THE FOUR MODES OF
Restoring Ancient Biblical Exegesis
One of the casualties of the hellenisation of the Gospel (that is to say, the neo-Greek orthodoxy of Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches) has been what I call the "three dimensional" approach to scriptural understanding. Most of the non-Hebrew "gentile" churches have lost the keys to a deeper, esoteric understanding of scripture, leaving them with what might call a "monochrome" view of the Gospel.
In the New Covenant Church of God we stress the absolute importance of interpreting scripture within the historical context in which it was given, and resisting the temptation of "reading in" to it our modern assumptions about words and meanings. It is primarily for this reason that this Church has returned to its Hebrew roots.
There were, in the days of Jesus and the apostles, four basic modes of Scripture interpretation, all of which we, in the New Covenant Church, to varying degrees and with varying stresses, since our inception in 1987. These four modes are as follows:
- (1) P'shat ("simple"),
- (2) Remez ("hint"),
- (3) Drash/Midrash ("search"), and
- (4) Sod ("secret").
1. P'shat or Simple Exoteric Mode
This is the almost exclusive mode of scriptural interpretation used by theologians and scriptorians today known as "grammatical- historical exegesis". It is the plain, literal sense of the text which looks to the grammar of language and the historical setting as background for deciding what a passage means. But the rabbis in Jesus' day and afterwards had three other modes of interpreting scripture.
2. Remez or Mesoteric Hint Mode
In this method a word or phrase or other element in the text hints at a truth not conveyed by the p'shat. Thus God can hint at things of which the Bible writers may have been unaware of which they deliberately concealed in order to deny access to deeper truth to the insincere or lazy.
3. Drash/Midrash or Mesoteric Search Mode
This is the allegorical or homiletical application of a text. This is sometimes known as a form of eisegesis or reading one's own thoughts into the text -- as opposed to exegesis which is extracting from the text what it actually says. The implied presupposition is that the words of Scripture can legitimately become grist for the mill of human intellect, which God can guide to truths not directly related to the text at all.
4. Sod or Esoteric Secret Mode
Sod is a mystical or hidden meaning arrived at by operating on the numerical values of the Hebrew letters, noting unusual spellings, transposing letters, and the like. For example, two words, the numerical equivalents of which add up to the same amount, are good candidates for revealing a secret through what Arthur Köstler in his book on the inventive mind called "bisociation of ideas". The implied presupposition is that God invests meaning in the minutest details of Scripture, even the individual letters.
Collectively, these four modes of Scripture interpretation were called by the rabbis PaRDeS, an acronym formed from the letters of p'shat, remez, drash and sod meaning "orchard" or "garden".
What is interesting is that the writers of the New Testament use all four methods just as the prophets (to the horror and loss of many former members too exclusively steeped in the exoteric p'shat mode) of the New Covenant Church of God have done in the revelations and their esoteric translations of ancient texts (such as the Gospel of Thomas).
Let us take an example of how various mesoteric and esoteric methods are used by the New Testament apostles. Matthew, who wrote (it is believed) his Gospel in Hebrew before it was translated into Greek (the form we now have the oldest known MS in) writes:
"So (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where they stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet (Hosea): 'Out of Egypt I called my son'" (Matt.2:14-15, NIV).
If we interpret Hosea 11:1 (which is here being quoted) using the p'shat or literal method we are forced to disagree with Matthew who directly equates "son" with Jesus Christ because Hosea is indisputably talking about Israel:
"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me" (Hosea 11:1-2a, NIV).
We are forced, by the literal exoteric p'shat method of scriptural interpretation to conclude that Matthew was wrong for the "son" here is indisputably Israel and was even called "son" before leaving Egypt:
"Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the Lord says: Israel is My firstborn SON, and I told you, "Let My son go, so that he may worship Me." But you refused to let him go; for I will kill your firstborn son.'" (Exodus 4:22-23, NIV).
The two previous Old Testament quotations (Matt.1:23; 2:6) involved literal fulfilment, but this does not. So how, then, does Jesus' flight to Egypt fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet Hosea? Is Matthew misusing Scripture by twisting the meaning of what Hosea wrote?
We are forced to conclude that Matthew is giving us a remez, a hint of a very deep truth. Israel is called God's son as far back as Ex.4:22. The Messiah is presented as God's Son a few verses earlier in Matt.1:18-25, reflecting Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 9:5-7, Psalm 2 and Proverbs 30:4. Thus, mathematically, one might say, "the Son = the son": the Messiah is equated with, is one with, the nation of Israel. This is the deep truth Matthew is hinting at by calling Jesus' flight to Egypt a "fulfilment" of Hosea 11:1. Thus, as we would say in the New Covenant Church, Old Testament passages that speak of "Israel" are also talking allegorically of Christ AND vice versa, that is to say, passages talking of Christ in the New Testament are also talking of NEW ISRAEL, the Covenant People, or the New Covenant Church of God.
