In Defense of Proper Proof Texting

In his book, “Toward An Exegetical Theology” Walter C. Kaiser Jr. laments the practice of proof texting which he defines as, “the isolation and use of verses apart from their immediate or sectional context,” which Kaiser says “is reprehensible and should be discontinued immediately.” Well that depends on what kind of proof texting one is doing, doesn’t it? For there is proper proof texting and improper proof texting, just as there is proper judging (John 7:24 ) and improper judging (Matthew 7:1 ). Other people have latched on to Mr. Kaiser’s condemnation of proof texting treating it with scorn whenever it is used against their position, especially when they are losing an argument. Some are discerning enough to make a distinction between proper proof texting and ripping a verse out of context, forcing it into service for one’s agenda and doing violence to the author’s original meaning. And of course that is very wrong. But let’s call that what it is—misusing the text, which is always wrong.

         However I suspect that some would prefer to condemn “proof-texting” because of their distaste for having their positions proven wrong when someone shows them a passage of Scripture that contradicts what they believe. Here are some examples. Some say that one is justified by faith only. James 2:24 says one is not justified by faith only. Some say baptism follows salvation. Mark 16:16 says baptism comes before salvation. Some say a Christian can’t fall from grace. Galatians 5:4 says he can. Some say that worship is limited to 5 acts on Sunday. Romans 12:1 says our bodies are to be presented as living sacrifices, “which is your spiritual worship”. Some say Jesus is not God. John 1:1-14 says he certainly is God. Get the picture? Proof-texting is only wrong when it is done wrong.

         So, wrong proof texting is clearly bad. But how do we know any proof texting is proper? Glad you asked. Peter did it (Acts 1:20; 2:17-21,24-28,34,35, etc.). Stephen did it (Acts 7:42-50). Paul did it (Acts 13:33-41). James did it (Acts 15:15-17). John did it (John 12:15,39,40). And last, but not least, Jesus did it (Matthew 4:1-11; 21:16,17,42, etc). Every time you find a writer or speaker in the Bible appealing to the Old Testament to prove the truth of what he is saying or writing, he is proof texting. By the way, was that proof texting for me to show you that Jesus and others proof texted? Oh well, I’m in good company.

         Friends, not only is proper proof texting right, it is the only kind of proof that should carry any authority whatsoever when we are talking about biblical issues. What do people think phrases like “it is written” (used 80 times in the Bible) and “thus says the Lord” (used over 400 times in the Bible) mean? They mean that the only proof worth anything and the only proof that men may be rightly bound to is what is in the Bible, the text. Luke writes that Apollos, who was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28). Sounds like proof texting to me.

         If you and I disagree on a matter I’m not going to tell you how I feel, what the Holy Spirit said to me, what God laid on my heart or how I believe God is leading me to this, that or another conclusion. We have a responsibility to prove our positions. How? By the text, by a proper proof text.

Brad Fry

Published in: on February 10, 2011 at 8:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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