Important Principles and Rules
The Literal Principle
This is very similar to a rule of Jewish hermeneutics, which states, “no passage loses its pashat”. This principle involves understanding a passage in its plain, literal sense, according to the normal meaning of the words and phases used.
The Cultural/Historical Principle
It is important to understand a passage in its cultural historical context. We must understand each passage in light of the culture and history of the person who wrote it. One must understand the traditions, controversies and so on. This rule might also be called “the Hebraic Roots Principle”. A passage must be understood in the context of its Hebraic Roots. For example the Mishna (m.Sukk. 4:9) sheds great light on the events of John 7:37-38. In this section of the Mishna we read about the Water libation ceremony which was performed at Sukkot. This material illuminates the material in John 7:37-38 at Sukkot in which Yeshua speaks of “living water.”
The Principle of Inspiration
One primary guiding principle to understanding the Scriptures is the Principle of Inspiration. In seeking to understand the Scriptures we must accept as an axiom that Elohim has given in the Scriptures a revelation of Himself and his will. We must understand that through the Scriptures Elohim is seeking to communicate ideas from his mind to us.
Now there are many different theories of inspiration, and the exegete will need to understand the nature of the inspiration of the Scriptures in order to properly apply the Principle of Inspiration to exegesis. The following are some of the theories of inspiration held by various groups and persons:
Natural Inspiration – This theory holds that the Scriptures were only inspired” in that they were written by men of great genius.
Illumination – This theory hold that the Scriptures were only inspired in that they were written by men who had been enlightened.
Inspiration of Degree – This theory holds that the authors of the Scriptures were only inspired relative to other men, that they were simply more inspired that other men.
Inspiration in Part – This theory holds that the authors of the Scriptures were only inspired when speaking of those things beyond their natural knowledge.
Conceptual Inspiration – This theory holds that the concepts and ideas in the Scriptures were inspired, but not the specific words. For example, this theory would hold that the concept of loving ones neighbor was inspired, but the actual articulation of the words was purely human.
Fallible Inspiration – This theory holds that while the Scriptures were inspired, their authors were sill only faulty humans, and could still contain error.
Verbal, Plenary Inspiration – This theory holds that Elohim oversaw but did not dictate to individual personalities who would then compose and write all the actual words of His revelation without error.
Inspiration by Dictation – This theory holds that Elohim gave the Scriptures to man in much the way that a businessman dictates a letter to a secretary. The secretary writes the actual letter, but its thoughts, ideas and words are strictly those of the businessman.
Only the last two of these theories are compatible with the doctrine of the infallibility of the Scriptures.
Now as an exegete one must recognize that different portions of the Scriptures were inspired in different ways.
For example, much of the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, was dictated. Many sections of the Prophets, such as Isaiah, also indicate dictation with phrases such as “Thus says YHWH””.
On the other hand the author of Ecclesiastes~ (Solomon) states no less than 36 times that he is writing of those matters that he had, as a man, discovered “under the sun” or “under heaven” in his search to learn “by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven” (1: 13). When Solomon writes in this book such things as “all is vanity” (1:2, 14) that men have no more value than animals (3:14-21) or that the dead have no reward (9:5) he is not giving us Elohim’s inspired revelations on these Subjects, but rather Elohim inspired Solomon to write a book about how the world appear in the absence of the knowledge of Elohim.
Another example is 1Corinthinans Chapter 7. This chapter unusually delineates Paul’s opinions from YHWH’s commands. “But this I say as to the weak (or sickly) not by commandment” (7:6); “it is not from me but from the Lord” (7: 10); “I say-I, not the Lord” (7:12); “the rule I lay down” (7:17); “I do not have a command from the Lord, but I offer an opinion” (7:25) and “in my opinion” (7:40). Among the personal opinions Paul lays out in this chapter is a controversial call to remain unmarried (7:8)
Certainly inspiration in general must be understood as reaching to the words and even the letters themselves. In Matthew 22:31-32 Yeshua himself formulates an exegesis, which depends upon the actual wording of the Torah. And in Galatians 3:16 Paul’s exegesis also presupposes that the specific words chosen in the text of the Torah are inspired.
- Ecclesiastes is written on the Pashat level as shown in the chapter on levels of understanding.
Within ancient Jewish hermeneutics the Principle of Inspiration led to a fundamental dispute about how the Scriptures should be understood.
The School of Akiva taught that when Elohim speaks, every word and every letter is divinely inspired and has some implication. Akiva’s school therefore sought and found hidden meanings in even the very Hebrew letters of the text.
