The proper understanding, interpretation, study and exposition of Scripture may only be found in the hermeneutical technique used by the rabbis in the rabbinic literature and New Testament period which is rooted in the Second Temple Period and the multi-faceted methods of interpretation developed by the Jewish people. Hillel the Elder developed seven distinct techniques for exposition that could be used to understand and apply the Scriptures in everyday life. We note that these principles are used throughout the NT text, examples are shown below. These rules of exegesis are as follows:
The Seven Principles of Biblical Interpretation
|Principle 1||קל וחומר – Kal vechamer (“light and heavy”): The argument from a minor premise to a major one. Example of Principle 1|
|Principle 2||גזרה שוה – Gezerah Shavah (“cut equally”): The teaching based upon an anology or inference from one verse to another. Example of Principle 2|
|Principle 3||בנין אב מכתוב אחד – Binyan av mikatuv echad (“building a teaching principle based upon one verse”): The main proposition is derived from one verse. Example of Principle 3|
|Principle 4||בנין אב משני כתובים – Binyan av mishnai katuvim (“building a teaching principle based upon two verses”): The main proposition is derived from two verses. Example of Principle 4|
|Principle 5||כלל ופרט ומפרט וכלל – Kelal uferat-perat vekelal (“general and specific–specific and general”): Teaching from a general principle to a specific one, or from a specific principle to a general one. Example of Principle 5|
|Principle 6||כיוצא בו במקום אחר – Keyotza bo bamakom acher (“as comes from it in another place”): A teaching based upon what is similar in another passage. Example of Principle 6|
|Principle 7||דבר הלמד מענינו – Devar halamed meinyano (“a word that is learned from its own issue”): A matter that is learned from its own subject. Example of Principle 7|
These seven principles may be seen in different passages of the various midrashim which are an exposition on the biblical text seeking the deeper meaning and practical application of the Bible by using highly developed exegetical techniques. Yeshua (Jesus) Himself used a method of interpretation which intensified the deeper meaning of Torah. He quoted from the Ten Commandments and then made application through practical interpretation. Later, Rabbi Ishmael expanded Hillel’s seven principles to thirteen; then Rabbi Eleazer enlarged the scope of hermeneutical principles to include thirty-two applications (not listed).
Another rabbinic method of interpretation is by the use of פַּרְדֵ״ס pardes:
PARDES (Heb. פַּרְדֵ״ס), the word pardes was used as a pneumonic for the four types of biblical exegesis, an acronym for the following words:
- פשת – Peshat (“the simple, literal historical narrative meaning”)
- רמז – Remez (“hint,” i.e., veiled allusions such as gematria, etc)
- דרש – Drash (“homiletical interpretation”)
- סוד – Sod (“mystery,” i.e., the esoteric interpretation)
Examples Hillel the Elder’s seven hermeneutical Principles
The Seven hermeneutical principles of Hillel existed long before Rabbi Hillel (110 BC, died 10 AD), however he was the first to write them down. These hermeneutical rules are so old we can actually see them used in the תנך Tanakh (OT).
According to history, the Rabbis Hillel and Shamai were competitive leading figures in Judaism during the days preceding and including the time period of Yeshua’s youth. Hillel was known for teaching the “Spirit of the Law” and Shamai was known for teaching the “letter of the Law.” Yeshua’s teaching largely followed that of the School of Hillel as opposed to the teachings of the School of Shamai. We know this from Yeshua’s teachings. One exception being Yeshua agreeing with Shamai regarding divorce according to Matthew 19:9.
We know comparing the history of Judaism that Yeshua’s golden rule paralleled that of Hillel (Talmud Bavli Shabbat 31a): “whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) History also bears out that when Hillel died the mantle of the School of Hillel was passed to his son Simeon. Upon Simon’s death the mantle of the school of Hillel passed on to Gamliel. This is the Gamliel who spoke up in defense of the disciples while standing in front of the Sanhedrin. (Acts 5:34-39) We also note that Gamliel was also the teacher of Paul with the statement that Paul sat at his feet. (Acts 22:3) When we study Paul’s writings it is easy to see that they are filled with the usages of Hillel’s Seven Rules. It would appear then that the Seven Rules of Hillel are at least part of what Paul was speaking of when he spoke of “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) since there is a “correct way” and a “incorrect way” to interpret the Scriptures! These things speak to us that there is a very rich Jewish context that is needed for the correct hermeneutical interpretations of the Scriptures. Therefore we must be very careful to examine these seven principles of Hillel and consider them when making an effort to understand the original intent of the writings of the New Testament!
