The Problem with “Proof Texts”: Becoming a Responsible Student of the Bible

THE PROBLEM WITH “PROOF TEXTS”:  Becoming a Responsible Student of the Bible

 

The problem with “proof texts” is that you can find one to “prove” about any stand or position one chooses to take.

What do I mean by proof texts?  That is finding a verse, or verses in the Bible that seem to back an idea or belief, and using the verse(s) as authoritative PROOF to your point.

We are all guilty.

We have all done it.

And it can be irresponsible, and sometimes doctrinally dangerous.

The problem with the use of  “proof texts” to back a person’s position is that it shows a misunderstanding of how to approach the authority of God’s Word.  The premise behind those who rely on “proof texts”  to argue their position is that since the Bible is God’s infallible Word and has ultimate authority, then all statements in the Bible are packed with the authority of God Himself.  Thus, my position is right and true because I am presenting authoritative,  textual statements from Scripture that validate it.

However, one does not have to look hard to find examples of arguments or practices backed by “proof texts” gone awry.

A SLIMY EXAMPLE:

An extreme example is found in the small community of churches who practice the handling of snakes in their worship services.  Yes, snakes!

They quote Mark 16:18, they will take up serpents…. 

Note that this is a sentence clause, sandwiched within a broader statement.  Yet, since it is scripture, and they believe in the authority of scripture as God’s inspired Word, then this sentence clause, extracted from the Bible is a “proof text” that backs their practice of letting loose a basket of venomous snakes in their worship service for congregants to grab and handle as proof of their faith!

 

THE EXAMPLE OF CEASE AND DESIST:

An example that is probably more familiar would be a “proof text” used by cessation theologians, that is, those who teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, namely the gift of speaking in other tongues have ceased in modern times.

The “proof text” they use is found in I Corinthians 13: 8.  “…whether there are tongues, they will cease; .

Note again that this is a sentence clause extracted from a broader theme in scripture.

Though the topic that Paul is teaching on is LOVE,

….and though other statements are made such as, “prophecy (preaching) will one day cease” and   “knowledge will vanish away”, ….

these so called theologians will acknowledge that both preaching and knowledge still have their part in the church today….only speaking in tongues has ceased according to them.  They extract an isolated sentence clause to formulate a bad theological position.

And even though Paul continues in his teaching into the next chapter to tell the Corinthians “do not forbid speaking in tongues”, it does not matter to the cessationist.  They have a “proof text” from the authority of God’s Word and it is proof of their position.

As you can see, problems can arise when we use the Bible as a weapon to back our arguments using isolated “proof texts”.

Here is what we should understand about the use of “proof texts”:

 

  • Using “proof texts” to validate an argument is treating the Bible as a lawyer would a legal document.  The lawyer presents his case citing law and legal precedence with the hope of winning  his case.  However, the Bible is not a legal document, it is more an authoritative book of faith and truth.

 

  • We believe scripture is “God-breathed”, inspired by God and of the Holy Spirit. (II Timothy 3:16)    Therefore every line, every verse comes to us from the will and heart of God by the avenue of the Holy Spirit.  This does not, however, give us liberty to take a single verse, a handful of verses, or as I have seen some do, an isolated sentence clause, out of the Bible, and use it to back a doctrine, practice or idea.

“God is a strategic, orderly God.  His Word is strategic and orderly.”

  • We must take into account the COVERGENCE of Scripture. That is, that all the stories, accounts, decrees, promises, prophecies from Genesis to Revelation are inter-woven,  intricately connected and converge to reveal a larger unfolding plan.  Thus, no verse stands alone apart from the fullness of God’s plan and revelation for us!

In order to avoid the abuse of taking a text out of context and using it to back an idea whether it is truth or not, there are principles of interpretation that are commonly followed.  I would like to introduce a summary of some of them.

Practicing these principles will help you become a responsible student of the Bible and also will help you critically analyze “proof texts” that may be presented to you by people who are hung up on a pet doctrine, or more importantly, those used by cults and false teachers.

 

  1. Scripture interprets Scripture

This is simple.  When you come across an unclear verse, it must be interpreted by the verses that are clear.   A verse, or even a handful of verses that seem to say one thing, must be weighed against the overall scripture itself.  One verse will never make null and void the rest of the message of the Bible.

