Proof texting is a method by which a person appeals to a Biblical text to prove or justify their theological position or belief without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. While proof texting is often used in the theological realm, today we are seeing it surface in just about every area of life.
When we study the Bible there are many forms of “criticism” that must be used. For instance there is Text Criticism that aims to determine the process by which a Hebrew text has been transmitted and comes to exist in its various forms. It also tries to establish the original wording of the text and consequently what is the best form for the modern reader.
Another form of criticism is Historical Criticism which is concerned with the context of the passage or writing. Some questions asked would be: what specific historical situation is described, what was the cultural situation or event that is being dealt with, and why was the passage written in the first place.
Then there is Grammatical and Literary Criticism. These focus on the composition, structure, and mood of the text. Also what themes are in the text, what is the style of the text, and are there breaks in the continuity of thought of the passage or text. Is an acrostic feature being used? Or a chiasm used for parallels or comparisons?
Another form of criticism is Form Criticism which is concerned with not only form but also genre and the “Sitz im Leben” (situation in life) of the unit or passage. So, is it oracle; and if so, what form does it take? What genre are we dealing with: a psalm of lament or thanksgiving, a hymn, a narrative, an apocalypse? What is the situation in life: was it composed, used, read in the home, around the campfire, at the royal court, at the city gate, on the steps of the Temple? Asking all of these questions can help us more fully understand what is being said.
How is tradition involved? Tradition Criticism looks at how the story “grew” over long periods of time. How has the author adapted the tradition; has he or she added to or subtracted from the tradition.
Finally, there is Redaction Criticism that looks at the final form and author of a passage or manuscript. What changes have been made? Has something been added to the text? Is there a final interpretation that is different from the original author?
Anyone who wants to study the Bible has to be aware of these techniques in order to fully understand the Bible’s message and meaning. Yet so few take the time to be critical in their thinking (not only regarding the Bible but other writings and philosophies on life as well) or to study and delve into meaning. Yet, that is our responsibility, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, we live in a world of “snippets” today: Twitter, Face Book, the News, headlines. In fact, we don’t even know who the authors are most times. Pseudonyms are hidden behind to mask the fear of “being found out.” Take a short snippet, put it on your Face Book page or Twitter time line to prove your point all the while knowing your “followers” won’t read the source; but rather, will applaud you for your insight. And why not, that is exactly what the media does. News stories in thirty seconds because the public doesn’t seem to want any more. Reporters who put forth their opinion as fact are the norm today. This is proof texting and it is in all areas of life.
But where does the responsibility lie? Even though we don’t like to admit it, it lies with us. We need to demand more of ourselves and others; but we don’t. Knocking, seeking, asking are no longer to be desired. Just give me a short sermon (no more than fifteen minutes) entertain me with song, tell me I’m good so that I can feel good about myself, and send me home till the next week. Repeat. And please whatever you do, don’t ask me to think or reason, I just want to relax and “do my thing.”
Today the common expression is “I get my news on the internet.” I needn’t tell you how dangerous that is do I? Read an analysis? I haven’t the time. I am busy cramming myself with food, drink, drugs, and meaningless activities. I have no time to just “be” and think and read. Just tell me what to think. Our schools are like this—“teach” the kids to pass the test. Tell them the questions, and then tell them the answers!
I saw a short “snippet” today used to disparage an author and his beliefs. The quote used was taken completely out of context; yet the person writing it didn’t seem to care. In fact the “quote” was really a re-quote, cut, pasted, and photoshopped. So who really knows what the original author said and in what context it was being said. Yet none of this seems to matter today. I found it very disturbing and indicative of our society. It is a sad commentary and unfortunately the dumbing of our society continues. Sadder still is that our leadership (in the Church, government, wherever) exploits this. They seem to know we are ignorant and apathetic, and use it to their advantage; not only taking our money but our minds as well. As a society, we must return to critical thinking if we are to survive. If not, we will be led to slaughter and it will be our own doing.