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#2 Why The “Proof-Text” Method Is Inadequate For The Understanding of All Truths

Go to #1 - Start of Study

The Proof-Text method is not sufficient for the comprehension of all Biblical concepts for the simple reason that "Truth" is a progressive revelation. If Truth were not progressive we would find the Bible to be a very short book! God would simply lay out everything to us in a list and that would be that. But God does not operate like that and neither does His Truth. Proof-text studies tend to be very static, while God's Truth is a living dynamic. Proof-texts may win you an argument, but they are unlikely to produce any meaningful change in the lives of those who approach the study of God in this way. Truth must be understood from that which has been revealed - that is, that which has come before - and understood from the ongoing revelation of the Holy Spirit, both from the Scriptures and within the life of the believer. Truth is person centered. It is centered in the person of Jesus Christ - who is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6) - and it is centered in the lives of those who believe in Him and in whom He abides.

Paul uses the Old Testament Scriptures to support what he is revealing and expounding upon - but he does not do it exclusively in a "proof-text" fashion. He does not make a statement and then exclusively quote scripture to prove that statement. He does quote scripture to back up, or "prove" what he is saying sometimes - but more often he uses scripture (what has been revealed) as a launching point (starting point) for the Truth that he is introducing and then expounds upon. In other words, Scripture is used by the inspired writers of the New Testament as the basis, or starting point, for the revelation and development of new truth - or the revelation of a deeper understanding of a truth already introduced elsewhere. Paul was interested in imparting knowledge, but he was more inteested in the affect that true knowledge produces in the believer when it becomes an experience and not just a bunch of facts.

WE should use the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) in much the same way. "There are mines of truth yet to be discovered" (5T, p. 704). "There are bright and important truths of which we only discern the shadows." (E.G. White; Letter 147, 1897). "We have only glimmerings of the rays of the light yet to come to us." (RH, June 3, 1890). If there is much truth "yet to be discovered", "truths of which we only discern the shadows", then we can safely conclude that they are not written out in a concise fashion within a few texts of scripture (we must "dig" for Truth as for hidden treasure)! This is why the "proof-text" method will fail to reveal all of the "rays of light yet to come to us". We must use the scriptures, but we cannot expect a text here, and a text there, to be combined into a concise or total understanding of every truth. We must understand that God often has introduced concepts within the text of the scriptures, which are to be developed under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. These concepts are not always laid out plainly in a fashion that lends itself solely to the proof-text method of interpretation or understanding.

Another reason that the "proof-text" method often fails is that, too often, people will use only those texts that will "prove" their own beliefs. We often have a preconceived idea of what the "truth" is and set out to "prove" it by quoting only those texts that support our preconceived views or positions. If one does this, one can make the Bible (or the Spirit of Prophecy) say almost anything!

This is why Christians often disagree on subjects such as the Sabbath or the state of the dead. Some Christians will use texts that "prove" that the day we are to keep holy is the 7th day Sabbath, while others use texts that seem to "prove" that Christians are to keep Sunday, the 1st day of the week, holy - or that it doesn't matter which day you keep holy as long as you keep some day holy ( Ex. 20:8; Acts 13:42,44 & 18:4; Mar. 2:28; Heb. 4:9 cf. Acts 20:7; Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:5). One Christian will use texts that indicate that Death is an unconscious "sleep", while others will use texts that would seem to indicate that we return to God (or go to be with Him) when we die ( Jn. 11:11,14; Eccl. 9:5; Ps. 115:17 ; 1 Thes. 4:15; 1 Cor. 15:18; Ps. 146:4 cf. Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:21; Ps. 146:4; etc.). Notice that Psalms 146:4 can be used by both groups to "prove" opposite positions! The Biblical concept of "Righteousness by Faith" is a particularly difficult thing to adequately explain using only the proof-text methodology. Perhaps that is why so few Christians "truly" understand or experience it.

When it comes to the Godhead and to the Holy Spirit I have heard prominent leaders in our own church using texts like "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts" (Isa. 6:3) to defend the Trinity doctrine (as we teach it) and to prove that there are three individual beings that have existed as God from all eternity and who comprise the Godhead because the text uses the word "Holy" three times. This is no different than those who use the text "Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God, the Lord is ONE" (Duet. 6:4) to prove that there is only one person of the Godhead or who is God. It is also no different than many Christians using the text "the spirit shall return unto God who gave it" (Eccl. 12:7) to prove that man has a "spirit" that exists separately from his body and which "returns" to God (goes to heaven) at the time of death! These are the weakest of arguments and show the failing of trying to use the "proof-text" method alone to establish an understanding of the doctrine. It is also a terrible misuse of the Scriptures.

Adventists have rightly maintained that the whole Bible must be used to understand the truth of any given subject - that all the texts dealing with a subject must be gathered together and studied within their context in order to arrive at an understanding of "The Truth". Any Scriptures that appear obscure, or appear to indicate something disagreeing with majority of the rest of the texts, must either be resolved by the overriding majority opinion and context of the texts as a whole -- or must be considered as having a meaning intended by its author of which we are unsure or simply don't understand. For Adventists, this is further complicated by our belief in the inspiration of the writings of Ellen White; for we must gather everything from the vast additional light that she has provided on Biblical subjects and consider and compare her statements on those subjects as well. This comparison must be made, not only to what is contained in the Scriptures, but, also to that which is contained in the whole of her writings. When you consider that Ellen White has provided us with more than 100,000 pages of printed text (that's more than 25 million words - or the equivalent of more words than could fit into 32 Bibles) - One can readily understand that this can be a daunting task!

