How would you read and interpret the numbers 911? You might read them as 9-1-1 as the phone number to contact emergency services. You could read them as 9-11 as the date of a terrorist attack on America and the destruction of the twin towers in New York City. Yet some would read the numbers 911 as the scared angel number in psychic readings to mean your tough times will soon end. As you can see, the simple numbers of 911 can be read and interpreted in three different ways, and each of these interpretations are quite different from the others.
This example of interpreting 911 is exactly what we face when it comes to interpreting the Bible. Interpretation and understanding all depend on where you put the hyphens. No hyphen and these combined numbers become some mystic angel number of good will. One hyphen and the combined numbers represent a date in history. Two hyphens and these combined numbers represent the phone number to emergency services.
When it comes to reading the Bible the hyphens are essential to interpretation. There are two hyphens we must understand to interpret scripture correctly. Those two hyphens are CULTURE and CONTEXT.
When it comes to biblical culture there are several considerations. Jewish culture, Egyptian culture, Babylonian culture, Roman culture, and Greek culture all have influenced biblical literature. For example in the teachings of Jesus he often used Remez, idioms, and Jewish sarcasm.
When Jesus said on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was speaking a Remez referring to Psalms 22, and we should not interpret him literally as if God the Father had abandon Christ on the cross.
The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” was a Jewish idiom which simply implied anger and had nothing to do with punishment.
When Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow who continued to bother a wicked judge until he gave her what she wanted he was using Jewish sarcasm.
In Paul and John’s writings we come across Roman and Greek culture. For example, Paul writes about being unequally yoked in marriage. In Roman culture they had two types of marriages and one of them was an unequally yoked marriage where the wife was not a co-equal with her husband and had no rights. Unequally yoked marriages had nothing to do with interracial marriages or a christian marrying a non-christian.
When John wrote in Revelation about the mark of the beast he was referring to an actual custom Emperor Domitian had imposed on the people as emperor worship. Before entering the agora to buy and sell one had to give worship to the statue of Domitian, at which you received a mark so you could buy and sell. Without the mark you could not buy or sell.
The other hyphen is context. What happened here before? What history is involved? For example, when Jesus said in Mark 11:23, “If you say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea, and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you.” That sounds like name-it and claim-it. However, context tells us that Jesus was pointing at what used to be two mountains the Romans had flatten by excavation. Jesus was saying, if you put your mind and energy to work, like the Romans did, nothing will be impossible for you. He isn’t teaching name-it and claim-it theology, he was talking about good old fashion hard work.
In the Old Testament we read where God instructs the Israelites to “run the Canaanites out of the promise land, and if they won’t go to kill them.” If we read that out of context we can come to some conclusions about God that are not true. Context tells us the Canaanites were the most vicious cruel violent people maybe in all of history. They were so evil that all the nations cried out to their God for help. We read in Genesis 15:16 as God is making a covenant with a man named Abram to rescue the whole world that Abram’s descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt before inheriting the promised land because the sins of the Amorites/Canaanites had not reached it full measure. God gave the Canaanites 400 plus years of grace to repent and change their ways.
We cannot cancel culture and ignore context and come to the conclusions God intended when reading the Bible.