Exegesis is the process by which we draw out “the real meaning” of a text, based on the principles of Sola Scriptura (known as Pashat in Jewish Exegesis), and praying to God for wisdom and understanding.
In layman's terms, what we want is to find and understand the straightforward meaning of the text – the way God intended. This approach is based on the idea that, since God wants us to understand his Word (as he gave it to us), the meaning of a verse cannot be different from it's plain reading.
For if we can say a verse means something other than it's plain English, we are able to say any verse can mean anything we want. Then no verse can be trusted! We reject such an idea out of hand.
To help with understanding I will use the KJV and RSV, comparing them against other popular translations.
Ecumenical Authority means simply that God has the right (by whatever means) to decide what is true, false, good and evil, in spite of our free will. In the bible this is shown (proven) by the creation story where God demonstrates his ownership of, and superiority over all creation.
Once we have established that God has made statements defining what is and what is not true, false, good and evil in the Bible, we can establish the first principles of exegesis. To do this, we simply take everything that God has said about himself and the bible – i.e. everything that God has said about exegesis, and write it out. By deferring to God's own statements on the subject we thus arrive at a “first principles” approach to Biblical Exegesis. This is an especially important step because it demonstrates we carry no prior beliefs into the approach by which we may fall into error.
All across the Jewish (and Christian) scriptures the bible confirms that first principles exist, in the manner prescribed above. Here is a selection of verses and some short point-form notes we come up with: Exegesis Exhibit A.
FROM the above article and our statements on ecumenical authority we gather the following first principles:
The Word of God has ultimate Ecumenical Authority. This doesn't just mean it is true, but that we can be assured that the message in the Torah is understandable by those who hear it and read it. It is always direct and clear. As examples consider Isaiah 45:19 and Habakuk 2:2. God has intended us to understand his message. It is not hidden; it is readable and reliable. It is near to us (able to be comprehended) so that we may do it.
Based on God stating that not all prophecy can be trusted by default (as his word can be trusted; see A).
All doctrine, prophecy, etc. must be tested against the word of God found within the Torah. Passages listed below from Exhibit A discuss this test or the issues surrounding the testing. This means that the prophets and the writings cannot be used on the same terms as Torah (to establish doctrine). This is why you will see a phrase from the Torah before phrases from the prophets (in all of these sections); the prophets and writings here only seem to echo what was already written in the Torah.
No prophet can issue any binding statement beyond what is in the Torah because that would amount to progressive revelation, which is expressly forbidden by the Torah itself; additions nor abrogations (of any kind) are allowed. There is a hard separation of authority between Torah and the rest of Tanakh.
Texts which are not direct statements can not be taken as direct revelations, nor can they supersede any previous direct statement. You may not root your way into hidden (deeply spiritual, metaphysical) things via speculation; or by such as considering statements found in the prophets or writings as directly revealed doctrine, or as commandments by God. You may not rely on your personal understanding if it goes against the words of God. Doing something differently than has been commanded is punishable (you may not put aside any commandment).
These are absolute statements which can never be abrogated no matter the source; despite any miracles, etc.
The purpose of God's statements is to create good in the world and to keep his promises and enforce his decrees.
(One of the main purposes of; The purpose of) prophecy and writings outside of the five books of Moses is to draw Israel closer to keeping the Law. God is Good, and he looks after his creation.
Applying the rules from A-B-C-D allows us to make several fundamental statements about God's word, and from there we may begin understanding the bible as God intended. Again this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, just to give a few of the more obvious general rules so people don't get started on the wrong foot.
A verse may not depart from it's literal meaning; especially a Torah verse. God spoke directly to the Jews at Mt. Sinai and therefore we must accept that God was capable of explaining himself perfectly well.
Progressive revelation, living text, or double-prophecy is denied by God.
From above; by 1 and 2, no later commandment has the power to over-ride an earlier one; God is surely aware we exist in time and will not 'change his mind' at a later (to us) time; this was given as his guarantee to us.
This could also be stated as the principle of the eternal covenant; if God states a covenant is eternal or that a promise is eternal, he will not change his mind at a later date.
On a very basic level the reason why God is doing things the way he is doing is because he loves us and wants to have a relationship with us; he cares about us and therefore cares for us. Our purpose on the earth is to tend and keep it, to choose good and righteous things and to create goodness and righteousness in the world. To this end he promises to keep us safe and successful in this world and in the kingdom of heaven.
