In Defense of Proof-Texting

There are some within the religious world who do not condone the practice of using the Scriptures as the foundation of what one believes, or “proof-texting” as it is sometimes called. Granted, isolating Bible verses and using them apart from their immediate and overall context is not “rightly dividing” God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). I could say, “The Bible says in Matthew 2:16 that a king said to kill babies! That means I have God’s approval to do the same!” Yet, I would be ignoring the context of that verse as well as other passages of Scripture, which clearly condemn killing babies. Taking verses out of the immediate and overall context of the rest of the Bible is always wrong; it forces the passage to fit one’s agenda rather than the divinely-inspired author’s intent. Therefore, there is a proper use of Scripture and an improper use of Scripture.

Nevertheless, many still do not like it when the Bible is brought into a religious discussion, argument, or debate. Perhaps this is due to their distaste for having their positions proven wrong when someone shows them a passage of Scripture that contradicts what they believe. For example, some say that one is justified by faith alone, but the Bible says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Some say one is saved before baptism, even though the Bible says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…” and “Baptism…now saves you…” (Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21). Some say a Christian can’t fall from grace, even though the Bible told some Christians, “…you have fallen away from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Some say Jesus is not God, but John 1:1-14 says He certainly is God. Get the picture? Proof-texting is only wrong when it is done in the wrong way.

But how do we know that any use of the Scriptures as justification for what one believes is correct? Well, Peter did it. He quoted the Psalms as justification for replacing Judas (Acts 1:20). He quoted the Old Testament books of Joel and Psalms to back up what he preached about the Holy Spirit and Jesus on Pentecost (Acts 2:17-21, 24-28, 34-35). Stephen did it. He quoted Amos and the Psalms when he was on trial (Acts 7:42-50). Paul did it. At Antioch he quoted the Psalms, Isaiah, and Habakkuk to back up what he preached about Jesus (Acts 13:33-41). In his letter to the Romans, he quoted Old Testament scripture to prove his points repeatedly (Romans 15:9-12; etc.). And last, but definitely not least, Jesus did it. He quoted Scripture to resist Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). He quoted Scripture as proof for allowing the children to praise Him and as proof for his own claims to be the Messiah (Matthew 21:16-17, 42), as well as on many other occasions. Every time you find a writer or speaker in the New Testament appealing to the Old Testament to prove the truth what he is saying or writing, he is proof-texting, just as it was proof-texting for me to show you in this paragraph that Jesus and the others proof-texted.

Friends, not only is proper use of the Scriptures to justify one’s position right, it is the only kind of proof that should carry any authority whatsoever when we are talking about biblical issues. What do people think phrases like “It is written” (used 80 times in the Bible) and “Thus says the Lord” (used over 400 times in the Bible) mean? They mean that the only proof worth anything and the only proof that men may be rightly bound to is what is in the Bible. Luke writes that Apollos, who was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24), “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28). It sounds like Apollos was proof-texting to me.

If you and I disagree on a matter I’m not going to tell you how I feel, what the Holy Spirit “said” to me, what God “laid on my heart,” or how I believe God “is leading me to” this, that, or another conclusion. We have a responsibility to prove our positions. How? We prove them by the Scriptures. That’s why they’re there (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If anyone is teaching you anything having to do with Christianity and is not using the Scriptures as proof of the validity of what they’re teaching, that’s a good indication their message is not from God and should be ignored.