The Four Ways the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) Uses the Hebrew Scriptures

This material is a recommended starting point. It contains essential information that will be frequently referenced.

In the Jewish community, there are four basic methods of interpretation used to understand the Scriptures. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, they are:

  1. The Literary or Literal – P’shat :
  2. This consists of applying to the text of the Bible the normal standards of diction, style, and arrangement in order to understand the plain meaning. P’shat deals with the explanation the plain meaning of the text. Of the four, this is the interpretive method the rabbis prefer.

    In the Talmud, in Shabbat 63A, this statement is found:

    “A verse cannot depart from its plain meaning,[1]

    The importance of this statement is revealed by Rabbi Aharon Feldman in his book The Juggler and the King. Rabbi Feldman describes the comment, “a verse cannot depart from its plain meaning” as the “Sages dictum.” A dictum is an “authoritative declaration.”[2] He goes on to say that it is an authoritative declaration of the rabbinic sages that “the simple meaning of the text is always true.”[3] So, the rabbinic sages understood that this interpretive method was to be preferred.

  3. The Philosophical or Rationalistic – Remez :
  4. This method consists of deriving from Scripture the allegorical meaning of the text. An allegory is a symbolic explanation. The rabbis tend to see extensive symbols in the biblical text. However, most of their symbolic interpretations cannot be substantiated by the text. The vast majority of rabbinic Remez is simply clever, intellectual, imaginative speculation.

  5. The Homiletical or Midrashic – D’rash :
  6. This method consists of selecting from the teaching of the rabbis’ lessons of an edifying or practical nature which the text suggests. D’rash deals with day to day practical application of Scripture.

  7. The fourth interpretive method is the Mystical or Allegorical-Sod :
  8. This method consists of finding hints or allusions in the Bible on the nature of God and the soul, etc.[4]

This approach to Biblical interpretation is four-fold in method and very fluid in application. By fluid I mean that it is considered valid to apply each of these four methods to the same verse in the Bible in order to determine the meaning. As a result, in the rabbinical mind, any particular verse can have four levels of meaning:

  • The P’shat – the verse can have a plain meaning – and
  • The Remez – the verse can have an allegorical meaning
  • The D’rash – the verse can have a practical application
  • The Sod – the verse can teach about the nature of God.

The writers of the New Testament quote the Hebrew Scriptures using the cultural mindset of the day in which they lived. The result is that they used this “four-fold-fluid” approach rather than any single or rigid method. In fact, Matthew uses all four methods, one after the other, in Chapter 2 of his book. This reflects his first-century Jewish mindset and culture. In Matthew 2:5-6, he views Micah 5:2 as a literal fulfillment, a P’shat. In Matthew 2:15, he views Hosea 11:1 philosophically or typically; in other words, he uses Remez. In Matthew 2:17-18, he views Jeremiah 31:15 homiletically, a D’rash; Matthew 2:17-18 is a practical application of Jeremiah 31:15. Finally, in Matthew 2:23, he makes a summary statement covering all that the prophets (note: plural) as a group taught about the Messiah. In Matthew 2:23, he is approaching the text from a mystical point of view, he is using the technique called Sod.

All quotes of the Hebrew Scriptures in the New Testament will always fit into one of these four categories. The New Testament, because it is a Jewish book and written by Jewish authors, is very consistent in the way it uses the Hebrew Scriptures. The following terminology will be used when referring to these four categories. I will call them:

  1. Literal Prophecy plus Literal Fulfillment – P’shat,
  2. Literal Prophecy plus Typical Fulfillment – Remez,
  3. Literal Prophecy plus Application – D’rash,
  4. Literal Prophecy plus Summation – Sod.[5]

You would be wise to master this material. A mastery of these ideas will go a long way to aid your understanding of prophecy and your ability to defend the Bible against critics.

  1. ^ The Soncino Talmud (©1973 Judaica Press, Inc. and ©1965, 1967, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987, 1988, & 1990 Soncino Press, Ltd.) is a product of Judaica Press, Inc. Brooklyn, NY, and, if included, is incorporated herein pursuant to exclusive license.

  2. ^ WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University

  3. ^ Feldman, Rabbi Aharon, The Juggler and the King, (Spring Valley: Philipp Feldheim, Inc.) 1990, pg. xxii

  4. ^ Encyclopedia Judaica, CD Rom Edition Version 1.0, s.v. “Literature, Jewish”

  5. ^ Fruchtenbaum, Dr. A.G., Manuscript #134 – “How the New Testament Quotes the Old Testament,” (Tustin:Ariel Ministries, 1991), pp 2-9; see also Cooper, Dr. David L., Messiah: His Historical Appearance (Los Angeles, California: Biblical Research Society, 1958), pp. 174-178