What is Midrash, and is it Important?
MattS AMTM July 2019 Part 26
It is in the last 6 months or so, that I have come across the idea of “Midrash” as a way of understanding the bible, you might say it a more 3 dimensional view of scripture. At this point I have to be very clear that the Midrash I speak of is NOT the rabbinical Midrash that Google is so fond of throwing up on any given search.
The Midrash I speak of came through Jacob Prasch, a bible teacher of Moriel Ministries. If you know of Jacob, you will know the robust and uncompromising messages he brings from scripture. Many people are offended by Jacob. That he dares to name the false teachers and heretics, he is loud and somewhat brash in his style, and yet I have been unable to find a better teacher of scripture in recent years.
Jacob is a Bible scholar and speaks both Hebrew and Greek fluently in his native New York accent. I have come to admire Jacob’s complete willingness to teach scripture as perhaps the Apostles would have done so. Jacob digs into the Hebrew and Greek meanings of the text, and draws out the layers of meaning within scripture in an exacting way. Jacob does not tolerate error in this regard. I appreciate this, as I have discovered that there is so much error in the teaching flooding into the Church these days. Jacob concerns himself with teaching the truth.
I have included this article under false teachings and heresies, as there is a false type of Midrash that is not to be confused with the original purpose of Biblical Midrash. The way that gentiles of Western and Hellenistic thinking interpret scripture, is less than satisfactory.
As I have learned about Midrash, and come to grasp small aspects of the concept in my understanding the Word of God, I now have a whole new way of looking at the Bible. To say that I understand Midrash is far from true, but as I have the Bible explained in Midrashic terms by the likes of Jacob, I am beginning to have an appreciation of the way the Jews understood Bible, prophecy and scripture.
So, what is Midrash?
The word Midrash means “an enquiry into”; that is enquiring into the scriptures. The word Midrash is mentioned twice in the Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles 13:22 & 2 Chronicles 24:27. Although it is translated as “Treatise”, I notice my NASB version footnotes it as Midrash. I will emphasize again that this is NOT the “rabbinic midrash” that came several centuries after Jesus and is something quite different from Biblical Midrash. Rabbinic Midrash is a counterfeit of the real Biblical Midrash.
So, Midrash is a way of interpreting scripture, and it is in scripture, therefore it is Biblical.
There are two types of Midrash; there is Haggadic Midrash and Halakhic Midrash.
Halakhic Midrash is rabbinical and legalistic i.e. that dealing with the law, this is not in scripture, so it is a wrong form of Midrash.
Haggadic Midrash (as in the Haggadah) means ‘telling’, as in the Passover Seder of the book of Exodus that is enacted as a remembrance of Passover each year. This type of Midrash is scriptural and was used by Jesus.
Biblical Midrash as taught by Jesus and the apostle Paul is a complex idea, especially for the majority of us who were raised in Western Greek Hellenistic thinking. To have a better grasp of Midrash you would need to have an appreciation of the Hebraic way of viewing scripture. In simple terms, we Western Hellenistic thinkers tend to think of things in straight lines and a somewhat one dimensional view. We will often look at scripture and take it for its face value, and this may lead to some issues around interpreting and understanding scripture as God intended.
The Hebrew-Jewish scholars/rabbi’s of Jesus and Paul’s time used the Midrashic approach in explaining, interpreting and understanding scripture. Once again, in simple terms, they used a combination of allegory (a picture revealing a hidden meaning) and typology (a type of) to reveal the deeper meanings in scripture. There can be multiple meanings in scripture, the literal meaning (peshit) and the deeper meaning (pesher). Midrash is never is a basis for making doctrine, it always supports or validates scripture.
As shown in my illustration at the beginning of this article, Greek Hellenistic Gnostic Western thinking tends to go in straight lines, from A to B. Eastern thinking tends to be circular in nature, as in a cycle of life (think reincarnation for example). Midrashic thinking as a concept might be seen as a combination of the two in how it is seen; in saying this Midrash neither supports reincarnation or Gnostic thinking. Midrash as a geometric shape may be seen as a repeating pattern of conical shaped spirals merging into one another as per my diagram in the article illustration above.
Midrashic interpretation of Biblical prophecy shows a repeating pattern of events/types that accelerate toward a conclusion. The repetition will always end up with a final and concluding event, but each cycle of repetition shows how the final event will be played out. Each individual cycle starts out slowly and then rapidly accelerates toward a conclusion. This Midrashic way of looking at scripture, is testament to the amazing way in which God has chosen to show us how He intends to finally conclude things. It also shows the deeper meanings that God has placed in a book (the Bible) that span over a period of time written by around 40 authors over around 1500 years. There is no other book or religious writing that can demonstrate this. The reason for this is that although there are some 40 authors, God is the overall author and inspiration for the completed work of the Bible.
