Proof Texting for Fun and Prophet

Recent articles got me thinking about the practice of Prooftexting, which Wikipedia defines as follows:

Prooftexting is the practice of using decontextualised quotations from a document (often, but not always, a book of the Bible) to establish a proposition rhetorically through an appeal to authority. Critics of the technique note that often the document, when read as a whole, may not in fact support the proposition.

Examples of classic prooftexts from the Bible are:

John 4:24 – “aGod is a bSpirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in ctruth.” This is often used to describe God as without a body of flesh and bone, but a spirit being only.

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by agrace are ye bsaved through cfaith; and that not of yourselves: it is the dgift of God: Not of works, lest any man should aboast.” This is used to support and define the protestant doctrine of sola fide – salvation by faith alone.

1 Corinthians 15:29 – “Else what shall they do which are abaptized bfor the dead, if the dead crise not at all? why are they then baptized for the ddead?” This is used to support the LDS doctrine of Baptism and Temple work for the Dead outside of modern revelation.

I noticed a new trend (or a different one) of quoting General Authorities as a way of establishing proof that a doctrine, policy or practice of the church exists. More than likely this involves a prohibition of some sort. And typically involves a quote from some time ago, not unnecessarily representing modern day thinking.

I cite a few recent examples:

Discouragement of Interracial Marriage – “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question” (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).

The quote cited is, contained in the currently used Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, lesson #31, p127. But it does not say, “don’t marry someone of another race”, but uses the terms “recommend” and “generally.” It means there are reasons to consider prior to marrying which should be thought out. In fact, the main emphasis of the quote is about marrying in the faith. If one were to assume that this quote is really discouraging interracial marriage, then one should also assume it is discouraging a young lady, whose parents can afford to pay for her education at BYU from marrying a young man, whose ward had to support him on his mission and is using grant money and scholarships to attend BYU. This is because they are of different “economic and social and educational backgrounds.”

Blacks and the Priesthood – “Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race-that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed;” President Brigham young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, Page 291.

This quote (one of the least offensive by today’s standards), among many others, is used by some to demonstrate an on-going prejudice against black people by the Church to this day because the Church has never officially disavowed any comments made by leaders about why blacks could not hold the Priesthood prior to the 1978 revelation. However, many modern church leaders have related their joyous experience that day in the Salt Lake Temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation giving the Priesthood to all worthy male members. To address the issue of past statements of church leaders, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, himself someone who thought blacks would not receive the Priesthood in his life time, said:

“There are statements in our literature by the early brethren that we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever has said in days past, that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” CES Religious Educators Symposium, 18 August 1978.

Not all Truth is Useful – “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful. Historians seem to take great pride in publishing something new, particularly if it illustrates a weakness or mistake of a prominent historical figure. For some reason, historians and novelists seem to savor such things. If it related to a living person it would come under the heading of gossip. History can be as misleading as gossip and much more difficult–often impossible–to verify. “Elder Boyd K. Packer,”The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect,” Fifth Annual Church Educational System Religious Educators’ Symposium, 22 August, 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

This particular quote, often misquoted as in the first line, is used by critics to demonstrate that the church and its leaders think withholding truthful information is acceptable. While the church does promote the idea of using positive material in the official teachings of the church, the main point of the talk (http://www.mormonismi.net/kirjoitukset/bkp_mantteli.shtml) is to consider the Spirit and the role of spiritual guidance in the history of the church and its presentation.

By the way, “not all truth is useful” is an idea within the philosophical community and did not originate with Elder Packer. Here is one reference: http://books.google.com/books?id=HKLLcv-nKWUC&pg=PA43&dq=%22not+all+truth+is+useful&ei=b5J3SPq_A5jSigGT7ZSHDA&sig=ACfU3U0X0B9ta9tCd8TLxiU8xvO5WuWoYw

We all use specific “evidence” to try and prove our points. We need to be careful that we are not just prooftexting to do so.

Comments

comments

14 comments for “Proof Texting for Fun and Prophet

  1. July 11, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Neat. I’ve been wanting to have a post on proof texting on the blog. Thank you for doing it!

  2. Hawkgrrrl
    July 11, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Ooh, I want to play, too! Here’s one:

    “[a black] is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color — perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments.”

    Anyone want to guess who said it?

