Midrash and PaRDeS
One aspect of Jesus ministry often centered around demonstrating his authority and credibility above and beyond that of other rabbis like the Pharisees. At the time, Jewish scholarship was developing midrashic tradition that would eventually coalesce in the Mishna working with Oral Torah and the Halakha.
In order to assert his authority and demonstrate his superiority as a Rabbi, Jesus necessarily needed to demonstrate a proficiency in these same scholarly methods and endeavors - to superior effect and in a way superior to the pharisees.
This means that Jesus likely practiced a PaRDeS hermeneutic involving the following 4 methodologies:
- 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 'soda') — "secret" ("mystery") or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.
This means then, that to the extent that the use of Remez (רֶמֶז) and Sod (סוֹד) in interpreting the Torah involve eisegesis and to the extent that Jesus used Remez (רֶמֶז) and Sod (סוֹד) when teaching about Torah, Jesus practiced eisegesis.
Examples where Jesus used Remez (רֶמֶז)
David Bivin explains Remez (רֶמֶז) and gives some examples of Jesus use:
One of the basic, Jewish techniques of teaching in the time of Jesus involved the use of רֶמֶז (remez), which is the Hebrew word for “hint” or “allusion.” Jewish teachers, instead of fully quoting verses of Scripture, commonly alluded to the passages upon which their lessons were based. By using the remez technique, a teacher conveyed a great deal of information with remarkable brevity, in much the same way a poet can express complex ideas through metaphors.
The rabbis could teach in this manner because most Jews of the period—and certainly all disciples of sages—were well-versed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. The substance of an allusion sometimes was found in a passage immediately before or after the verse at which the teacher had hinted. To quote the entire passage was unnecessary since most in the audience had learned large segments of Scripture by rote. The moment a teacher made an allusion, the whole passage flashed across the mind’s eye of the biblically literate listener.
One finds numerous examples of remez in the Gospels. Many Christians, however, lack the scriptural background such a technique assumes. As a result, they run the risk of missing the subtler aspects of Jesus’ teachings.
John the Baptist used remez when he asked Jesus, “Are you the coming [one]?” (Luke 7:20; Matt 11:3). John hinted at “The Coming One” of Malachi 3:1 and Zechariah 9:9. Jesus responded in like manner: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Jesus’ answer contained hints at Isaiah 29:18, 35:5-6, 42:7 and 61:1.
Ordained minister Ray Vander Laan, founder of That the World May Know Ministries and creator of the Faith Lessons video series with Focus on the Family, and chair of biblical cultural studies at Holland Christian Schools in Holland, Michigan also notes several helpful examples of Jesus use of Remez (רֶמֶז)
The great teachers (rabbis) during Jesus' day used a technique that was later called remez. In their teaching, they would use part of a Scripture passage in a discussion, assuming that their audience's knowledge of the Bible would allow them to deduce for themselves the fuller meaning of the teaching. Apparently, Jesus, who possessed a brilliant understanding of Scripture and strong teaching skills, used this method often.
For example, when the children shouted "Hosanna" to him in the temple and the chief priests and teachers of the law became indignant (Matt. 21:15), Jesus responded by quoting Psalm 8:2: "From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise." The religious leaders' anger at Jesus can be better understood when we realize that the next phrase in the Psalm reveals why children and infants offer praise, because the enemies of God would be silenced. The religious leaders realized that Jesus was implying that they were God's enemies.
Jesus used this teaching method again when speaking to Zacchaeus. "For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost," Jesus said (Luke 19:10). The background to this statement is probably Ezekiel 34. God, angry with Israel's leaders for scattering and harming his flock, stated that he would become the shepherd and would seek the lost ones and save them. Based on this, the people of Jesus' day understood that the Messiah to come would "seek and save" the lost. By using this phrase, knowing that his listeners knew the Scripture, Jesus communicated several things. To the people, he communicated, "I am the Messiah and also God." To the religious leaders, whose influence kept Zacchaeus out of the crowd, he said, "You have scattered and harmed God's flock." To Zacchaeus, he said, "You are one of God's lost sheep and he still loves you."
Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s'mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah. Whereas most teachers of the law could only teach accepted interpretations, teachers with authority could make new interpretations and pass legal judgments. Crowds were amazed because Jesus taught with authority (Matt. 7:28-29), and some people questioned his authority (Matt. 21:23-27).
And James Prather (M.Div) provides an additional example of Jesus referencing Jerimiah.
Vander Laan's example in Psalm 8:2-3 is a pretty clear example of Eisegesis. Psalm 8:2-3 was never intended to refer to the Pharisees, but instead to King David's enemies and understanding that text in this way clearly imbues this text with new meaning for understanding within Jesus more modern context - the very definition of Eisegesis. This fits with Vander Laan's statement that
Jesus best fit the type of rabbi believed to have s'mikhah, the authority to make new interpretations of the Torah.
I would suggest s'mikhah is always eisegetical.
Examples where Jesus used Derash (דְּרַשׁ)
Dr. Shalomim Halevi states in his book "Growing Intellectually, Spiritually and Prophetically in the Hebrew Israelite Culture and Faith" that
The next level of Hebrew scripture interpretation is known as the Drash which means "to search." This is when we use the homiletical, topological and allegorical application of the Texts. We search the text as it relates to the rest of the Hebrew scriptures, life or a personal experience or other literature. This deals with eisegesis, or the reading of the text.
Dr. Donna J. Stundahl concurs in "Finding Freedom: Five Weeks in the Life of Moses" stating
Drash or midrash (meaning "search") is used to search the text for a relationship to other biblical or nonbiblical text as well as an allegorical or homiletical application of the text. Drash requires eisegesis, reading one's own thoughts into a text, as well as exegesis.
And James Prather notes Jesus' use of Derash (דְּרַשׁ) in Matthew 21:19-22 by giving a homily supported by using Jeremiah 8 as an allegory. Furthermore, Jesus uses several scriptures in this manner during the Sermon on the Mt. by rhetorically extending several commandments beyond their original scope.1
In summary, Jesus was an expert in the use of the above techniques and used them frequently. He was not just able to teach, but had reached a level of rabbinical scholarship and authority that he was qualified to practice eisegetical midrash. While many view eisegesis as pejorative, the fact is that Jesus read new meaning and perspectives into the Torah, so eisegesis fits here - Jesus did, in fact, practice eisegesis.
1 Matt 5:21, 5:27, 5:31, 5:33, 5:38,