On the other hand the school of Ishmael countered this approach and claimed that since inspiration means that Elohim is seeking to reveal something of himself to us. Thus when Elohim speaks to man He speaks as a man would to another man, without buried hidden meanings.
The Objective Principle
The objective principle is a corollary of 2Peter 1:20-21 “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation”.
The Rule of Common Meaning
The rule of Common Meaning is in effect a corollary drawn from the principle of hermeneutics laid out by Ishmael (though that is not how Christians arrived at thie principle), that when Elohim speaks to man through the Scriptures, He speaks as a man would to another man. The rule of Common Meaning tells us that when a given word is used in the Scriptures, that word should be taken in its most commonly accepted meaning whenever it is possible to do so. This requires doing word studies in the original language of the text.
This rule is also a corollary of the Principle of Inspiration. If Elohim has given in the Scriptures a revelation of Himself and his will, and if we must understand that through the Scriptures Elohim, is seeking to communicate ideas from his mind to us. then it stands to reason that He would give it in words that we would understand easily.
If Elohim seeks to reveal himself to man in the Scriptures then it seems logical that he would express this revelation in the clearest terms necessary for us to understand it. Were it not so. Elohim could not hold man accountable for comprehending His revelation.
The Rule of Common Usage
This rule is similar to the rule of Common Meaning. But unlike that rule, this rule tells us we should normally understand the meaning of words in the Scriptures according to their most common usage in the Scriptures. This often involves looking at all other usages of the same word in the Scriptures.
And he spoke to them another parable, “The Kingdom of Heaven is comparable to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until the whole should be leavened.
Many commentators have interpreted the “leaven” in this passage to be “the Church” which they see as growing into the Kingdom (this is Post-Millennial thinking).
However the common metaphorical usage of the term “leaven” in the Scriptures is as symbolic of sin and false teaching. (as in Mt. 16:6-12; Mk. 8:15; Lk. 12:1 and 1 Cor. 5:6-8) As such the “leaven” in this parable is comparable to the “tares” in the parable of the “wheat and tares” (Mt. 13:24-30-1 36-43), which is told before the parable of the leaven and explained after it. (See Deut. 22:9 where we find that by sewing mixed seed into the field, the adversary has made the whole crop “holy”.
Another example is the phrase Paul uses “under the law”. Using the rule of common usage we should look at all of the places where this phase appears in order to fully understand its meaning. We find a major key to the meaning of this phrase in Romans 6:14:
For sin shall not have dominion over you,
for you are not under the law but under grace.
From this passage we know that “under the law” is diametrically opposed to “under grace” and that one cannot be both. This is important because man has always been under grace, people of “Old Testament” times did not earn their salvation, and no one ever could. Therefore the phase “under the law” cannot refer to an allegedly obsolete “Old Testament” system, it must therefore refer to a false theology that was never true. “Under the law” therefore is not to be taken as referring to the Torah itself, but as a technical term referring to a false theology.
Yet another example is another phrase Paul uses “works of the law”. Again we would look at all the places where this phrase appears. We find a key phrase in Galatians 2:16:
Knowing that a man is not justified by
works of the law but by faith in Yeshua the Messiah,
even we have believed in Messiah Yeshua,
that we might be justified by faith in Messiah
and not by the works of the law
for by works of the law no flesh shall be justified.
From this passage we see that “works of the law” is diametrically opposed to “faith in Messiah” and “justified by faith” one cannot be both. Again, no one ever earned their salvation, no one ever could. Therefore “works of the law” cannot refer to an allegedly obsolete “Old Testament” system. It must, therefore, refer to a false system of salvation that was never true.
For example the phase “Kingdom of Eloah” must be understood in context of its usage in such passages as Acts 1:3, 6 where the term is referring to a restored Kingdom of Israel.
The Grammatical Principle
This principle involves understanding the text in accordance with its proper grammar. Just what do the prepositions actually mean? What words do pronouns refer to? For example the “you” of Gal. 5:2 is defined in Gal. 4:2 1.
Some examples of this rule:
5 But he shall say, I am no prophet. I am an husbandman; for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.
6 And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in your hands? Then he shall answer. Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
(Zech. 13:5-6 KJV)
The result of this mistranslation is to wrongly imply that the speaker has shifted at the beginning of verse 6. Thus if we were to use the format of a script we would read:
False Prophet: I am no prophet, I am an husbandman; for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.
Messianic Judge: What are these wounds in your hands?
