I’ve pondered for a long time why there is so much error in doctrine these days. I’ve always wondered how so many believers could become so calloused in their belief and dogma as to call other believers heretics without proof of the heresy, or, twisting scripture to try to prove heresy. I’ve been the subject of such accusation myself, the target for people who always need to have some sort of object before them in which to shoot arrows.
A big mistake that many believers make when reading and studying Scripture is that they are studying it using a Western mindset to understand an Eastern mode of thinking. A good example is made with what happened in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The Japanese were Shintoists. Shintoists believe in ancestor worship. Their primary goal was to preserve the integrity of their ancestors by performing heroic deeds. When Allied soldiers tried to redeem the islands in the Pacific from Japanese hands they were befuddled by the tenacity of the Japanese soldier to fight to the death. Americans and other westerners believed on preserving life of themselves and their fellow soldiers. To the Japanese soldier, dying in battle was heroic and brought glory to their ancestors. In our common day, we see the same thing with Radical Islam. Their religion promises that if they die a martyr’s death, they will gain entrance into paradise and receive 72 virgins to make them happy throughout eternity. East and West have never been able to understand each other. There are some who do, and they are able to bridge the gap between the two, however these persons are rare, rare indeed.
The Holy Scriptures are Eastern in origin. They are Hebrew in thought and deed; this includes the Brit Hadasha (the New Testament). Yes, it might have been written in Greek, or it might have been written in Hebrew originally, but the thought was written by Hebrew men (except for maybe Luke), with Hebrew thoughts and intentions. This is one reason why so many people see a duplicity in the writings of Paul; they don’t look at them through Hebrew eyes. Paul, as an ambassador to the Gentiles was quite proficient in trying to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western thought, yet he is misunderstood, even to this day because people with Western eyes and mindsets are reading his words.
A good way to describe how Hebrews see things differently could be illustrated like this. When asked to describe a pencil, a person with western thought would say that it is yellow, with a metal strip at the top that contains an eraser. When a person of Eastern thought is asked the same question they would reply, “I write with it.” Western thinks analytically while Eastern thinks of function. When it comes to Scripture, those of Western thought often think of the literal meaning or the spiritual meaning. Very few think of both applying to scripture. In Hebrew thought, there is something called Pardes, which breaks study of scripture into four modes of thought and/or function. Here is a description of Pardes:
Pardes refers to (types of) approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism or to interpretation of text in Torah study. The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches:
- Peshat (פְּשָׁט) — “surface” (“straight”) or the literal (direct) meaning.
- Remez (רֶמֶז) — “hints” or the deep (allegoric: hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
- Derash (דְּרַשׁ) — from Hebrew darash: “inquire” (“seek”) — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences.
- Sod (סוֹד) (pronounced with a long O as in ‘bone’) — “secret” (“mystery”) or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.
Each type of Pardes interpretation examines the extended meaning of a text. As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the base meaning. The Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the text.Remez is the allegorical meaning. Derash includes the metaphorical meaning, and Sod represents the hidden meaning. There is often considerable overlap, for example when legal understandings of a verse are influenced by mystical interpretations or when a “hint” is determined by comparing a word with other instances of the same word. [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pardes_%28Jewish_exegesis%29]
So we see that there are four ways to look at every scripture: Literal, allegorical, seeking (or comparing), and esoteric. So, where western thinking places scripture as either literal or spiritual (Peshat or Sod), and many times in a loose manner; Hebrew culture looks at each scripture not either or, but as both and also as allegorical and seeking. This is the only proper way to look at scripture. I’ve run into many believers who look at scripture as only literal and that is good, but only one quarter of the understanding that can come from interpretation. Then there are those who make every scripture spiritual, which is mostly done to omit literal interpretation of scripture. A good example of this is the Replacement Theology people that assert that physical Israel no longer exists and the Church (the Spiritual Israel) inherits all of the promises given to Physical Israel. This creates a big problem in the interpretation of almost all the scriptures concerning the Second Advent of Mashiach. Another interesting article was found online. No copyright existed in the article but credits are found under the title and the source is at the end:
The Hebrew Mind
The Western Mind
“Hebraism and Hellenism – between these two points of influence
moves our world.”
