Hebrew Exegesis


Most of the world religions teach the language of their ‘Bible’ to their children so that they learn to receive inspiration from the original text. Christianity is sadly enough an exception. Most of the Christians are unable to read the Bible in the original text or do a word study with simple resources. This means that the person who wants to understand the Word of God is dependant of the translator. With every translation of a manuscript the text loses something of its original meaning. The translator has to make choices during the transformation of the original text to the object language.

These choices are influenced by the paradigm or the frame of reference of the translation team. There is not a real escape from your own mindset. Your mindset is formed by personal experiences of the translator and the culture in which it has been formed. This all has to do with the rules for interpretation and explanation of Scripture.

Words as exegesis and hermeneutic are generally known by most Christians. Exegesis means explanation of a text – the way we explain the script – what the original writer has meant to say. Hermeneutic describes the rules used to come to a proper exegesis. These rules are fixed inside theology and are often the basics of doctrines or the way to learn something.

This is the traditional western method of Bible explanation and interpretation. A small point of concern is that the method of interpretation (hermeneutic) is named after the Greek god hermes or mercurius. He is the son of alleged supreme god zeus in Greek mythology. He is the messenger of the Greek gods – an official PR office – so to speak. An interesting fact is it not?

Hebrew Exegesis

The Hebrew exegesis approaches this from a totally different view. In the Jewish approach of the interpretation of Scripture there is generally speaking more room for different opinions, then in the Western culture. Different opinions are valued as enrichment of the knowledge of the Almighty. In the Hebrew exegesis the following proverb is used: ‘The Torah has seventy faces, Shivim Panim La Torah’.

Indicating is that there is not just one explanation of a passage but there are many interpretations possible. In general there are four different levels of interpretations as indicated below:

  • Pesjat: The direct, simple explanation and the literal obvious meaning, with respect for language, context and culture.
  • Remez: A hint of hidden allusion, an allegoric (spiritual) explanation.
  • Derasj: To search and to unravel, a narrative explanation. The meaning of a text is often derived from a text elsewhere in the Bible.
  • Sod: A hidden message. These are the secrets of which Paul often testifies. These secrets are obtained through revelation of the Holy Spirit and not through human reasoning.

If you combine these letters you get the Hebrew word PaRDeS: meaning garden or court. A reference to paradise.

What is so different about the Hebrew or Jewish method of Bible study? First, let us settle and acknowledge that the Jewish people investigate the Word of God much longer than we do. They investigate just as upright as every other Christian does. They too search the Word of God for a living relationship with the Almighty.

Because they read the Word of God in the original Hebrew they are more conscious of which small irregularities there are in Hebrew. Like deviations in letter sizes (larger or smaller), broken letters or letters written backwards. Because they view the Word of God as God himself, these irregularities are no mistakes but meaningful irregularities that have to be investigated.

These special irregularities are lost during Bible translation. The translators are unable to situate these remarkable details in the translation. Transferring information is more important than searching and explaining deeper significations. Take for instance the word אֵ֥ת (eth), it appears 11050 time in the Tenach, but it is not translated. It is a combination of the first and the last letter of the Hebrew Alephbeth. So it can express the first and the last, and we believe that this is a title for Jesus Christ.

Numbers and letters

The Hebrew AlephBeth consists of 22 letters. These letters have each a different meaning and also each have a unique numeric value. In our language ‘a’ is just an ‘a’. There is nothing special about it. But in Hebrew ‘Aleph’ is not just an ‘Aleph’. This letter has more than one meaning and numeric value. You can find more information about this here.

Viewing from within the Hebrew language a passage not only do you see letters but also numbers and different meanings. If you add up the numeric values of the individual letters the numeric value of the word is present. The name of God (Yahweh) has the numeric value of 26: Yod (10) + Heh (5) + Vav (6) + Heh (5) = 26

We can conclude that there is a difference between our traditional way of explaining God’s Word and how Jews do that. We can learn a lot from the Hebrew interpretation of Scripture. This enables to discover the depth and the mysteries of the Word of God. By doing so we obtain bit by bit more insight who the Almighty is and what He signifies for us.