Why Proof-Texting Is Not Like Other Sins

bibleunderlined(Credit: Chineka, Flickr Creative Commons)

There’s a post you might have seen that has unfortunately been popping up in my Facebook newsfeed the past couple of days.

It’s entitled “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins” and it’s the typical sort of fare you might expect from a site like Desiring God: bolstered by false equivalencies, society is portrayed as the boogyman out to destroy the faith, conservative evangelicals are cast as the real Christians who must speak up to save the day, and to do so, this heroic remnant of faithful believers are called upon to show their love by condemning people to hell for who they love.

All of this is done, of course, under the guise that the Bible is clear and here’s the verse to prove it!

This sort of proof-texting – ripping a Bible verse out of context to prove a point – is the traditional weapon of choice in fundamentalism because it allows the soldier who wields it to destroy his or her enemy with a single verse while claiming the impenetrable high ground of clear Biblical authority.

Of course, this army of righteous crusaders who wage war against the “gay agenda” are infamously silent on a whole host of other issues the Bible is equally clear on when proof-texting is the name of the game. For example, when it comes to things like supporting slavery, killing disrespectful children, forcing women to cover their heads in public, and drinking wine every day, these holy warriors are conspicuously silent on these clear biblical mandates.

Perhaps it’s because the Bible is rarely as clear as they want or need it to be?

Regardless, the real problem in articles like the one mentioned above is not just that the Bible is rarely as clear as some folks pretend it is. The bigger issue is the fact that the Bible can only be so seemingly clear when scripture is intentionally abused and distorted through proof-texting.

Proof-texting is an intentionally deceptive practice that offers out of context proof while ignoring the greater witness of scripture and any other evidence that might refute the desired (and predetermined) theological conclusion. It’s the tool necessary to perpetuate the myth that the Bible is always perfectly clear about everything, when in fact that clarity often only exists when we proof-text our theology by ignoring the overarching themes of scripture in general and the message of Jesus in particular in order to condemn and exclude people we’ve deemed unworthy of salvation.

And therein lies the truly nefarious nature of proof-texting.

Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can crush your soul…and that’s exactly what proof-texting does.

It crushes the soul in the name of God by using context-less Bible verses to exclude people from the Church and condemn them to hell.

Proof-texting is not like other sins because it defiles scripture by turning what God meant for good into a weapon of mass destruction. By stripping verses of all context and refusing to acknowledge the role of interpretation, proof-texting twists scripture in order to sanctify oppression and abuse, exclusion and marginalization. This can be seen clearly through its history as the sanctifying force behind slavery and genocide, the rejection of women’s suffrage and embrace of Jim Crow, exploitation of the natural world and the denial of LGBT equality.

Proof-texting exists almost exclusively as a means of excluding undesirable people from the community of faith, from Christian universities, and ultimately, from heaven itself.

Which is ultimately what makes it antithetical to the gospel.

In other words, proof-texting is not like other sins because its end goal – condemnation and exclusion – is fundamentally opposed to the ministry of Jesus who came not to condemn the world but to save it, all the while intentionally embracing those the rest of the world – particularly religious folks – wanted nothing to do with.

Now, the unfortunate propensity towards proof-texting of some doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t use scripture to support our position, but we must do so responsibly, incorporating things like context, history, science, experience, tradition, and reason to do the necessary and unavoidable work of biblical interpretation. Otherwise, our biblical interpretation and theological conclusions will lack integrity.

It’s true that biblical interpretation is hard work that rarely provides easy answer, but the alternative is nothing short of sinful.

Because when you lazily proof-text your theology, you’re not opening people’s eyes and saving them from hell. And you’re certainly not taking a stand for the truth.

You’re abusing God-breathed scripture and the people it was meant to serve.

 

48 Comments
  • Andee Zomerman
    April 23, 2015

    I cannot love this enough.

  • csalafia
    April 23, 2015

    Boom.

    Beautiful, Zack… just awesome.

  • Mark
    April 23, 2015

    Blatant proof-texting is easy to spot. What bothers me more and is far more insidious is when someone talks about context, but then uses that as merely a launching pad to discuss other passages that may be related topically (but not contextually), or related by mere similarity of words and phrases. And then those are read back into the original passage as the “biblical interpretation.”

