Midrash” derives from “drash” (search). It asks from the text more than the surface level (pshat). Here is a description of Midrash” from a comment at “Messianic Judaism and Christianity: Two Religions With The Same Messiah”:
“In colloquial English, we speak of ‘teasing out’ a hidden implication from a passage. Midrash is allegorical or homiletical interpretation derived from the process and conceptual framework of drash. It does not need to annul the superficial literal meaning of pshat; it may merely address another context. Hence two superficially different aspects of a passage may appear to be logically incompatible, if they were both on the same level as pshat, yet each may be valid in its respective context.”
I always thought that what is most important in most texts, especially the Bible, was its context; its single context – its grammatical-historical (surface) context. The Christian generally regards the surface text of scripture, namely, its normal linguistic and communicative properties, to be the best guide to its meaning. There are, of course, parts of scripture where the surface text (p’shat) may refuse to give up much of its meaning; for example, some of the visions of Ezekiel and parts of the book of Revelation. Christians who believe scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos – breathed out by God) also believe, as a corollary to its divine expiration (breathed out), that there are no deeper meanings lurking below the surface text of scripture. So, if Christians differ in their interpretation of a text, they lay the “blame” on the interpreter not on the text. In contrast, Orthodox Judaism views the surface text as superficial, as nothing but bed-time stories. Rabbi AkivaTatz said in one of his lectures, “any six-year-old can understand” the Written Torah. One has to enter the pardes (the deeper levels) of Torah to derive any lasting good. These deeper levels are not found in the Written Torah, but in the Oral Torah, which for some Jewish movements is not found deep in the Written Torah but above and beyond it. So, it is not always, or perhaps not even often, the case that the Oral Torah and the Written Torah complement each other. Often it is rather that the Written Torah implements what the Oral Torah dictates it to mean. (See The slaughter of scripture: Let his blood be on us and our children and The Written and Oral Torah: Which is Primary?
“The Midrash and midrashic interpretation, writes Ovrind, tends to devalue the literal, historical interpretation of Scripture in favor of private, hidden and even mystical interpretations. For example, Rabbi Scheinerman’s Magical Midrash page states: ‘Midrash is subversive as it winds its way between and around stern, stark, seemingly stagnant texts.’”
I read Rabbi Scheinerman’s short piece on Midrash but the above quote is not there; what Scheinerman says there is not at all subversive:
“Midrash is the art of extending and interpreting Torah by commenting on the text, answering unanswered questions in the text, or deducing laws and traditions from the text. From the time the Torah was closed and canonized, Jews have been interpreting and reinterpreting the sacred writings of the Torah. Many of these interpretations are expressed through Midrash. There are two basic types of midrashim: Halakhic midrashim deal with legal matters; Aggadic midrashim deal with moral and spiritual issues and tend to read like stories. The sages of old wrote midrashim to teach and inspire, explain esoteric legal matters, and interpret the meaning of events of their day. We, today, do the same. The art of midrash is alive and vital today, and you can participate.”
Here is James Jacob Prasch on Midrash:
“Midrash is the method of hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) used by the ancient rabbis in the time of Jesus and Paul. Midrash incorporates a grammatical-historical exegesis, vaguely similar to the western models of Biblical interpretation that the Reformers borrowed from 16th century Humanism, but it sees this as simply a first step.”
“The problem, continues Prasch, with the Reformers is that they only went so far. They made rules governing the application of their grammatical-historical system in order to refute medieval Roman Catholicism, and many of those rules are still taught in theological seminaries today. One such rule is this: There are many applications of a Scripture but only one interpretation. That is total rubbish! The Talmud tells us there are multiple interpretations. Who did Jesus agree with? The Reformers? Or the other rabbis?… Another rule of Reformed Hermeneutics says that, if the plain wording of Scripture makes sense, seek no other sense. Take it at its face value, full stop. That is also total rubbish!” (James Jacob Prasch’s sermon, “Midrash: The Way The New Testament Writers Handled The Old Testament”).
The NT is addressed to many Gentiles (converts and non-converts) – slaves, servants, tradesmen and the like. Messianic Jews like Jacob Prasch and those in the “Hebrew Roots movement,” maintain that the New Testament requires a midrashic approach, which involves learning Torah (at a minimum in synagogues on Shabbat). Important: they would be learning midrash even though they didn’t know it. So the Gentiles had to take lessons in midrash before they could understand the Gospels and the epistles. Reminds me of Monsieur Jourdain in “The Middle class Gentleman” (Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme) By Molière (Act 2, Scene 6):
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: Please do. But now, I must confide in you. I’m in love with a lady of great quality, and I wish that you would help me write something to her in a little note that I will let fall at her feet.
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Very well.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: That will be gallant, yes?
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Without doubt. Is it verse that you wish to write her?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: No, no. No verse.
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Do you want only prose?
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: No, I don’t want either prose or verse.
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: It must be one or the other.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: Why?
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Because, sir, there is no other way to express oneself than with prose or verse.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: There is nothing but prose or verse?
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: No, sir, everything that is not prose is verse, and everything that is not verse is prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: And when one speaks, what is that then?
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Prose.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: What! When I say, “Nicole, bring me my slippers, and give me my nightcap,” that’s prose?
PHILOSOPHY MASTER: Yes, Sir.
MONSIEUR JOURDAIN: By my faith! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing anything about it, and I am much obliged to you for having taught me that.
Setting (context) – Roman Villa 110 Anno Domine
Characters – Pagan Legate and his Christian slave cook recently converted
Slave – It’s shabbat; may I go off to synagogue for Midrash?
PL – Yes. By the way, run it by me again, what’s Midrash?
Slave – Hard to explain. Algorallies and holimetics and stuff. All I know is that when I’m learning about Jesus – oops -Yeshua, I’m doing Midrash.
PL – Is it easy to catch? Like prose?
Slave – Prose rubs on too easy. They told me, what rubs on easy, rubs off easy.
PL – Be back for my supper.
Slave – Sorry not allowed to cook, it’s shabbat. Be back soon, have to drash.
PL – Christians, Christians!