Why Prooftexting Is Not Like Other Sins

Why Prooftexting Is Not Like Other Sins April 23, 2015

Zack Hunt Prooftexting Quote

The quote is from Zack Hunt’s blog post, “Why Proof-Texting Is Not Like Other Sins.” It was hard to choose an excerpt to feature in the image. The whole thing is wonderful, powerful stuff, that deserves to be widely read. And so below it is quoted in its entirety, in the hope that it will lead more regular readers here to subscribe to or otherwise regularly read Hunt’s blog:

There’s a post you might have seen that has unfortunately been popping up in my Facebook newsfeed the past couple of days.

It’s entitled “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins” and it’s the typical sort of fare you might expect from a site like Desiring God: bolstered by false equivalencies, society is portrayed as the boogyman out to destroy the faith, conservative evangelicals are cast as the real Christians who must speak up to save the day, and to do so, this heroic remnant of faithful believers are called upon to show their love by condemning people to hell for who they love.

All of this is done, of course, under the guise that the Bible is clear and here’s the verse to prove it!

This sort of proof-texting – ripping a Bible verse out of context to prove a point – is the traditional weapon of choice in fundamentalism because it allows the soldier who wields it to destroy his or her enemy with a signal verse while claiming the impenetrable high ground of clear Biblical authority.

Of course, this army of righteous crusaders who wage war against the “gay agenda” are infamously silent on a whole host of other issues the Bible is equally clear on when proof-texting is the name of the game. For example, when it comes to things like supporting slaverykilling disrespectful childrenforcing women to cover their heads in public, and drinking wine every day, these holy warriors are conspicuously silent on these clear biblical mandates.

Perhaps it’s because the Bible is rarely as clear as they want or need it to be?

Regardless, the real problem in articles like the one mentioned above is not just that the Bible is rarely as clear as some folks pretend it is. The bigger issue is the fact that the Bible can only be so seemingly clear when scripture is intentionally abused and distorted through proof-texting.

Proof-texting is an intentionally deceptive practice that offers out of context proof while ignoring the greater witness of scripture and any other evidence that might rufute the desired (and predetermined) theological conclusion. It’s the tool necessary to perpetuate the myth that the Bible is always perfectly clear about everything, when in fact that clarity often only exists when we proof-text our theology by ignoring the overarching themes of scripture in general and the message of Jesus in particular in order to condemn and exclude people we’ve deemed unworthy of salvation.

And therein lies the truly nefarious nature of proof-texting.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can crush your soul…and that’s exactly what proof-texting does.

It crushes the soul in the name of God by using context-less Bible verses to exclude people from the Church and condemn them to hell.

Proof-texting is not like other sins because it defiles scripture by turning what God meant for good into a weapon of mass destruction. By striping verses of all context and refusing to acknowledge the role of interpretation, proof-texting twists scripture in order to sanctify oppression and abuse, exclusion and marginalization. This can be seen clearly through its history as the sanctifying force behind slavery and genocide, the rejection of women’s suffrage and embrace of Jim Crow, exploitation of the natural world and the denial of LGBT equality.

Proof-texting exists almost exclusively as a means of excluding undesirable people from the community of faith, from Christian universities, and ultimately, from heaven itself.

Which is ultimately what makes it antithetical to the gospel.

In other words, proof-texting is not like other sins because its end goal – condemnation and exclusion – is fundamentally opposed to the ministry of Jesus who came not to condemn the world but to save it, all the while intentionally embracing those the rest of the world – particularly religious folks – wanted nothing to do with.

Now, the unfortunate propensity towards proof-texting of some doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t use scripture to support our position, but we must do so responsibly, incorporating things like context, history, science, experience, tradition, and reason to do the necessary and unavoidable work of biblical interpretation. Otherwise, our biblical interpretation and theological conclusions will lack integrity.

It’s true that biblical interpretation is hard work that rarely provides easy answer, but the alternative is nothing short of sinful.

