What is prooftexting? First of all, it is probably something that would drive my wife crazy, being an English PhD candidate and college-level composition teacher. I am always amazed to hear her stories about the lengths college students will go to as they submit essays and papers.

In simple terms, prooftexting is the practice of using quotations from a document in order to support your idea. When that document is the Bible, those ideas can become tools to bind and isolate other people’s consciences in harmful ways. As I look back on Bible messages I have written, I see that I have become a master prooftexter, unfortunately.

Here are some ways people have defined prooftexting using the Bible (did I just use prooftexting to make my point about prooftexting?)

“A proof-text is a verse or short passage from the Bible used by someone as part of his proof for a doctrinal belief he wishes to substantiate to others. However, since verses and passages may rely extensively on the context in which they appear for correct interpretation, pulling these out of their context and having them stand alone in a “proof” can, at times, be very misleading. In addition, a set of such proof-texts can completely ignore other passages which, if added to the mix, might well lead to an entirely different conclusion. Someone who relies strongly only on a list of proof-texts in order to make a doctrinal argument may have a very weak case for his argument.” source

What is the danger of prooftexting an idea with the Bible? The danger is first of all that we may (and probably will) miss the author’s intended point. We may then in fact miss God’s message entirely! An even greater danger is that we may end up telling God what we want Him to believe about us. We may end up building a worldwide network of people who think, act and believe the same incorrect fallicies. Ultimately, prooftexting will lead to destroying our chances of unity in the Lord. The splintered state of Christianity in 2011 is proof of the discord such a method causes. We end up building walls around our proof-texted ideas, yet claim to be “one in the Lord.”

How can we avoid prooftexting? I would think the most important solution would be to submit to the Holy Spirit. When we are indwelled with Him, our mind will be open to think clearly. Our heart will be full of the things of God which unite: grace, truth, faith, hope and love. Practically, I have found some ways to avoid prooftexting my own idea. First, always make an effort to quote multiple verses. One verse by itself is dangerous. Read the entire passage, the entire book if necessary. Second, get multiple sources of input. Unity is broken when we only listen to our own church’s teachers. Read the ancient men and women of faith! Learn from other people, other books, other blogs, other people who think differently than you do.

(more about prooftexting)

5 thoughts on “Prooftexting

  1. Good point and unfortunately, only too true.

    This problem is worsened by the fact that UBF exclusively uses passage based Bible study, where every passage is studied independently and separately from the other passages. So they never see the whole picture, like in the Indian story of the blind men and the elephant. Since all of them touched different parts of the elephant, they all came to different conclusions what it was.

    Prooftexting using the Bible it would be easy to conclude both that Jesus was man and Jesus was God. But often the truth is more difficult and has complementary aspects which both need to be accepted.

    One important corrective is to always check principles you learned from the Bible against the “higher” principles. Like the principle that God is love, or that you should love God and your neighbour.

    It’s also important to be open. If you have a preconceived mind like in UBF where the mission statement is as given constant, you end up only prooftexting this preconceived worlview.

  2. Chris, a growing number of people in UBF have been questioning the “preconceived mind” of UBF, which is filled with undocumented slogans like “man equals mission”. I remember chanting such slogans at many meetings and conferences. At the last conference I attended in UBF (in April 2011), we were all asked to chant this slogan: “Father, glorify me [insert your name] so that I may glorify you!” Quite a few people were very uncomfortable with applying this part of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to each of us individually. It was a surreal moment that helped open my eyes to see the self-glorification ideology I was upholding.

    • We chanted the same thing, Brian. And I can say that I tried many times to unite passages in my testimonies. I saw that quite often the conclusions from different Bible passages in UBF Bible study were opposite. But when I tried to understand the Bible I was always rebuked and was taught that I must meditate upon one passage at a time and forget other passages lessons while writing a testimony. Now I see that so many things in UBF are prooftexted, especially the 100000 missionaries sending prayer topic. Such prayer topic is unbiblical and I believe God is never going to answer the UBF prayers. Still it is a public UBF prayer! Thay are not ashamed to publish it! I wonder what kind of Bible they “study” and what kind of God they pray to in UBF…

    • Yes, Vitaly. Recently I discovered one reason why I could not “unite” my Bible studies and messages. I was looking at the Bible through the eyes of Confucian obedience and loyalty. When I see Scripture from the eyes of grace, through the Holy Spirit, I then see love and peace and all things marvelous.

  3. this thing made me leave few years ago UBF style daily bread practice in order to look more what the Bible really is talking to me rather then just obey every single passage like it the only isolate teaching.