Principle 1 – קל וחומר – Kal vechamer (“light and heavy”): The argument from a minor premise to a major one
The קל וחומר (Kal vahomer) principle states that what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case. A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signaled by a phrase like “how much more…” The Rabbis recognize two forms of קל וחומר:
- kal vahomer meforash – In this form the קל וחומר argument appears explicitly.
- kal vahomer satum – In which the קל וחומר argument is only implied.
Consider what we find searching for “how much more” in the NASB:
Let’s look at some of these references that we found using the Logos Software from תורה – Torah, נביאים – Prophets, כתובים – Writings, New Testament, and Paul’s writings. Hover or click on the links to read the verse:
תורה – Torah:
Devarim / Deuteronomy 31:27
נביאים – Prophets:
1 Samuel 23:3, Jeremiah 12:5, Ezekiel 15:5
כתובים – Writings:
Mishley / Proverbs 11:31, Esther 9:12
Matthew 7:11, 10:25, 12:12
Matthew 6:26, 6:30 = Luke 12:24, 12:28
Matthew 7:11 = Luke 11:13
Luke 11:13, 12:24, 12:28
John 15:18-20, John 7:23
Romans 11:12, 11:24
1 Corinthians 6:3
Hebrews 2:2-3, 9:13-14, 10:28-29, 12:9, 12:25
Principle 2 – גזרה שוה – Gezerah Shavah (“cut equally”): The teaching based upon an anology or inference from one verse to another
In Principle 2, an analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, word or Hebrew root. For example, where the same words are applied in two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both. Take for example, we search the following phrase in all English bibles: “no razor shall touch his head.”
By comparing these texts, Bamidbar / Numbers 6:5, 1 Samuel 1:11, and Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conclude that Samuel, like Samson, may have been a Nazarite.
Note here looking at the Hebrew text 1 Samuel 1:11, “then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”
ספר שמואל א פרק א
וַתִּדֹּ֨ר נֶ֜דֶר וַתֹּאמַ֗ר יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת אִם־רָאֹ֥ה תִרְאֶ֣ה׀ בָּעֳנִ֣י אֲמָתֶ֗ךָ וּזְכַרְתַּ֙נִי֙ וְלֹֽא־תִשְׁכַּ֣ח אֶת־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ וְנָתַתָּ֥ה לַאֲמָתְךָ֖ זֶ֣רַע אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וּנְתַתִּ֤יו לַֽיהוָה֙ כָּל־יְמֵ֣י חַיָּ֔יו וּמוֹרָ֖ה לֹא־יַעֲלֶ֥ה עַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃
Principle 3 – בנין אב מכתוב אחד – Binyan av mikatuv echad (“building a teaching principle based upon one verse”): The main proposition is derived from one verse
Principle 3, Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building a teaching principle from a single text or word), this can be accomplished by examining several passages. Take for example we look at the word דם (blood), we search blood on the passages from Shemot / Exodus 24:8, Jeremiah 31:31-34, and Hebrews 9:11-22.
Note the principle of the blood of the covenant being that which ratifies a covenant, even the one that we have by faith in Yeshua the Messiah! (Shemot / Exodus 24:8, Hebrews 9:12, 9:13, 9:14, 9:18, 9:19, 9:20, 9:21, 9:22)
Principle 4 – בנין אב משני כתובים – Binyan av mishnai katuvim (“building a teaching principle based upon two verses”): The main proposition is derived from two verses
Principle 4 is established by relating two texts together. This principle may then be applied to other passages. For example, consider according to Vayikra / Leviticus 19:35-36, “You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have; I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.” By the fourth principle of Hillel we can recognize the provision of equal weights and measures applies also to how we judge others and their actions.