False Prophet: Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
However if we examine the actual Hebrew we find that verses 5 and 6 both begin with the same Hebrew phrase rm)w “and he said”
Thus the HRV translates both phrases the same as follows:
5 And he shall say: “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the ground; for a man purchased me from my youth.”
6 And he shall say to him: “What are these wounds in the midst of your hands? Then he shall answer: “Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.”
(Zech. 13:5-6 HRV)
Thus in the HRV the shift in speaker does not occur until verse 6b as follows:
False Prophet: I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the ground; for a man
purchased me from my youth. What are these wounds in the midst of your hands?
Messianic Judge: Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.
In many interpretations the figure with the wounds in the midst of his hands is the false prophet while in reality it is the Messianic Judge. Thus in the HRV version the passage points back to Zech. 12:10 and the one who is “pierced” and forward to Zech 13:7 where a “shepherd” is smitten and his sheep scatter.
Another example is found in Zech. 8:23
Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that Elohim is with you.
(Zech 8:23 KJ V )
Some commentators have wrongly interpreted “him that is a Jew” as referring to Yeshua, however the term “you” in the phrase “We will go with you: for we have heard that Elohim is with you” is plural in the Hebrew rather than singular so that the phrase “him that is a Jew” must refer to the Jewish people in general and not simply Messiah.
Now lets look at how grammar helps us understand Isaiah 7:14. First I will want to examine the immediate context of Isaiah 7 and then the broader context of this whole section of Isaiah.
Literal translation of Hebrew of Is. 7:14:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give to you(pl) a sign: behold the ALMA will conceive and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel.
“you” in verse 14 is plural. By contrast King Achaz is singular you in verses 11 and 16-17. The sign to Achaz was that before a child should know how to choose good from bad, the siege would end (16-17). That child was NOT be the newborn child of verse 14 the child is Isaiah’s son Sh’ar-Yashuv from Isaiah 7:3. The prophecy of Is. 7:14 is not addressed only to Achaz as is the rest of the prophecy.
The following literal translation clears things up: (s)=singular (pl)=plural
7:3a Then YHWH said to Isaiah, “Go out now to meet Achaz, you(s) and Shear-Jashub your(s) son…
7:10 …YHWH spoke again to Achaz saying:
7:11 “Ask a sign for yourself(s) from YHWH your(s) Elohim; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.”
7:12 But Achaz said: “I will not ask, nor will I test YHWH”
7:13 Then he said: “Hear now, 0 House of David! Is it a small thing for you (pl) to weary men, but will you(pl) weary my Elohim also?
7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give to you(pl) a sign: behold the ALMA will conceive and bear a son and she will call his name Immanuel.
7:15 Curds and honey He shall eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.
7:16 For behold before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you(s) dread will be forsaken by both her kings.
7:17 YHWH will bring the King of Assyria upon you(s) and your(s) people and your(s) father’s house…
Note the clear distinction to what is addressed to you(pl) and what is addressed to you(s) (Achaz) and how this creates a distinction between the newborn in verse 14 and the child in verse 16. Thus the birth in Is. 7:14 is not a sign to Achaz alone.
Now let us look at how grammar helps us understand Matthew 16:18-19 In the Hebrew the text reads translated literally:
And I tell you (masc. sing. ), that you (masc. sing. ) are Kefa,
and upon this (fem. sing. ) rock [Heb: kefa]
I will build my assembly,
and the gates of takh’ti will not prevail against you (masc. sing. ).
And to you (masc. sing. ), will I give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,…
First of all the grammar of the Hebrew clearly distinguishes between the man Kefa (masc. “you’”) and the rock/kefa (fem. “this”) so that it is clear that the rock upon which the assembly is built is the revelation that Yeshua is the Messiah and not the man Kefa himself. Also, while most commentators take it that this passage to mean that the “gates of takh’ti” would not prevail against the assembly, the Hebrew grammar actually indicates that the gates of takh’ti would not prevail against Kefa.
The Rule of Context
This rule tells us that a passage must be understood in context of the surrounding material. For example some commentators have taken the statement that Yeshua came to “fulfill the law” in Matt. 5:17 to mean that he did away with the law. But the context of this verse is that Yeshua said “Think not that I have come to abolish the law…”. Verse 19 pronounces a blessing on those who keep the Torah and who teach Torah observance and verse 20 speaks of being even more righteous than the Pharisees. Clearly any understanding of “fulfill the law” in Matt. 5:17 that detracts from Torah observance is a total violation of the context of the passage.
Another example is Acts 15. The context of this chapter is a debate over whether or not Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved, not a debate over whether they should be circumcised, or whether one must be circumcised to become part of the Assembly of Messiah (a matter already covered in Ex. 12:47-49).
