Wednesday, October 7, 2009

In Defense of Proof-Texting

This will be quick: appealing to a particular passage of Scripture in defense of your position during theological argument is not somehow against the rules. It probably just means you have a conservative, high view of Scripture's authority.

Most times it is easier for your theological dialogue partner ("opponent" is what they used to be called, but now you get accused of being necessarily divisive when you call them that...) to accuse you of proof-texting and carry on with his position than to actually deal with the passage you cited. But if Scripture is really authoritative and a passage really seems to say what you think it does, then appealing to it is perfectly reasonable.

Ok, got that off my chest. As you were.


Jason said...

And, the New Testament writers seem to do the same thing, don't they?

Paul is the King of proof-texting.

Anonymous said...

I think when people talk about proof-texting as an error they're not simply talking about citing a biblical passage in support of a position. As I understand it, proof-texting is what happens when someone cites a text which prima facie looks to support the view, but when analyzed in context is clearly talking about a different situation. Similarly, it is when someone uses one passage of Scripture without any consideration of other passages that would seem to suggest something different (hence, open theists usually accuse classical theists of proof-texting and vice versa). Moreover, proof-texting is also alleged when someone uses a text from a portion of the canon without consideration of its canonical situation. So, given what Hebrews says about sacrifices, it would be proof-texting to cite a passage in Leviticus in the process of an argument for the re-introduction of sacrifices. Finally, proof-texting is alleged when a theologian does not reflect theologically upon the passage cited, but simply cites it and thinks that its plain sense is sufficient for proving their argument. For a theologian who has a high view of Scripture, one cannot simply look at the plain sense, but must meditate on the text and understand it in light of God, his works and chiefly Jesus Christ. So proof-texters are guilty of more than just trying to find biblical support for their arguments, they're guilty of mishandling Scripture, a pretty serious infraction indeed. I'd read Kevin Vanhoozer's Drama of Doctrine for some thoughts about proof-texting and its problems.


Ian Clausen said...

That's funny, I'm just reading Augustine now and he's complaining about a form of proof-texting vis-a-vis the Manichees. They don't know how to read the Old Testament so they denigrate it, pulling out passages that 'offend' them. I suspect there's some wisdom in A's characteristic sarcasm:

'When I read a book I take in the knowledge all by myself! Do I indeed?...Will you dare to pass sentence on them without a teacher?'
- De util. cred. VII.xvii

Do we dare? Is the 'plain sense of Scripture' so easily grasped?

Nick said...

D.A. Carson offers some sound wisdom, "a text without a context becomes a pre-text for a proof-text." The apostle Paul didn't simply proof-text passages from the Old Testament. He did quote it but it's important that we go back and see the context in which that text was written; otherwise we can even misunderstand the point that Paul was trying to make. So 'proof-texting' is only okay if you know how to do it right.

Andrew Faris said...


I'd follow Nicholas's comment that Paul is maybe a little more careful than that- but you're right, sometimes it does seem like a proof-text!


That's a great taxonomy of proof-texting and I disagree with none of it. Obviously I wasn't trying to be exhaustive with my post. I just get frustrated when people jump to the "you're proof-texting" argument just because you used the Bible in your argument. You know?


You would!


What do you think Carson did to celebrate coming up with that little gem? Seriously, if I had made up something that catchy, I'dve called all my nerdiest friends to tell them. And I'm quite certain I don't have as many nerdy friends as Carson...

PamBG said...

I disagree.

The bible has a lot of things to say on a lot of subjects and some of it is contradictory. I can quote a proof-text that "proves" that God wants us to forgive our enemies and I can quote one that "proves" that God wants us to utterly defeat anyone who stands in the way of God's people.

It is not, in my view, having a "high" view of Scripture to misuse the bible in this way.

Again, I will appeal to the title of your blog: Prooftexting is to pull a sentence or two out of the narrative context in which it was set. To have a "high" view of Scripture is to take those narratives seriously and stop gratuitously pulling out sentences that prove my point.

Kaitiaki said...

Actually, if you want to be involved in debates (I'm not sure where dialogue partner and other PC terms fit in with that scenario) then it's probably best to construct your position from chapters and books at a time.
How about discussing, for example, spiritual gifts using Acts 2, 10-11, and I Corinthians 11-14 to develop your case. Or God's preparation of his servants for ministry using the book of Jonah on the assumption that it predates his message to Israel recorded in the historical books of Kings and Chronicles.
One thing is sure - you won't talk till you've done your homework and your "partner" will have to study a lot more before constructing his (or hers). Now that's prooftexting :)