Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Proof Texts

“Proof texting” is a derogatory name for using Bible verses to teach doctrine, a practice that is generally considered improper in scholarly circles. I certainly understand the importance of making sure we don't misrepresent the meaning of Bible verses. But I feel the opposite danger is greater—that of developing theological positions for which we have no text.

Are the Scriptures intended to be used for teaching doctrine?

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16.

The Greek word translated “reproof” in this verse, ελεγχοs (élegchos, Strong’s #1650), means, “proof.” In the New Testament this word is elsewhere found only in Hebrews 11:1 where it is translated “evidence.”

The phrase “all scripture” is πασα γραφη (pãsa graphè) in the Greek. The use of the adjective πασα, “all,” with the noun in the singular, without the article, is explained as “emphasizing the individual members of the class denoted by the noun—every, each.” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 1957 ed., p. 636.)

The word γραφη is used “in the New Testament exclusively with a sacred meaning, of Holy Scripture.” In the plural, this word refers to “Scripture as a whole,” designating “collectively all the parts of Scripture: the scriptures.” But in the singular, γραφη indicates “the individual Scripture passage.” (Arndt and Gingrich, p. 165.)

Hence, 2 Timothy 3:16 literally says, “Every individual Scripture passage is profitable for proof.”

So don't be dissuaded from using "proof texts," as long as you're careful to retain their original meaning. Don't build a doctrine on just one or two texts. And don't let any verse contradict the Bible's clear teachings.

1 comment:

  1. The verse most commonly used to teach the Biblical method of proof texting is Isaiah 28:9-13 "Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: (11) For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. (12) To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. (13) But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken." Interestingly, when one examines the Hebrew we find that the word 'line' refers to a measuring line, not a line of text in Scripture. 'Precept' comes from a word that means to 'set in order' and 'here' and 'there' are the same Hebrew word that refer primarily to time (not place). Bible study does not only consist of comparing Scripture with Scripture but includes an understanding of the chronological significance of revelation. Hebrew prophecy is almost always takes into account the chronological progression of events.