The Dangers of Proof Texting

Chuck Gutenson points out the dangers of proof texting Scripture.  Basically, proof texting is pulling one or two verses out of their context and then reading into them whatever.

Gutenson uses the example of Psalm 14:1.

“There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1b)

Taken out of context, this quote says there is no God.  But that’s not what the verse says.

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. (Psalm 14:1)

Gutenson goes on to discuss 2 Thessalonians 3:

Consider, for example, the recent pronouncement by Glenn Beck that the solution to social justice concerns is that Jesus says “get a job.”  To buttress his case, he cites 2 Thessalonians 3, which reads:For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Now, this is an interesting passage, snatched from its immediate context and deployed as a clever proof text by our erstwhile theologian.  Well, what if one actually takes the context into consideration?  Does that give us any enlightenment as to what Paul (the speaker in this passage, not Jesus, by the way) might have meant?  As one might expect, there is — and as one might also expect, the passage means rather a different thing.

The immediate problem Paul is addressing here is the heightened expectations around the Parousia — the Second Coming of Christ.  Specifically, some had decided to “sit around” waiting for the Lord to return, rather than staying engaged with life.  They had become slothful.  Now, is the normal expectation that those who can, work?  Well, of course.  But, to suggest that this passage can be ripped from its context and deployed as a policy position on social justice is nonsensical. This passage in no way undermines the biblical call to care about just social structures, in no way does it undermine the arguments for social safety nets.  In short, it simply has nothing to do with the issue for which it was deployed.

Glenn Beck as Theologian – God’s Politics


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