Proof-Texting: How to Sharp-Shoot False Doctrines
(This meditation was authored by Brother Stephen Pham)
“10 The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth. 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12)
The purpose of this meditation is to set forth in order a despised method of bible study called “Proof Texting”. In our text above we read of acceptable words, that is to say, agreeable or fitting words. Not just any word from the scriptures is fitting to use when reasoning with others in a controversy: what you want to do is search out the best words (passages or verses) from scripture that speak to a particular issue. (Proverbs 25:11) When arguing with an opponent in a doctrinal dispute, the acceptable words should come from scripture, the rule or measuring stick of truth and error. (Isaiah 8:20, Acts 17:2) The preacher spoken of here is Solomon who was the author of Ecclesiastes under the inspiration of God; so he wrote down that which was upright, even words of truth. The endeavor of finding out acceptable words through diligent study should not be exclusive to ministers or preachers, but also for the righteous man in general (Proverbs 15:28, I Peter 3:15); note, this also means the command to study to shew oneself approved unto God is not exclusive to ministers as Timothy. (2 Timothy 2:15) Paul told the primitive Baptists in Corinth that that there must be heresies among them, so to separate the men (approved through study) from the lads. (I Corinthians 11:19, 14:20) It is to be hoped that a true disciple did not join a church in Jesus Christ to be in a social club.
Next, let us consider the description of the words of the wise being likened to nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. A nail is a small spike used to fix one thing firmly to another, so that thing cannot move. When earnestly contending for the faith (Jude 3), you want to be able to “nail” an error “right in the head” so it is immoveable (Judges 4:18-21); in other words, search out in the scripture the best verses that plainly state a particular doctrine that would destroy an error in opposition to that truth. Based upon the scriptures just cited, you can liken heresies unto Sisera the captain of the host of Jabin king of Canaan: Sisera would not be slain by an army of men (the use of many bible verses), but by one woman with a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29) and nail (one proof text of scripture that would soundly refute the error.) Proof texting can not only be compared to nailing something down, but also to sharp-shooting a target (hence, the title of this study).
Now, let us explore the characteristics of error; what are the identifying marks or traits of error so we can properly reprove it when confronted with it? In this meditation we are going to examine one of the main traits of an error which is complexity. The fear of the apostle Paul was that Satan would beguile a local church and corrupt their minds from the simplicity which is in Christ. (II Corinthians 11:3) Since our Lord has hidden within him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), and that the concept of simplicity is tied with him, the knowledge of the truth should not be characterized with intricacy or complexity. In fact, the Lord honoured those in an erring Old School church that did not know the “depths of Satan”. (Revelation 2:24) So given this observation, heresies tend to appeal to obscure places of scripture that do not prove their error like they think they do. An example would be going to Zechariah 5 where it talks about a flying roll to prove that there are UFOs, and the two women in v9 are aliens. Another would be appealing to the words “…the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad…” in James 1:1 to prove that James’ epistle was written to the elect physical seed of Abraham in an imagined seven year “great tribulation”. These two examples were doctrines taught by the late Peter Sturges Ruckman (the face of KJB-Inspiredism). The next mark common in error that we want to consider is the “But Gun” tactic. (1 Kings 14:14) Notice in the verse cited how the prophet’s prophecy was peculiarly interrupted with a But what? and the sentence was finished with Even now. It can be observed from the context that the wife of Jeroboam was brought under conviction with the prophecy declared to her so she made an attempt to digress. After stating a clear verse proving a particular point of doctrine, the opponent will usually resort to “BUT what about ____?” This tactic is only a reaction to being nailed down by clear scripture that oppose their error; the key to combatting this move is to not let them get away from the proof text, lest they draw you into the quicksand (of privately interpreted verses) with them. Once they declare their wrested scriptures and say in their heart “I GOT YOU”, wipe off the smug look on their face by appealing to the rule found in John 10:35 - the scripture cannot be broken.