To help us along with this task as he has created us to do, God gives us advice and wisdom as recorded in the bible. God has said he has given us this advice because he has created that advice for the purpose of it being true; this is perhaps difficult to explain or understand, essentially God gives us his “advice”, and because he tells us his advice is good, true, pure, applicable, faithful, righteous, whole-hearted, and so forth– there is no reason not to believe him. I.E. in the same way God is capable of commanding the sun and moon into existence, in the same way he is capable of commanding “be fruitful and multiply,” God is capable of stating “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself,” and so forth. When God tells us that he has set before us life and death, we must believe him. When God urges us to choose life, we must believe that this is the choice he wants us to make; and we must believe everything else he has said regarding it.
Nowhere was it said that we can create a meaning or theory out of a verse which contradicts the meaning of a second verse. This means when a verse is unclear, or when it might mean something, we must consider all related verses in understanding the meaning of that verse. For example, the famous Isaiah 7:14 dispute. If even the Septuagint translates almah as parthenos in places where it clearly does not refer to Virgin, then without some other external source to inform us of the meaning virgin we must NOT assume it means virgin. This is doubly confirmed by the principle of immediate revelation above; a sign (to king Ahaz) cannot be a sign if he does not ever see it. And, it cannot be a double prophecy because then there is no control over verification of one sign independent from another and no way to confirm if a prophecy has been fulfilled or not. Triply it is also forbidden to delve into secret matters; if a sign has been visibly fulfilled in the service of God's plan it is not permitted to speculate it might be filled in order to show some secondary unrelated idea that is not clearly stated in the text.
All of these principles are related; one way of summarizing them would be to say that one must never take a verse outside of the Torah and use it to contravene any of the statements in the Torah.
There seems to be some sort of idea here that wicked people (defined solely as those who do not seek and/or fear God, or the outright wicked i.e. criminal) – can not understand God's word in some way (as defined in these passages– we're not making any other claims here but what is written here).
Caveat of Caveats: These passages are from the prophets and the writings. No such statement can be found in the Torah. In the Torah, everyone understands, but the 'wickedness' is of choosing not to participate or follow God's clearly explained word. Further, these passages obviously don't apply to anyone who fears God, who earnestly seeks God (see: A. Perfect Authority ex. Isaiah 45:19).
|7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.||KJV|
|5 Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the Lord understand all things.||KJV|
|9 And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.||KJV|
(note, this prophecy was until the land was laid waste, certainly during some short time after the destruction of the second temple, and also note that “a tenth will remain”; the “holy seed”; the remnant. So it's included here to show that the concept exists in the bible even though it is unlikely to apply today, or to 'every' jew).
|11 Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.||KJV|
|10 Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.||KJV|
One may ask, how does God want us to serve him? How does God want us to act? I.E. should we believe in Jesus and be saved? Should we be Buddhists? Does God just want us to be good people?
We may first look for any plain statements; what does God want from us? What are we bound to? The answer may be surprising. In general terms, the answer could be different for everyone. Without presenting my complete analysis I would suggest that the following groups of people may have very different responsibilities:
For example, Christians often take the Ten Commandments as literal commandments that they should follow; or they take Jesus or Paul's mention of various commandments (even, love they neighbor as thyself) – as “essentially binding”. I.E. they're at least common sense to a Christian. But the truth is, that these were commandments given only to the Jews. It is incorrect to assume they apply to all humans (or even Christians).
Au contraire, if one is not a Jew, the 10 commandments do not apply to them and instead the Noachide commandments are fully binding. Of course one would note that the 10 commandments are basically an expression of the Noachide commandments, with the addition of the Sabbath with which God blessed the Israelites with as their interhitance and their eternal sign of their covenant with God. I.E. the Sabbath isn't binding to Noachides at all for any reason. The sort of “cultural appropriation” of the Jewish sabbath is actually an incredible sin, and must be avoided at all costs.
So what then of the sons of Ishmael? We do not know, and this is somewhat interesting, because as sons of Ishmael, the bible does not follow their development. The bible does say that God walked with Ishmael. We may speculate that perhaps God has rules for Ishmael that we don't know about, but we don't know for sure because the bible is only concerned with the development of Israel.
What then of the Noachides? If you are not directly aware of any other covenant you are surely under the Noachide covenant. So, what does God expect you to do? This is outlined in the Seven Laws of Noah.
With respect to Judaism and Jewish Law, Christians do not appear to have any rights under the Siniatic covenant; it is a curious development indeed that they are a people who claim to be, but are not, under the covenant – whatever word we would use to express that. What rights then do we have? What covenant are we under? What is God's plan for us? Why are we here?
I know these questions can be confusing. And I don't have all the answers. But we can begin with Exegesis II.