Some Calvinist site two or three verses of scripture to back their false teaching of eternal security, (once saved always saved).  Yet, there SIXTY FIVE direct New Testament scripture verses warning against backsliding or addressing it directly.  If scripture interprets scripture, the single verse, or handful of verses must succumb to the overwhelming majority of scripture.

 

  1. Two or Three Witness

The spiritual principle that by the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established certainly applies to truth in the Word.

In other words, no doctrinal teaching should stand on one verse in the Bible which is not mentioned, clarified, reemphasized in any other location in the Bible.

The example given of the handling of snakes applies.  Besides the sentence clause in Mark 16:8, there are no other scriptures that address believers picking up snakes as a sign of faith.  There is no history in the early church, no accounts in the book of Acts, no other clarification.  If anything, Jesus comes back and associates snakes and scorpions with demons and spiritual forces of the enemy  (Luke 10:19).   Since scripture interprets scripture, then we can conclude that taking up serpents was most likely a reference to authority over all the power of the enemy.

Many movements have developed practices centered around a passage of scripture that is mentioned only once, perhaps to one person or group, but never clarified or emphasized anywhere else.  This is not a good approach.

 

  1. Consider the Author and the Audience

Who is writing the passage is just as vital as to whom he is writing it to.  This will often reveal the WHY he is writing it.  When we understand these, we understand the context in which a verse is given.

An example could be used  with the verse in II Corinthians 9:7 that some use to “prove” that tithe is not a New Testament practice.   “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity…”

So the argument from this verse:    We are not taught to give 10%, but only what we purpose in our  own hearts to give.

This is where the AUTHOR, the AUDIENCE and the WHY are important.

The author is Paul, who is preparing the Corinthian Church which he founded,   for his upcoming visit.

The audience is the elders and leaders in the Corinthian church who are receiving instructions for the Apostle.

The WHY is what is important here.  

Paul had asked several congregations to take up special offerings for other churches that were suffering financially.  Paul boasted of how other congregations had responded well.  He is telling the Corinthians not to disappoint him with their special love offering.  Thus everything in the passage is dealing with the manner in which the congregation should collect this special need offering.  Now verse 7 makes sense.

It is NOT a verse dismissing tithing in the regular offerings on Sunday morning.  In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians to take up this offering before he even arrives so that there would be no offering taken when he would be present with them.

Understanding the Author, The Audience and the Why brings understanding to the verse and disallows a misuse of an isolated portion of scripture to prove a false point.

 

  1. Grammatical Principle

Before analyzing a verse, one should pay attention to the basic grammar used in the sentence.  Not only in the native language you are reading it in, but sometimes even in the original language the verse was written.   Grammar often reveals intent.

 

  1. Literal Principle

When possible, scripture should be taken in the literal sense.  In other words, it says what it says, and means what it means.  When doing so however, it is important to apply the first 4 principles given.  Otherwise we would be inclined to believe that God has wings and feathers.

 

  1. Historical Principle

Do a little research using multiple commentaries and Bible dictionaries when reading a particular passage.  This especially helps with reading Old Testament passages.  With New Testament passages it can bring clarity as well.  When Jesus describes the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24 for example, knowing the history of how Titus of Rome fulfilled this very prophecy in 70 A.D will make the words of Christ come alive as you read the passage.

 

  1. Metaphorical principle

One must understand the many literary styles that the Bible employs.  This includes metaphorical speech.  Jesus used this technique heavily, as do the Psalms, Proverbs and many of the Prophets.    Metaphors are used to bring illumination to a greater truth.  It is helpful also to learn the types and symbols of the Bible.  For example, gold is a symbol of deity, brass of judgment, silver of redemption, purple of royalty, red of sacrifice etc….  These symbols are pretty much consistent through the Bible and can bring greater understanding of scriptures, especially descriptions of the Tabernacle in the Old Testament and the revelations given in the book of Revelation.

  1. Practical Application

Reading scripture with the intent to discover what God is asking of you is most important.  What actions should I take?  What behaviors do I need to cease?  What attitude should I be exuding?    What command am I to obey?  Ultimately scripture is a guide to right relations with God and man, and to holy living.  Read to apply!