Given the fact that Christians of the twenty-first century are in an era where “bread and circuses” have dulled the minds of the unconverted children of God to the point where their thought processes have become a mere “cap” they only put on sometimes (Put your thinking caps on!), it is difficult to reason with those who resist the truth. However, do not give up on God’s people (1 Corinthians 13:7, II Timothy 2:24-26); you cannot save all of them, but you can still save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22) If you are dealing with someone with an heart of flesh, as opposed to a heart of stone (Ezekiel 11:19-20), you can work with them. These people may be slow to learn, but they have the potential to be converted to the truth. Anyways, leaving the woes of the twenty-first century, let us go on unto reason, not laying again the foundation of proof texting and identifying of spots of error. There are a few different methods of reasoning that are found in scripture, but we are only going to look at two in this study. Deductive reasoning is the practice of reasoning from a generalization to a particular case. It utilizes the syllogism which consists of the major premise (a general principle upon which the reasoning is based) and a minor premise (a particular case to which the general principle is applied) and the logical conclusion (the completion of the process applying the general principle to the particular case). Let us look at a simple illustration (completely made-up) of this method of reasoning: Canadians like Cheetos: Timothy is a Canadian; and therefore likes Cheetos. The major premise here is “Canadians like Cheetos”. Given that statement we look at the minor premise with “Timothy”: since Timothy is a Canadian, therefore he likes Cheetos (the logical conclusion).
Another method of reasoning is inductive reasoning, which is reasoning from particular facts to a general principle which covers them or indicates what they have in common.
Now, let us analyze the reasoning employed in Acts 2:22-32. Here we see Peter using inductive reasoning to prove that David in Psalm 16:8-11 prophesied of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to David’s throne. The particular facts are: 1) David is the author of Psalm 16:8-11; 2) David is dead, his flesh saw corruption; 3) Hence, David could not be speaking of himself; 4) David was a prophet and spoke of things to come; 5) God promised to raise up one of David’s descendants to sit on his throne (and Jesus of Nazareth is a known descendant of David); 6) Jesus Christ’s flesh did not corrupt since He resurrected; 7) Conclusion: Psalm 16:8-11 correctly applies to Jesus Christ being raised bodily from the dead to sit on David’s throne. Peter’s reasoning accords with the fact that the throne of David was to be established for ever as a faithful witness in heaven (Psalm 89:35-37), where Jesus Christ is now. Peter’s inductive reasoning employs reasoning by analogy whereby the facts of the prophecy are compared with the facts of Jesus Christ, seeing the correspondence between them.
Building upon what we have learned so far about proof texting, the conversation of error, and inductive reasoning, let us exercise our knowledge with examples. First we will look at the doctrine of election to salvation. Our proof texts will be Romans 9:11, 18, 22-24, as they plainly declare and prove the doctrine of election to salvation: wherein God chooses to save some by his mercy and leave others to destruction. The opponent of this truth may respond with “But what about John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2?!” Girding up the loins of our minds with sound reasoning (1 Peter 1:13), and raising the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16), let us take on the private interpretations of the Possibilitarian (Jesus only made eternal salvation possible – man has to obey to receive it). The particular facts are: 1) the word world means “The inhabitants of the earth, or a section of them;” 2) our proof text in Romans 9: God elected (v11) and prepared aforetime a people unto glory (v23), and left the rest unto destruction (v22); 3) He so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son to be a propitiation for their sins that they might have everlasting life; 4) seeing that this world is given everlasting life as a result of the gift of his Son, it cannot be that this world refers to all of Adam’s posterity, for we are told that there is a people fitted to destruction. Therefore (Conclusion), the world spoken of in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2 must be in reference to the people chosen and prepared beforehand unto glory! This example of inductive reasoning may be expressed by a syllogism of deductive reasoning: Major Premise: There are no contradictions in Scripture. Minor premise: God elected only some of mankind to eternal salvation. Conclusion: world must mean “a section of earth’s inhabitants” when referring to eternal salvation in Scripture.