We also must understand that "inspired" writers (whether the writers of the Bible or other inspired writers such as Ellen White) sometimes reveal things from their visions, or in their writings, which they themselves did not understand! This was certainly true for Daniel (see Dan. 12:8,13) and it seems quite obvious that this was the case for Ezekiel and for John the Revelator in many of the things that they saw and recorded. Why would we assume that it would be different for Ellen White? Indeed, given the vast amount of information that God conveyed through her, it would seem quite unreasonable for us to assume that she "understood" everything about everything she wrote! She never made any claims to such "all-knowing" understanding, and often spoke of things as "mysteries" and as things that she did not understand fully (e.g. the Incarnation, the nature of the Holy Spirit, etc.).

This fact should not come as a surprise to us when we consider and realize that "Truth" is progressive. No-one has ever yet had and understood ALL the Truth that God has revealed - or that God is going to reveal! I find it unconscionable to think that God revealed to the Bible writers OR to Ellen White everything that He intended to reveal to mankind. When we consider that almost a century has elapsed since the death of Ellen White - can we possibly conclude that God has had nothing more to say to us? Can we really hold to the position that there was to be no more "new light" yet to be revealed. Mrs. White speaks strongly to the contrary (see New Light Quotes by Clicking Here)!

Ellen White recognized and acknowledged her limitations as a human being - even as one through whom the Lord spoke directly. She says: "There are many mysteries which I do not seek to understand or to explain; they are too high for me" (Manuscript 1107; p.5 ; Manuscript Releases vol.14, p.179). Interestingly, she makes that statement in the context of (in the middle of a discussion about) the Nature of the Holy Spirit! Just a few sentences earlier she said: "The nature of the Holy Spirit is a mystery not clearly revealed." (Ibid). These statements in no way imply that the nature of the Holy Spirit would forever remain a mystery, or that the truth about its nature would never be "clearly revealed." I believe that it was a mystery to her in the same way that much of what Daniel wrote was a mystery to him: She could not understand it "fully" simply because it was a Truth who's time had not yet come. Like Daniel, however, she faithfully revealed that which was revealed to her - in spite of the fact that she did not understand all that she revealed. I believe, that like Daniel, much of what she wrote about the "Godhead" and about the "Holy Spirit" will rise again for its "allotted portion at the end of the age" (Dan. 12:13) - that the things which she wrote will be "revealed" and "understood" in their proper light prior to our Lord's coming. This "revealing", however, will not come as the result of using the proof-text method alone.

I do not think that it is a mere coincidence that Jesus told His disciples: "I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12) -- and that He said that in the middle of a discourse about the Holy Spirit! I also do not think that it is a mere coincidence that Mrs. White informs us that what Jesus left "unrevealed" (or not totally revealed) to the disciples involved the plan of Redemption. "What was it that Jesus withheld because they could not comprehend it?--It was the more spiritual, glorious truths concerning the plan of redemption." (RH October 14, 1890; par. 4).

Within Adventism, we have found ourselves arguing about the nature of the Holy Spirit primarily because we have sought to "prove" our positions by using only the "proof-text" method. We have failed to consider the truth about the nature of the Holy Spirit within the context of the problem of Sin, the Great Controversy, and the Plan of Redemption. It is my opinion that this has caused us to misunderstand much about the "nature" of both the Godhead and the Holy Spirit.

Proof texts are not a bad thing. Indeed they are a necessary component in understanding the nature of God, the entrance of Sin and the problems sin brought with it, and they are absolutely necessary to our understanding the plan of Salvation! I will be using many "proof texts" in these studies in order to explain what I am expounding here - but I will be using these "proof texts" within the context of the Plan of Redemption, and this is where their use will differ from merely "proving" a bunch of facts. They will be used in order to gain a greater understanding of the immense Sacrifice that has been made in order to make possible the great plan of Redemption, what that Sacrifice entailed and how it actually affects us, and to give us a greater appreciation of both the Loving God (Father) and our Loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

What we've learned

  1. Truth is progressive - that is, it is ever unfolding and some subjects cannot be simply "proved," and the matter permanently settled, because there is more to be learned and more to be revealed about the subject. The "proof-text" method will fail to reveal all the truth about some subjects for this reason.
  2. The "proof-text" method is often used to "win" an argument (to prove that "our" position is correct and "yours" is wrong). It may accomplish this objective, but little is achieved in simply "winning" an argument. The Truth must be explained in a way that will make a difference in one's life and in their relationship with God. The proof-text method does not always do this.
  3. The "proof-text" method often does not take into consideration the context of the texts themselves and can be used to prove almost anything if one is not careful.
  4. Finally, the "proof-text" method is a helpful aid in explaining truth when it is done within the context of the subject being explained. For Seventh-day Adventists, it is vitally important to consider all doctrine (and all proof-texts used to prove a doctrine) within the context of The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. Failure to do this will cause us to fail in comprehending the "truth" - and the significance of the truth -- of the subject being studied. This is especially true with regard to the subject of the Godhead and the Holy Spirit.

With all this in mind, I would like to consider the nature of the Godhead and the Holy Spirit within the context of the Great Controversy and the Plan of Salvation, and attempt to discover what God has revealed to us concerning these things. So let's go back to the beginning and consider the predicament that faced God as He planned to Create intelligent beings - beings that would have the freedom and capacity to choose for themselves whom they would serve.

Next -- #3 The "Problem" Facing God

Back -- #1 Introduction to the Godhead and Holy Spirit

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