Sunday, December 13, 2009

Unpacking Luther’s Baggage, chapter 4, page 1

Seven hours ago after a few prayers, I lit three candles on the Hanukkiah, for it was the second day of Hannukkah. It is often said that the eight days of Hanukkah are to remember the time that it took to make new oil as the one day supply that was found miraculously continued to burn, but the real reason is that the Maccabees were celebrating a delayed Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, which lasts for 8 days, because they were busy with a war of independence. 

Here is a very quick overview to Rabbinic Hermeneutics, using an analogy
In drafting, whether using computer aided design or an old fashioned drafting board, a common way to describe an object is to portray it in four views. The top view shows the object as seen from above and it is positioned on the paper above the side view. Their edges are lined up such that you can see where different features, such as a hole, are positioned. The rear view is to the right side of the side view, and it too is placed such that you can follow the lines to better view the shape. But, these flat images are given more depth when a perspective view is added. These four views, along with dimensions and leader lines, provide enough information to understand the object in three dimensions.

Why does the New Testament have four Gospels?  Theologians have studied the Gospels and noted the similarities and differences among them. They have usually concluded that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were synoptic, because they are so similar to each other (Synoptic meaning "seeing together") and have developed fairly complex theories as to the literary interrelationship among each other. The following is a typical way to describe these three Gospels:

Matthew wrote to a Jewish Christian audience in order to present the truth that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah, the King of the Jews. Matthew seeks to prove from Jesus’ life and the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  Matthew has the largest number of OT quotations of all the writers.

Mark’s Roman readers weren’t as interested in OT prophecies; the concept of a Messiah wasn’t part of their national heritage. Mark writes in a very straight-forward, simple style to demonstrate that Jesus is God who came in human flesh. The very first verse of his gospel says: "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.

In some ways, Luke tries to find a happy medium between Matthew and Mark. Luke also focuses on the deity of Christ, rather than Jesus as the Messiah. And yet he doesn’t ignore or downplay the many OT quotations and prophecies. Luke wants Theophilus, and others who might read his gospel account, to know that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world – Jews and Gentiles."

Every commentator agrees that John is different. They compare the Greek words that he uses or doesn’t use, his writing style, the subjects, the different chronologies, and are quite puzzled by the other-worldliness of it. Perhaps it is because they are not seeing that underlying the Greek text is the imprint of Hebrew thinking, idioms, and values which has expressed itself through four different prisms.

Today there are four levels of written commentary on the Torah that were redacted from the oral tradition starting about 200 A.D. But the source of these methods goes back many years before Jesus.  Torah means “teaching”; it also represents the five books of Genesis through Deuteronomy, and, more specifically, the commandments. Each of these methods provides a deeper investigation of the Torah, or the Word of God. The first level of commentary is a simple, grammatical document called the 'Mishna', meaning 'the second', because it is second to the primary source of Torah. It has very few cross references and does not veer far from the simple meaning of the text.  After the grammatical, Mishnaic level came the allegorical level called Gemara. It uses the “hint" level of interpretation called "RehMehz". It is a commentary on the Mishnah and goes beyond the literal to the allegorical. The third redaction of the oral Torah was the parabolic level called "from the threshing", or "Midrash". It is more liberal in its interpretation and has thousands of parables.  Finally, the fourth way of looking at the Torah came as the mystical level for those who received the hidden or secret meanings of Torah, called the "Zohar" or "Radiance". Each of these methods has a different set of hermeneutical laws; they vary from 7 laws for the Mishnah to 42 laws for the Zohar. The increasing complexity echoes the sophistication of the literary styles.

These four levels are directed at four levels of audiences or students. 
1. The Mishna is the basic grammatical interpretation written to the common man or woman who wants and must begin with the basics.  
2. The Gemara is intended for the professional and aristocratic members of society.  
3. The Midrash is for the more noble or regal level of students. 
4. The Zohar is for the highest level of audience, the heavenly or mystical reader

These four levels of interpretation and audiences are found in our Bible, both in its verses as well as its books. Let’s consider where they have expressed themselves in the Gospels. 

Mark calls himself a servant, a worker who is a man of action who sees Jesus through common eyes. He writes to common people and presents Jesus on their level. Mark’s Jesus is the "Servant of the Lord" and his literary style of Mark is that of the Mishna. It is the shortest Gospel.

Luke is the professional, the beloved physician who saw Jesus through the eyes of the aristocrat and wrote on that level. "Most noble Theophilus..." The literary style of Luke is that of the Gemara, in that it has many stories told through allegories.

Matthew represents the majestic, priestly family. Unlike Mark, which has 16 chapters, Matthew has 28. Matthew sees Jesus through regal eyes and writes to those on that level. His style is that of the Midrash – the parabolic. "The Kingdom of Heaven" is a phrase found only in Matthew, just as it is found only in the Midrash. There are more parables in Matthew than in any of the other Gospels. The Midrash has over 4,000 parables.

John is the mystical, apocalyptic writer of Galilee who has his mind set on the divine. John portrays Jesus as the incarnate Word of God who is one with the Father. He is the Redeemer who comes down from the heavenly Father and returns to him.  John takes us back to “In the beginning” and reveals the Word as the great I AM who is the bread of life, light of the world, door of the sheep, and good shepherd. He is the resurrection, truth, and the life. The symbolism is written from the perspective of an Eastern mind that uses stories, word pictures, and parables to show that Yeshua was not only the greatest rabbi who ever lived, but the rightful heir to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is an other-worldly portal into the divine plan.  John provides the 3-D perspective that illuminates the life of Jesus.

God the Father is the Master Draftsman who arranged these four views to present Jesus/Yeshua as the living Torah, so that mankind could better understand Him. The Jewish writers arranged these Gospels into four distinct volumes in a way that is remarkably similar to how the Oral writings portrayed the Torah. In future posts, we will look at some examples of these literary methods within various Bible passages. 

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