Methods of Biblical Interpretation – Pardes
Those of us who are believers are always aiming to interpret and to understand the Bible in a better and more clearer way, so that in the long term we will have a closer walk and understanding with God. If this isn’t your aim as a believer may I ask you why not?
There are many different tools to use in interpretation but I wish to share a few with you. I apologise if you have heard them before as they are widely known but I thought I would share them anyway.
One of the best ways of interpreting scripture in my opinion comes from the Jewish school and this is known as “pardes” which means garden in Hebrew. Pardes is an acronym which stands for four layers of unerstanding:
P’shat — the plain sense. The first one concerns taking the text for what it is literally. This is probably the most obvious one but many people miss it. In other words the text means what it says and this should always be your starting point in understanding Scripture.
Remez — a hint within the text itself. Since every word and letter in the original Hebrew and Greek wasw given by divine inspiration, even a single letter can be a key to profound meaning. For example in Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the Lord God formed man…” The Hebrew for he formed is vayyetzer, which is spelled with two yuds, the hebrew equivalent of Y. In Genesis 2:19, we read that “God formed every beast…” Here, the Hebrew word is vayetzer and has only one yud, even though the plain meaning is identical. This is a remiz, or hint, that man, in contrast with the beasts, has two natures, an animal nature and a divine nature.
D’rash — a deeper reflection based on the text. This term is the basis for midrash, the creative explication of Scripture, that underlies so much Jewish interpretation, and appears in the New Testament as well.
For example Paul employs midrash in 1 Cor. 10:1-4 “For, brothers, I don’t want you to miss the significance of what happened to our fathers. all of them were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they all passed through the sea, and in connection with the cloud and with the sea they all immersed themselves into Moshe, also they all ate the same food from the Spirit, and they all drank the same drink from the Spirit — for they drank from the Spirit-sent Rock which followed them, and that Rock was the Messiah” (CJB).
The idea that a Rock followed the Israelites throughout the wanderings is not based on a literal reading of Exodus. Rather, it is an imaginative expansion of the story that unfolds an important truth. Messiah was with our forefathers in their wanderings and is with us.
Sod — the mysterious or secret meaning. This level of interpretaion is often based on gematria, the numerical value of the Hebrew letters.
You do not necessarily need to use all four of these methods in understanding any particaular text and some texts wouldn’t lend itself to such interpretation. But there is more to the text if we only search deeper. We as believers are not called to live on milk for the rest of our lives but are called to feast and digest real meat. So I urge to dig deeper not so your intelect will expand so that you gain a greater understanding of God and improve your relationship with Him. Enjoy digging.