  • Nathan
    April 23, 2015

    Some real examples of how my fundy friends have responded to me expressing question or belief in different, unorthodox topics within scripture:

    “Have you even read what Jesus said?”
    “Ever heard of that (x) verse?”
    “How can you believe that after reading (x) verse?”
    “You’re walking a thin line and sounding heretical”
    “What happens if you’re wrong and you’re sending people to hell?”
    etc.

    It gets to the point where rather than responding with wit and cynicism, I (we) have to reach extra hard for empathy and compassion in these conversations if we ever expect a change, or at least softening of heart from our fundy family.

    • charlesburchfield
      April 23, 2015

      I’ve had the same exp you’re talking abt when I try to explain sobriety & serenity
      to alcoholics who are still active in their addiction.

    • Timothy McPherson
      April 24, 2015

      I was called a heretic for even mentioning such things. It has been my latest opinion that I need to act more than speak more. Tough job for an introvert such as myself!

    • michaelsanchez
      April 24, 2015

      Ironic your persistent use of this slang word ‘fundy’ as derogatory while accusing others of being exclusionary. Hypocrite.

      • charlesburchfield
        April 24, 2015

        Michael you seem to be grinding away at something other than the topic at hand. I would like to know your story. I would realy like to be your friend. Why are you so bitter and angry at your brothers and sisters who love you?

      • Nathan
        April 24, 2015

        I apologize if you interpret a shortened version of “fundamentalist” to be derogatory – I live in a community of them and love each one the same. I also apologize if you feel hurt in some way by those within the Christian faith who see the world differently than you, seeing as you’re going out of your way to hunt down people on blogs that don’t align with your thinking. The internet sucks for communicating most times and I’m sure we’d have a much better discussion in person, friend. Take care (sincerely, not snarkily).

    • perfectnumber628
      April 24, 2015

      Or “but what about what God says about xyz?” Like, yeah, and you personally know what God says… how?

  • 2GreatCommandementPreschooler
    April 23, 2015

    As is frequently the case Zack, your heart and faith, your honesty and compassion (all shining evidence of your heart for Jesus And neighbor to me) lift my spirit and restore my hope; especially after being kind of surprised and feeling a bit wounded having recently read some of Preston Sprinkle’s recent writing on the subject. I kinda walked away with sorrow, shaking my head, and thinking, “He seemed like such a nice man, too, after reading his books”. Understand, I’m Not bad-mouthing him. I feel confident his heart is in the right place. I’m sure his heart seeks Jesus. It just continues to be confounding when such people don’t allow that to be true for people that are gay also, or whoever it is at the moment that the dominant white-straight-male-protestant folks are excluding in any particular moment or decade. I picked up a Gaither Homecoming/Campmeeting dvd in the bargin bin for $.99 the other day (as you know from even, “The Blacksmith’s Garden”, these are my roots. It remains in my marrow) and I had the time of my life with some of those old songs of faith and surrender, redemption and joy and jubilee; moved like I haven’t been probably since I wrote that piece. After being thrilled to sing along with hymns I haven’t heard since I was a kid and often moved to tears, of course, there was that moment that I remembered, the moment it become clear in a deep and heavy way that this faith, these people and tradition that I adore, that are inextricably a part of core wouldn’t be able to condemn me and throw me out fast enough. Yes, of course, I knew that before that moment, it’s just that I had had such a good time singing the Good News with them about how Jesus sets us free and how we’re “redeemed by love divine” that for awhile I had forgotten that they hate me (I know, they’ve learned to not say “hate” outloud, but honesty, maybe it’s projection on my part, but if I “damn someone to hell forever”, I, personally, am SO Not loving them). I had forgotten they would throw me out. I had forgotten for awhile that they believed I deserved death. Of course, it was a heavy moment. Of course I was sad. If our Shepherd, and He being our example, if we are sad when one “goes astray”, then how much moreso when more go. I’m not trying to be judgemental. I’m not casting stones. I don’t know their hearts. That’s not my job, nor theirs to know mine. I only know the sadness of knowing that people once bound together in the unity of the Spirit of faithfulness, lifting up their hearts together to God has experienced people of the flock “going astray” or going away or more commonly, sending others away, because they have elavated one understanding of Levitcal code (yes, repeated by Paul, but we don’t really need to do the “clobber verses” again here) as the greatest of sins and elevated themselves as judge (and frequently jury and executioner) above even God. Sad. For me. For them. For what was an us. Sad enough to pause for, but not sad enough to stop for. I, and we (there’s always a “we”, an “us” in God and through God, if God is what you’re after, cuz as Brennan Mannning always reminded us, God is after us.) we will go on loving and be loved, studying, and worshipping together under this tent. A noticeable difference and nice thing about tents, unlike churches, small or Mega, there aren’t any locks. There aren’t even any doors. Everyone’s welcome in. Thanks Zack. (Sorry to go on a bit.) – PreetamDas Kirtana aka 2GreatCommandmentPreschooler

