The Bible is not a Book of One-Liners (or #247 of reasons not to prooftext)

Ok, so I don’t actually have 247 reasons actually written down, but I’m pretty sure there are that many reasons and more not to pluck a verse of scripture from its context and wield it as a tool (or weapon) to make the point you wanted to make before you ever even turned to scripture.  Proof texting–it’s one of my pet peeves. It robs us of the real richness and true meaning of our scriptures, and it allows the wily and willing to twist the beautiful and healing Word of God into something ugly and hurtful to serve their own purposes. 

Here is just one of many, many, many examples of times when touting a verse of scripture in isolation from its context leads people down the wrong path.

And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.  Luke 11:9 (CEB)

This has been used over and over again by prosperity gospel proponents. It’s at the heart of the “name it and claim” and “speak it into being” movements. To use this verse all by itself makes it seem like God is just ready to give us whatever we want… at a moment’s notice…if we only want it bad enough and truly believe that God will answer the door. The end result being that the “truly faithful” get what they want, and those who don’t get what they ask for are just not faithful/good/trusting enough.  

I could delve in to a long and exhaustive explanation of what bad theology this is, but just go back and read the whole chapter, people…or at least the part leading up to verse 9.

The rest of the story 

Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.  Luke 11:1-9 (CEB)

This verse is not about God indulging our whims and our self-centeredness, but about God supplying our need. And about us being insistent and persistent in our cries to God to give us what we need today, to offer forgiveness and keep us from falling victim to temptation. It is a promise that God will not abandon us or leave us knocking at a closed door when we are truly in need.

Not all one-liners are bad 

I’m not suggesting that you remove your favorite Bible verse that grandma needlepointed on a pillow from its place on your sofa or that you stop sticking post-it notes with verses that inspire and encourage you on your bathroom mirror. There are times when a single snippet of scripture can be just what we and others need to keep us going, remind us that we are loved and give us some peace of mind. 

Be careful how you wield your scripture.  Before you start tossing verses out into the universe to serve your own purposes, know the rest of the story. Read more than the one line.  And maybe just don’t go digging through the Bible to prove what you already believe, but to be inspired and challenged and changed by the Word of God. 


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