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09 May 2011

80 Proof-Texting

You've probably heard the term "proof text" before. This is the practice of having a broad position that is supposedly supported by a small phrase in the Bible. Usually it's a single verse, but sometimes the proof text will be a group of verses, and less often a verse fragment. This is typically a bad thing because it includes mistakes like ignoring the larger context of the Word, disregarding the original language, turning a blind eye (intentionally or not) to the setting of the verse -- its intended audience and its situational context -- etc.

I think the phrase "bad hermeneutics" should almost always be a part of the definition of "proof-texting."

I've found that there's a way to employ solid hermeneutics and to avoid proof-texting, yet still wind up with results that are just as bad. For better or worse, I was one of those people who went through the Bible to try to find evidence that it was okay for a believer to drink alcohol. For many Christians this is just a no-brainer. The denomination I was a part of? Not so much. Actually, it was almost heresy for most in that group, part of a long-standing tradition/guidelines that had essentially become on par with the Bible in many people's minds.

Now, to be quite clear, this post is not written to take a position about the rightness or wrongness of consuming alcohol. It's not to condemn one denomination and give kudos to another. Don't try to read between the lines, because I didn't put anything between the lines.

Back to the stance on alcohol, I'm not happy accepting statements as fact without investigation, particularly when the edict is from the church and the Word doesn't seem to be the source. And to be honest, I wanted to be able to drink and be guilt-free about it. So I dug in. I easily found Scripture passages and situations that strongly hinted or directly stated that "wine" was not non-fermented grape juice as I've heard several times from various pulpits, but was actually the buzz-inducing stuff. Whether the drink was weaker or not was beside the point, though I've found arguments for the former to be uncompelling and unsubstantiated.

An excellent first passage in my quest was the time Jesus pointed out the hyper-legalism of the Pharisees in Luke 7:33-35 (NASB): "For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by all her children."

Obviously, there was something in the wine that had the self-righteous Pharisees up in arms. When Jesus said the word "drunkard" here, it meant "one who imbibes wine." And hey, if Jesus "imbibed," that's license for His followers to do so. Heck, it could even be a mandate if we wanted it to be! That way we could really hang out with "tax collectors and sinners."

Then there's the wedding at Cana -- the kickoff miracle. The ill-prepared groom ran out of wine, which was probably at least somewhat expensive, because after Jesus turned jars of water into wine, the guests were surprised at how much better it was than the wine in the first kegs... er... jars. There was no reason for the groom to bring out bad wine later unless the guests' tastes or perceptions had been dulled by that time ("A host always serves the best wine first," he said. "Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine..." John 2:10, NLT)

It wasn't proof texting, because in every case I endeavored to make sure I explored all those things I initially mentioned that proof texting usually ignores: comparing Scripture against Scripture, considering context, audience, language, setting, etc. And I think I came up with a pretty good argument on my own; no need to use Google to find out how someone else had justified their Biblical alcohol quest.

But after it was all said and done and I had my good, strong argument ready for battle, and my glee ready to enjoy wine (even taking passages like Proverbs 20:1 and Genesis 9:20-23 into account -- both of which speak of drunkenness; not drinking), I looked back and realized that I hadn't gone on a quest to find out what would honor Jesus the most. Instead, I'd gone looking for a loophole in His system for my own personal gratification.

This is what I like to call 80 Proof-Texting (although wine is more like 28-proof), though it doesn't apply only to alcohol consumption. It's exactly the opposite of what God intends for His people to do; the focus is on me or you as the center of the universe.

(In case you aren't aware, in really simple terms, the "proof" number is the percentage of alcohol in a drink multiplied by two. This is usually used for liquors rather than beers and wines. Here's a great little article at in case you've always wanted to know about this: "What does 'proof' mean on alcohol?")

While 80-Proof Texting involves inductive Bible study and a thorough understanding of Scripture, I would contend that its effects are similar to those of regular ol' proof texting. It may be equally as dishonoring to Christ. It just typically doesn't make you look quite as bad to other people, but God will still say the same thing: "What are you doing to my Word?" -- a situation where we can technically honor "the law" but miss the intent by, like, infinity miles.

Big thanks to my friend Leroy for pointing out some wording issues and helping me to clarify some thoughts.


Chris Rigoni said...

Great post! Its funny how you start with one purpose, and God shows you the truth. Happens to me ALL THE TIME. Sad to say, I, like many others, have searched for justification rather than glorification.

Lisa Laree said...

Very good post!!!

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