What is the Midrash method of interpreting a Biblical verse and what application does it have in Christian studies as a hermeneutic principle?
Midrash is part of the rabbinic tradition and expounds on the torah text. It comes from the word dalet-reish-shin (d'rash), to "draw out".
There are two types of midrash, aggadah and halachic midrash. Aggadot are stories. Sometimes this type of midrash fills in gaps in the narrative, for example filling in dialogue between Avraham and God when God commands the sacrifice of Yitzchak. Sometimes it adds new information to address perceived problems in the text, for example explaining that God held Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Israelites when asking if they would accept torah, because the text says they stood tachat (under) the mountain. We understand "under" to mean "at the foot of", but that's not quite what it says. So the rabbis expounded on that. Sometimes aggadot are parables, not meant to be taken literally.
Many aggadic midrashim contradict each other, so they do not have the same status as halacha (law). But midrash is a tool for interpretation, and some of the stories that "everybody knows" from the torah aren't actually in there but are famous midrashim (for example Avraham smashing his father's idols).
The other type of midrash is used to derive halacha. It derives meaning using the talmudic rules of exegesis, including Hillel's seven rules and Rabbi Yishmael's thirteen rules. Both types of midrash rely on careful, close reading of the text, noticing apparent problems, contradictions, or similarities, and seeking ways to resolve them.
As for application to Christian studies, sorry, no idea.
For the Jewish perspective of midrash, I refer you to Monica Cellio's answer.
Bob Jones' answer covers Sensus Plenior, which uses many of the same methods as midrash and is uniquely Christian.
Martin Pickup's article in the June, 2008 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society documents the attitude of current evangelical scholarship: reluctant acceptance that New Testament writers used midrashic techniques to interpret the Hebrew Bible. He also documents that liberal critics sometimes assume New Testament texts (especially the Gospels) are examples of early Christian midrash explaining the life of Jesus. Neither camp, however, uses midrash to understand their texts. Rather they see midrash as a part of the intellectual background of the 1st and 2nd century Judah.
It could be argued that Jewish midrash has links to various mystic disciplines such as hesychasm in that interpretation is more of an art than a science. Meaning doesn't arise from impersonal rules, but from the interpreter developing a deep, mystic connection to the mind of God as expressed in the Scriptures. However, these ideas may be more a legacy of ancient Greek thinking (such as Pythagoras and Plato) than ancient Jewish thinking.
Personally I struggle with how the midrash methods ought to be blended with the inductive method I prefer. I know that the Apostles practiced something like midrash and that I'm singularly ill-equipped to follow them. Perhaps one answer lies in understanding the Bible as True Myth. C. S. Lewis wrote in "Myth Became Fact":
As Jon Ericson said:
The Midrash can be applied in Christian studies, moreover if we want to understand the Word of Jesus, to know His cultural and historical context, get to know Him better.
The Midrash was part of "Jewish traditions of interpretation and exegesis" of the time, so as Joseph Shulam wrote: ignore it "is to miss a very important tool for understanding the Word of God." It is like start to see a movie in its second hour.
You can find an example in this: Hidden Treasures, pages 13-14. Here is explained a relation between an ancient rabbinic midrash, Micah 2:12-13 and Matthew 11:12, the extract is:
The Midrash is taken from the Tana Debi Eliyahu, Ish-Shalom Edition, p. 82.
From the perspective of Sensus PLenior:
When Jesus was 12 he taught the teachers how to read the scriptures in a way they had never seen before. As a Jewish child he was taught to ask "What are these stones, referring to a pile of rocks by the water. But instead he asked about the cleft in the rock where Moses hid, and the five smooth stone which David put in his "shepherds pouch", the stone that gave water, etc. Since God said that he was the rock...
...the boy Jesus would see that all the rocks spoke of God.
The teachers saw the hidden pictures of the Messiah for the first time.
Over the next 18 years they perverted the method so that when Jesus began his teaching, they would not lose their control over the people. This is why they were called 'vipers' not misguided teachers. They knew the truth but lied about him.
Midrash and Sensus Plenior use the same methods of solving riddles, but in Midrash, one is forbidden from considering Christ as an answer to them. In the parable of the four rabbis they were warned: "When you see the white rock, don't say water, water". In sensus plenior, Jesus is the White Rock, and "Water, water" means the "Word of God in heaven and on earth".
The apostles use the methods of Sensus Plenior as their focus is ALWAYS on Christ.
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