On Prooftexting

Bible

As you’ve probably noticed, I try to write here from an orthodox Christian perspective. In elaborating on any given subject under consideration, I therefore also try to present a biblically sound argument or case for the position I am advocating.

One thing that I don’t tend to do very often in this process is prooftext. By prooftexting, I mean the inclusion of a Bible verse or reference at the end of a thought or paragraph. I will occasionally do so, but this approach is the exception and not the rule for me.

You’ve surely seen this in practice elsewhere again and again, and while I certainly don’t discourage the approach from use by others, it just hasn’t been something that I’ve often felt entirely comfortable with.

My reluctance to prooftext is born of a concern that context is so important to the understanding of any word, thought or Bible verse, that I have a hard time comfortably prooftexting in any but the most safe of circumstances. I have little doubt that much of my reluctance to prooftext comes from frequent exposure to the rampant abuse of Scripture through the process.

Yanking a verse out of its context is a terribly risky thing, and by context I mean much more than just the chapter or even book in which it is found. With the Bible, we must consider every chapter, verse and even word in light of the whole of Scripture if we are to have any hope of arriving at a right understanding of what is being so beautifully and perfectly communicated.

A fine example of rotten prooftexting would be the verse most cherished by our God-hating, secular society. I am referring, of course, to Matthew 7:1, which reads, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (ESV)

Even Americans who’ve never opened a Bible know that one. (Ironically, they almost always employ the verse in the context of their own explicit condemnation of another.)

And they love it.

They love it, these who have no use for any other snippet of God’s Word to them, precisely because they have warped it into a tool by which they are empowered to ignore all of the rest of what God has revealed.

Sadly, many Christians do the same, using Matthew 7:1 as an escape hatch from responsibility – a way out of growth to submission in practice to what their Lord has commanded them to do.

My main gripe with the use of prooftexting is what I often perceive as an attempt to choose one portion of the Bible over another. This is dangerous for many reasons, chief among them being the inherent acknowledgment that the Bible is incoherent. If the Bible is incoherent, then it is unreliable and, quite obviously, not God’s perfect Word.

In taking this route to interpretation, the authority of the Bible is destroyed, making anyone’s favorite verse or snippet of Scripture no more useful or true than any other – they all become equally worthless.

With this position embraced, consciously or unconsciously, we find it impossible to argue against the common refrain of the anti-Christian: “The Bible can be made to say whatever anyone wants it to say.”

By embracing the perverted approach to prooftexting I’m talking about here, this is certainly true. The Bible can be made to say anything. Any book can. Treasure Island, Bram Stoker’s Dracula or the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-man can indeed be made to say virtually anything that a creative and manipulative reader may wish to make it say…if they ignore context.

And every position on every issue instantly becomes equally viable once this interpretive approach is taken. Context is to literary interpretation what location is to real estate: Everything. Once the pursuit of contextual understanding is dismissed, all hope of the acquisition of accurate knowledge is lost.

My preference is to write from a clear perspective based upon well established orthodox Christian doctrine and then, if challenged, attempt to discuss the matter further considering pertinent Scripture in context. This is time consuming and, for me anyway, often very hard. It’s challenging.

But isn’t that a good thing?

I could go on with a seemingly never ending list of prooftext abuses, but that’s really not the point of my post tonight. I just wanted to share my thought and rationale on this subject and see what you think.

Thanks as always for your time, kind words and prayers! (And not necessarily in that order.)

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Copyright 2009-2014 Scott Alan Buss

2 COMMENTS

  1. There are certain verses we are all familiar with that people just love to throw at you in conversation. I always have to fight the urge to yell, "Have you even read the passage that versus is in?!?" It is amazing how far some people will stretch Scripture.

  2. I agree with this. Seems very convenient to pluck verses out of the Bible and plop them down wherever I need them. To me this is extremely arrogant and disrespectful of the Lord. We forget that though inspired by the Holy Spirit – the Bible was written by REAL people in REAL situations with REAL lives. Placing verses in context makes everything else stand out to me… like putting flesh and blood to the words.

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