The Bible - Divine Language
The Bible is a very special book. Obviously!
We call it the Holy Bible and that title is imprinted on the front of most Bible covers. In Jewish thought the Bible is indeed Holy - but it’s even more than that, it is Divine Language. The Language of God is so special and powerful, it can create worlds, speak blessings, demand wrath and prophesy the future.
No word or sound in the Bible is superfluous. Words in the text of the Bible are not just there to fill up space on a parchment. They are chosen for a reason and interestingly the words that are not used are considered just as important as the words that are used.
Four Elements of Hebraic Exegesis
According to Jewish exegesis there are at least four ways to read every verse, text and word of the Hebrew Bible.
- The first level of reading Bible is called P’shat פְּשָׁט. This is the direct literal, or simple, plain meaning of the text. Simply what the basic text says is what it means. The rule to Hebraic understanding of Bible is that all other forms of exegesis are valid as long as they do not contradict the P’shat, the literal meaning of the text.
- The second level is called Remez רֶמֶז. This refers to the allegorical nature of the words, the symbolic meanings of things. While not often used in application by Paul, there is the example in Galatians 4 of allegorising Hagar and Sarah into symbolic mountains of Sinai and Jerusalem. This never went against the fact that there was a real Hagar and Sarah.
- Following the Remez is the D’rash דְּרַשׁ from the verb ‘to demand’ which calls the reader to exegete the text and make it applicable in action. An example of a D’rash is when Paul quotes “Don’t muzzle the oxen while it is treading the grain.” in 1 Timothy 5:18 from the book of Deuteronomy 25:4. The plain text is an agrarian commandment for farmers but Paul applies this to the wages of a pastor. Paul’s use of the text does not undermine the P’shat, the literalness of the text, of what you do if you have a bovine grinding your wheat.
- Lastly, there is the Sod סוֹד, the mystery nature behind the text. The Sod is a part of understanding the Bible that only the Messiah will explain when He comes. We automatically begin all study of the Bible admitting that we will never know everything. A humbling beginning. We see Paul refer to this when he says, ‘Now I show you a mystery ..’ 1 Corinthians 15:51. For Paul, who sees the post resurrection gospel, some of the mystery in the Hebrew text is explained in the person of Jesus.
Interestingly, the four initial letters of the above form the acronym PRDS, which is also the Hebrew word for an "orchard" (Heb. PaRDeS), and the Rabbis liken the Word of God with our experience of an orchard - always having a new experience in store for us of sights, smells, emotions...
Messiah - He Paid In Full
Enabled with this multi-layered background to the Biblical text, let’s examine one simple word of the Messiah.
After His Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples as they gathered behind locked doors (John 20) and says, ‘Peace’. One simple word, Shalom in Hebrew שָׁלוֹם. Now quite literally Shalom does indeed mean peace, but according to its Hebraic context also means so much more. Shalom comes from the verb ‘to pay’. שָׁלם (Shalem) means "paid", masculine singular in the past tense. שָׁלם (Shalem) also means "whole". So when I go to the market in Jerusalem and want a whole roast chicken, I use the word שָׁלם. That means the whole thing including the neck, and even some of the feathers still attached!
Before Jesus was in that room with His disciples, they were scared, nervous, uncertain of current events and unsure of the future. Then He appears. It’s a miracle, the resurrection is true and certain. In that context Jesus proclaims שָׁלוֹם Peace!
How did He bring Peace? He had paid it, and He had paid it in full, the whole amount. All of that wrapped up in one word - Shalom שָׁלוֹם
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."