Proof-Texting Ethics 😬

…just to be clear, there is a Bible verse for…

1. Burning witches

2. Castrating theological opponents

3. Cutting off women’s hands

4. Killing the babies of your enemies

5. Killing your own children if they disrespect you

6. Eating kosher

7. Kissing everyone in church 🤨

8. Being baptized for the dead (🤯🤷‍♂️)

9. Women being saved by having babies

…just pointing to one verse and saying, “see! See?! The bible says!” Is not enough. In fact, that is scary!

The bible is a coming together of the human and the divine. Do you understand the people of the time? Do you know what problems they were trying to address with these laws? Do you know the bigger story? Can you glean out some principles? Can you tie everything back to Jesus’ principle, that all commands should be hinged on love of God and neighbour? Do you know your OWN story? Do you know the history that brought you to the beliefs that you have? Do you know the culture in which you live? Do you know the real-life heartache and problems around you? Can you remember that true godliness is about purity of life, and care of the vulnerable and the outcasts? Can you balance biblical commands with mercy, as Jesus taught?

Interpreting the Bible is hard. Work. Which is why it is usually best done in community. It’s a long book with a lot of seeming contradictions. I think this is on purpose. We see ourselves in the story, but the Bible resists a rigid “black-and-white” interpretation. There’s always that one verse that doesn’t quite fit.

It’s complicated. It’s hard work. It’s heart work. We won’t always get it right. We may feel like we are living in the grey. It can be quite unsatisfying.

…and yet, God can guide us, and we can find ourselves in the story. The Bible can become a living book, to give us timeless help in our changing lives.

…but someone just studying alone, unreflective, cut off from culture, not reading any commentaries, and basing all their ethics on proof-texts? “The Bible says!” “I’ve got a verse for that!” “Look right here, it says…” 😬 Yeah…there’s a LOT of verses in there…😬😬

Proof-text ethics is just scary…

The Dangers of “Biblicism”

Reading the Bible, all by yourself, with no commentaries and no input from others is the ultimate in confirmation bias. A person can conveniently ignore or explain away anything that challenges them, while finding “biblical support” for all of their personal prejudices and ideas. If no support is given directly from scriptures, the person can simply say, “the Holy Spirit told me…” and put some very outlandish spin on a verse. It happens all the time!
“Bible teachers” like this can be very attractive. “Wow, he only quotes the Bible!” “Wow, he is self-taught! He wasn’t corrupted by some dirty seminary!” “Wow, God seems to speak to him so much!” …but the person isn’t really speaking to them about Gods way, but their own private ideas, wrapped in Biblical language. The effects of such teachers can be devastating: among other things, it can make it seem like anybody can make the Bible say anything that they want. Which of course, they can. So how can we avoid this confirmation bias? We cannot. We are only human. That is why we need one another. “Let one or two speak, and the rest pass judgment.” “But the Bereans were more noble, because after Paul spoke, they searched the Scriptures, to see if these things were so.” “*Study* to show yourself as a workman approved, able to *accurately* handle the word if God.” “You Pharisees…teach as doctrines the ideas of men…” “see to it that no one takes you captive through the…basic principles of men…”
The believing community is:
1) A local church of people who can respond in some way to the “teacher.” If the teacher is never told that they were wrong, and never revises their views, they have no such community
2) Commentaries and other pastors. You don’t know it all! The Bible wasn’t written in your language — or your millennia! You need help understanding some things! Be humble enough to ask for and receive help!
3) The wider faith community. Not every good Christian agrees with you. Some have very good Biblical reasons for what they believe. Learn from them! Learn to sit with the fact that there are more than one way to see many issues. Gradually, you will begin to see that while *some* issues in the Bible are black and white, many are grey. And some things you were taught to believe aren’t even in the Bible at all!
…as you emerge from under the dictatorial cloud of one narrow minded teacher, into the light and colour of the family of God, you may begin to find that the Bible is more like a grand story, where we can all find meaning and purpose and direction for our own lives. It is less like an instruction manual, telling us how to conform to the ideas and biases of one narrow minded “Bible teacher.”