Because when you lazily proof-text your theology, you’re not opening people’s eyes and saving them from hell. And you’re certainly not taking a stand for the truth.

You’re abusing God-breathed scripture and the people it was meant to serve.

Amen.

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  • Jerry Writer

    Dangers of proof texting: Matthew 27:5 and Luke 10:37.. Judas went and hanged himself… go therefore, and do likewise.

  • Mark Moore

    Yeah, like, “Kill all the boys, kill all the women, Save the virgins for yourselves.” I have always wondered what context could ever make that OK. How about, “Happy will be he that dashes your infants heads upon the rocks.” Sweet loving god just taken out of context. How to sell slaves or murdering people who work on Saturday/Sunday. Check out Evilbible.com for a lot more.

    • Remember the “Happiness is” song from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown? I used to imagine including a few Old Testament happiness themes in the song:

      Psalm 137:8-9

      8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
      Happy shall they be who pay you back
      what you have done to us!
      9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
      and dash them against the rock!

      • Michael Wilson

        Yeah, this guy certainly thinks evil should be paid with evil. I don’t mind these sorts of works, I understand the need for vengeance by people that have been victimized but I doubt how God breathed the sentiment is.

        • There seem to be more issues with the wording of the comment, but kindly at least edit out the profanity.

          • Michael Wilson

            Sorry about that

  • Michael Wilson

    At some level I feel Zack endorses the problem that leads to proof texting, that the scripture is God breathed. Only the parts that are true are. Paul excludes homosexuals along with thieves and other villains, who I hope we all want to exclude as well because, I would like to think, he didn’t understand homosexuality. Perhaps as it was understood and expressed at the time we can understand his opposition. But I feel this way about how progressive Christians cite Biblical positions on care for the poor and violence. If God wants people to be happy states cant turn the other cheek or give to all that ask and ursery must be demanded of loans, and so forth.

  • Jean-Marc Cowles O’Connor

    I find articles/blogposts like this — and their secular brethren, usually postulated by folks whose exposure to various philosophical viewpoints leaves them unable to accept that there objective “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “evil” do not exist — to be incredibly offensive. Invariably, they are founded on a moral relativism which can only lead all of society into accepting the most uncivilized actions as perfectly normal and tolerable. It doesn’t matter to me which significant religion one follows, none of them agree that “you do your thing, I’ll do my thing, neither of us will be out of” … God’s favor, Allah’s will, Krishna’s benevolence, or balance with the infinite Is. As persons of faith, we must stand up for right and wrong.

    As for the condescending statement & question, “…when it comes to things like supporting slavery, killing disrespectful children, forcing women to cover their heads in public, and drinking wine every day, these holy warriors are conspicuously silent on these clear biblical mandates. Perhaps it’s because the Bible is rarely as clear as they want or need it to be?” … Perhaps it’s because folks rarely wish to engage on those matters, except by posting video clips from “The West Wing” to their blogs and Facebook timelines.

    The answers to those questions require just as much time and in-depth consideration as do the topics of homosexuality, divorce, taxation, stewardship, and frankly, everything else the Bible teaches us about … but folks who are pushing agendas want quick, glib retorts and refutations, just as much as the “proof texters” want to not have revisionists and the champions of enlightenment to dismiss their closely held beliefs out of hand, simply because times have changed.

    The statement that proof-texting “crushes the soul in the name of God by using context-less Bible verses to exclude people from the Church and condemn them to hell” is itself an extremely broad brush which, at best, properly paints only a small percentage of those who rely on scripture as the foundation of their position. Most folks who trot out, “The Bible says…” are actually doing it out of love and concern for the person whom they are trying to encourage to repent of their sins and depend on God for their strength to avoid it in the future, or are doing that simply to say, “You’re entitled to your opinion, but so am I, and just because you don’t believe what I do that doesn’t mean I have to live in accordance with your beliefs.” Yes, some Bible thumpers (and Qu’ran thumpers) are streetcorner revivalists, condemning everyone and everything that is not in lock-step with every word of scripture … but most are not.