William Barrett, Irrational Man
By Brian Knowles
The Bible, in its original languages, is, humanly speaking, a product of the Hebrew mind. The first and original manifestation of what we now call “The Church” was also an expression of the Hebrew mind. At some point in ecclesiastical history, someone snatched away the inceptive Hebraic blueprint by which Jesus’ movement was being constructed and replaced it with a non-Hebraic one. As a result, what has been built since is at best a caricature of what was intended. In many respects, it is downright contrary and antagonistic to the spirit of the original believing community.
The Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, appears, in our time, to be returning his people to the original blueprint. The Hebrew Roots movement, led I believe by the Holy Spirit, is doing much to restore to the Body a sense of its first foundations.
In this research paper, we will analyze some of the fundamental differences in the mindset of the Hebrews of Biblical times, and the Western, Hellenistic way of thinking, out of which has emerged the bulk of Christian theology.
Doing vs. Knowing
William Barrett, quoted above, explains that one of the most fundamental differences between the Western, Hellenistic mind and the Hebrew mind is found in the area of knowing vs. doing. Says Barrett, “The distinction…arises from the difference between doing and knowing. The Hebrew is concerned with practice, the Greek with knowledge. Right conduct is the ultimate concern of the Hebrew, right thinking that of the Greek. Duty and strictness of conscience are the paramount things in life for the Hebrew; for the Greek, the spontaneous and luminous play of the intelligence. The Hebrew thus extols the moral virtues as the substance and meaning of life; the Greek subordinates them to the intellectual virtues…the contrast is between practice and theory, between the moral man and the theoretical or intellectual man.”
This helps explain why so many Christian churches are focused on the issues of doctrinal orthodoxy (however they may define it) — often at the expense of godly living. In many Christian circles, what one believes or espouses is treated as more important than how one lives – i.e. how one treats his or her neighbor.
In Biblical Judaism, it is precisely the opposite. Christians are inclined to subject each other to litmus tests of orthodoxy, while Jews are concerned mainly with behavior. As Dennis Prager writes, “…belief in God and acting ethically must be inextricably linked…God demands right behavior more than anything else, including right ritual and right belief.”
It was gentile Christians, influenced by Greek philosophy, who both intellectualized and systematized Christian doctrine. Worse, they radically changed much of it. The Biblical Hebrews, and the Apostolic Era of the Church, had no formal theology as such. Nothing was systematized. The believing community had no entrenched hierarchy or magisterium through which all doctrine had to be filtered and approved. As with the unbelieving Jews, opinions varied from sage to sage.
What the apostles taught about any given subject was either learned directly from Jesus, then passed on, or determined situationally — on an “as you go” basis. They determined Halakha for believers in much the same way the sages of Israel did – as circumstances changed they rendered decisions about the application of Torah (cf. Matthew 18:18). Acts 15 provides an account of how at least one teaching concerning requirements for gentile believers was formed around 50 AD. Note the participatory nature of the discussion. The whole of the Church (Acts 15:4,12,22), not just an elite hierarchy, was involved.
In fundamentalist Christian circles, it is often more important to believe and espouse “the right thing,” than to live the right way. This is why we are so obsessed with creeds, doctrinal statements, Systematic Theologies, orthodoxy vs. heresy, and creating “Evangelical” or “Sabbatarian” or “Trinitarian” theologies. This mode of thinking is thoroughly Western, utterly Greek.
For many of us Westerners, the Hebrew mindset is so strange, so alien, so impossible to fathom, that we quickly snap back into the comfort zone of the Hellenistic mold when studying the Hebrew Scriptures. We then impose this distorting grid over the Hebrew text – or for that matter, over the Greek text of the New Testament.
We think, for example, in terms of “prophetic timetables.” Here again is the Western concept of time – points on a line. The Hebrew minds thinks of “the day of the Lord” – that is, the day or time when the Lord acts. The sequential order in which God will do things is of no concern to the Hebrew – only that he will act. The Western mind wants to have the “prophetic timetable” neatly arranged in time and space. We want to “tick off” events as they occur according to the pre-ordained schedule. This mentality is foreign to the Hebrew mind.
In Western theology, we have sometimes abandoned the literal interpretation of Scripture in favor of allegorical interpretations. This too is very Greek. It opens the door to a myriad of “creative” expositions that leave the student of Scripture confused and disoriented.
