When someone quotes a scripture to support a particular point of view or argument without considering the broader context or the original intended meaning of the text, it’s called proof-texting.
We’ve all seen it. Some of you probably even do it. But cherry-picking verses to support preconceived notions or personal biases is not only dishonest, it’s dangerous.
This Will Make Some of You Angry
There are those who selectively highlight specific passages while ignoring others, manipulating scriptures to suit their agenda. This can result in a skewed understanding of the Bible and contribute to the perpetuation of misguided beliefs.
Even worse, the scriptures misrepresented typically are used to imply legalistic approaches that undermine core messages of love and grace that are overwhelmingly supported by the whole of the Bible.
This happens both in the flesh and on social media. You would assume that people who are educated to exegete scripture to provide context (such as clergy) would refrain from this practice, but unfortunately that is not always the case.
I have noticed a steep uptick of proof-texting on social media, but I’ve also heard it in podcasts and too many sermons by people who should know better.
Here is one troubling example of scripture I have seen taken out of context and weaponized recently:
“I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.” (Amos 9:15)
Obviously, those who share this as a proof-text are misusing this verse to validate their political solidarity with Israel by conflating the historical kingdom of Israel with the modern nation currently at war with Hamas. But even extremely conservative scholars such as John MacArthur contextualize this passage as a prophecy of the coming Gospel—a fulfilled promise of salvation to Jew and Gentile alike who are in Christ. Which is the correct approach, because a literal interpretation would leave the prophecy totally unfulfilled, as it would then not only disregard the entire New Testament, but also the Israelites’ subsequent subjugation by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans, and their current dispersion across the entire world.
Then there’s the common “clobber” verses that when taken out of context appear to condemn homosexuality, but do not in any way describe consensual loving relationships between two adults. Instead, these passages depict sexual assault (Genesis 9:20–27, 19:1–11), ritualized prostitution (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13), male prostitution and child abuse (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:10), and rituals of the Cult of Isis (Romans 1:26–27).
Nevertheless, I have frequently seen misguided/poorly educated fundamentalists weaponize these passages into hateful memes on social media. Unfortunately, besides twisting scripture and falsely suggesting Christians hate the LGBTQ+ community, these passive-aggressive posts invariably reveal the closeted homophobic fears of whomever shares them.
Because why else would you be sharing it?
And This Will Probably Offend Anyone Still Reading
The following contains depictions of Disney characters some Evangelicals could find offensive, including references to topics such as the Kingdom of Arendelle, exegesis, form criticism, historical scholarship, and dinglehoppers.
Discretion is advised.
Then there are well-meaning people who attempt to harmonize the canonical gospels.
Gospel harmonization theorizes pretty much what you could infer from synthesizing those two words: if each canonical gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are considered as like singing voices, though the notes are not the same in every regard, their voices should blend together in a way that is not only pleasing, when listened to in concert with one another, they are singing the same song in the same key—a “heavenly quartet.” By the voices being combined together, the song itself is elevated to a point that is greater than the sum of its parts—a comprehensive narrative superior to any single or lesser combined gospel account.
But no twenty-first century scholar in their right mind would endorse such foolishness. It’s like saying you can only appreciate Pretty Woman if you watch it with a copy of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion open before you as you sit with Bianca the love doll from Lars and the Real Girl while listening to a cast recording of My Fair Lady.
Gospel harmonization is essentially using a chain reference Bible like a choose your own adventure novel. It’s easy not only to miss the point of any gospel this way—it dangerously creates extrabiblical narratives and doctrines that are not textually supported.
For example, if one decided that Disneyesque easter eggs interconnect each canonical narrative to one another, then not only did Anna and Elsa‘s parents die on the way to Flynn and Rapunzel’s wedding, Jesus must have cleansed the temple twice: right after he went to went to the wedding in Cana as depicted in John, and then again the last week of his life following the triumphal entry described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
Or, Jesus while giving the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew must have felt sorry for the poor Galileans, because he didn’t go off and rail against the wealthy the same way he did when he delivered word for word almost the same sermon on a plain near Jerusalem as reported by Luke. Just like how Ariel while scavenging for thingamabobs and dinglehoppers had no idea she was actually plundering the very shipwreck that had marooned Elsa and Anna’s parents on an island where they built a treehouse, had a son who would be called Tarzan (the true prince of Arendelle), but were then tragically eaten by a leopard.
Now, it’s just plain obvs that Belle and Beast somehow surviving the French Revolution, emigrating to Germany then Britain, and their great granddaughter Jane marrying and taming the beastly Tarzan is both pure coincidence and history repeating itself. Similarly, by making a few unqualified assumptions, some believe that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb on the morning of the third day weren’t just Mary Magdalene and the “other Mary” as told in Matthew, but that the other Mary must have been Mary, mother of James according to Mark, who also includes Salome. And surely more women must have been there, because although Luke isn’t super specific about that who was at the tomb that precise moment, some infer from what he wrote earlier that he could have meant Mary Magdalene, Mary (James’ mother), and Joanna. That he doesn’t mention Salome could be coincidence, or could Joanna and Salome be the same person? Now wouldn’t that be interesting? I mean, no, it isn’t biblical, but sure, anything is possible right?
Yes, I Do Have a Point
So sure, lots of people read the Bible and come to different conclusions.
I believe diversity within Christianity is a strength, not a weakness. But our differences should highlight our love, not our judgment. And twisting the gospels together into one story not only undermines the distinct theological message of each gospel, it makes our testimony of Jesus contradictory to our experiences in relationship with him.
The best gospel is in you, the life transformation you experienced through relationships with people who have loved you with the love of Jesus.
To use scripture to share your own ideas is backwards. It can spread lies and damage your witness. Distinct from but consistent with our personal witness, our theology should be formed by the whole of scripture and the study of it, overlooking no consideration. Of course, this seems like a monumental task, but for some it is a lifelong endeavor.
And by the way, if what you are sharing is not the unconditional love of Christ, you are sharing the wrong thing.