    As for, “Now, the unfortunate propensity towards proof-texting of some doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t use scripture to support our position, but we must do so responsibly, incorporating things like context, history, science, experience, tradition, and reason to do the necessary and unavoidable work of biblical interpretation. Otherwise, our biblical interpretation and theological conclusions will lack integrity” … it’s nice that the blogger believes that proof-texting from his enlightened position and accompanied by his version of what the text means is just fine, but it is truly just engaging in the same offense. It is a statement akin to those of student protestors these days who insist that the only “free speech” that should be allowed on campus is that which jibes with the present progressive agenda. The statement itself invalidates the entire blog post, by saying essentially, “You shouldn’t do that, but we can.”

    For the record, I do not believe that any sin is any different — worse or better — than any other sin, except the sin of turning one’s back on God’s offer of grace and salvation from our sinful natures. We would all do well to ensure that in becoming modern-day apologists for “enlightened” faith, we do not turn our backs on the timeless and non-negotiable truths in scripture. We understand the heart of God as if we are looking at it through a cloudy mirror, not as if we are microsurgeons. God is no respector of men, nor will he be mocked.

    • Part of the issue is that some, afraid of the need to decide moral matters for themselves in a way that is not wholly relativistic but nonetheless requires them to take responsibility for their own moral discernment, run for refuge to “the Bible says.” But if one acknowledges that this did not work out well for the defenders of slavery, who rightly saw that abolitionism meant that the Biblical authors were not infallible, then one ought to accept the implications of that stance.

      If you read in the history of this blog, I think you will find these matters discussed in depth and detail. Leaving what appears to be your first comment here, and complaining that one blog post on its own does not cover every aspect of a topic, is an internet trolling technique that never makes the one engaging in it seem like a serious individual.

      But better still, rather than rely on blog posts to discuss these matters, why not explore articles and books written by Biblical scholars? There is a fantastic piece by Wayne Meeks on the Haustafeln and American slavery which does a good job of identifying the most important historical, exegetical, and hermeneutical issues and treating them in a serious manner.

      • Jean-Marc Cowles O’Connor

        Yes, James, this was my first comment — it was the first article from this source that anyone had ever referred me to — but that does not mean I was in any way “trolling”, simply because I put my two cents worth in without reading the entire history of posts and comments at Patheos.

        My post in no way complained that the article itself didn’t cover every aspect of a topic, and I would think that astute individuals would be able to very easily discern the main points I was making, and what particular statements in the blog post I was taking particular issue with … the quotation marks ordinarily would serve as a signal of that sort of thing. Also, I would think that an early statement such as, “The answers to those questions require just as much time and in-depth consideration as do …” would be a clear indicator that not only have I done quite a bit of independent and directed study, but that I think others should do the same.

        Beyond the condescension you display in your thinly-veiled ad hominem criticisms and insults of me (not less than one in each of your three paragraphs), your comments about slavery in the Bible demonstrate a certain lack of understanding of both what the slavery therein referenced entailed, and the historical context, and on the fallacy of justifying modern slavery on the basis of the Old or New Testament. Being redundant in $5 synonyms for “interpret” doesn’t make you sound particularly serious, either.

        Care to actually refute a point I made, or have you just enjoyed thinking for several weeks that you slammed the door on me?

        • Perhaps we can start with your claim that without religion – or without a specific religion – we end up with moral relativism. The problem is that fundamentalist religion claims that God is the source of absolute morality, and yet also claims that God can demand the sacrifice of a child or the genocidal extermination of a population and when God does so, it is moral. And so far from providing a basis for absolute morality, fundamentalism tends to assert that whatever God happens to command is moral, undermining the humanistic grounds on which one could reason to an absolute prohibition against things like genocide, rape, etc.