Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation

Hillel’s Seven Principles of Bible Interpretation
The foundation of the study and exposition of Scripture, both in rabbinic literature and New Testament, is rooted in the Second Temple Period and the multi-faceted methods of interpretation developed by the Jewish people. Hillel the Elder developed seven distinct techniques for exposition that could be used to understand and apply the Torah in everyday life. These are rules of exegesis.

The Seven Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Kal vechamer (“light and heavy”): The argument from a minor premise to
a major one
Gezerah Shavah (“cut equally”): The teaching based upon an analogy or
inference from one verse to another
Binyan av mikatuv echad (“building a teaching principle based upon one
verse”): The main proposition is derived from one verse
Binyan av mishnai katuvim (“building a teaching principle based upon
two verses”): The main proposition is derived from two verses
Kelal uferat-perat vekelal (“general and specific–specific and general”):
Teaching from a general principle to a specific one, or from a specific
principle to a general one
Keyotza bo bamakom acher (“as comes from it in another place”): A
teaching based upon what is similar in another passage
Devar halamed meinyano (“a word that is learned from its own issue”): A
matter that is learned from its own subject
These seven principles may be seen in different passages of midrash–which seeks the
deeper meaning and practical application of the Bible by using highly developed exegetical
techniques. Jesus Himself used a method of interpretation which intensified the deeper
meaning of Torah. He quoted from the Ten Commandments and then made application
through practical interpretation. Later, Rabbi Ishmael expanded Hillel’s seven principles to
thirteen; then Rabbi Eleazer enlarged the scope of hermeneutical principles to include
thirty-two applications.

The many anecdotes according to which Hillel made proselytes, correspond to the third part of his maxim: “Bring men to the Law.” A later source (Avot de Rabbi Nathan) gives the following explanation of the sentence: Hillel stood in the gate of Jerusalem one day and saw the people on their way to work. “How much,” he asked, “will you earn to-day?” One said: “A denarius“; the second: “Two denarii.” “What will you do with the money?” he inquired. “We will provide for the necessities of life.” Then said he to them: “Would you not rather come and make the Torah your possession, that you may possess both this and the future world?”

This narrative has the same points as the epigrammatic group of Hillel’s sayings (Avot. 2:7) commencing: “The more flesh, the more worms,” and closing with the words: “Whoever has acquired the words of the Law has acquired the life of the world to come.” In an Aramaic saying Hillel sounds a warning against neglect of study or its abuse for selfish purposes: “Whoever would make a name (i.e. glory) loses the name; he who increases not [his knowledge] decreases; whoever learns not [in Ab. R. N. xii.: “who does not serve the wise and learn”] is worthy of death; whoever exploits for his own use the crown (of Torah) perishes” (Avot. 1:13).