Editor’s Note: I am glad to be able to share with my readers various writings from Robert Higginson, a dear brother from Britain. Robert was a frequent commenter when Slice of Laodicea allowed comments where he always provided insight and wisdom. I pray that these words are a blessings to all.
Since I made the suggestion that at least one well-known figure in 21st century Christianity has sidelined Scripture, perhaps some comment on proof-texting is required.
The proper place of proof-texting is to point to the source of some fact which has previously been learned from the Bible. In effect, the statement of the fact is only a re-statement of what the Bible says, and the re-statement is to put the fact in a form which suits the subject in hand. The first key thing is that the fact has been learned from studying the Bible, and ensuring that the fact is consistent with what the Bible has to say in more than one place. The second key thing is that any proof-text supports the statement more strongly when the verse is studied in a number of translations and in the original language; supports it more strongly when studied in its own context; and supports it more strongly when compared with other verses which relate to the same subject. If any of these factors are missing, the proof-text may become a pretext for something which may not be true to Scripture.
Implicit in this is the attitude that the Bible is the Word of God, and should be handled with respect. If it is truly God’s word to us, then its authority is not that of any human author, but that of God Himself. If we begin by questioning the authority of the Bible, and suggest that it is (at least in part) of human origin and subject to human limitations of truth and accuracy, we will at some stage find proof-texts to support a statement which is not true to the Bible.
The suggestion that this can lead to sidelining the Bible was made in the context of debate about Rick Warren, both in the magazine “MET-Connexions” and also on Crosstalk America. (http://www.met-uk.org/met/index.php , letter in the Spring 2008 issue, and www.crosstalkamerica.com for 02 June 2008.) I did not question Warren’s motivation to bring as many as possible to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. But it seems that he has allowed zeal for this to bring in management methods which detract from the Gospel.
In his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, Warren refers to hundreds of Bible verses. This is good. But the question of sidelining the Bible arises from this. The verses are used as proof-texts, commonly to support a statement, rather than to uncover what the Bible has to say. Some writers have found TPDL to be a statement of the humanistic management methods of the late Peter Drucker and others, which is presented in the form of a Bible study. As such, the proof-texts have the effect of sidelining the Bible by removing it from its proper place as the source of the information.
Consider one example of Warren’s case for the “40 days of purpose” concept. It is claimed that the ministry of Jesus was transformed by his 40 days in the wilderness. The proof-text for this is Luke 4:14, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him into all the region round about.” But Matthew (4:12) and Mark (1:14) make it clear that this was after John was put in prison (Luke 3:20). The time delay is not given, but a reasonable suggestion is 6 months, which would give suitable time to recover physically from a 6 week fast. Further, it is clear from reading all 4 Gospels, including Luke who is used by Warren for the proof text, that Jesus did not have any public ministry before. this. But there was a 30 year preparation, including a time of testing immediately after Jesus was baptised. When we look closely at this proof text, it does not support Warren’s claim, but it is consistent with the classical interpretation of the 40 days as testing, probation and judgement.
We also find that Warren uses a variety of paraphrases which go beyond merely removing archaic vocabulary. All too often, the meaning is different from a literal translation, and reference to the original language reveals that the text does not support the meaning Warren claims by his use as a proof-text. Analysis of TPDL, which anyone can do, is the basis of my suggestion that proof-texting can side-line the Bible.
Copyright 2008 RJ Higginson. All Rights Reserved. Redistribution is allowed as long as it not for profit and unedited.