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

Principle 1Kal vechamer (“light and heavy”): The argument from a minor premise to a major one
Principle 2Gezerah Shavah (“cut equally”): The teaching based upon an anology or inference from one verse to another
Principle 3Binyan av mikatuv echad (“building a teaching principle based upon one verse”): The main proposition is derived from one verse
Principle 4Binyan av mishnai katuvim (“building a teaching principle based upon two verses”): The main proposition is derived from two verses
Principle 5Kelal 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
Principle 6Keyotza bo bamakom acher (“as comes from it in another place”): A teaching based upon what is similar in another passage
Principle 7Devar 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.