What is wrong with proof-texting? I must admit that it is one of my pet peeves. Proof-texting is basically the practice of using small isolated snippets of scripture to back up an idea. Christians do it all the time, tacking endless bible references to their every statement as if to give their statements the weight of scripture. Heck, I used to do it myself.
There are a few things wrong with this practice. First if you look up those passages and read them in context they can often say something completely different than what the user intends. I recently decided to look up the verses proposed on a series of propositions at one of the blogs I read. I thought maybe a few of them might be stretches. What shocked me was that none of them actually bore out the points he was making – well unless you stretched them to say something they were not saying in proper context. If you are going to do this read the context, please.
The second problem is that they make your statement weightier than it deserves to be. I don’t think people intend to be arrogant when they do this, but it sure is an arrogant thing to say your words are as weighty as scripture. Really we know that most people are not going to check your context, especially if you include multiples of references. For some reason there is an assumption of unmediated access to the mind of Christ taken on by the average Christian and this leads to all kinds of heresies. Now I am not for taking the scriptures out of the hands of people, but for mercy sake lets teach people to be responsible with the scriptures. To study it diligently, which doesn’t mean just knowing verses. In fact to use the scriptures, as they were intended – read the whole thing in context. Maybe laity could be given scriptures without bible references in them – that would help.
The third problem is what I call the JW problem. Ever debate with a JW? They know all the key verses and are trained to bounce you to the next one before you can read the proper context and see why their claim is preposterous. What sucks is that Christians do this all the time too. It fails to honour the reader and let them encounter God through the scriptures for themselves. It reduces the bible to a supporting document for a series of propositions that we want folks to assent to. I would rather lead people to Jesus thank you very much.
Finally it shows a lack of respect for scripture itself. Well that probably already came out. But if we really respect scripture we won’t twist it to suit our ends, rather we will embrace it and let scripture change us. Wouldn’t that be awesome? No wonder we are encouraged to devote ourselves to the public reading of scripture. No wonder the rich synagogue tradition always included publicly reading the scriptures. It is meant to be read to the people of God so that through it we can encounter the Word behind the word, the Living Word Jesus Christ. I’m all about that.
So please, don’t proof-text.