Prooftexting is the act of taking a verse out of context to prove a doctrine or practice.
We are all guilty of prooftexting from Scripture on occasion. We are also all guilty of accusing others of this splinter while we have a beam in our own eye.
Consider snake handling churches as a possible example of prooftexting.
They look to two verses in Mark 16 to justify their practice of handling snakes to demonstrate faith. This entire text is disputed as it was not found in early copies of Mark. They may try to back up this practice with Paul’s viper encounter (Acts 28:3-5) but they forget Exodus 17:2 and I Corinthians 10:9 about not putting God to the test. They disregard that this practice was not mentioned in other early church writings. For these reasons and others, the majority of churches do not handle real snakes.
How might the Church be prooftexting with 1 Timothy 4:3-5?
First Timothy is used to justify all sorts of eating habits. In doing so the Church forgets the cultural background of these verses. We forget the symbolism of food in this cultural context. We forget logic. Then we claim absolute principles are justified here, yet every one is actually arbitrary.
1 Timothy 4:3-5 (ESV)
3 who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Food in this context separated people groups and that can not be forgotten. Peter’s vision was about Jews and Gentiles primarily. It concerns food secondarily as it affected the primary aspect of race.
The food in Peter’s vision reflected all sorts of people that he should not reject. Sharing food meant that one accepted another. The logic of I Timothy 4:3-5, if taken leterally would mean that eating bamboo is good or even poisonous mushrooms or salmonella.
Only what God created for food is good, not all creation is for food.
Can we include all synthetic creations in the category of good? Does asking a blessing over pesticides or salmonella make it “healthy” or “good”? Obviously the latter answer is “no”. The former question would be impossible to defend as an absolute yes, at best a “sometimes”. I can definitely think of a number of man-made substances I would prefer to never put in my mouth.
As we apply these verses, we must apply wisdom.
Do we use I Timothy 4 to justify anything for our appetite even when it undermines our stewardship of the body? Do we think that we have complete freedom to eat as much unhealthy foods as possible without any ill effects? We cannot use these verses to justify eating anything and everything that our taste buds desire.
On the other hand, we must avoiding spiritualizing our eating habits to the point of making pesticides sin or being more holy based on our organic food intake. The first error makes us slaves to our physical desires. The second error causes us to commit the same mistake that God was correcting in Peter.