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The Secret Codes in Matthew: Examining Israel’s Messiah, Part 1, by Kevin M. Williams

“Quite right,” he said. “It appears we have a room full of Torah scholars.”

Knowing better, the group smirked coyly.

“Okay,” he continued. “How many of you know the first verse of the New Testament?”

A still hush fell over the sanctuary. Perplexed faces glanced at those seated around them, like an unstudied pupil trying to spy answers off a neighbor’s paper.

“Come now,” came his prompting. “Isn’t this a New Testament church? Certainly you know the first verse of your Scriptures as well as you know the Torah.”

Again, uneasy quiet.

In truth, the vast majority of Christians do not know the first verse of the New Testament:

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham . . . .”

It doesn’t sound terribly exciting does it? On the surface, it doesn’t have that same sense of drama we find in Genesis 1:1. It’s merely a list. If you’ve spent any time in the Pentateuch, you know how the lists of genealogies can go on and on filling up columns of text that are frequently used as a cure for insomnia.

Yet, these are the Holy Scriptures. Everything that appears is there for a divine purpose. They are a part of the incredibly designed and ordained record of the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (which is in its own right, a genealogical label distinguishing the God of the Bible from the pagan gods).

If genealogies are important to the Creator of the entire universe, if the precious pages of the Word of God have space dedicated to a genealogical record, isn’t it logical to surmise that there must be a message there for us? If not for us, certainly for someone!

In Orthodox Judaism, three systematic approaches are taken when trying to understand Scripture. Each has a relevance all its own and applies to the reader’s life, usually at the level of study. These three approaches can often be used as well when studying the B’rit Chadasha, the New Testament.

The three approaches are:

P’shat = literal

Remez = deeper figurative

Sod = deeper spiritual

A fine example to illustrate these three interpretive forms is found in John 7:38 “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”

Using the p’shat form, the simplest, most literal application, John 7:38 feels very lyrical. Believe in the Messiah and something wonderfully poetic happens and flows out onto others around you. Even if the actual reality is missed on the reader, the grand imagery it paints is relevant on some level of appreciation. However, if you take the time, you cannot find in Scriptures any verse, which reads, “From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” So what are you to do?

This is when the rabbis would take a look at the remez application. The simple meaning, or p’shat, paints a delightful picture, but there appears to be something else going on, particularly since there is no directly quoted Scripture verse in John 7:38. The meaning, using the remez interpretation, requires us to look at the figurative meaning of the verse: in this case, looking at the broader context of the entire Scripture. Where is “living water” referenced in the Hebrew Bible? All of these passages come into play in discovering the remez meaning of John 7:38. Living water has a role to play in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and each reference may have relevance to Yeshua’s proclamation.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Spring 2001

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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