Proof texting, the Bible, and the Church

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Still life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh
Still life with Bible, Vincent van Gogh

Providing a quote from the Bible seems like a good thing if you’re trying to convince someone else about what the Bible teaches. But often enough, you get another verse back at you, without context. That’s proof texting.

At the root of proof texting are three things. First, the idea that one’s own interpretation of the Bible is correct. Second, the idea that the Bible is meant to be the source of all our doctrine. Third, that the Bible is an authority on doctrine separate from the Church through whom it was given to us, first written and then compiled, in the first 300 years after Christ.

I wrote this up long ago on my blog:

Whose truth is the real truth, and how can we know? … or does Sola Scriptura work?

The way I see the Bible and proof-texting working between the Catholic and Protestant sides is this: Catholics see the Bible as the written Word of God given to them by the Church, who (in the persons of Moses and the Apostles et al) wrote it and (in the persons of the early Christians) selected the books and letters that matched the Church’s teaching. The Church, in the persons of the Church Fathers / popes / councils / saints, issues that teaching on her own authority. The Bible has the role (one of many) of serving as a historical record of the early years of that teaching. It attests to the teaching, but doesn’t issue the teaching. Something is true, not because the Bible contains it, but because God spoke it into being, and the Bible is a witness to that.

William Miller' 1843 chart
William Miller’ 1843 chart

Protestants don’t see it that way. I won’t try to explain it from a Protestant perspective because I can’t. To me as a Catholic, it seems that Protestants have taken what was meant (among other things) to witness to the truth and turned it into the authority that issues the truth. That is why, from my perspective, proof texting exists in Protestantism. And in a similar vein, it’s in that way that Catholics often use the Bible to convince Protestants of our understanding of it. No Protestant would easily accept as even semi-authoritative any of the ecumenical councils after the 6th.

For Catholics to proof text from the Bible to each other is to use the Bible in a way that was never intended. Don’t get me wrong – Catholics proof text, but from different sources. We all believe the Bible, but we don’t all like certain things about the Church, so we proof text Popes Pius V and Paul VI against each other, and Popes Benedict and Francis against each other, and saints Augustine and Aquinas against each other.

I think that providing quotes/references from the Bible as evidence and discussing context and meaning and a bit of Greek is fine. One needs to do that if one is going to discuss whether or not the Bible is compatible with one’s belief. The context and meaning is essential, though. Isaiah 28:10 in isolation is not, because verse 13 proves that verse 10 is a mockery of drunkards and not the right way to interpret the Bible.

Catholics see the Church as the Body of Christ, the Church for which [Acts 20:28 – proof text alert!] he shed his blood. Outside of the Body there is no Christ. Much like Jesus being the vine and we the branches – a different vine or removed branches is not the real thing. We understand that Body to exist on earth in a visible form, teaching and preserving the faith, as well as existing in heaven where those who have died are, and also existing in a somewhat invisible way in this world to include all those in imperfect union with the visible Church. As a body, the Church, which Paul calls [1 Tim 3:15 – proof text alert!] the pillar and foundation of truth, acts as a timeless edifice preserving the faith once delivered.

Again, I can’t adequately explain the Protestant position, but to me it looks like acknowledgement of the concept of a Church in a nebulous way, but replacing the Church as the foundation of truth with the Bible God gave us through the Church.

Further reading

Example of Ellen White butchering the Bible

Ellen White - Taste not, Touch not
Ellen White – Taste not, Touch not
The wicked run ...
The wicked run …
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