IN CONCLUSION:

Remember, many false cults such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientist, Calvinist,  Etc… cannot exist without extra-biblical writings, usually writings of a teacher or founder which they study and embrace.  These writings then are “proven” by the use of “proof texts” in the scripture that seem to back up the teachings of their founder.

Responsible students of the Bible will not fall into such a trap, but will learn to apply sound approaches to analyzing, understanding and applying God’s Word.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.  II Timothy 2:15

 

A Final Word on Racism

A Final Word on Racism

It is 2016.  America has seen a lot of first in recent years:  First President of African American descent; first female Attorney General, first Attorney General of African American descent, first female Secretary of State, first Secretary of State of African American descent.  There have been many State Governorships that have produced “firsts”:  First Native American governor, first Southeast Asian Governor, first Hispanic Governor and so on.  The Halls of Congress are more diverse ethnically and by gender than it ever has been.  We have come a long way.

Yet, it seems that if we pay attention to the conduit of social media racial division is at an all  time high.  The story that makes the front page today seems to be those showing some conflict between White and Black, White and Hispanic, Muslim and non-Muslim.

In my heart of hearts, I am not so sure that there is as much racial divide as the media wants us to believe.  After all, if there were not, the media would not have a hot button story to attract readers.  We must remember that a news story is just an extract of society.  If I had a platform to do so, I could extract just as many news stories demonstrating racial unity and cohesiveness all across the country.  But such stories don’t make the news, nor are they promoted on social media because they don’t provoke emotions that controversial stories do.  You know that no one likes reading boring news.

Everyday many Americans go through their day without thinking about race.  They work side by side, live side by side and enjoy entertainment side by side with all ethnicities all across the country.  We attend universities together, serve in the military together, and do commerce together every day.

Are there remnants of hate filled White racism?  Of course.  Are there Black racist who are angry and bitter against Whites for past or current treatment?  Yes indeed.  Are there racist resentments against Hispanics by Americans who see them as intruders in their nation?  Without a doubt.    I do believe however, that unless these people are given a platform to be heard, these groups are not the chief influence on our nation as a whole nor is there evidence they represent the general population.

However, I am a Pastor.  I am a preacher of the Gospel.  The Gospel shapes my world view.  The Gospel is the lens by which I look at things and the compass by which I measure things.  It is what I know.  So I would like to speak to racism through the prism of God’s Word.  And I would like to propose that we the Church have a responsibility to continue the message that Jesus began by being an entity where racism not only does not exist, but also is not indirectly promoted.

Jesus consistently addressed racism and ethnic division in His ministry. He actively worked to pierce through the walls that divided people.  If there is a place that should most exemplify racial harmony and love of humanity it would seem that place should be the Church, His Living Body.

Consider how Jesus’ teaching on racial/ethnic harmony unfolds:

 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:39

He introduces the highest and greatest of commands in the Bible then equates LOVING YOUR NEIGHBOR with this high command.  In other words, loving your NEIGHBOR as yourself is just as necessary as loving God with all your heart, soul and mind!

This teaching would be amazing just as it is.  However, Jesus takes it somewhere deeper when a Jewish lawyer attempts to define “neighbor” in a way that justified his selective love.  In Luke 10:29  it was to the question “And who is my neighbor?” That Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan,  His  intent was clear:  this command to love your neighbor included the ethnic Samaritans who up to this point had been ostracized, labeled, and mistreated by the Jews.

Recorded encounters with Jesus make it plain:

Since it was impossible for the gospel writers to include every act and every word that Jesus said and did, they were strategic in which stories and accounts they included in their work.  Of all the people Jesus encountered, it is interesting to note that some of the encounters the writers felt were important to record were those with non-ethnic Jews.

