By Christopher Breen, MDiv.
I have a running joke with two of my closest friends that goes a little something like this; they will share an opinion on some current event or cultural news, and I’ll retort back with my opposing view.
Often times (because these two are far more intelligent than I am) it quickly becomes clear that my view is inherently flawed, or rooted in some bias or privilege that I hadn’t even considered until that moment.
In a flurry of embarrassment and simultaneous thanksgiving that they were able to help me come to a better understanding, I respond with an overly dramatic, “well, it’s in the Bible! Prove me wrong! You’ve never read it!”
Obviously this knee-jerk reaction to escaping an argument is made in jest, but increasingly it seems that people who identify themselves as Christian feel the need to say in the most serious of terms. However, there seemingly is a dead give-away to tell when these folks are backed-into a corner. They reference the Bible in their argument.
This practice affectionately termed, “proof-texting” is the practice of using an out of context, seemingly random quote of Scripture to bolster the validity of your argument. However this practice is inherently dangerous as it often leaves little room for proper theological study or scholarship.
The Bible is a wonderfully complex and fantastically intricate work that brings together the inspired Word of God through the voices of many throughout history. Offering a seemingly concrete definition of anything in Scripture is a very dangerous undertaking as it communicates that you have some deeper understanding — that you just realistically cannot have.
There is no one Pastor or Minister that understands the full meaning of a text, just as there is no individual who knows and comprehends the complete meaning. We as responsible scholars and faithful Christians can and must take into account the social location and historical implications of both the Biblical authors and the intended audience We must also respect the large gaps of knowledge and perspective that exist just due to the passage of time.
Sitting down with the Bible can be (and is for many) a life-changing experience. Studying The Word is both a deeply personal and profoundly spiritual practice. However claiming to understand the intention or literal meaning of any given passage can be a form of Gaslighting.
After reading some of the Bible it becomes clear — that so much context is missing. However our natural instinct is to help “fill in the blanks” with the understanding and experiences that we have as a modern-day-individual.
We create understanding where none existed, in order to comfort our own ego (or perhaps super-ego). We apply our modern experiences to ancient texts, without regard for their cultural and historical contexts. We boastfully claim understanding while shunning those whose understanding may differ from our own as heretics.
It is by-far not a new behavior of humanity. However if you are prone to quoting Scripture in the course of an argument or discussion, I implore you to think before you speak Scripture. It’s a heavy instrument, one not to be handled lightly, and certainly not one to be used without care.
For those who insist on providing us with proof-text — I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you — but we all can tell that you haven’t actually read the Bible (at least not as deeply as perhaps you should).