  • kent lee
    April 23, 2015

    So many fundy doctrines are built on proof-texting, too. The biggest example that comes to my mind is Calvinism, which misinterprets passages out of context to make God an arbitrary monster who creates most people for the purpose of sending them to hell. (And the Gospel Coaltion is a calvinistic outfit.) Also, fundy positions on gender isssues in general come to mind as likewise outstanding examples of proof-texting.

    • michaelsanchez
      April 24, 2015

      Ironic your persistent use of this slang word ‘fundy’ as derogatory while accusing others of being exclusionary. Hypocrite

  • Jeannette Meade
    April 23, 2015

    Excellent piece of writing.

  • Jonathan Kyrlach
    April 23, 2015

    I think there’s a third position, but it’s the least popular: The bible is not… perfect. It was written by men (humans, not the gender), after all, men who sometimes got it wrong, just like we do today. When’s the last time God came out and clearly corrected anyone when they were misleading people? If he doesn’t do it now, why are we so certain he would have done it back when the bible was being colated? I wish i could convince more people to take ownership of their faith and make their doctrine “this is what i have found to be true or beneficial” instead of “God’s word says”.

    • Timothy McPherson
      April 24, 2015

      Indeed! I’m so glad that my denomination (The Salvation Army) never says in its doctrines that our Bible is inerrant or infallible. We merely say that it’s inspired.

      I no longer call the Bible “the Word of God.” That descriptor I reserve for Jesus alone.

  • Debi Whelan
    April 24, 2015

    Wow, just wow. So well said.

  • stan cardwell
    April 24, 2015

    from my experience – proof-texting doesn’t seem to be relegated to one side of this debate or the other

  • Bridget
    April 24, 2015

    So well said. I would add that when we responsibly incorporate things like context, history, science, experience, tradition, and reason, we should also strive to keep in view our own propensity for confirmation bias, our potential for misinterpretation, and the (hard to accept) fact that we are as likely to make mistakes as all those who have gone before us. And so, I am working hard to remind myself to use qualifiers like “as I see it” or ” the way I read these words” or “as I understand it” as often as possible in discussions about and informed by Scripture – not only with those who disagree with me, but with those who agree as well.

  • AlabamaAnomaly
    April 24, 2015

    I tend to respond to ignorant fools with the factoid that there are 11 verses against the sin of blasphemy in the Gospels, and they are indulging themselves with it. Deciding that they know the mind of God in the creation of another living being IS blasphemy. These fools tend to avoid me after only one rant.

  • Jim Bush
    April 24, 2015

    Thou hypocrite your proof-texting “equaling scripture with LGBT” like Jesus said “there is a special in hell for you”.

    • charlesburchfield
      April 24, 2015

      If There is a special hell I think you are in it if you can’t love.

  • Chad
    April 24, 2015

    Agreed. On the same note, those preaching that God has ordained LGBT relationships must also provide an argument that speaks from “context, history, science, experience, tradition, and reason”. I haven’t seen such an argument made. I think that proof-texting is something that happens on both sides of this debate. Scripture proof-texts like “Jesus said we are only to be about loving your neighbour and loving God”, and “He who is without sin throw the first stone” and “We’re not supposed to judge each other, only love each other” are the norm for how I’ve heard people advocating that God has created and gives His blessing to LGBT sexual relationships. To me these are proof-texting errors as well that fail to take into consideration the whole counsel of Scripture.

  • michaelsanchez
    April 24, 2015

    And what context are you using to justify your support of homosexuality? You go off on this ironic rant accusing people of being exclusionary while doing the exact same thing, without ever once giving an example of what kind of “context” in the Bible shows support for homosexuality. You use the false pretense of “LGBT equality” to make an emotional appeal that lacks logic. I don’t know a single person who opposes gay marriage that doesn’t think gays should be treated equally and with the same respect as heterosexuals. I do it every day in my own job. I live close to a large gay community and I serve them just the same as I serve anyone else. That doesn’t mean I have to support their lifestyle or gay marriage.