The next exercise in inductive reasoning will be on the doctrine of water baptism. Our proof text will be Acts 2:38-47 (Sorry Ruckmanites, this passage does NOT teach baptismal regeneration for Jews!): this text plainly declares a particular point in the doctrine of baptisms, in that water baptism results in addition to a local church. Certain folks will gainsay this point by saying “But what about Acts 8:36-39 and 10:44-48? Acts 2 is vague and we don’t see addition to a local church with the eunuch and Cornelius!” Instead of picking verses here and there that do not expressly mention addition to a local church resulting from baptism, let us deal with the proof text and fit the other passages together. The particular facts are: 1) in Acts 2, obedience to the command to repent and be baptized results in the gift of the Holy Ghost (v38), then 2) in v41 we read that in the same day that they were baptized there were added to the group about three thousand souls (the colon and “and” are there to combine two clauses together to show a relationship.), then 3) the group was the Jerusalem church which had just conducted an order of church business in Acts 1:15-26, then 4) The ministry of the Holy Ghost is within the body of Christ (the local church), 1CO 12:13, 27, then 5) No other criteria are given whereby persons initially come into the gift of the Holy Ghost in the church. Therefore the gift of the Holy Ghost promised to those who repent and get baptized logically refers to addition to a local church where the Spirit ministers. This conclusion then can be applied to other places where the baptism of an individual or group is mentioned. It may be expressed as a syllogism of deductive reasoning to determine the validity of a baptism: Major Premise: A valid baptism results in addition to a local church. Minor Premise: Adam’s baptism did not result in addition to a local church. Conclusion: Adam’s baptism is not valid.
Though we can have fun with inductive or deductive reasoning in other areas of doctrine and their proof texts, one more will suffice for this written study.
Let us now visit the doctrine of the body of Christ: is the body of Christ in reference to a local church or a general/universal/catholic, invisible, assembly of all those who have been regenerated in heaven and earth? We see in plain speech in 1 Corinthians 12:27 that a visible assembly of believers in a given earthly place is called the body of Christ, and members in particular. Romans 12:5 and Ephesians 4:4 are used by “Independent Fundamental Baptists” and Protestant groups to teach that there is only one body of Christ (a universal invisible church.) However, based upon the declaration of the apostle to a local church that they are the body of Christ; and that it is written to other churches that there is one body; we can conclude that each congregation in a given location is the body of Christ (one body in each locality where there is a church.) Okay, now you can put down your thinking caps and go watch football or Fox News.
Wrapping this study up, let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Through this study we can see the superfluity of stringing together many verses here and there in order to prove a particular point of doctrine. In the case of declaring all the counsel of God in a doctrinal discourse however, this may be necessary if there are many verses that support a doctrine. (Acts 20:27) Other than that, why go through three, five, or ten verses to prove doctrine when one passage or verse is sufficient? Wisdom is the ability to properly judge in various matters, and knowledge is simply that which has been learned. A wise man should be able to fell a giant (big heresy) with one smooth stone out of the brook instead of a sword. (1 Samuel 17:38-40, 49-50; Ecclesiastes 9:18) You may know a whole bunch of bible verses that teach a particular doctrine, but wisdom will allow you to nail or shoot down an error in opposition to the truth with one verse or verses in a given chapter. With that one verse or set of verses in a chapter you can reason out the verses that supposedly contradict, and reconcile the bible together. Those who are wrapped up in an error may claim a verse or two as proof texts for their beliefs, but the verses are usually obscure and do not say what they think they teach. Satan managed to persuade Eve to break the first command of God to man to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17); which was a very simple command. (Genesis 3) Putting this in perspective, notice how in verses two and three Eve used a study bible with weird footnotes to answer the serpent’s question, the footnotes said at the bottom, “freely (Genesis 2:16) is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts…In this dispensation, you are not allowed to touch the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Next, Satan taught Eve that God was keeping from her and Adam the power to become gods, knowing good and evil; and that he lied about death resulting from eating the fruit. Remember, simplicity is truth’s most becoming garb, and Jesus Christ is the truth (John 14:6); in contrast, complexity is a lie’s favorite vestment (II Kings 10:22), and the Devil is the father of lies. (John 8:44)