Proof-Texting

by Doy Moyer

In light of the way Paul sometimes quoted Scripture, even using isolated verses together in order to establish a point (e.g., Romans 3:10-18), can someone actually show from Scripture that what is typically called "proof-texting" is always bad?

Don't get me wrong. I believe in context. I don't believe in randomly pulling passages out of context in order to establish a point that cannot be establish in its proper context if that is what is always meant by proof-texting, then fine. But I see criticisms of proof-texting as if it is always wrong to use just a passage or two to make a point. Yet if that's what proof-texting is about, then Paul was a terrible exegete. Be careful that our criticisms of a method don't pull the apostles under the same umbrella. I believe they knew how to do it better than we do.

Is it possible that we have made rules that we cannot actually find in Scripture? To paraphrase a couple of examples:

  • "We should never use isolated passages together" (i.e., "proof-text").
  • "The only valid or the best way to preach is always exegetical, not topical."

Now these may be your preferences, and perhaps you can make arguments that you think are convincing, but these are not in themselves biblical rules. Ironically, it might be that those who are most concerned about man's rules trumping God's rules are also the ones who make these man-made rules about teaching and preaching. Further, if one wants to argue against all of this, then he will need to establish these rules, not just by using a verse or two, but by establishing a context and giving an exegesis that shows these rules to be what God always intends. I'd be interested in seeing this.

Be careful? Absolutely. That includes being careful not to allow our modern ways of teaching and preaching become hard and fast rules that we throw back into the Bible.