You can make the Bible say anything you want it to mean.
It’s actually rather easy. Grab a passage, don’t look at context, and interpret it how you want to. Cha-ching!
But in your Bible study, it is imperative that you avoid proof-texting like the plague.
I once had a seminary professor who said: “A text without a context is a pretext for a prooftext.” In other words, if you take a passage and lift it out from its context and try to understand it, you are setting yourself up for proof-texting.
So what is proof-texting?
Webster defines proof-texting as taking isolated quotes (ie: a text) and establishing a position that may not be the author’s original intent.
About a year ago I was teaching Saturation Bible Study to the teens at my church. To illustrate proof-texting I said, “Here, let me randomly flip open the Bible, read a passage, and give you its meaning.” I flopped my Bible open and I pointed my finger down at a random passage and read:
Gideon had seventy sons who were his own offspring, for he had many wives (Judges 8.30).
“Wow what a tremendous passage!” I declared. “Let me tell you what it means. It is saying if God uses you mightily to bring about His glory, it is okay for you to have many wives. Besides, children are a blessing from the Lord, so the more the merrier! Woo hoo! Praise Jesus!”
Maybe that is a little over-the-top, but you get my point. It is critical while you are studying to look at context (what comes before and after the text you are looking at).
So as you dive into Scripture today, make sure you spend some extra time reading the section before and after. There is a reason why the authors wrote they way they did and put it in that particular order. Sometimes the key to understanding a certain passage is in the flow and tone of the entire section rather than the small chunk you are studying.
Don’t fall prey to proof-texting. Don’t determine what a passage means because you want it to say something – let the text speak for itself. Come to it with open arms and a willingness to change the way you think (and live) if it so requires.
Question: what are some struggles with proof-texting you have had in your own study? Share your thoughts in the comments below.