  3. DavidH
    July 12, 2008 at 2:28 pm

    I am not sure that most strict Mormons would agree that the use of the word “recommend”, relating to discouragement of interracial marriage, diminishes the force of the “counsel.” The Church also uses the words “encourage” and “discourage” with respect to its “counsel” on earrings and tattoos and body piercing, and many strict Mormons take that to have the force of law (even an apostle gave a talk that some people interpret to mean that good Mormon males should not consider marrying a woman with more than one earring).

  4. hawkgrrrl
    July 12, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    No takers on #2? That was Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator.

  5. hawkgrrrl
    July 12, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    #3 – well, I took that talk to mean that passive aggressive twits are no big loss. However, in general, those who are TBM (me included) don’t consider it an undue hardship to follow counsel, even if it’s trivial like earrings. We’re just grateful for the Savior being willing to overlook our major flaws. Why add defiance over something silly to the list of flaws? As to the marital advice, it should always be a matter of prayer anyway. No one who feels right about their interracial relationship lasting should hold back due to that statement alone.

  6. Jeff Spector
    July 12, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    #3 – While you picked up on the inter-racial marriage portion of the quote (which, I might add, was not the point of the post), you didn’t comment on the equal “recommendation on social, economic and educational background.” is that, in your mind equal to the first “recommendation?

  7. hawkgrrrl
    July 12, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    Jeff – I know you were asking David H that question, but frankly, I’ve heard that quote many times before, and the social and economic was the part I always heard or that I personally focused on (I’m sure I would have heard it differently if Denzel Washington was in my ward), and I think there is a lot of truth to it. How many marriages fail due to money – usually differing expectations and disciplines? Lots.

  8. Jeff Spector
    July 13, 2008 at 7:35 am

    Hawk,

    100% correct on that one. All things considered, marriage is hard enough when the two people are pretty much from the same basic characteristics. Throw in a major difference and it just makes it that much more challenging. I think that is the heart of that quote.

  9. July 13, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    Here’s one I’ve heard recently from evangelicals to warn people not to take the “Book of Mormon challenge.” Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” So, the logic goes, we shouldn’t trust that the Spirit will confirm the truth to our hearts because “the heart is deceitful.” Interesting.

    Anyway, I like the way you’ve pointed out that critics, ironically, use General Authority quotes as proof texts to try to show that the Church is racist, intolerant, anti-intellectual, and so on. It’s exactly what they do. Or, at least the intellectually dishonest ones do.

  10. July 13, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    Jeff,

    This is one of the best posts that I have ever read on this site or any. Thoughtful, insightful, poignant and brief. All of the things I could do with more of in my writing. I didn’t realize there was a name for this tactic although I have been victim to and a practitioner of proof texting on many occasions. This kind of article will help me improve the discourse that I engage in on the internet. Kudos!

    One suggestion that I would make is that we have a special icon like 🙂 that is a flag with a P on it so we can call people on Proof Texting.

  11. July 13, 2008 at 3:56 pm

    Prooftexting. I had never heard of the term before, but I am greatly familiar with its’ use, and misuse. Thanks for increasing my vocabulary!!!

  12. July 13, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    Jeff–good material. Thanks

  13. Lolwut?
    July 2, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Protestants dismiss the accusations of prooftexting Ephesians 2:8-9 as Straw man fallacy, noting that other verses (Romans 3:26, Philippians 1:29, Romans 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:3, etc.) carry similar messages and that these themes are more fully developed throughout the New Testament, notably in Paul’s Epistles to the the Romans, the Galatians, the Ephesians and the Hebrews.

  14. gnashingofteeth
    November 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    “History can be as misleading as gossip and much more difficult–often impossible–to verify.”

    Now why is this? What a strange idea… Can’t we just pray to know? I mean… let’s see here. What is something that allegedly occurred that we are encouraged to pray about?

    Oh wait, whether or not Joseph Smith really was a prophet.

    The truthfulness of the BOM.

    But, of course, if you get any answer besides “yes” then we can know without a doubt, that you must be atuned to the temptations of the devil, and that you are too steeped in sin to hear the spirit attest to its truthfulness.

    There’s only one thing to do; Repent.

    Luckily there is a 19-year old boy with a crew cut who is just shaking with anticipation to be the one to baptize you for a remission of your sins. Time to start exercising that Faith! You’ll get your answer on the other end, after the trial of your faith. You weren’t REALLY going to tempt God to just GIVE you an answer without requiring you to first believe in his one true church upon the earth, were you?

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