Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Proof texting without context

Some well-meaning Christians make the mistake of using proof texts to prove a theological point without considering the context of the larger passage that the proof text comes from. It is important to keep in mind not only the larger point of the passage, but also the historical context that the author dealt with.

For instance, I have had some good Christian people quote 2 Timothy 2:25 to me, which says, "if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth." Their point was, of course, that God causes the person to repent in a proactive manner, taking the choice out of the hands of the person altogether. I agree to an extent that it is God who ultimately is responsible for us repenting of our sins and turning to faith in Him. It is only through the hearing of His word that any of us are able to do this (Romans 10:17). It is also only because of His grace that we are enabled to come to Christ (John 6:44). In other words, we do not have a "self-determination" when it comes to our salvation. But through God's prevenient grace we are convicted of our sins and then enabled to place our faith in Christ, if we do not reject this through unbelief.

But going back to 2 Timothy 2:25, if we simply take it out of its context and present it, it would seem to be saying that God is the proactive actor and causer of our repentance, without regard to our will. In context, Paul is  speaking of two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus, who are spreading false teachings of the resurrection of Christ. Paul wants these two individuals to repent and come to their senses and is exhorting Timothy to ask God to enlighten them so they may escape the snare of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26). Ultimately it is through God that this comes. But not deterministically. Hymenaeus and Philetus must accept the gift of God of their own volition.

Furthermore, if we continue into chapter 3, Paul warns Timothy that he needs to get used to this kind of thing:

2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.
(2 Timothy 3:2-9)

Notice, this is all done because of man's own pride. Also notice it is these people themselves who are denying the power of godliness (vs 5). In vs 10-11, Paul congratulates Timothy that he "carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions [etc]" (2 Timothy 3:10-11). I would say it was an act of Timothy's will to do these things.

Then the kicker comes in vs 14 and 15:

14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
(2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Timothy himself had the responsibility to continue in these things. And vs 15 proves my point completely, that it is through the Holy Scriptures we are made wise for salvation through faith, not salvation unto faith. It is my contention that any form of determinism is not found in the Bible, even if it's softened by calling it "compatibilism."

Context, context, context!

4 comments:

Jonathan said...

I like your article. My recent article compliments yours. Context is key! While I agree, let me play devil's advocate for a moment...where does God say that he provided prevenient grace? Also, where is free will mentioned?

bossmanham said...

Thanks, Jonathan.

Prevenient grace is just a theological term used to describe a concept that I believe is presented in scripture. Titus 2:11 refers to "the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." It's been extrapolated through other passages as well such as John 6:44 or Romans 2:4 etc. I think a term that is comparable would be the Trinity, which is definitely entirely Biblical, and which God has graciously revealed to us through His Word.

I actually didn't bring up free will in the post purposely. In our sinful state, I don't believe we have a "free-will" or "self determination" to come to Christ whenever we want to. I believe God's Holy Spirit must awaken our spirit to hear the Gospel. Contrary to Calvinists, however, I think God makes this available to all men through His prevenient grace. I also think God has given man volition, or the ability to choose or choose otherwise, even in our sinful state. That is displayed many times when God commands people to do something, or stop doing something, and tells them what will happen if they do not follow His command.

I hope this helps clarify what I was saying.

DonaldH said...

Amen,

Good post. Good response to a response.

bossmanham said...

Thank you, Donald.