Hermeneutics, which is defined as:

The purpose of Hermeneutics is to bridge the gap between our minds and the minds of the Biblical writers through a thorough knowledge of the original languages, ancient history and the comparison of Scripture with Scripture.

What that means, in simple language, is that we must have a thorough knowledge of the entire Bible, that is, Genesis through Revelation,  and that whatever is written in any part of the Bible should mean the same in any other part of the Bible.

Too often we read or hear someone who has taken a number of passages from the Bible and put them together to form an idea or interpretation. This is not wrong, per se’, unless the passages are taken out of context and used to create the interpretation someone has formed, instead of forming an interpretation from what is written.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about, which happened the other day:

I was reading an article someone posted about the use of the Hebrew word “Seraph” in the story of the snakes sent to punish the Israelites when they were in the desert (Numbers 21.) The writer wanted us to believe that the bronze statue Moses made wasn’t of a snake but of a seraph, an angelic being. This was confirmed when I looked in the Torah to see what word was used in the original Hebrew and saw that it was, indeed, the word seraph, which is what God told Moses to make an image of. The people asked Moses to pray for the removal of snakes (Hebrew word Nachush) and God told Moses to make an image of a seraph.

So, it looks like the writer was correct! But when we use hermeneutics to confirm the interpretation, we find out that this isn’t the case.

I looked at the different uses of the word seraph, to see if it was used anywhere else to represent a serpent, and did not find anything. I then looked through the Bible for other places where nachush was used and found another use in 2 Kings 18. 

In 2 Kings 18, we read how the serpent Moses made in the desert was being worshiped by the people, and they called it Nehushtan, which is a form of the Hebrew word for snake. This confirms that the bronze statue was not a celestial being but a snake, otherwise the people would not have named it “Snake.”

There have been many, MANY times I have corrected people’s attempts to make the Bible say what they wanted it to say, such as how the Kosher laws were removed, or how the Torah was done away with, or how the Jews have been replaced by Gentile Believers. All of these traditional Christian teachings are based on misinterpretation and taking passages out of context, stringing them together and making what appears to be a proper interpretation, but it is really nothing more than a lie.

We must take whatever God says and interpret it in relation to everything else God says, and if there seems to be a contradiction, then one or both interpretations are wrong. God does NOT contradict himself; likewise, what Yeshua taught he told us was only what God told him to say, and this is evident throughout the Gospels (especially in John), so any teachings that indicate Yeshua said something in the Old Covenant isn’t valid anymore is not hermeneutically valid.

What we read in the Epistles are not the words of God but the lessons that the Talmudim (disciples/students) of Yeshua were teaching to the Jewish and (mostly) Gentile Believers, more so to Gentiles who did not understand the instructions the Jews already knew. The letters from Paul to the congregations he started were not meant to change anything, but to teach these Gentile Believers how to live according to God’s instructions, a little bit at a time.

Of course, the Epistles are a totally different lesson, but it is important to know how they fit into today’s lesson because of all the misinterpretations within the Bible that I have seen over more than two decades, the majority of them come from the letters Paul wrote.

God has made his instructions to all the world, which we find in the Torah, pretty simple to understand, and what we can’t fathom we can study and try to understand; or, what I consider to be the better path, we can just accept that God knows best and follow the way of life that God has laid out for us.

Always use these two methods to objectively study the Bible, and when I say objectively, I mean to not just accept what someone tells you; rather, listen and then verify everything, especially before you repeat it to others.

Just like with Hebrew National hotdogs, teachers of God’s word are held to a higher standard, so make sure what you teach is biblically correct.

Thank you for being here and please subscribe, check out my website, and share these messages with everyone you know (after verifying, of course, what I say is accurate and biblically correct.) And if you have a comment or correction, please do not hesitate to let me know: I welcome them all.

Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!