The Rule of Collateral Reference
This rule tells us that we must understand a passage in light of what is said on the same subject in other passages. For example in doing exegesis on a passage dealing with divorce one would want to consult the various texts which deal with that same topic (i.e. Ex. 21:7-11; Deut. 22:13-19; 28-29; 24:1-4; Mal. 2:14-16; Ezra 10:1-16; Mt. 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mk. 10:2-9; Lk. 16:18; Rom. 7:2-3 & 1 Cor. 7:10-17). A good tool for this rule is a Topical Guide or Biblical Cyclopedic Inde-r, which lists out Scriptures under various topical subjects.
The Principle of Address
This principle tells us that we must consider the question of who is speaking and who is being spoken to in a given passage.
For example the key to understanding Isaiah 53 is to understand the identity of “I”; “we” and “he” in the passage. The speaker cannot be YHWH because he includes himself with the “we” who have gone astray (53:6). Thus the speaker (“I”) in this passage appears to be Isaiah, and thus the “we” that he includes himself with must be “Israel”. Since “we” and “he” are continually contrasted in this chapter, it is clear that “he” (the “suffering servant”) cannot be (as many Rabbinic Jews claim) Israel.
Another example is Gal. 5:2 “if you were circumcised, then the Messiah is a thing which does not profit you.” By looking up to Gal. 4:21 we find that the “you” of this statement is defined as “you who desire to be under the law.” Since “under the law” describes a false theology that was never true;, this passage is indicating that a group of apostates are not benefited by their circumcisions.
The Rule of First Reference
According to this rule a concept or term in the Scriptures is defined by its earliest usage and that definition is then applied to later readings.
For example the term “Kingdom of Elohim” appears throughout the “New Testament”. There has been much debate in Christendom over the meaning of this phrase. Pre-millennialists maintain that the Kingdom of Elohim is a Messianic Kingdom which Messiah will establish upon his return. Post-millennialists believe that the Kingdom of Elohim is a Kingdom which Christianity will build upon the earth. Finally amillennialists believe that the Kingdom of Elohim is the Christian Church. However if we invoke the Rule of First Reference we would turn to the first references to the Kingdom of Elohim/YHWH in the Tanak (l Chron. 28:5; 2Chron. 13:8) in which the “Kingdom of YHWH” is clearly a euphemism for the Kingdom of Israel.
This “circumcision of the heart” is mentioned in the “New Testament” in Rom. 2:28-29 and Col. 2:11. Many have misunderstood this circumcision of the heart as being a substitute for physical circumcision. However this circumcision of the heart was not a substitute for physical circumcision, nor a substitute for Torah observance in general. By invoking the Rule of First Reference we find that “circumcision of the heart” is not a unique “New Testament” concept, but a concept found and explained in the text of the Torah. In the earliest references (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16) “circumcision of the heart” seems to refer to removing the stubbornness in ones heart and making it open to Torah. The Torah tells us to circumcise our heart (Deut. 10: 16) love YHWH with all our heart and keep his commandments (Deut. 11:1, 13) and place the Torah in our heart (Deut.11: 18). Thus circumcision of the heart would seem to involve loving YHWH and keeping his commandments and placing the Torah in our hearts.
The Rule of Analogia Scriptura
(also called The Synthesis Principle)
This rule states that Scripture never contradicts Scripture, but is always consistent with its own teachings. If we understand one passage in a way that contradicts another passage, then we must be understanding at least one of these passages wrong.
From this principle and the “rule of first reference” taken together, we may also draw what I call the Tanak Principle. When a believer from the “New Testament Church” referred to “The Scriptures” he was speaking of the Tanak (“Old Testament”) for they were the only Scriptures he had. Thus when Paul wrote to Timothy:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of Elohim,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,
for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
That the man of Elohim may be perfect,
thoroughly furnished to all good works.
Paul was referring to the Tanak, the only Scriptures they had. Moreover when Paul spoke to the Bereans in Acts 17:11 we are told of them:
These were more noble
than those at Thessalonica,
in that they received the word with all readiness of mind,
and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Paul was saying that the Bereans were noble because they did not believe what Paul said simply on the authority of Paul. They were looking to see if what Paul was teaching could be found in the Scriptures. Remember, they were looking in the Tanak, the only Scriptures they had at the time. Paul said that it was noble of them to only accept his teaching if it lined up with the Tanak. That means that whenever we study the New Testament we should ask ourselves this question: “Can you get here from there?” (There being the Tanak). If you think you understand something in the New Testament in such a way that it contradicts the Tanak, then you need to realize that you are misunderstanding it.
