I’ve witnessed at times debates over whether certain passages of scripture are to be taken literally or they are to be taken symbolically, allegorically often at the expanse of the literal meaning. The set-up of most of these disputes and arguments seems to be a binary one. The parameters of the debate are usually set up to a simple dichotomy of the participants arguing that either that the Bible is literal or its symbolic.
This is a false dichotomy. Forget all about it. Scripture is more rich and complex than can be handled by a simple binary analysis. The early Apostolic Church Fathers (100-451 A.D.) recognized that scriptures are often four layers deep, with each layer having a deeper meaning than the last layer.1 They utilized a method of interpretation called the “Quadriga” which has four layers of analysis:
1. Literal (sensus historicus) – What the passage plainly says about past events including understanding the text’s historical context and grammatical meaning.
2. Allegorical (sensus allegoricus) – understanding that literal elements in text also have a symbolic meaning. Includes Typology (Events, persons, or statements in the Bible are seen as types pre-figuring or superseded by antitype), and an understanding that certain events in the bible foreshadow later events in the Bible or events that will happen later history.
3. Tropological/moral (sensus tropologicus or sensus moralis)– Broader moral lesson, about things like how we should interact with one another, who were are in Christ, the ways of God, this level of understanding is usually the basis of homilies and sermons.
4. Anagogical (sensus anagogicus)- the mystical, metaphysical analogical or ultimate/eschatological sense. This is the deepest layer of meaning that is only revealed when one is filled with the Holy Spirit. The meaning revealed could be about the workings of things in Heaven, the war with the fallen Angels, details about underlying spiritual conflict between the forces of the Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of darkness, and additional details about ultimate fate of man and Fallen Angels. The revelation of knowledge at this level is sometimes called by the greek “gnosis” (which is not to be confused or equated with the heretical Gnostic sects that existed in early half of the first millennium).
A later method of interpretation but nearly identical to the Quadriga, is the PaRDeS method which was first published in the Zohar. The Zohar is a pseudepigraphic work which purports to be a commentary on the Pentateuch. 2 It was written by Moses De Leon, a Spanish Rabbi living in the 13th century. 3 It is a product of Syncretism, a combination of different, often contradictory religious beliefs. The zohar can best be characterized as a mystery babylon blend of various Jewish, Christian, Hellenistic and Gnostic religious beliefs. 4
The Zohor clearly borrowed the Quadriga method of interpretation from early Christianity and reformulated it by giving it Hebrew names. 5 That being said, the PaRDeS is popular with the Hebrew roots/messianic community and since it’s derived from the Quadriga , it’s not problematic that it is used so long as messianic jews/Christians don’t confuse the validity of the PaRDeS with an endorsement of the mystery babylon work known as the Zohar or Jewish apostasy that springs from the Zohar, the Kabbalah.
The Fourfold layers of PaRDeS:
1. Peshat (simple interpretation) the Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the texttaking into account idiomatic expressions, and focusing mScostly on literal interpretation. Note that within the Peshat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical. Are generic guidelines that can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its Peshat .6
2. Remez– the alluded to, implied or hinted meaning-
3. Derash-interpretive teaching or exposition or homiletical application- can’t have a Derash without a Peshat . Two or more unrelated verses may be combined to discover a deeper meaning.
4. Sod– hidden, secret or mystical meaning of the text only the legitimate relevation at this level from the Ruach haKodesh.
1 See http://helpmewithbiblestudy.org/5system_hermeneutics/parlett_Interpretation.aspx(cited only for Subsection entitled “A Brief History of Biblical Interpretation.”); see also http://www.cbtseminary.org/2011/05/brief-surv-hist-of-herm-9-mid-ages-ii/ (Contains a brief history and short explanation of the Quadriga).
2 Jewish Mysticism by J. Abelson Chapter VI “SOME GENERAL FEATURES OF THE ‘ZOHAR’ MYSTICISM” found here http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/jm/jm10.htm
3 FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS PaRDeS by J.K. McKee http://www.messianicapologetics.net/faq/P/PaRDeS.pdf (lists a selection of scholastic Jewish attestations on the origins of the PaRDeS method of interpreting the Tanach Scriptures which attest to its medieval origin); See also PaRDeS Hermeneutics Page 5 heading “medieval” http://www.bahaistudies.net/asma/hermeneutics-wiki.pdf
4.“There is general admission, however, that Neoplatonism and Gnosticism are responsible for much.” Jewish Mysticism by J. Abelson Chapter VI “SOME GENERAL FEATURES OF THE ‘ZOHAR’ MYSTICISM” Found here http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/jm/jm10.htm
5. “This book is the Zohar, in its form a running Midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch, but interrupted by many and various digressions, and supplemented by original additions.” “Like Baḥya b. Asher’s book, but on a different basis, the Zohar also assumes four kinds of exegesis, or rather a fourfold meaning: Peshaṭ, Remez (allusion, typological sense, allegory), Derash, and Sod (secret, mystical sense).” “In formulating this doctrine of a fourfold meaning, the Christian mode of exegesis (which was well known to the Spanish Jews) probably served as a model; in this the fourfold sense…”. 1906 Jewish Encylopedia (Entry BIBLE EXEGESIS. Subheading Pardes) Found here http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3263-bible-exegesis#anchor29
6. Proper Interpretation of Hebrew Biblical Texts http://www.yashanet.com/studies/matstudy/mat1.htm (explanation of the levels of PaRDeS)