Bible & Sermon Study that embraces paradox

I’ve just discovered a new conversation partner in Ken Howard over at with the tagline “Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them.” He has a several part series on Midrash: Ancient Bible Study for a Post-Modern World. In the first part (The Need for A Deeper Method of Bible Study) he points out how both Hebrew and Greek resist our attempts at precision in our translation by their alphabetic, linguistic and grammatic structures. Helpful is his observation that both neoconservativism in its drive toward infallibility of the text and liberalism in its opposite journey toward infallibility of forms of criticism set up a false binary resting on a modern presumption of the existence of verifiable certainty. Yet quantum physics is illustrating to us that the nearest certainties are only approximate and always dependent on the position of the observer.

In lue of such certainties, Howard suggests the ancient rabbinic practice of Midrash, which he outlines as a four step process of (to quote from his post):

  1. P’shat (lit. Simple).  Read the text for its simplest, most literal meaning. For example, if the Torah says God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, we are not allowed to say God spoke to Moses through an exploding cigar. It is also known as the grammatical level.
  2. Remez (lit. Hint).  Rather than avoiding what appear to be contradictions or textual errors, or trying to explaining them away, this step calls us seek them out as hints of deeper meaning. This is sometimes called the allegorical level.
  3. D’rash (lit. Investigation).  In this step, we use our imaginations (and the imaginations of others) to explore all possible meanings and applications of the text. This is sometimes called the parabolic or homiletical level of Midrash.
  4. Sod (lit. Secret).  Finally, we are called to open ourselves to the mysteries revealed to us through creative imagination of Drash. This level of meaning is sometimes referred to as the mystical level.

In the succeeding posts (Applying Midrash to the Words of Jesus & Investigation and Mystery) he gives further examples of how to use this method. I look forward to learning from him and trying to apply this in my own bible study and sermon preparation. It seems to me a middle way for those who tend to approach the bible from a more liberal or conservative pov to share common ground in their respect for and listening to the text and the Holy Spirit speaking through it within the community of faithful study. Why not join me?

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