In Rabbinic Judaism, there are four basic exegetical approaches to understanding any one passage in the Scriptures. These four approaches form the acronym using the letters PRDS, which is often written out as PaRDeS. The four exegetical approaches are as follows:
- Pashat – plain, simple, and literal. This is generally the straightforward, direct meaning of the text.
- Remez – hinting toward a deeper meaning, often times by implication, beyond the literal interpretation.
- Drash – an inquiry into the the comparative (midrashic) meaning, often times by citing similar occurrences.
- Sod – the secret, esoteric, or mystical interpretation, frequently given through inspiration or revelation.
The following illustration is helpful in understanding how the four approaches of the PaRDeS exegesis function.
Imagine this fourfold method as four “levels” of a pyramid, in which the Pashat (plain, simple, and literal) interpretation of the Scripture is always the foundation upon which all subsequent interpretation are made. The following levels of PaRDeS build up progressively, in which the Remez (hinted) builds upon the Pashat, the Drash (metaphoric) builds upon the Remez, and the Sod (esoteric) builds upon the Drash. Although the Pashat, the Remez, the Drash, and the Sod exegesis of any Scripture passage may have different conclusions, at no point should any level of PaRDeS ever contradict any of its previous levels.
PaRDeS in Rabbinic Judaism
In Rabbinic Judaism, there are monumental works that are dedicated to understanding each level of PaRDeS in interpreting the Torah. The Mishnah, for example, provides a very basic understanding of halachic interpretation, akin to the Pashat. The Gemara builds upon the Mishnah, and digs a bit deeper into the text- much like the Remez digs deeper into the plain meaning of the Pashat. The Midrashim– such as the Bereshit Rabbah– provide a much deeper inquiry into the interpretation of the Torah, representing the Drash level of understanding. Lastly, the Zohar provides a very esoteric commentary on the Torah, finally arriving to at the Sod level of understanding. This is not to say that one will not come across a Pashat reading to the Zohar, or a Drash reading in the Mishnah; rather, this is simply to illustrate the point that these works– and works like them– are geared towards a particular level of understanding.
PaRDeS in the B’sorot
In many ways, four approaches of PaRDeS have a direct parallel in not only the Rabbinic writings, but in the the B’sorah as well. Beyond simply the obvious stylistic differences, which occur in any collection of writings by various authors, it becomes readily apparent that each of the four traditional B’sorot were written to different audiences, with different perspectives, and with a different level of understanding.
First is Marqus, for example, which the most basic of the four traditional B’sorot. Its purpose is simple: to give a very straightforward account of Yeshua’s ministry. It gives no background of Yeshua’s birth, genealogy, or life before His ministry, and is not overly concerned with occurrences after His resurrection. In fact, there is very little content within Marqus that is not repeated in Matityahu and Luqa. In short, Marqus represents the Pashat level of understanding.
Next is Luqa, which gives a totally different perspective on Yeshua’s ministry. Rather than the abrupt opening employed by Marqus, Luqa gives a detailed account of Yeshua’s birth and genealogy, and even covers some of His early years. Like Marqus, Luqa follows an accurate chronology of Yeshua’s ministry; but unlike Marqus, Luqa gives pays close attention to the many details, sermons, and public deeds of Yeshua’s life and ministry. Luqa represents the Remez level of understanding.
Next is Matityahu, which focuses on Yeshua’s ministry from a uniquely “Jewish” perspective; in fact, of the many times the B’sorah references (or alludes to) passages in the Tanakh, roughly 43% of those citations come from Matityahu. The purpose of this is to give a presentation of Yeshua’s ministry which compares His ministry with Messianic expectations discussed in the Tanakh. Matityahu deviates from the chronology presented in both Marqus and Luqa; this is because Matityahu’s presentation is midrashic, intending to convey how Yeshua’s teachings represent sound theology, rather than portraying an exact sequence of chronological events. Matityahu represents the Drash level of understanding.
Lastly is Yochanan, which presents a radical divergence from the previous three B’sorot mentioned. From the very beginning, Yochanan presents a Kabbalistic exegesis on Bereshit 1:1, which places Yeshua as the Word of Elohim as an ever-present being which existed alongside YHWH in the beginning. Yochanan places emphasis on not only the deity of Yeshua, but also His position in the heavenly realm, His enlightenment as a teacher, and an emanation of Elohim Himself. Yochanan represents the Sod level of understanding.
Just as the the Rabbinic writings mentioned above are commentaries on the Torah– the written Word– the B’sorot are commentaries on the life of Yeshua– the Living Word. Both collections of writings come from people groups rooted in ancient Judaism; both collections of writings record the halachic (legal) and haggadic (interpretive) teachings of two different sects of Judaism; and both collections of writings attempt to present a moral framework, built upon the foundation of the Tanakh.
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