The term “proof-texting” receives derisive stares and sardonic snickers more often than not. We can’t be too surprised. A search for the term’s meaning will more readily spit out results that reflect a negative lean than a neutral stance. For instance, Wikipedia, likely the most used and dependable[clears throat] source of information in cyberspace, describes “proof-texting” as “the practice of using isolated, out-of-context quotations from a document to establish a proposition in eisegesis (introducing one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases).” There are some four-letter words in this definition,especially from our perspective as Bible-believing, Seventh-day Adventist Christians, aren’t there?
I understand the snickers and stares. Scientific calculators might not be able to tabulate how many times someone has strung together a handful of verses in a leaky, haphazard, irresponsible, even manipulative manner, and this should upset us. If I may speak personally for a moment, when I conduct studies, one-on-one or small group, or preach, I generally prefer the inductive method.
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However, though retaining a modicum of caution is prudent, I would encourage everyone not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. A topical approach to examining Scripture has its proper place. If nothing else, one reason for this is a matter of practicality and common sense.
There is no book on the Sabbath. The “data” pertaining to it are scattered throughout God’s Word. There is no book of the Second Coming (Revelation is pretty close, but you get my point). Again, the facts are dispersed among the many pages of the Holy Canon. This reality necessitates the construction of reference chains, otherwise known as proof-texting.
As we already alluded, there are wrong ways to do this, but there are also right ways. Getting into great detail regarding what the right ways look like is outside the scope of this series, but one thing I’ll suggest is that there is safety in numbers. The credibility of a given doctrine or theme is proportional to the effort put in to comprehensively, if not exhaustively, gathering as much biblical evidence as possible to validate it.
This level of meticulousness is important for both personal conviction and apologetic preparedness. However, being a former Bible worker, I recognize that a fair amount of trimming is necessary when studying with people from other folds who are seeking truth. Most of the time, these seekers can only spare an hour maximum per week. This applies to the SDA fundamentals, Daniel/Revelation/evangelistic subjects, and other similar courses.
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With all that said, I have concluded that though there is virtue in building these reference chains, using existing ones, or a mix of both, knowing the broader context of the passages that compose these chains is an imperative, supplemental discipline. That is the purpose of this series. In examining a hearty selection of Adventist fundamentals, I will extract seven to twelve verses from each and highlight the surrounding frameworks in which they’re set. I will also wrap up each installment with a brief assessment of why the fundamental is crucial to our comprehension of who God is and salvific journeys with Him.
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Compass and I agreed to initially make this a twelve-part series. It may expand to twenty-eight as we gauge the feedback of our much-appreciated readers. This first installment is dedicated to SDA Fundamental #2—The Godhead. Without further ado, let’s proceed to our study.
Genesis 1:26— “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” The Lord capped off creation week by forming Adam and Eve, the progenitors of humanity. Some of our brethren will establish this verse, in combination with verse 2, as a definitive platform for what is known as the Trinity. I recommend caution here. I believe in the three-person Godhead. However, other passages affirm the personhood of the Holy Spirit more explicitly than verse 2 does, let alone this verse. Nevertheless, 1:26 is clear in portraying the Creator in plural terms. Thus, it does contribute to the formulation of a well-rounded, legitimate case.
Exodus 34:6–7 — “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished … ’” In keeping things well-rounded, besides the three-in-one/one-in-three issue, focusing on God’s attributes is of greater import. He partially fulfilled Moses’ request to see His glory. He saw the Lord’s back, but not His face, for that would have fatally overwhelmed him, as it would any of us.
God often knit His name, glory, and character traits together. Along that vein, beyond the physical revelation – which again was limited – He declared His essence of love, which stands on the legs of mercy and justice. Moses fell prostrate and worshipped Him. From there, they renewed the covenant. Afterward, he reunited with the Israelites, carrying a residual glow that rendered them fearful.
