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Midrash

What is Midrash?

There is one more technique used by Jewish scholars for Bible interpretation. This is d'rash or midrash. It means "to seek or search" and it implies going a little deeper in your Bible study. Early rabbis devised rules to use during this process, from the seven rules of Rabbi Hillel, to the thirteen rules of Rabbi Ishmael, then to the thirty two rules of Rabbi Eliezer. It's not a technique that would come naturally to you or me, it is unlikely that those of us brought up in Greek understandings of Scripture are going to get to the heart of midrashic techniques. It is one for the scholars and the specialists. Jesus, himself, used midrash.

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28)

This saying uses a midrashic technique known as kal vachomer, meaning "light and heavy". What this really means is that if a minor thing is true, then so would a major one, but more so. Or, if something light is true (e.g. owing someone $100 is a problem), then something heavy is also true (e.g. owing $200 is a bigger problem). So, if lusting ("light") after someone is a sin, then how much more a sin would be the actual act of adultery ("heavy").

Jesus uses kal vachomer a lot and nowhere does it need to be understood more than in the following verses.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:29-30)

The essence is that if a sin can be nipped in the bud while it is still in its "light" stage (just your right hand) then you can be prevented from the implications of the "heavy" stage (going to hell). It is important to see these verses as a figurative example, rather than being taken literally, otherwise there would be a lot of Captain Hooks in heaven!

This is a big subject and I have barely skimmed the surface, but hopefully - through this and the last few articles - you now have a feel for Jewish techniques of Bible interpretation. Surely there’s more to be gained by reading Scripture in the same mindset used by Jesus himself, than that developed years later, derived from the ideas of Greek philosophy.

So now you have been introduced to how we can benefit in our walk with the Lord by reading the Bible the Jewish way. It can take us to exciting places. It encourages us to look at Scripture as Jesus did, unburdened by developments in the scientific secular world. By encouraging us to take Scripture in the first instance at face value we are invited to embrace truths that have been lost by many Christians these days, eager as they are to construct a faith in line with secular developments, in order to stay "relevant". Jesus was a Creationist. Jesus believed that his natural people, the Jews, had a prophetically significant future. How big is our faith? Dare we put the Bible first and ask God to guide our way through the jungles of ridicule? The ball is in your court.

This has been just a brief introduction to Midrash. There will be more deeper discussions in a few weeks' time.

Steve Maltz
July 2012

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