Does Anyone Ever Admit to ‘Proof-Texting?’ A Call for Humble Dialogue

When interpreters of the Bible are in dialogue and arrive at a point where there is disagreement over how a passage should be properly read, certain temptations often arise.

Please bear with my rant (Gal. 6:2).

If one interpreter offers his reading of the text which flies in the face of the theological framework belonging to the second interpreter, the tendency for the second interpreter could very well lean in the direction of searching their mental concordance of biblical texts to “find ammunition” so as to disregard his opponent’s proposition. The second interpreter will gather up all of the reasons why he/she has the better reading, which subsequently would discredit the reading of the first interpreter.

peanutsIf one is absolutely convinced that their personal interpretation is the [only] correct one, another temptation might arise upon hearing a fresh/new/strange reading of a particular passage. In effect, the listener could very easily mentally ignore what the other person is saying. They unlovingly refuse to listen or to seriously examine the potential merits of their dialogue partner’s reconstruction. It is as if their opponent is talking like the teacher from Charlie Brown (“Wah wa wah wah wa wa”).

No one would ever admit to proof-texting (aka “cherry-picking” their texts) in an argument. We like accuse others of doing it, but have we taken the moment to examine if their is a similar log in our own eye? It is certainly difficult (and humbling) to admit that perhaps our own personal interpretation of a passage might not be as persuasive as the one possessed by our dialogue partner. It is even more difficult in the realm of biblical scholarship to admit a mistake once it has made it into print. We are always mindful of our reputations among our peers.

How can those of a Christian persuasion respectfully dialogue when two (or more) readers of a passage disagree on its meaning? James 1:19 says that everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to anger. We must find it easier to listen to one another than to retort back our own position, even if we are correct. Paul exhorts his readers in 1 Thes. 5:21 to examine everything and hold fast to that which is good. This means that we need to listen and look at all the interpretive possibilities, even those of our dialogue partners/opponents.

Who knows? They may end up becoming your friends after the conversation is over.

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3 thoughts on “Does Anyone Ever Admit to ‘Proof-Texting?’ A Call for Humble Dialogue

  1. Amen, Dustin. Very much agree. This kind of theological dialog is desperately needed but rarely found, especially on Internet forums. May the efforts of folks like you, Dale Tuggy, Sean Finnegan, and Sir Anthony effect widespread change in that area.

  2. Good points, Dustin. I think that Bible translators could really help if they were to footnote all truly legitimate, plausible alternative renderings of theologically loaded texts. Sadly, few offer anything approaching a satisfactory footnote apparatus, and none has escaped the pitfall of bias. We need teems of translators who are more concerned with helping us appreciate what the Hebrew and Greek can mean than they are with keeping us from reaching the “wrong” conclusions.

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