Inerrancy: Midrash

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Lately, Inerrancy has been our topic of study. In looking at that, I have chosen to look at some of the ways the text of Scripture has been interpreted and today, we are going to take a look at midrash.

Midrash is a very difficult term to define. It is a kind of commentary on a text where it seeks to look beyond just the face value of a text and tries to find a deeper meaning that is in the text. Does this take place in the New Testament? Without a doubt, it most certainly does.

If there was one place in the New Testament where this takes place, it would be in the book of Hebrews. Hebrews has the author regularly pulling out an old testament reference and then expounding on it far more than it is likely that the original writer thought could.

Hence, there is much repetition in the book. The writer wants to drive the point home about what he is getting at by taking a text that his readers would know about, particularly readers who were quite familiar with the beliefs and practices of Judaism, and showing how these texts actually pointed to something beyond just themselves.

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. This refrain repeats throughout the early part of the book and the writer asks us what does it mean to harden our hearts? What does it mean to hear his voice? What does it mean when the time is referred to as today? Was God saying something for just the people back then, or saying something for us today?

There are other such references in Hebrews. We are told of the story of Melchizedek and how Melchizedek points to someone beyond himself. We are also told about how “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand.” (Which is the most quoted OT verse in the NT so it could possibly be one we should take seriously.)

Some whole writings could have midrashic underpinnings. For instance, I take the first five chapters of Matthew to be recording historical events, but I also think that Matthew is using a midrashic telling of the stories to show that Jesus is the new Israel.

Matthew has early on the miraculous birth followed by the escape from death into Egypt, just as Israel escaped death. (And Israel was of miraculous descent through Isaac) Next, Israel was called out of Egypt just as Jesus was. (Matthew’s quoting of Hosea 11:1 helps show that) Then, Jesus passes through the waters of baptism (The waters of the Red Sea for Israel. Paul calls this a baptism in 1 Corinthians 10.) Then, Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, just as Israel was. Finally, Jesus goes on top of the mountain and gives the new law, just as Moses went up to get the law. We have the text saying that Jesus opened his mouth at the top of the mountain. The idea is that if Jesus is the one giving the law, well let’s go back to the OT and think “Who was it who gave the law from the mountain?” Well it was God. Do we see Matthew having a high view of Jesus?

None of that denies historicity. In fact, it can take historicity and give us a deeper view of the life of Christ.

Question: If it was found out somehow that the event was not historical and Matthew was writing midrash, would that damage inerrancy?

Answer: No.

If Matthew is writing this as an account to not be taken literally but to picture Jesus as the new Israel, then there is no error for it assumes that if Matthew wrote X, Matthew meant it to be literal. However, if Matthew wrote midrash, it does not follow necessarily that it’s to be taken literally and thus, there is no error. Now for the record, I don’t think Matthew was writing that. I think he was writing history. I think there are good arguments for that. However, this isn’t an all-or-nothing game. It isn’t “The whole thing is literal or none of it is,” or “The whole thing is midrash or none of it is.” It can be both-and.

What the case is will be left for the ones who are more biblical historians and scholars, but what we have is a style of interpretation the Jews used. Let us not dispense of it entirely.

We shall continue next time.

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