Another example may be taken from Hebrews 1:5-14. Here the author of the book of Hebrews makes the statement that the Messiah is of a higher order than the angels. So we compare Tehillim / Psalms 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14 to Hebrews 1:5. Note also compare Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:43, Tehillim / Psalms 97:7, and Nehemiah 9:6 to Hebrews 1:6. We also get the following relationships:
Psalms 104:4 = Hebrews 1:7
Psalms 45:6-7 = Hebrews 1:8-9
Psalms 102:25-27 = Hebrews 1:10-12
Psalms 110:1 = Hebrews 1:13
The principle 4 Binyan av mishnai katuvim is very useful to identify biblical truths and then to apply them to real life situations. It is in this way the Scriptures may be recontextualized so that it remains relevant for all generations.
Principle 5 – כלל ופרט ומפרט וכלל – Kelal uferat-perat vekelal (“general and specific–specific and general”): Teaching from a general principle to a specific one, or from a specific principle to a general one
Principle 5, this describes a general principle thay may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. For example, in the creation account from the Torah, Bereshit / Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Then later in chapter 2, Bereshit / Genesis 2:7 and 2:21 particularizes this by giving greater detail of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve). Other great examples of this are found in the details on the moedim (festivals), where greater detail is given how to perform them, or in the sacrifices, where greater detail is given on how to perform them. The NT example could be to that of divorce, that one may divorce a wife due to “uncleanness” however, this is particularized that the type of uncleanness is that of sexual immorality with someone other than your spouse.
Principle 6 – כיוצא בו במקום אחר – Keyotza bo bamakom acher (“as comes from it in another place”): A teaching based upon what is similar in another passage
Principle 6 is related to whether two passages seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity. Compare the following:
Shemot / Exodus 25:22, Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1, Bamidbar / Numbers 7:89
Note that these text in Exodus compared to Leviticus appear to contradict one another, until we read Numbers. The book of Numbers explains that Moshe entered the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting) to speak with God from between the cherubim. Compare the following:
Shemot / Exodus 19:20, Devarim / Deuteronomy 4:36
Note that reading Shemot / Exodus 20:19 clarifies these verses telling us that the Lord God brought the heavens down to the mount and spoke reconciling these texts. (see Mishnah Sifra 1:7) Compare the following:
2 Samuel 24:9, 1 Chronicles 21:5
Note how reading further, 1 Chronicles 27:1 explains the numerical disagreement between these verses.
There are many more examples, such as in the NT text and Paul teaching from the passes from the Tanakh in Romans. These passages seem to conflict, Romans 1:17 and Habakkuk 2:4 saying that the just will live by faith, where he says elsewhere there are none that are righteous. (Romans 3:10 = Tehillim / Psalms 14:1-3 = Tehillim / Psalms 53:1-3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Paul does the same here: God will render to each one according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6 = Psalms 62:12 and Proverbs 24:12) with Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man whom the Lord will not impute sin. (Romans 4:7-8 = Tehillim / Psalms 32:1-2) Paul resolves the apparent conflict by referring to Bereshit / Genesis 15:6 in Romans 4:3 and 4:22. The Genesis text states, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” We note that this text resolves the apparent conflict for Paul showing that trusting, having faith, believing, we are considered righteous because of what Yeshua has done. This leads to our desire to be faithful, to walk in God’s holy and righteous ways, as our lives are conformed unto the righteousness of Christ!
Principle 7 – דבר הלמד מענינו – Devar halamed meinyano (“a word that is learned from its own issue”): A matter that is learned from its own subject
Principle 7 is the explanation that is obtained through context. This principle requires that the overall context is very important, as compared to the isolated statement. The overall context must be taken for proper exegesis. Take the example of Romans 14:1-4. Paul wrote, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Here Paul is not doing away with the kosher laws that are listed in the Torah. He is pointing out a particular aspect of the ritual preparation of foods, laying them before idols, if we look at the greater context of the book of Romans. The principle here is to whether laying meat before an idol or having someone of a different faith praying over the food, and then you buy that food in the marketplace does not make the food unclean. The greater principle here is that Paul is looking at the gentiles coming into the faith, and not understanding that idols are nothing, and foods are either clean or unclean based upon what the Word of God says.