Proof Texting and the Lost Art of Quoting the Bible
In the world of Biblical debate there is possibly no accusation more scathing than to claim that your opponent is proof texting. You are, if the accusation holds true, using isolated texts from the Scriptures to argue for your position regardless of their context and relationship to the greater Biblical whole.
Now before you run away proclaiming that “This article does not apply to me” consider the experience of a teenager who encountered the accusation in a different setting. Her high school religion teacher was spouting some particularly uninteresting heresy, and noticing her non-compliance the teacher began to challenge her on how she could possibly disagree with his conclusions. Her response was simple. She quoted a text from the Holy Bible that directly bolstered her position. The teacher’s response was equally simple, or rather simplistic. ‘’Please don’t quote the Bible at me, we are not fundamentalists, and we don’t engage in proof texting. ” What went wrong here?
What went wrong was the misapplication of that funny phrase, proof texting. In the teacher’s mind, the fact that the student did not unleash a working opus on the 217 relevant verses and their corresponding Greek verbs in response to his challenge, was enough to condemn her efforts. In his estimation, she was woefully ignorant of higher critical thinking on the Bible; and she was now more convicted than ever, that her teacher did not know the Bible even in part. She was uneducated; he was a pagan.
Consider also for a moment the Christian apologist (whether professional or of the arm chair variety). In answering others’ questions, they too often suffer unjust attacks for proof texting, and it is not difficult to see why. The very nature of apologetic work involves the ability to keep things brief. Simple (and even complex) questions demand simple and short responses. It’s a tough gig. There is no time for a working opus here either, but some, in their efforts to undervalue the work of the apologist, have blatantly ignored the audience and the time constraints they bring with them.
Quoting from the Bible is always dangerous if we are not willing to engage the greater Biblical narrative, or worse, if we are willing to change the Biblical narrative to fit our reading of a particular passage. But let’s not be silly. If you ask me or anyone else where in the Bible can I find evidence that Jesus is God or any other such question, in all probability I will send you in the direction of a couple of verses. This is not so much proof texting as it is respecting your time.
Besides, if Jesus can quote only one Bible verse in response to that Biblically literate fool known as diabolos, why can’t I employ the same method on occasion? Oh wait, did I just proof text again?