There are many times Jesus says things that blow the mind of the first hearers, and we often miss it. For various reasons, we just aren’t aware of the depth of what is being said.
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. Therefore, we can assume He used the teaching tactics of the rabbis of His day. I want to list those tactics here and give examples with the hope that we can open up our understanding of some of those more difficult-to-understand passages. I will build out what are known as “The 7 Principles of Hillel,” who was a rabbi Jesus often agreed with. There were other lists that added to these with as many as 32 principles, but these will get the conversation started.
- Kal va’homer (kal-VA-o-mer') It literally means “light and heavy.” Stated another way, it means lesser and greater. This tool is used in comparing God to something earthly, or in comparing two earthly things that are unequal in value. We see it all over Scripture, but Jesus uses it, for example, in Matthew 6. He says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly father feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds?”
- Gezerah shavah (geh-zeh-RAH sheh-VAH) It literally means “similar laws, similar verdicts.” It is an argument by analogy. David Instone Brewer defines it this way: “The interpretation of one text in the light of another text to which it is related by a shared word or phrase. The two texts are often concerned with the same subject, but the existence of the same word or phrase in two texts can suggest a relationship between them even if they are concerned with completely unrelated subjects. Jesus’ witness to who John the Baptist truly is becomes an example of this technique. Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1 are brought together because of a similar phrase. ‘I am sending my messenger to guard (Exodus) / prepare (Malachi) the way.’ ”
- Binyan ab mi-katuv echad (bin-YAN av mi-ka-TUV e-HAHD) This is when a certain passage serves as the basis for interpreting all other related passages. So the decision made about one passage is valid for all the rest.
- Binyan ab mi-shene ketubim (bin-YAN av mi-shNE keh-tu-VEEM) This is when two passages are used to validate one principle. Jesus uses this tactic when He is teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth in Luke 4. The Gentile widow during the famine of Elijah’s day and Naaman, the Gentile who was healed of leprosy during Elisha’s time, both prove that God has always wanted to help Gentiles. His followers were always supposed to be a blessing to the whole world.
- Kelal u-perat, perat u-kelal (k-LAL uf-RAT uf-RAT k-LAL) It literally means “general and particular, particular and general.” Jesus uses this principle in His conversation with the Pharisees who were upset that He and his disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath. He uses the story of David and his men eating the Bread of Presence from the tabernacle, and that the priests were allowed to continue their ministry of intercession for Israel, even on the Sabbath, to restrict what the Sabbath law should be. It should never prevent someone from showing mercy. This general principle allows hungry people to eat on the Sabbath, even if it means picking grain on the Sabbath.
- Ka-yoze bo mi-makom acher (ka-yo-TZE bo mi-MA-kom a-HARE) This is using a similar passage to explain the one I am teaching from. When Jesus is being tempted, He is invited by Satan to turn stones into bread. Jesus says that man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes form the mouth of God. This is a quote from Deuteronomy and is a clear reference to tie this moment to the temptations Israel faced in the desert. Where Israel failed, Jesus would succeed.
- Davar ha-lamed me-inyano (da-VAR ha-la-MED me-in-ya-NO) This is an interpretation of a word or passage based on its context. Jesus uses this more than once when talking about forgiveness, adultery, generosity, and other words, speaking of how they should be lived out in real life.
This is a simplified list and an attempt at giving some idea of how to begin pulling apart the words of Jesus. I hope it sparks a curiosity that will move you to deeper and better study in scripture.