Thoughts about faith

Proof Texting

Non-Christians often quote Scripture to make a point but in doing so they are guilty of proof texting. What is proof texting? It is when a single verse is pulled from the Bible in support of a particular belief or doctrine. The problem is that you cannot properly understand the Bible by pulling verses out of their context in a stand-alone fashion. Verses must be understood in their Biblical context understanding who wrote it, what historic or grammatical understanding is involved, what the rest of Scripture have to say on the subject, etc. Many verses in the Bible can be made to say all kinds of things if not understood in their proper context. Sometimes people are quoted “out of context” and when accused of saying something offensive, will protest that their words were taken out of context. We all understand that context is key to understanding words. Depending on the context, the same words can mean different, sometimes even contradictory things.

I recently ran across an example of this in a blog. It was a counseling blog and followed a question/answer format. The question came from a woman who was wrestling over feelings of shame over her sexual feelings. She was in her 30’s and was raised in a religious household and felt the teachings of her parents have led to this sense of shame.

In her response, the licensed psychotherapist responded to the writer having called herself a “child of God.” She stated that sex and sexuality are integral and an intimate part of a person’s very being and is the very opposite of shame. She then quoted Ephesians 5:29 (which she misattributed to Ephesians 5:20). She wrote:

You write that you are a “child of God.” I don’t know how you express your spirituality, but I wonder if you have come across this quotation from Ephesians 5:20: “For no one has ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, as the Messiah does the church.” In short, take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love. (Somerstein, n.d.)

She then asked the writer a rhetorical question regarding her self-care and suggested counseling to deal with her negative emotions. I cite this as an example of proof texting because in context the verse does not teach anything about loving yourself. When you read the passage, the Apostle Paul was giving teaching on marriage. He specifically was addressing husbands and instructing them to love their wives like they love their own bodies. He adds that “no one has ever hated his own body.” In other words, Paul assumes we all love ourselves and take care of ourselves and so as a husband loves his own body, so should he love his wife. As he would nourish and cherish his own body, he should nourish and cherish his wife. Paul gives and even greater example, Jesus’ love for the church. As Jesus loves the church, so a husband should love his wife.

The psychotherapist is implying the verse teaches that the Bible teaches that we are to love and care for our own bodies and that since (in her opinion) expressing your sexuality is a loving thing, the Bible therefore would encourage such thoughts and not be a source of shame.

The verse actually assumes we love our own bodies. It also gives no teaching on what proper self-love entails. It is also not at all given in the context of sexuality and its context is marriage which is not the state the writer was in. What the Bible teaches on self-love and sexuality are found in other passages. Using this verse as a proof text for what the Bible teaches about self-love and sexual shame is totally taking the verse out of context. To conclude it teaches you should “take care of yourself, body and soul, with complete love” is reading a meaning into the passage that it’s author never intended. Theologically we call that isogesis (reading into). Proper understanding of the Bible comes from exegesis where you read the meaning from the text taking into consideration the context, the grammar, the history, etc.

While the earliest comments left on the article date back to late 2016, not a single commenter pointed out the psychotherapist referenced the wrong verse leading me to conclude none of them looked up and read that verse for themselves. One commenter called it a “beautiful verse” but no doubt took it with the meaning the psychotherapist gave it.

Proof texting happens all the time. Often secular writers employ it to try and suggest the Bible teaches something different than what Christians take it to teach. In many cases I suspect they got the verse from another’s writings and did not read it for themselves. One person’s proof texting gets multiplied many times over each reuse assuming they understand the verse. Sadly, the recipients of this proof texting never look up such verses for themselves and thus continue propagating the misrepresentation.

We will never be able to prevent the use of proof texting. Sometimes it is intentional but often the result of sloppy research. The author has a belief or bias and thinks they see a Bible verse that supports that belief or bias and builds an argument around it. Satisfied they have the proper understanding; they never bother to read the verse in context for themselves. All we can do in such cases is to gently correct and point out the misuse of the verse.

Non-Christians often make assumptions about what Christians believe or what the Bible teaches. In doing so they are often guilty of proof texting.

Works Cited

Somerstein, L. (n.d.). https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/dear-gt/how-do-i-overcome-shame-of-sex?unapproved=721820&moderation-hash=e6f028786c1f6ea8629b6609263eb5e7#comment-721820. Retrieved from GoodTherapy.

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