The Principle of Multiple Fulfillment
This principle tells us that some prophetic passages may have more than one fulfillment. For example Daniel’s prophecy of the abomination of desolation (Dan. 9:27; 11:3 1; 12:11) applies both to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanies (lMacc. 1:54; 2Macc. 6:2) as well as the future desecration by the antichrist (Mt. 24:15).
The Practical Principle
This involves the practical application of the text. It also involves asking who the text is speaking to and who is the speaker. A good example of this rule is in Gal.5:2. Who is the “you” being spoken to? It is define in 4:21 “you that desire to be under the law”. Therefore Gal. 5:2 does not speak to all mankind but to a special group who were preparing to enter into an apostate theology.
Each language has its unique idioms. These are common phrases used in that language which do not mean the same thing as the literal meaning of the words themselves. For example in English the phrase “he was in a pickle” has nothing whatsoever to do with pickles. Instead this phrase means “he was in a bad situation”. One of the hardest things to master in a language are its unique idioms. The fact that a usage is idiomatic, may drastically impact the meaning of that passage. It is helpful in understanding the text, to understand Hebrew and Aramaic idioms. The following are some examples:
Lead us not into temptation – Mt. 6:13a is one of the most puzzling portions of the “Lord’s Prayer.” The line reads in the New KJV:
And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from evil.
The mystery is this: why would Elohim lead us into temptation anyway? In fact James 1:13-14 reads:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by Elohim”; for Elohim cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
Mt. 6:13 is actually a Hebrew idiom in which an active verb is used to express not the doing of a thing, but permission to do it. A good example is in the Tanak in Jer. 4:10:
Adonai YHWH, surely you have greatly deceived this people,…
(meaning that YHWH would allow the people to be deceived.)
Another example is in the Torah in Ex. 4:21:
I [YHWH] will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.
(meaning YHWH would allow Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened.) And in 2Thes. 2:11:
…Eloah will send to them the working of deception
that they might believe a lie.
(meaning he allowed them to be deceived)
Thus the passage in Mt. 6:13 is a Hebrew idiom better understood to mean:
Allow us not to be lead into temptation…
Good eye and bad eye – Mt. 6:22-23 (&Mt. 20:15; Lk. 11:34) The lamp of the body is the eye, if therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! In Greek and in English this passage is meaningless. However, in Hebrew and Aramaic, to have a “good eye” (“single eye” in the KJV) is an idiomatic expression meaning to be generous. Having a “bad eye” or “evil eye” is an idiomatic expression meaning to be stingy.’
Bind and loose – Mt. 16:19; 18:18 These are two Semitic idioms used in Rabbinic literature as technical terms referring to Halachic authority. To “bind” means to “forbid” an activity and to “loose” means to permit an activity (as in j.Ber. Sb; 6c; j.San. 28a; b.Ab. Zar. 37a; b.Ned. 62a; b.Yeb. 106a; b.Bets. 2b; 22a; b.Ber. 35a; b.Hag. 3b). Thus in Mt. 16:18-19 & 18:18 Yeshua gave his students the Halachic authority which we see them using in Acts 15.
Destroy/fulfill law – Mt. 5:17 In Hebrew and Aramaic these are idiomatic expressions. To “fulfil” the Torah means to keep and teach the Torah according to its true meaning. To “destroy” the Torah is to teach its meaning in correctly and to violate Torah. Yeshua came to teach the true meaning of Torah, thus in 5:21f he will teach the true meaning of various commandments of the Torah.
Heaven as euphemism for Elohim – Mt. 5:3; 21:25; Lk. 15:18, Jn. 3:27
Figures of Speech
Often authors of the Scripture use figures of speech which also are not to be taken literally. Here I will discuss five of the most common below, a much more extensive treatment can be found in Bullinger’s Figures of Speech Used in the Bible,.
Metaphors – A Metaphor is a figure of speech in which one item is compared to another item with similar characteristics by stating that the item is the other item. For example in Mt. 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth”. Believers are not literally salt, but there are characteristics which believers and salt have in common.
Similes – A Simile is a figure of speech very similar to a metaphor but in which the identification is made with the [English] words “like”, “as” or “so”. For example Mt. 10:16 “Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”. Here believers are compared to sheep and apostates are compared to wolves.
Hyperbole -` Hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration used to accent a point. For example in Luke 14:26 “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Anthropomorphism – This is a figure of speech by which human characteristics are ascribed to Elohim, an animal or an inanimate object.
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