What Proof-Texting Is
Proof-texting is “that process whereby a person ‘proves’ a doctrine or practice merely by aluding to a text without considering its original inspired meaning.”1 As Charles Simpson put it, “… proof-texting is like shooting an arrow into a wall and then painting the target around it. Religious proof-texters use one or two verses of Scripture to “paint” a specific doctrine and then arrogantly portray their position as Scripturally infallible.”2
Mark W. Foreman notes that, “Believers often search anxiously to discover some verse or passage they presume will prove a particular point, all the while ignoring the serious exegetical work involved in interpreting and applying Scripture. Often they force a verse to say something it was never intended to mean and which usually has nothing to do with its original and historical and literary context. Rather than treating the Bible as a historical document written to the specific needs and issues of the original audience, and to be interpreted and applied appropriately, it is instead treated as a divinely authoritative version of Bartlett’s book of quotations. This quote-a-verse mentality permeates the modern evangelical church and is problematic.”3
What Are Some Common Proof-Texts?
Craig Keener, F. M. and Ada Thompson Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary4, partnered with Seedbed to produce a three part video on “Bad Bible Proof-Texts.” Some of the passages examined include Psalm 50:10, Psalm 118:24, Song of Solomon 2:1, Joel 2:9, and Joel 3:10.
Why Should We Not Proof-Text?
Proof-texting would allow a person to make the Bible say whatever he/she wants it to say. A fine example would be the following which “uses” biblical texts to demonstrate that Jesus is not God.
“There is a direct statement about Jesus being the Son of Jehovah in the Psalms: “…He said to me, ‘You [Jesus] are my son, today I [Jehovah] have begotten you.” (Psalm 2:7)
Jehovah spoke to Jesus, in His pre-human existence, concerning the creation of Adam and Eve: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ….'” (Genesis 1:26)
There were plans, from the beginning, to make Jesus a human as shown in Deuteronomy: “…he [Jehovah] will raise up for you a Prophet [Jesus] like me [Moses], an Israeli, a man to whom you must listen and whom you must obey.” (Deuteronomy 18:15, TLB; see also Acts 3:22)
During His ministry on Earth, Jesus stated that He taught not His own wisdom, but that of His Father, Jehovah: “For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)
There are a large number of Bible verses which can be used to prove that Jesus was not God, but the Son of God. The chapter of this thesis, “VII. Bible Verses Prove Trinity False”, lists over a hundred such texts.
The Bible, therefore, teaches that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jehovah said He would send His Son and Jesus made the statement that Jehovah was His Father. The Apostles taught these facts. The Bible does not teach that Jesus was Jehovah and neither Jesus nor His followers claimed otherwise.”5
Not yet convinced of the proposition? See also “90 Verses That Say: Jesus Is Not God Nor The Literal Son of God.”6
In addition, C. Michael Patton highlights four problems associated with proof-texting and they are i) the problem of interpretation, ii) the problem of understanding, iii) the problem of communication, and iv) the problem of arrogance. 7
What Then Should We Do?
So how do we avoid the dangers associated with proof-texting? The answer is proper exegesis and hermeneutics. When confronted with a barrage of texts allegedly proving a particular doctrine, go through the texts one by one and examine its grammatical-historical context. Milton S. Terry dubbed the Grammatical-Historical method as “… the method which fully commends itself to the judgement and conscience of Christian scholars. Its fundamental principle is to gather from the Scriptures themselves the precise meaning which the writers intended to convey. It applies to the sacred books the same principles, the same grammatical process and exercise of common sense and reason which we apply to other books.”8
As Gordon Fee and Douglas Stewart point out, “A text cannot mean what it could never have meant for its original readers/hearers … the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken or written.”9 Well known exegete Tremper Longman III once said, “when I interpret a text of Scripture, my goal is to understand the passage or book in its Old Testament context and from that understanding to bridge the gap to my situation today.”10
Mark Strauss’s Ten Steps for Exegesis11 provides a great guideline in what to do when interpreting a particular verse/passage. The ten steps are:
1. Identify the Genre (the Literary Form)
2. Establish the Historical and Literary Context
3. Develop a Thesis Statement
4. Outline the Progress of Thought in the Passage
5. Consult Secondary Sources (a Good Commentary)
6. Analyze Syntactical Relationships
7. Analyze Key Terms and Themes
8. Resolve Interpretive Issues and Problems
9. Evaluate Your Results From the Perspective of Wider Contextual and Theological Issues
10. Summarize Your Results
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, and they do not reflect in any way views of the institutions to which he is affiliated and/or the other Laikos Theologos contributors.