Open Thread on Proof-Texting

Max seems skeptical of the term proof-texting. Merriam-Webster online gives a basic definition:

a Scriptural passage adduced as proof for a theological doctrine, belief, or principle.

I assumed an anti-religionist would be distrustful of a Christian site’s definition, but I think this quickie from M-W could be expanded to any source, religious or not, that carries a certain weight of authority.

Let’s say people wanted to “prove” Jesus was a crybaby. They might cite John 11:35 and they would be correct in noticing that in one instance, Jesus cried. A detractor of the position might cite in turn John 18:20-23: instead of Jesus weeping, he responds to physical violence with a question. No tears–at least none are recorded.

This would be an example of a proof-text debate: taking isolated passages to support a premise already adopted by the proponent. Proof-texting runs amok when absurd or unusual doctrines, beliefs, or principles are adduced from isolated passages.

In the example above, honest scholars might conclude Jesus was a normal man who felt real emotions. They might look at the whole of the four gospels, and probe into multiple passages that support that premise not only by the descriptions of action, but in reading between the lines–doing more in-depth language study, preferably in Greek.

One problem in citing John 11:35 is that the context is the death of a close friend and the emotional upheaval of two others. Critics of the “crybaby” approach might mention the unusual circumstances of the event. They might not even move beyond the eleventh chapter of John’s Gospel to dismiss the premise as spurious and those promoting it as intellectually lacking rigor.

In Max’s case, I notice he piles up a number of unrelated passages. He makes a common error that the teller of a story must automatically agree with every aspect of a story. And on occasion, he just misquotes entirely.

Sometimes in prayer, I feel drawn to a word or phrase. This isn’t quite proof-texting. First, I’m not trying to prove anything to myself. I’m just making connections between the written word as I pray it and experiences and thoughts in my life. And second, I don’t try to convince anybody that my word or phrase is better than theirs.

Last question for our friend: Max, you don’t seem too interested in these new open threads; why is that?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Open Thread on Proof-Texting

  1. charlesincenca says:

    Todd, I shouldn’t interfere with your outreach to Max, but in my heart I believe I hear Max mourning, grieving the loss of God Whom he tried, as do we all, to hear us, to acknowledge us, to soothe us from THE PAIN. Whether his persona is real or masqued, Max is trying with every fiber of his visceral being to refuse God’s invitation to live, both now and…..for whatever reason (not just Newtown) he seems to prefer abandonment over love. Well, there’s not a whole lot of time in this life to professing love for another, one’s spouse, children, relatives, deep friends. And time wasted not professing that love, God-given or not, is the real travesty and tragedy.
    On a happier note, I prithee have a great 18th Ordinary in your new “digs.”

  2. Jim McCrea says:

    Proof-texting out of context is pretext of proof-texting.


    A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.

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