    You’re trying to have it both ways. You want to use the Bible to justify your liberal point of view without actually having to do any leg work. Your simplistic appeal to emotion is not biblical in any way other than in your own mind.

    • Philip Mills
      April 24, 2015

      I think there would be a few members of the LGBT community who cannot marry, can be excluded from hiring, cannot purchase a cake, and are not allowed to be involved in leadership in most churches that could introduce you to a person or denomination of people who doesn’t think gays should be treated equally.

      • michaelsanchez
        April 26, 2015

        People can’t enter into polyamorous or incestual marriages either, and they’re far more biblical than gay marriage. I don’t recall a single instance of a gay marriage in the bible. In fact, I don’t recall a single instance of any gay relationship referred to as anything but improper.

        Um, I’m pretty sure that you can’t discriminate from hiring based on sexual orientation. Don’t even bring up the cake incident. It had nothing to do with the customer being gay so much as the activity they wanted to force the bakery to partake in. If you can’t differentiate between an activity and a person, that’s your problem.

        You can find someone who doesn’t think that gays should be treated equally. Congratulations. I’m really not sure what that has to do with anything. I’ve encountered plenty of discrimination as a hispanic man. What’s your point? There will always be some group that discriminates against another. It happens. I’m not going to force a Muslim bakery to bake me a cake for Dia de los Muertos. If they don’t want to, I’d simply respect their convictions and find another place to do it, not complain incessantly about it like an entitled brat.

        • Philip Mills
          April 26, 2015

          I suppose my point is that while many people say they treat everyone equally the practical reality is that they don’t. I think it’s hard to claim that people should be treated equally when in the next breadth advocating for rights to be withheld. There’s nothing equal about that.
          To me, referring to those who would like to be treated equally as an “entitled brat” reinforces that point.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 5, 2015

            Who is advocating for rights to be withheld? If you’re referring to marriage, then you must either accept any type of marriage to include incest or polyamory, if marriage is indeed a RIGHT, then it cannot be infringed based on any of your arbitrary conditions if it cannot be based on mine.

            Your entitlement isn’t based on any perceived restriction of rights, it’s based on your demand that a human institution with a long lasting definition be changed simply for your own pride.

          • Philip Mills
            May 5, 2015

            “Who is advocating for rights to be withheld?”

            You are.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 5, 2015

            When did I ever advocate for your rights to be withheld? If marriage is a right then incestual and polyamorous people have that right also. Why contradict yourself?

        • spacegal2003
          May 1, 2015

          “Um, I’m pretty sure that you can’t discriminate from hiring based on sexual orientation.” Yes, you can. There are only laws against it in 21 states.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 5, 2015

            Please show me a source, because last time I checked, sexual orientation fell under federal protection, which would mean any state laws regarding the subject are only in addition to or beyond federal protection.

          • Philip Mills
            May 5, 2015

            if this was true World Vision’s choice and then subsequent back tracking on equitable hiring wouldn’t have needed to be stated. Thousands of dollars were withdrawn from support because World Vision decided to treat those they hired/interviewed equally.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 5, 2015

            What are you talking about? World Vision a) is a nonprofit, not a business, and b) has nothing to do with gays, their situation was about same sex marriage.

          • Philip Mills
            May 5, 2015

            This strikes me as a situation where no amount of discussion will change anyone’s mind, so I think I’m going to take my leave.

            All the best.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 6, 2015

            Of course not, because my opinion is purely logical and yours isn’t. You recognize that your opinion is based entirely on arbitrary rules that you refuse to apply equally, but you want to pretend that there is something else there.

            “Gay pride” indeed sums up exactly what homosexuality is: pride. Yes, we’re all sinners. We all sin, but we don’t all dare thumb our noses at God, or even the church, if you actually believe God made a mistake when designing our reproductive systems. We all knowingly sin, but we don’t all bring our needles, or our pornography, or whatever vice and tell the church, hey you must bless this and say it’s OK.

            I don’t deny that gay intimacy is no worse than any other sin, but when you explicitly seek to perverse a mainstay in not only in Christianity but our society, that is something else entirely. That’s not just a sin, it’s actively undermining what the Bible teaches.

