How People Take Bible Texts Out Of Context

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Here’s how to make sure someone doesn’t try to “proof text” you or take a Bible verse out of context.

Proof Texting

How do so many Christians and atheists take texts out of context to make them a pretext? They proof text certain verses to support their position, and often don’t take the verse in its proper context. Rarely is reading one verse enough to support an entire belief system, but it does happen, and it happens a lot. Some believe that proof texting can lead people to believe a lie, and I think that’s true. There are a multitude of cults to prove it. Here is how snake handlers are born and why some Christians even resort to drinking poison. They base their beliefs on Jesus’ instructions to the disciples prior to His return to the Father. He told them, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18), but did you know that some manuscripts end Mark chapter 16 at verse 9? The point is, it’s not a command to pick up snakes or drink poison, but to preach the gospel, regardless of what happens.  Paul had one occasion when he was bitten by a poisonous snake but didn’t die (Acts 28:3). Was this one of the signs Jesus spoke about? It’s at least possible. And what about the poison? Were some of the apostles secretly poisoned? I don’t know. Either way, Mark 16:18 isn’t a command to take up poisonous snakes or drink poison. That’s proof texting and it almost always leads people into error.

Atheist Proof Texting

Atheists will often find one verse that’s particularly gruesome and say, “If that’s your God, then I don’t want anything to do with Him.” They slam God and the Bible because it contains violence, but what about secular history? There is no shortage of war and violence in the world, but in cases where Israel is told by God to deal harshly with another nation, and that they were to completely annihilate everything and everyone, it’s because the land was polluted with demonic worship, and had grown so evil that they were sacrificing live babies in the fire. God wanted that evil completely stamped out so that Israel would not become polluted with it and then fall into idolatry. Even when Israel fell into idolatry, it became so heinous that it’s not long before they began sacrificing their own children in the fire. Atheists and agnostics will often take one of the most violent verses in the Bible and try to argue that God is like that, but it’s strange how they never proof text about God’s love (John 3:16) or the grace of God which is a free gift (Eph 2:7-8), but anyone that takes a verse or two and then uses those verses as an example of why Christianity is wrong, then ask them, “Don’t you see how even sacrificing babies is? Would you really want to preserve a society that practices that?” Just remember, when they pick out certain verses from the Bible, make sure they understand the proper context, or they’ll be proposing a certain pretext.

Believer’s Proof Texting

One of the biggest problems in the church today is that Christians are taking up the Word of God like a sword, but not using it for the right reasons. They actually use it against other Christians. They draw verses like bullets, one shooting down the other by quoting other verses that might seem to conflict with the others, but what’s missing? First of all, humility, but also the context. There are about 3 to 4 verses that mention we must repent and be baptized, but there are over 50 verses that mention salvation is by faith in Christ, but even with this great discrepancy, some believe and teach (dare I say, cram down someone’s throat?) that you must be baptized in order to be saved. Then there’s the tongue’s issue, and the prayer of faith, and the…well, you see the point. It’s bad enough when Christians argue with one another but when they use the Word of God to seem to contradict the other person’s verses, then it’s misusing the Word of God. To an outsider or unbeliever, this is a shame because they see that Christian’s don’t even believe the same. It destroys our witness, it destroys our fellowship, and it destroys our humility.

Christian “Prove Texting”

When someone tries to use a verse to proof text you about something, then try to take them into the context of the whole chapter, and in some cases, the whole book. Anyone can rip a verse out of context. What about using these verses; “What you do, do quickly,” “Judas hanged himself,” and “Go and do likewise.” I’m exaggerating of course, but that’s why the early church studied the apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42), which today is clearly the Gospels and much of the New Testament, so they, like Jesus on occasion, read the Scriptures, verse by verse. The Apostle Paul might quote a verse or two from the Old Testament, but it always fit the context of the Old Testament writings and the context of what he was writing. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the rest always quoted Scripture in the context of the setting that they were in. John 3:16 is perhaps the best known Bible verse of all, but few realize that John 3:17 and 18 follow, and John 3:16 lays in stark contrast to John 3:18 which says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Many people’s idea that God is a God of love is right, but He’s not only a God of love…He is a God of righteousness, justice, equity, and wrath for those who reject His Son. John 3:16 sounds wonderful, but if we don’t read through to John 3:18, we’re giving people a snapshot at God without showing the whole picture.


When you study the Bible, you’ll find that there are paragraph breaks and chapters, but these were not placed by the authors. These were placed hundreds of years later so that we could easily find certain chapters and verses. It makes it easier to find your place in the Bible, but it also makes it easier to take it out of context. Don’t let proof texting lead you down the path to error. Stay in the whole, or as the late Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, who preaches verse by verse, they take the whole Word to the whole world. If you take the whole, you’ll make better sense of the one. One verse can stand alone, but it makes much more sense when read in context, otherwise as they say, “Taking a text out of context, can make it a pretext…and a false one at that.”

More on this topic here: 6 Bible Verses Often Taken Out of Context

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible : English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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