  • Jesus declares a ROMAN as having the greatest faith that He had found in Israel. (Matthew 8:10)
  • It was a SAMARITAN who demonstrated mercy and grace. (Luke 10)
  • Of the ten lepers that were healed, it was the lone SAMARITAN who came back to give thanks. (Luke 17:16)
  • It was a SAMARITAN woman that Jesus offers living waters to. (John 4:9)
  • It was a WOMAN that Jesus broke social taboos and spoke publically with. (John 4)
  • It was a CAANANITE woman whose great faith healed her daughter. (Matthew 15:28)

It must be corrected in the thinking of some that God separating the Jewish nation aside as His own, holy people was an act of racial preference.  His opposition to the Jews inter-marrying with the nations around them was not a prohibition of inter-racial  marriage, or a preference of one race over another.  It was a spiritual mandate!  God’s concern was that the people He set aside would be influenced by the idolatry and abominable practices of the nations around them.  (II Kings 17:15)

It is the same mandate He makes to the Church today when He tells us to “come out from among them and be separate” or when we are taught to “love not the world neither the things that are in the world”.

Follow the flow of lineages in the scripture and this truth is plainly seen.  It is no doubt strategic that Matthew includes in the lineage of Jesus, Rahab, a Caananitess, and Ruth, a Moabitess.

The larger plan of God has always been the inclusion of ALL people:

This truth goes back to His covenant with Abraham.

In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed,  Genesis 22:18

This theme Jesus reemphasizes:

“Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?”  Mark 11:17

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,”   Matthew 28:19

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”   Matthew 24:14

First converts in the Church were multi-ethnic/multi-national:

Once again, as if to demonstrate that God’s covenant was not a racial thing we get this beautiful account on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  Jewish believers from all around make pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.  FIFTEEN specific nations or regions are listed representing those in the crowd!  These were both ethnic Jews AND proselytes.  Of this crowd, 3,000 were saved and added to the Church.

Peter’s encounter with another Roman, Cornelius, was God’s push to bring understanding to the early Church of His intent that all nations, groups and ethnicities be included in the Church.  Acts 10 was an intentional event, recorded strategically to demonstrate indeed that non-Jews had been baptized with the same Holy Spirit as the Jews had.

It was a beautiful situation for the early church to be birth in the Roman Empire.  Rome had connected many nations and ethnic groups into one empire with a universal language.  After the first century, the Church was thoroughly, ethnically diverse.

As is, many would argue, the world wide Church of today.  We are in every nation.  The Bible is translated into hundreds of languages.  Worship around the world takes on the cultural and ethnic tones of the people groups wherever the Church exists.

However, in some nations where there are multiple ethnic groups, such as in the U.S., there is a mentality of “their churches” and “our churches”.  Have you ever noticed that in many denominations, the leadership chain often is largely mono-ethnic?  Even in denominations that have cross cultural congregations this seems to be the case.

Perhaps it is not intentional.  Perhaps people tend to congregate with the culture they feel most comfortable with.  It does not necessarily mean that in the church as a whole that one ethnic group tends to hate another ethnic group therefore we worship separately.  However, in our society where racial tension and racial divide seems to be at the forefront of the news, perhaps it is time for the church to be intentional when it comes to race issues.

If we claim to have the “answers” to the problems of society, then should not the Church also demonstrate the answer to overcome racial conflict?

I submit that if there is any place in our society where racial harmony should be demonstrated it should be the Church!

If there is a salve to heal the racial divide in our nations, it should be the presence of the Church.

Pastors and congregations at times can take up the cause of addressing racism in such a way that they indirectly continue to fuel racial divide rather than heal racial divide.

The fact is no nation can legislate racism away.

No government can penalize racism away.

Racism is a heart issue.  The entity on earth that specializes in heart transformation is the CHURCH!

It makes sense then when Paul comes back to teach us:

2For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.   Galatians 3:26-29

 

The Christian view:  In Christ we are all equal and One.

We have the answer.  Are we bold enough to begin to intentionally live it out?

If our denomination is multi-ethnic, let this be reflected in our leadership councils and offices.

If the congregations in our State are multi-ethnic, let this be reflected in our State Councils, on the platform at our Camp Meetings, and our leaders.

If our immediate harvest field is mult-ethnic, let this be reflected in the make up of our congregations.

If our congregation is multi-ethnic, let this be reflected on our deacon boards, praise team and leadership offices.

Let the Church show the world how it is done.  Let us perfect racial harmony amongst ourselves.  Let’s be the difference.

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,  Revelations 5:9