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Thursday, September 03, 2015

Proof text

It has been said that a proof text out of context is a pretext. Lots of people have written about verses, yanked out of context, then shoved in our faces to say, "The Bible says it, so it must be true." Some are skeptics aiming to point out how wrong the Bible is. Others are well-meaning Christians hoping to prove a point. The most popular among these today is the most popular Bible verse today: "Judge not that you be not judged." (Matt 7:1) It passed up John 3:16 a while back. Of course, it cannot mean "You should never judge anyone" because everything in the rest of Matthew 7 is about judgment (Matt 7:3-5, 6, 13-14, 15-23). Context, context, context.

One that irks me every time I see it used this way is a prime favorite among well-meaning evangelicals.
'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:20)
Very popular at invitation time. "Come to Jesus. He's standing at the door, knocking." Very warm. Very friendly. Very out of context.

Check out the context. It begins with "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write ..." (Rev 3:14). The context is Jesus's words to the church in Laodicea. If you're familiar at all with the seven letters to the seven churches, Laodicea was unique in that it was in serious trouble. Most of the other churches got good news and bad news. "I know what you're doing right and I know what you're doing wrong." That kind of thing. Only Laodicea got only bad news. They were "neither cold nor hot" (Rev 3:15). Worse, thinking they were doing okay, "you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." (Rev 3:17). Then the warning. "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent." (Rev 3:19) And that's when Jesus said He was standing at the door knocking. What door? Not the door to your average unbeliever's heart. The door of a church. This text is a warning and a call to a church. Not quite the altar call people might think.

There are many times that a verse says what it seems to say. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) falls in the middle of Paul telling the Romans about how we are "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe" (Rom 3:22) "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus." (Rom 3:24). In fact, in the NASB this sentence begins in verse 21 and ends in verse 25. So the oft-quoted proof text of the universality of sin is offered without context. Still, it is an accurate rendition of the idea. Not all proof texts are pretexts. I'm not suggesting you don't use them. Just be sure it's saying, in context, what you think it's saying.


David said...

You keep using that verse. I don't think it means what you think it means.

Stan said...


Glenn E. Chatfield said...

There you go again, wanting context. Tsk, tsk, tsk. How are the false teachers going to push their agenda if you keep demanding context?!?!

Stan said...

Unrealistic expectations.