Deuteronomy 6:4 — “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” I’ve mentioned before that “one” here is nuanced more qualitatively than quantitatively, paralleling the dynamic between Adam and Eve, though they remained two distinct individuals. Verses 4 and 5 constitute an apex in Moses’ discourse on covenant faithfulness to God. It is known as the shema(“hear”). This did not only incorporate vibrations hitting their eardrums, but devout, responsive obedience. Furthermore, they were to keep these commands in constant remembrance and teach them to their children.
Job 11:7 — “Can you discover the depths of God?Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?” This set of rhetorical questions, in a vacuum, is fitting for a study on the nature of God. Though He has revealed Himself sufficiently enough for us to receive His gift of salvation, we must accept our cognitive inadequacies and the fact that He still remains ensconced in immeasurable mystery.
Of course, considering the objective of this series, even verses that properly belong in a given topical chain do not exist in a vacuum. Zophar, one of Job’s “friends,” continued the faulty theological train of the other two. They nurtured a rigid, overly black-and-white perspective on divine justice and cause and effect, thereby inferring that the protagonist brought this personal hell upon himself.
Jeremiah 29:13 — “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Francis Thompson first coined the phrase “The Hound of Heaven” as the title of his late-1800s poem. It is the Lord who initiates the pursuit of His wayward children, not the other way around. However, out of respect for our freedom of choice, He places in our hands an active role in reciprocation. Verse 13 is among the words of reassurance that God bestowed to the exiled Jews. They earned their time in Babylon through habitual unfaithfulness, but the Father’s discipline led to restoration.
Acts 17:23 — “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” Paul’s assessment of the Athenians is intriguing. As he began his sermon on Mars Hill, he asserted that they believed in his God, though they didn’t know it.
We might not have Paul’s brand of insight regarding the “outsiders” we encounter, but perhaps we can at least give them the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging the possibility of a connection with Christ, though raw and uncultivated. Anyway, he sought to reverse their ignorance by emphasizing the Lord’s creatorship, transcendence above all false gods, and resurrection power, the latter causing a schism among the congregation.
2 Corinthians 13:14 — “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” In conducting a contextual study such as this, occasionally one must admit that the context is minimal. This verse, which distinguishes the Son, Father (safe assumption), and Holy Spirit, seems to stand on its own as Paul bid farewell to his readers. The wider tone of the chapter is that of reproof and warning. On second thought, there may be more connections than I initially deduced. Christ’s grace, God’s love, and the Spirit’s unifying capabilities are fail-proof antidotes for the Corinthians’ shortcomings, many of which we replicate.
Hebrews 11:6 — “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11 is known as the Hall of Faith chapter. Paul kindly supplied concrete examples of what it means to please the Lord. We can do so by believing in His creative power, cooperating with His particular expectations, remembering that eternal glory is worth much more than the temporal tribulations we currently face, and trusting that He will keep His promises, even if His timing is different from ours.
We will end this study with a succinct evaluation of why this fundamental means so much to us as Adventist Christians. I may not break new ground, but reminders can be as helpful as innovations are. The one angle I will take here is that of relationships. Understanding who the Lord is is the foundation of our walks of faith, for to know Him is to love and worship Him with any kind of substance.
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The lynchpin of the three angels’ messages that He has called us to deliver to the world is the everlasting gospel, which is, for all intents and purposes, predicated on reconciliation. I’m convinced that there are three effective ways to swell our comprehension of and gratefulness for reconciliation:
- Dedicating ample devotional time to studying, through God’s Word, the lengths to which He went and risks He took to solve the sin problem and draw us back to Himself.
- Surveying earthly examples, others’ and our own, of divinely assisted efforts to resolve conflicts and build bridges.
- Observing and mimicking the one relationship that has never had any internal turmoil or drama—that between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The third Person of the Godhead will be the focus of our next installment, SDA Fundamental #5. Alongside that upcoming piece, and/or even this current one, I recommend that you read my coverage article on a series of anti-trinity meetings held near Andrews University earlier this spring, which I concluded with a robust list of inspired references for further research.