In the table that follows, we compare the Hebraic mode of thinking with the Western, Hellenistic mode in a variety of categories.
Hebraic vs Western Thinking
– A Comparison
Life analyzed in precise categories.
Everything blurs into everything else.
A split between natural & supernatural
Supernatural affects everything.
Contextual or “block” logic
Importance of being part of group
Equality of persons
Value comes from place in hierarchies
Competition is good
Competition is evil (cooperation better)
Worth of person based on money/material possessions/power Worth derived from family relationships Biological life sacred Social life supremely important Chance + cause & effect limit what can happen God causes everything in his universe Man rules nature through understanding and applying laws of science God rules everything, so relationship with God determines how things turn out. Power over others achieved through business, politics and human organizations. Power over others is structured by social patterns ordained by God. All that exists is the material The universe is filled with powerful spirit beings Linear time divided into neat segments. Each event is new. Cyclical or spiraling time. Similar events constantly reoccur. History is recording facts objectively and chronologically. History is an attempt to preserve significant truths in meaningful or memorable ways whether or not details are objective facts. Oriented to the near future Oriented to lessons of history Change is good = progress Change is bad = destruction of traditions Universe evolved by chance Universe created by God Universe dominated and controlled by science and technology God gave man stewardship over his earthly creation. Accountability to God. Material goods = measure of personal achievement Material goods = measure of God’s blessing Blind faith Knowledge-based faith Time as points on straight line (“at this point in time…” Time determined by content (“In the day that the Lord did…”)
When we bring our Western “scientific” approach to the study of Scripture, without due consideration for the mentality behind it, we may find ourselves producing exegetical distortions. To understand the Hebrew cultures of Biblical times, as did those who lived through those times, is to experience culture shock. Their worldview was very different than ours. Their patterns of thought were often quite distinct from our own. Their values and perceptions were also radically unlike ours. The whole Bible was written in a pre-Scientific age. The Hebrew language itself is quite unlike our own in many respects. Much has been lost in translation.Sources: Irrational Man, by William Barrett; Christianity With Power by Charles Kraft; Hebrew Thought Compared With Greek by Thorleif Boman; Judaism and Christianity – The Differences by Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, Our Father Abraham, by Marvin Wilson, God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel.
When we study Scripture, or when we consider the nature of the early New Testament Messianic community, we must take into account the myriad differences between Hebrew and Greek thought. Intellectually, we are Greeks, not Hebrews. We apply Aristotelian and Socratic thought patterns to practically everything. It is surprisingly difficult to escape these patterns and enter into the Hebraic mindset. We insist on rendering everything into logically consistent patterns, on systematizing it, on organizing it into tight, carefully reasoned theologies. We cannot live with inconsistency or contradiction. We feel compelled to think antithetically. The Godhead must be tightly defined and structured. We cannot live with the Hebraic idea that God is simply ineffable, and that God’s Book doesn’t lend itself to systematization. As Abraham Heschel wrote, “To try to distill the Bible, which is bursting with life, drama, and tension, to a series of principles would be like trying to reduce a living person to a diagram” – God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel, p. 20.
The Western mind, when seeking to understand Scripture or what it means to be a “Christian,” creates its own exegetical and theological dilemmas. (“If God is all-powerful, could he build a rock too heavy for himself to lift?” or “If God is love then why does he allow…?”) We relentlessly attempt to organize everything into manageable intellectual blocks and structures. We want all questions answered, all problems solved, and all contradictions resolved.
In our relentless quest to turn Scripture into a systematized textbook of theological answers about God, we have ended up distorting its meaning time after time. We have turned it into something that it is not.
We have sought to understand the incomprehensible God in concrete, yet abstract, terms. But, “To the Jewish mind, the understanding of God is not achieved by referring to a Greek way to timeless qualities of Supreme Being, to ideas of goodness and perfection, but rather by sensing the living acts of His concern, to His dynamic attentiveness to man. We speak not of His goodness in general but of His compassion for the individual man in a particular situation” (Heschel, p. 21). In other words, God is not “known” in the abstract, but in the specific situations into which He has asserted Himself. God is what He has revealed Himself to be, not what we have theorized Him to be.
