Using Word Study and Proof Texts Like Statistics

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Someone mentioned to me that they believed Acts 2:38 should read “Repent and be overwhelmed…” His contention was that water baptism was not a necessary part of salvation and that his lexicon had overwhelmed as an alternate translation for βαπτιζω. He has made up his mind on the front end that water baptism couldn’t be for the remission of sins and so he was looking for a loop hole to confirm what he already believed. It is so important that we let the text make up our mind rather than making up our minds first and then going to the text and wiggling it around until it confirms what we already believe.

Poorly done word study can be like poorly done statistics. If you manipulate the data enough you can eventually discover it says what you thought it should say rather than let the data tell the story.

Another example is when people says God doesn’t hear the prayer of sinners. So people go to John 9:31 – “We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will.” Seems like a solid verse that says God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayer. But take a look at the context. Who said it? Pharisees. Why? Because they were calling Jesus a sinner and basically saying Jesus couldn’t have healed this blind man because healing would involve praying to God and they know God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayer. The in context version doesn’t mean the same thing as the proof texted version.

Bottom line – we can let the Bible say what it means or we can manipulate it and proof text it and ignore context until it says what we want it to say.

0 Responses

  1. Matt,

    I agree with you about word study and proof-texting but I think your point about John 9:31 can send the wrong suggestion as well. Regardless of who said it, and why they said it, the point made was clearly taught in the pages of the OT.


  2. A fine post, Matt. Jesus once said that poor Bible interpretation would always be with us. (Did I get that right? It’s in the Bible somewhere, I think). Anyway, because it will always be with us, the only faithful response is to keep on doing what you’re doing here. Identify it. Explain why it’s off. And, above all, model the better way.

  3. Doug,

    Can you give us some examples where that is clearly taught in the Old Testament? I can think of countless examples of where God hears the prayers of sinners. Seems to me a blanket statement that God does not hear the prayers of a sinner doesn’t fit what is found in scripture. Maybe I am missing something. The only one I can think of is Isa 59:1-2. But when you look at those verses in context God is talking to his own obstinate people who are living in total rebellion. God has listened and listened and listened and finally says enough. So it is not that God doesn’t hear the prayer of a sinner in Isa 59. The point is that God can reach a point where he says he has had enough with our saying one thing and doing another that he stops listening until we turn back to him again. So I don’t think that verse can be used to make a sweeping generalization that God never hears the prayers of all “sinners.”

  4. I bet Cornelius didn’t know God wouldn’t hear his prayers.

    Doug, are you the youngest of three sons of Mike and Virginia?

  5. Matt,
    Wonderful thoughts on this subject.
    I think it is so easy to take scripture out of context to prove points that we want or feel justified about or entitled.
    God bless you brother for discussing this topic.
    Hope you have a great week! 🙂

  6. Matt,

    I think Isa. 59 communicates this message, but remember, its not necessarily about what God can do, but rather what God will do. There is a difference. I don’t want to confuse hearing from heeding, I guess I would say. I know God hears everything, but I think what God responds to is a different matter. I also think Prov. 28:9 is a passage that someone like the man of John 9 might have made that statement based off of.

    I’ve also found it odd that Jesus didn’t correct man in John 9:31. Kind of odd if he was really off base.

    I am not trying to nit pick. I promise. I definitely am not trying to stir something up in your forum.

    FWIW, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog and appreciate your work!

  7. Doug,

    In both cases we are dealing with insiders. When you look at it in context of who God is talking with we are not dealing with blanket statements of “if you are a sinner God will not hear your prayer.” That is what I am talking about and that is how I have heard John 9:31 used. I think that is wrong. But like you said it doesn’t mean God hears every sinners prayer either. God deals with people on an individual level based on their heart. So I appreciate you bringing balance into this discussion and bringing that out.

  8. Oh and one other thing – you are always welcome to say what you think here. I have thick skin and don’t take it personal. If I expect everyone who comes hear to toe the line of my personal opinions on these things I am going to be really disappointed. I would rather hear what you think and grow from it. Blessings,


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