We often treat the Bible like a reference book. With a reference book – like a dictionary – you can pull a quotation from the middle of the book, without any concern for the context. But you cannot do that with the Bible. Sadly, we often string together a series of biblical quotations – without any concern for the context – to try and prove a point. The worst might be when we use this method to quickly convince people of the necessity of baptism.
Baptism is the moment at which a person becomes a Christian. If you read the New Testament in its entirety, that fact is inescapable. But we often try to convince people of this fact by walking them through a series of biblical quotations, without any regard for the context of those quotations. While this method can prove fruitful in helping people see the necessity of baptism, it can sometimes have unintended consequences.
1. We create poor Bible students.
The best way to study the Bible is not by jumping around from verse to verse, but to sit down and study through a book of the Bible. When a person is taught the gospel through a proof-texting method, they often never grow past this method of Bible study. They continue to treat the Bible as a reference book. They continue to hunt and peck at isolated verses, without regard for context.
2. We baptize people, but don’t make disciples.
When we use a proof-texting method to prove the necessity of baptism, we often fail to mention that baptism isn’t just about being saved, but about committing the rest of your life to following the will of Jesus Christ, as it is revealed in the New Testament. It is pretty hard for a person to know what that entails if they’ve never read the New Testament.
3. We unintentionally send the message that some things in the Bible aren’t that important.
When we teach someone the gospel by jumping from one verse to the next, I’m afraid we unintentionally communicate that the material in between those verses really isn’t that important. We give them the impression we are sharing the really important verses.
What are we to do?
Does this mean we need to stop referencing or quoting verses by themselves? No, not necessarily. If we are talking or studying with someone who is familiar with the Bible as a whole, then it does no harm to reference a specific passage, because both of you know the context surrounding that passage.
However, we must remember that there are no shortcuts to teaching someone the gospel. Our goal is not just to convince a person of the necessity of baptism, but to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Don’t be afraid to give people homework. Don’t be afraid to say, “Why don’t you read the first few chapters of the gospel of John this week and we’ll get together on Friday and talk about it.” Or don’t be afraid to sit down with someone and study chapter by chapter through the book of Acts; even if it takes a month or two.
We have to teach people the gospel story. We have to teach people what it means to follow Jesus. It is true that baptism is necessary, but it isn’t enough to teach someone this if they miss out on the big picture.
I love you and God loves you,