Now this may seem strange to our individualistically-oriented Western world. But to us as New Covenant Christians, who believe in the equal importance of personal as well as communal covenants, it is most certainly not. The fact of the matter is that Jesus stands for, and is intimately identified with, the people of Israel. You can't separate the two even though Christendom has tried to do so by twisting and perverting the Gospel.
You see, the individual who has faith in Jesus Christ becomes united with Him and is "immersed" (baptised -- Matt.3:1) into all that Jesus is, including His death and resurrection -- not just the person of Jesus but into THE WHOLE COVENANT NATION OF ISRAEL. So, just as this intimate identification with the Messiah holds for the individual, so the Messiah similarly identifies with and embodies national, corporate Israel -- "Israel" the nation and "Israel" the Church. Such a revelation opens up the Bible in ways inconceivable using the p'shat mode alone -- indeed one might even claim that it doubles the size of the Bible!
Matthew knew perfectly well that Hosea was not referring to Jesus or to a Messiah, or even to an individual. Yet he also sensed that because Jesus in a profound way embodies Israel, His coming from Egypt re-enacted in a spiritually significant way the exodus of the Israelite people.
Thus when the Lord spoke to Hosea He was actually saying more than Hosea ever dreamed. Hosea only ever saw Israel as He wrote the Word of God, but the omniscient God saw deeper and further into the antetype, namely, Christ. And the apostle Matthew, blessed by a new level of the spirit of prophecy, saw this. Thus we see how "the Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His Word" when that Word is prophetically discerned.
The New Covenant Church has for many years taught that Biblical prophecy is multi-layered and multi-faceted. There is more there than meets the "p'shat eye". Indeed our 1995 schism involved just this question -- the departing group maintaining that there is no "Israel" or Church organisation with the remainder reminding them that the Scriptures are not single-layered.
Many of the New Covenant's own revelations, believed at the time of reception to be referring to just one event or principle, have turned out to refer to many more that came to pass in the future. To the dismay of many "p'shat literalists", some of the earlier revelations have been prophetically expanded to include the new insights we have received. But we have done no more than the ancient Hebrew writers, including the authors of the New Testament who sometimes "misquoted" the Old Testament to make Scripture better "fit" what they were trying to convey.
There are, of course, dangers with any kind of mesoteric or esoteric approach to the Scriptures if our subjectivism is uninspired and actually leads us away from the truth. Look what hundreds of editions of European and American Bible translators have done in perverting the New Testament teaching on the Law in order to "harmonise" with pre-conceived Lutheran doctrines on grace. Our Protestant Bibles have diluted the Gospel horribly and created millions of "personal Christians" but few with any concept of what communal covenants are any longer. Christians have lost their "nationhood". They are no longer of Israel, which they have repudiated by their false exegesis of Scripture. Though many evangelicals pay lip-service to Israel they remain full-fledged members of the gentile "nations" they live in. They are no better off than the Jews were when they were in exile in the Diaspora. Christians have been dispersed from Israel by their own false, inadequate monochromatic Scriptural interpretations.
Some years ago we received a prophetic vision of the number "333" whose meaning we have been interpreting ever since. This esoteric figure has proven to be the centre of a very large, multi-layered prophetic onion indeed. We now have revelations totalling many thousands of words and referring to many different things arising out of a single vision of this number. We have, moreover, literally "lived" in the heart of this number. And we know that the Lord has much, much more to reveal about it.
To be complete Christians we must understand the Scriptures and live them. To understand them we must learn the four methods of Scriptural interpretation. But Christianity has lost most of these keys -- the esoteric tradition is practically dead, or has been abused by occultists like the kabbalists (who have basically used the Biblical forms or shells in which to secrete their New Age teachings). It is for this reason (and many others) that the New Covenant Church of God exists.
Understanding as we do the close intimacy between Israel and Christ will ultimately show us, moreover, that the falsely-called "Old" and "New" Testaments are, in fact, One Testament and One Gospel. As the children of Abraham we are under the Covenant of Abraham. As the children of Israel we are the sons of Jacob too through the Messiah Jesus. There is no distinction between us -- the children of Christ -- and the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are all one. We shall see, in fact, that the ancients were, and are, a part of the Eternal Round that the Gospel is. Jacob the man was a type of Christ, as was the nation he sired. In Christ, Jacob and his family -- the nation of Israel -- is brought to completion. The "Old Covenant" was never rejected or "brought to an end", as the grand heresy of Christendom maintains, but has been brought to completion in Christ. So imagine yourselves, in Christ, living with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in Christ. They are all "Christians" as we are. They always were -- only they never knew it. Now the question is: When will we recognise that we are of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? When Christians recognise what family they belong to, and stop orphanising themselves will false teachings, then they will finally enter into the rest of the New Covenant.
This page was created on 22 November 1997
Last updated on 20 February 1998
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved