Using Scripture Like A Drunk Uses A Lamppost

There’s some dispute about who said it first but…
“Some people use statistics as a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.”
We use scripture the same way. And when we do it’s called “proof texting.”
We’re tempted – I’m tempted – to use a small portion of scripture to support our thoughts, feelings, desires and behaviors instead of…
Allowing the original meaning of scripture (as best we can discern it together) to illuminate or form our thoughts, feelings, desires and behaviors.
An example: In response to NFL protests during the National Anthem, I’m seeing a lot of friends using Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 to support their views regarding political protests. “Honor the king” and “submit to authority” are both getting a lot of play at the moment.
(Side note: We’re going to take an in-depth look at 1 Peter 2 next week in our bible study via Facebook Live at
Another example: Using God’s multiple commands to God’s people to care for “sojourners” to support one’s particular policy preferences on immigration reform or border security.
In both examples we are tempted to use scripture that has SOMETHING to say on a topic to support ALL WE SAY about the topic. To do so, we’d have to remove scripture passages from their original contexts, divorce them from their original meaning, and force them to support our agenda.
How can we do better? Three short suggestions…
  • 1. Study the textual context: What comes immediately before the passage and immediately after it? How does this passage fit into the main purpose of the book it’s found in?
  • 2. Study the historical context: When was this passage written? How does this passage fit into the circumstances of that time in history?
  • 3. Study the cultural context: How does this passage fit within the culture it was written in? How was the culture this passage was written to different from my own? (Example: Was it a democracy? Were Christians a majority? How were they treated? By whom? Why?)
First, unlock (the best we can together) what scripture MEANT (Interpretation). Then, together we can try to discern what it means for us (Application).
To jump to application ALWAYS risks using scripture as support instead of illumination.