As Jacob Prasch says, it is easier to demonstrate Midrash than to explain it. I will provide an example of this a little later in this article.
You might be asking the question “why do we not use Midrash now to interpret scripture if Jesus and the apostles used it?” That is a very good question. It appears that as more and more gentiles became Christians, they adopted the Greek Gnostic Hellenistic way of interpreting scripture. Paul warns about this in Romans 11:17-18 (the whole chapter is about this), where he says that we should not forget where we have come from. Essentially Christianity is a Jewish religion with a Hebrew root (‘root’ is singular not plural, by the way, I do not support the Hebrew roots movement). Jesus was a Jew and the first Christians were Jews, so therefore Christianity is a Jewish religion.
The failure of the Christian Church to use Midrash as its primary method of interpreting the scriptures has lead to a number of serious problems arising within Christendom. The Greek Gnostic Hellenistic method of interpretation was being applied to a Jewish Midrashic text. This resulted in the likes of Augustine of Hippo making statements about sex only being for procreation and in all else, celibacy should be considered. This was also the Greek Gnostic idea that the flesh was bad and the spirit was good. Another idea that came from Augustine of Hippo was regarding violence was the idea of “Just War”, which led to the Roman Catholic Church sanctioning the Crusades and promising the absolution of sins for those that participated. This also ended up with the Inquisitions and Pogroms being sanctioned by The Church.
As promised, I will give a simple but easily understandable form of Midrashic interpretation. As mentioned, the Haggadah, the Passover Seder is the story told each Passover. When the Israelites were preparing to leave Egypt where they were held as slaves to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. The Israelites sacrificed a lamb, and the blood of the lamb was painted on the doorposts of the homes of each family, to avoid the angel slaying their firstborn sons. God protected the Israelites from the pursuing Egyptian army by miraculously allowing them to pass through the Red Sea. God drowned the Egyptian army. God led the Israelites to the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey and destroyed what appeared to be formidable enemies in the process.
If we look at the story of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt midrashically, we see some types that are familiar for Christians. Egypt is considered a type of the world in scripture, the lamb is a type of Jesus, and the blood is a type of cleansing and protective covering. Pharaoh is considered a type of Satan or the Antichrist. Passing through the waters of the Red Sea is a type of baptism in water. God/Jesus leads us to the Promised Land which is a type of Heaven. So let’s put this all together.
God rescues us out of the world (Egypt). He does this through His Son Jesus, who dies and sheds His blood for us (the Passover sacrificial lamb). This sacrifice protects us from God’s judgement/wrath on us (the angel of death) with (lamb’s blood on the door posts). As we travel to the Promised Land of Heaven we pass the waters of baptism (Red Sea). On the way to Heaven (Promised Land) we pass through troubles and tribulations that refine us, but, every step of the way God provides for us cares for us and protects us from our enemies before finally we enter into our inheritance.
This is a simple Midrashic example, there are many many more. You will find new meaning and greater depth in the scripture when you start to see the Bible the way that Jesus understood and taught His word to us. You can read the Epistles in the New Testament in the literal face value meanings of the Greek Hellenistic thinking and that is fine, you will understand them in this way. However to understand the Gospels and the book of Revelation you really need to understand the Midrashic way of thinking to get a proper interpretation. This also goes for many of the books of the Old Testament i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the minor Prophets and Genesis. If you understand the Midrashic way of interpreting scripture you will see all the patterns that cycle and corkscrew their way through the Bible.
You will not readily find this information through Google; in fact Google will generally only mislead you for correct Biblical Midrashic information, it mostly leads to the false rabbinic teachings on Midrash.
So, where can you find good information on Biblical Midrashic teaching?
I first learned of Biblical Midrashic teaching from Jacob Prasch of Moriel Ministries, Jacob uses Midrashic interpretation of scripture in many of his teachings, he also explains Midrash and the history of Biblical Midrash. I have been exploring Midrash through the Moriel teachings for about six months now, I have a rudimentary understanding and there is just so much more to understand. I could not have written this article without leaning heavily on articles and video teachings produced by Jacob Prasch and Moriel Ministries. In the time I have been listening to Jacob use Midrash to explain Bible prophecy; this has opened my eyes to have a much greater understanding of prophecy. The many episodes and types that God has woven into scripture has firmed my position on the timing of the rapture, and it has also given me firm hope for Christians at the end of the latter days, as I count myself as one of those.
I believe that God has given me a clear understanding of the path that we as Christians need to take to negotiate our way through this dangerous time through gaining an understanding of scripture through Midrashic teachings. This will be the subject of my next article.
Here is a list of articles and videos you can check out to get a better understanding of Midrashic inquiry into scripture, some will demonstrate the corkscrew pattern that I mentioned in this article.
I hope that you get as much from this as I have and pray that God blesses you with His amazing Word, God bless you all.