Tuesday 7 November 2023

Proof-Texting: Everybody Does It!!

 First let's look at two definitions of proof-texting.

"Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. ... Yet, while the method of proof texting can be problematic, nevertheless theology must still maintain a thoroughly biblical character." (Theopedia) [Missing text is an example of the worst of proof-texting according to the author of this post] Emphasis mine. This post leads to a myriad of explanations about the different problems - there seems to be an agenda behind all of the links, but it still has a lot of useful information about the problems of proof-texting.

"proof text is a passage of scripture presented as proof for a theological doctrine, belief, or principle. Prooftexting (sometimes "proof-texting" or "proof texting") is the practice of using quotations from a document, either for the purpose of exegesis, or to establish a proposition in eisegesis (introducing one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases). Such quotes may not accurately reflect the original intent of the author, and a document quoted in such a manner, when read as a whole, may not support the proposition for which it was cited. The term has currency primarily in theological and exegetical circles." (Wikipedia) I would add the exegesis is far from "value free". 

This is a predominantly Christian issue at this point in time, although in the future, I can see it being applicable to the scholars from other religions who are parsing their own religious texts. From the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal, Christian theologians, pastoral counsellors, biblical scholars of all genres, as well as pastors can be accused of proof-texting. It is the nature of the primary text - The Christian Bible (which includes The Hebrew Bible and The Jesus (et al) Bible, as well as the Apocrypha in some forms of Christianity) that causes the problem, of course. It contains myriads of contradictory statements because the texts are from different genres, different time periods, different theological points of view, all of which can create very different understandings of the texts themselves and allow for radically different understandings of the core message of Christianity (if there can even be a core message).

These contradictions have been a problem from the beginning of Christianity. The church fathers were wrestling with this problem. They truly believed that all of the texts were divinely inspired and ultimately determinative for understanding "god's will" for believers. And that all the Scriptures could be harmonized. This was the assumption of Saint Augustine of Hippo, and moving forward to the Reformation period, Jean (John) Calvin to name two theologians who gave it a try. From a humanistic point of view, some of their solutions are dreadfully awful. Just saying!

The problem as I see it is that any "proof from the text", whether regarding "domestic violence" or whether Jesus was "a prophet, an apocalyptic, a fundamentalist, socially progressive or prosperity gospel supporter (see Matt. 25:14-30)" can all be proved and disproved by scriptural texts. Hence the dilemma that Christians find themselves in, particularly those who are trying to change things in the realm of violence - sexual or physical, systemic (war) or individual (gender issues). As long as The Christian Bible is considered to be "the revealed word of god" and it just has to be interpreted correctly, proof-texting will remain the bug-a-boo of Christian theology.  

Here are three of my posts that address this issue in one way or another.

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