Heschel points to the reason for Western confusion about God, “The categories within which philosophical reflection about religion has been operating are derived from Athens rather than from Jerusalem” (ibid. p. 25).
If we are to understand the Bible, and what it means to be a follower of Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah), then we will have to understand it Hebraically, not Hellenistically. This will require a philosophical and intellectual paradigm shift on our part. It will mean coming at Scripture from an entirely different angle. It will mean learning to think like the Hebrew who thought more like God.
Heschel also writes, “The Greeks learned in order to comprehend. The Hebrews learned in order to revere. The modern man learns in order to use” (ibid. p. 34). We want a religion of utility. We want techniques we can apply situationally to get into, or out of, some situation. We see much “technique-oriented” Christianity these days. We want techniques for understanding, systematizing and structuring the “prophetic timetable” so that we can know “what’s going to happen next” or so that we can know when to stock food and flee into the mountains to await the Lord’s return. Some people want to know so they can have something to market to other Christians who want to know. These are they who seek to gain from “godliness” or religion (cf. I Timothy 6:5).
We seek “Christian” techniques for inner healing, outer healing, exorcism, financial prosperity, or for receiving spiritual power. This way of thinking is alien to the Hebrew mind.
In our culture, we have commercialized everything, including Christianity. We no longer preach the Gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons and make disciples – we market tapes, booklets and trinkets. We make music, not to worship God, but to sell CDs. Evangelists are selected because they “know how to get the dollars in the door” or “attract the crowds” or “get the numbers up.” Ministerial power has been commercialized and politicized as much as that of regular politicians. Christian publishing houses publish celebrity Christian books – not because they are well written, or because they say something important – but because they will sell and make money for the company.
In the days when Jesus’ Kingdom movement was known as the “Sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5,14), being a “Christian” was about relationship with God and with fellow man (Matthew 22:36-38; John 13:34-35). In the centuries since, we have de-emphasized relationship, and at the same time have intellectualized, politicized and commercialized the “faith once for all delivered.” These three deleterious influences have radically changed the nature of the Church. The spirit of anti-Judaism and later anti-Semitism has done much to destroy the original personality of the believing community. This explains why it is so difficult for many to understand either Testament.
To truly grasp what it means to be a follower of Yeshua, one must return to the Hebrew roots of his movement, and of the documents we now refer to as “The New Testament.” [Source: http://www.godward.org/hebrew%20roots/hebrew_mind_vs__the_western_mind.htm]
I hope that I’ve been able to show where so many people err when they interpret scripture. It is no different than going to a full meal and eating only the appetizer and the dessert. Yes, those things are good, but the best part of the meal has been ignored and you don’t get the full nutrition that you would have gotten had you eaten all of the courses. It can be compared to trying to drive a car with only two wheels, or flying an airplane with one wing missing.
Yet another thing that many people do is they constrain Yahweh to the temporal, meaning that they try to constrict him to the time/space continuum. Much of scripture is written by an author that has seen it all happen already. When we read books like Revelation, or we read what seems to be two creation accounts in Genesis we see things from Yahweh’s perspective. In Genesis, we see the initial creation explained initially, and then we see an expounding of it a chapter later. We do that often, making ourselves guilty of what we see as duplicity in scripture. I’ll call my wife and tell her that I went with a friend to eat. Later, I’ll come home and I’ll tell her that I went with my friend to eat. We got a hamburger, some fries and a chocolate shake. The Bible does this repeatedly and people see it as being two events instead of an expounding of one event. Since the Book of Revelation first was written people have been speculating a timeline of events to happen in proper order. In all actuality, the events like the bowls, the seals, the trumpets and other things could be overlapping or all happening at the same time. The problem with prophecy is that people try to guess, and that never works. Prophecy is subject to the God of Prophecy, and thus we never see the fulfillment or order of a prophecy until after it is accomplished.
So, in closing, I state that people need to radically change the way that they look at scripture. They need to ask Yeshua to reveal thing through the Ruach Ha Kodesh in order to receive clarity. However, at the same time, there could be two occurrences or three meanings to one scripture, depending on how it is being approached. And, who here can say that they know the mind of Yahweh so that they can interpret correctly? NOBODY.