The four levels of interpretation are called: Parshat, Remez, D’rash & Sod. The first letter of each word
P-R-D-S is taken, and vowels are added for pronunciation, giving the acronym PARDES (meaning “garden” or “orchard”, paradise). Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.
1- P’shat (pronounced peh-shaht’ – meaning “simple”). Other spellings include P’shat, Peshat.
The p’shat is the plain, simple meaning of the text. The understanding of scripture in its natural, normal sense using the customary meanings of the word’s being used, literary style, historical and cultural setting, and context. The p’shat is the keystone of Scripture understanding. If we discard the p’shat we lose any real chance of an accurate understanding and we are no longer objectively deriving meaning from the Scriptures (exegesis), but subjectively reading meaning into the scriptures (eisogesis). The Talmud states that no passage loses its p’shat.
Note that within the p’shat you can find several types of language, including figurative, symbolic and allegorical. The following generic guidelines can be used to determine if a passage is figurative and therefore figurative even in its p’shat: When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. Ex: Isaiah 5:7 – For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant; and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative.
Ex: Zechariah 5:1-3 – Then I turned, and lifted up my eyes, and looked, and behold a flying scroll. And he said to me, What do you see? And I answered, I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits. And he said to me, This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole earth; for everyone who steals shall be cut off henceforth, according to it; and everyone who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth, according to it. When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. Example: Psalm 17:8 – Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of your wings …
2 – Remez (pronounced reh-mez’ – meaning “hint”)
This is where another (implied) meaning is alluded to in the text, usually revealling a deeper
meaning. There may still be a p’shat meaning as well as another meaning as any verse can have multiple levels of meaning.
An example of implied Remez is Proverbs 20:10 – Different weights, and different measures, both of them are alike an abomination to the Lord. The p’shat would be concerned with a merchant using the same scale to weigh goods for all of his customers. The remez implies that this goes beyond this into aspects of fairness and honesty in anyone’s life.
3 – D’rash (pronounced deh-rahsh’ also called “Midrash”)
This is a teaching or exposition or application of the P’shat and/or Remez. (In some cases this could be considered comparable to a “sermon.”) For instance, Biblical writers may take two or more unrelated verses and combine them to create a verse(s) with a third meaning.
A Drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its p’shat meaning, nor may any such
understanding contradict the p’shat meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states, “No passage loses its p’shat.” Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory. The primary components of an allegory represent specific realities. We should limit ourselves to these primary components when understanding the text.
4 – Sod (pronounced sewd or sood – meaning “hidden”)
This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a text. Some examples of this would be the dragon, whore of Babylon, and number “666,” all from the book of Revelation
* Thanks to James Trimm at www.nazarene.net from whom much of the above material is derived from.
The four levels of understanding each a layer diving deeper than the last, like onion layers.
Peshat = Literal meaning; the contextual, philological level
Remez = Allegorical meaning; cross-reference to other texts; rational or philosophical level
Derash = Moral or homiletic meaning; aggadic level; midrashic [= interpretation via derash] level
Sod = Mystical or anagogic meaning
When an inanimate object is used to describe a living being, the statement is figurative. (Prov. 18:10)
When life and action are attributed to an inanimate object the statement is figurative. (same Prov. 18:10)
When an expression is out of character with the thing described, the statement is figurative. (Psa. 17:8)
Example: Gen. 1,2- And the earth was empty (tohu) and formless (vohu). Rashi – The Hebrew word ‘tohu’
means astonishment in English and the word ‘bohu’ means emptiness and next to emptiness. Thus the phrase is ‘amazement and desolation’. This means that a person would be amazed and astonished at anything that was there.
Ex. 21:26-26-27 where we are told of our liability regarding eyes and teeth. By the Remez understanding we know that this liability also applies to other body parts.
Three important rules when using the D’rash level of understanding a scripture:
1 – A drash understanding can not be used to strip a passage of its PASHAT meaning, nor may any such understanding contradict any PASHAT meaning of any other scripture passage. As the Talmud states “No passage loses its PASHAT.” (b.Shab. 263a; bYeb. 24a)
B – Let scripture interpret scripture. Look for the scriptures themselves to define the components of an allegory. For example use Mt. 12:18- 23 to understand Mt. 13:3-9; Rev. 1:20 to understand Rev.1:12-16; Rev. 17:7-18 to understand Rev. 17:2-8 etc.
C – The main components of an allegory represent specific realities. Drash examples:
Mt. 2:15 on Hosea 11:1
Mt. 3:11 on Isa. 40:3
Rom. 5:14 (14-21) on Gen. 3:1-24
Gal. 4:24(21-31) on Gen. 17-22
Visions of prophets