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.