      • Anonymous
        April 28, 2015

        Gays and lesbians can marry just like anyone else. One man and one woman, because that’s what marriage is.

        Can’t marry whomever they want to marry, but then, none of us can.

        • Philip Mills
          April 28, 2015

          a uniform application does not make a law or rule equal.

          • michaelsanchez
            May 6, 2015

            That’s.. Exactly what it does.

    • charlesburchfield
      April 24, 2015

      to be honest think you can turn that finger right around and point it at yourself buddy!

  • Dr. Dee Tee
    April 25, 2015

    why do you limit your rage to the anti-homosexual people? What about your support for those who want to marry their animal partner, or for pedophile marriage? Why is homosexuality the only perversion of marriage you support and whine about? The Bible prohibits those types of marriage as well yet you are silent on the matter?

    “but we
    must do so responsibly, incorporating things like context, history, science,
    experience, tradition, and reason to do the necessary and unavoidable work of
    biblical interpretation. Otherwise, our biblical interpretation and theological
    conclusions will lack integrity.”

    please point to the verse which instructs people to use these fields and interpretation in their study of the Bible. Oh…wait… you can’t for that would be prooftexting the Bible to gain support for your point of view. Your argument works against you as well.

    your real problem with proof texting is that the other people are not following YOUR way in handling the Bible. and you are upset about that. Guess what, the instructions from Jesus state– follow the HS to the truth and that leaves your way by the side of the road gathering dust.

    • Jon
      April 27, 2015

      Rage? What “rage” exists within the original post? I can see some rage in your words, ofc. x

  • Dr. Dee Tee
    April 25, 2015

    another point for you to clarify is: what is your definition of the term ‘slavery’ and while we are on the topic, ‘slave’ as well.

    are you referring to the American style of slavery, sexual slavery, ME slavery or those people who carry on a tradition of servitude as a butler or maid, or those people who sell themselves into servitude because of their debts?

    being generic in the use of inflammatory terminology is dishonest

  • gtodd
    April 25, 2015

    I am afraid that you are in error when you assert that churches/ministries such as Desiring God are silent concerning other issues. Human trafficking is strongly opposed by ministry efforts among conservative evangelicals. I am not sure how you have missed that. Family issues are the topic of scores of sermons. However, homosexuality is grabbing all of the headlines in the media. Therefore, anything said or written on the subject receives the greatest attention.
    Your accusations of proof-texting are ridiculous. Those from organizations like Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition attempt to understand issues through the whole of redemptive history. This is 180 degrees from proof-texting. Why not simply state that you disagree and then lay out the basis for your disagreement rather than castigating people who, under the same banner of Christ, come to a different conclusion?

  • Tracy Atwood
    April 25, 2015

    So… It begs the question… What message was the Apostle Paul trying to deliver here?

  • Greg Newell
    April 26, 2015

    I don’t see the Article as saying that Homosexuality is worse than other sins by comparison. that is another
    subject to be sure. He’s saying it is the one sin that is promoted by the powers that be & those in high places. Other sins such as theft, drunkenness & others are not. Homosexuality instead is presented as normal.

    As far as proof texting as you’re talking about, You quoted Jn 3:17 that says, ” God did not send His Son
    into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.” You didn’t quote the next verse. V18 says “Whoever
    believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him stands condemned already
    because he has not believed in the name of God’s one & only Son.” NKJV Read also, 3:36. It seems
    you didn’t read the context.

  • asdf
    May 17, 2015

    I was with you on the rapture thing half way, i care not to debate if the rapture happens or not or when but I stopped at you door mat when you started talking about islam. You criticize people who are anti-islam and say they are ignorant since most likely they never read the quran but your guilty of the very same ignorance. All you did was read the quran and that’s it. What about the dates each chapter and how the whole book is out of order going from longest to shortest chapters instead of a timeline? “Oh it says love here and here and here.”. Yea , in the beginning chapters but he becomes a sour puss later on and talks murder. Rememmmmberrr, chronological… I knew something was weird that huffington would hire a Christian writer, your crooked. The things I’ve been through with Christians in my life here in America is why I want them to be tested like the jews in the holocaust.

  • Stephen Hale
    May 18, 2015

    The gospel message of the cross of Christ is for all.
    Conviction of sin is uncomfortable for us all, it is what it is.
    Trying to remove conviction from the scripture is foolish and the flip side of your article on proof texting.

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