THE FALLACY OF PROOF TEXTING

The key principle in Bible interpretation is the intent of the original author. The intent of the original author is the meaning of Scripture – not you, not your denomination, not your experience. The only inspired person in Bible study is the original author, so what you must do is to put yourself back in the place of the first hearers. WHO? WHAT?, WHERE?, WHEN?, WHY? – these are exactly the questions we have to ask. We must ask who wrote this? when did they write it? who did they write it to? Why did they write it? These are the crucial questions in Bible study? Just think of the difference between a letter from your lawyer and a letter from your sweetheart, wouldn’t you interpret those differently, would you? Wouldn’t you be mad if someone got a hold of a love letter you’ve written a long time ago, that’s 5 pages of drippy, gooey, “I love you” stuff, and puts one sentence from the 3rd page of that letter on the blackboard. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed, and say, “wait a minute, you’ve got to know when i wrote that, you’ve got to know who i wrote that to, and you’ve got to read the whole letter”. And that’s what we’re doing to the Bible every day, if you could just hear God screaming at you. We jump in His Book, pull out one verse, redefine the words based on our own culture, apply it into our life immediately, and say, “Thus saith the Lord”. It’s called proof-texting, and we’re horrible at it. Every book of the Bible is one connected, succinct, unified message. That’s why we read through Romans, that’s why we read through the entire Book. You cannot study the Bible without moving through the entire book. There is no way to jump all over, pick one verse from Daniel, 2 from Matthew, 1 from Amos, 2 from Revelation spin them together, and say, “This is the word of the Lord”. That’s not the Lord speaking! It’s you who’s speaking. It’s your denomination that’s speaking. The tragedy is, we just buy it like, “if it’s in the Bible, it must be true”. You can’t do that to the Bible and make it prove anything!

A case in point: Through the years I have heard sermons on 2 Chronicles 7:14 applied invariably to a nation or to the church whenever it is stricken by a disaster or a calamity. This text refers particularly to God’s covenant people Israel, of which we are not, by any stretch of imagination. We (modern-day believers) are not part of a performance-based covenant (cf. Acts 15; Galatians 3; Hebrews), but under the covenant of grace (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Gen. 15:1-21; Eph. 2:8-10). This text could apply as an application or significance but not as an original intent of the inspired author of Chronicles. Be careful of proof-texting Old Testament texts and bringing them directly into the New Testament covenant of grace.

Here’s a good quote from the CSB Study Bible by the Holman Bible Staff:

“(2 Chronicles 7:13-16) This promise presupposes a very specific context. It was given to God’s people, who bear his name, and it is a part of God’s answer to Solomon’s prayer. It refers to times when the Israelites have become faithless to God and are enduring the consequences, whether it was a famine, an invasion, or even the deportation to another country. To be humble . . . pray . . . seek God and turn from sin are four aspects of one attitude: repentance. If Israel would repent, he would forgive them and heal their spiritual relationship with him associated with the promised land. Furthermore, as was established earlier, the prayer mentioned is specifically intended to refer to prayer in the temple or, if that is not possible, prayer said facing in the direction of the temple. This promise is given specifically to God’s covenant people, and by itself it should not be applied to other nations or to the church. However, these verses reflect God’s gracious nature, and on that basis, we may draw out a more fundamental principle—that any person, regardless of ethnicity or location, can come to the Lord with a repentant heart and find forgiveness (see 6:32-33; Jl 2:32; Ac 2:21; Rm 10:13; 1Co 1:2).”