Home > Interpretation, Theology > PaRDeS – the four levels of interpretation

PaRDeS – the four levels of interpretation

The PaRDeS system was first published in the Zohar in the second century, but it is evidently much older than that. The NT authors use all four levels, and thus, their understanding is crucial to understanding the NT.

This article can be found on various sites. Reproducing it here in no way means my agreement with those sites.

The Hebrew/Aramaic word PARDES is spelled in Hebrew and Aramaic without vowels as PRDS. PaRDeS refers to a park or garden, esp. the Garden of Eden. The word appears three times in the Aramaic New Testament (Lk. 23:43; 2Cor. 12:4 & Rev. 2:7).

The word PRDS is also an acronym (called in Judaism "notarikon") for:

  • (P)ashat (Heb. "simple")
  • (R)emez (Heb. "hint")
  • (D)rash (Heb. "search")
  • (S)od (Heb. "hidden")

These are the four levels of understanding the scriptures. Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.

The first level of understanding is PASHAT (simple). The Pashat is the literal meaning. It is similar to what Protestant hermeneutics calls "Grammatical Historical Exogesis" and also similar to what Protestant Hermeneutics calls "The Literal Principle."

The PASHAT is the plain, simple meaning of the text; understanding scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the words being used, in accordance with the primary exegetical rule in the Talmud that no passage loses its PASHAT (b.Shab. 63a; b.Yeb. 24a). While there is figurative language (like Ps. 36:7) symbolism (like Rom. 5:14); allegory (like Gal. 4:19-31) and hidden meanings (like Rev. 13:18; see also 1Cor. 2:7) in the Scriptures, the first thing to look for is the literal meaning or PASHAT.
The following rules of thumb can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its PASHAT:

When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative.
(Example: Prov. 18:10)

When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative.
(Example: same example Prov. 18:10)

When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative.
(Example: Ps. 17:8)

The PASHAT is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the PASHAT we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding. We are left with a no-holds-barred game of pure imagination in which we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exogesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis) (see 2Pt. 1:20-21; 1Tim. 4:3-4). Thus the Talmud twice warns us: "No passage loses its PASHAT" (b.Shab. 63a; b.Yeb. 24a).

The next level of understanding is called in Hebrew REMEZ (hint). This is the implied meaning of the text. Peculiarities in the text are regarded as hinting at a deeper truth than that conveyed by its PASHAT.

An example of implied "REMEZ" meaning may be found in Ex. 21:26-26-27 where we are told of our liability regarding eyes and teeth. By the "REMEZ" understanding we know that this liability also applies to other body parts.

Another level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "drash" meaning "search", this is the allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. Creativity is used to search the text in relation to the rest of the Scriptures, other literature, or life itself in order to develop an allegorical, typological or homiletical application of the text. This process involves eisogesis (reading of the text) of the text.
Three important rules of thumb in utilizing the drash level of understanding a scripture are:

[1] A drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its PASHAT meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict any PASHAT meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states "No passage loses its PASHAT." (b. Shab. 63a; b.Yeb. 24a)

[2] Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory. For example use Mt. 12:18-23 to understand Mt. 13:3-9; Rev. 1:20 to understand Rev. 1:12-16; Rev. 17:7-18 to understand Rev. 17:2-8 ect…

[3] The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.

Mt. 2:15 on Hosea 11:1
Mt. 3:11 on Is. 40:3
Rom. 5:14 (14-21) on Gen. 3:1-24
I Cor. 4:6
Gal. 4:24(21-31) on Gen. 17-22
Col 2:17
Heb. 8:5 on priesthood
Heb. 9:9, 24 on the Tabernacle
Heb. 10:1 on the Torah
Heb. 11:19 on Gen. 22:1f
1Pt. 3:21 on Gen. 6-9

The final level of understanding the Scriptures is called in Hebrew "SOD" meaning "hidden". This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. (See I Cor. 2:7-16 esp. 2:7). This process often involves returning the letters of a word to their prime-material state and giving them new form in order to reveal a hidden meaning. An example may be found in Rev. 13:18 where the identity of the Beast is expressed by its numeric value 666.

Dr. James Trimm

Categories: Interpretation, Theology
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