As I worked on my Simply Scriptures project and as I searched and studied the scriptures more fully, I began to realize that some very common interpretations of the scriptures are just plain wrong. Proof texting is the idea of using specific scriptures to support an idea when a larger reading would support a different interpretation or idea. This is honestly very easy to do since the words of one or 2 scriptures alone can seem very compelling. I have been guilty of this and likely am still guilty of this. The language of the scriptures can be complicated to understand, and the culture of the author can also play a huge part in understanding the meaning of the writer.
Proof by Repetition
Proof texting the scriptures is compounded when we rely on others to establish a meaning for a scripture and those people are in fact relying on others for their meaning and so on. This ever-increasing body of evidence to support the interpretation can look incredibly convincing, however just because 100 people interpreted a scripture a certain way doesn’t make it true. According to D&C 93:30, “truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself”. Hopefully I am not proof texting that scripture however if I am then please let me know. 😊
I want to quickly focus on a few examples to just illustrate the point and show that in some cases we need to dig a little deeper for the actual meaning of the text. Before I begin though I want to highlight an amazing research tool from BYU. They have a tool called the Scripture Citation Index which allows you to pick a scripture and see all the references from LDS leaders who used that scripture along with the text of their talks. It is very simple and incredibly powerful for researching specific things. For each of the examples I will also link to the citation index.
Lastly, it is very important to realize we are all wrong about something sometimes. Being wrong is not a problem unless you are unwilling to be right when shown a better way. Being wrong is an opportunity to learn and adopt a better way. We should always be willing to improve our thoughts and ideas until we are fully aligned with God.
And it shall come to pass in the last days: When the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it.Isaiah 2:2 – Index, Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted to mean that all nations will flow to the LDS temple and was honestly very popular in 2002 when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics. Of course, since the temple is in Salt Lake City, which is in a mountainous region, and an international event was hosted there then I can understand the appeal. The 2002 Olympics were also referred to as a literal fulfilment of that scripture by Elder Rasband in a 2020 talk. He said, “What I am describing is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that in the last days, nations shall flow unto ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house.’ The great Salt Lake Temple stands in the center of that majesty and glory.”
However, he could not be more wrong for a number of reasons. I also think that leaders of any church especially those that are apostles for Christ should not be declaring any scripture as being fulfilled unless they know for a surety. For instance, when people find out that Elder Rasband is wrong about such a basic thing then they may extrapolate that out to the core doctrines of the church or something more general like the existence of God. This might seem a little extreme however this is exactly what some have described.
The first reason this was not fulfilled by the 2002 Olympics is, the word mountain in Isaiah is not used to describe a literal mountain. It is used to describe a nation, a place of refuge, a place of defense. We can see this in Isaiah 13:4, or Isaiah 64:1-2, or Isaiah 52:7. In addition, Jeremiah who lived shortly after Isaiah even describes Babylon as a “destroying mountain” in Jeremiah 51:24-25. Therefore, Babylon is a literal mountain that bounces around destroying things or the word mountains can represent something other than geological structures.
The second reason is verse 3 says that “many people” would go “to the mountain of the LORD” in order to learn of God and “walk in his paths”. The mountain of God is interpreted as being the Salt Lake temple therefore we would expect a lot of people to have visited the temple and joined the church as a result of it. Without a doubt, the temple was a part of the tourist experience, and I am sure people visited it. However, that event did not cause “many people” to join the LDS church according to the church’s own published statistics. Actually, convert baptisms have in fact been steadily declining for a very long time.
The third and last reason is that verse 4 actually mentions that “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares” and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation”. People will give up their weapons because they no longer need them. The people have turned to God and so “neither shall they learn war anymore”. This certainly has not happened and according to scriptures we are about to see the most violent and tumultuous time in world history.
This scripture actually means that when Christ returns to rule and reign on earth again then his nation will be established as the supreme nation on earth. It will be exalted above all nations, and everyone will flow to see Christ. It will usher in a time of great peace, and everyone will rejoice. When the scripture is fulfilled then everyone will know it together.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little;Isaiah 28:10 – Index, Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted to mean that God gives one degree of knowledge and then another as we are ready. God certainly gives us line upon line and a little bit more every time as we are willing to receive it according to 2 Nephi 28:30. Therefore, I don’t doubt the concept. However, the scripture itself is actually an insult.
Isaiah 28 begins by describing how sad Jehovah is that his people have turned away from him. They had such a promising future yet verse 7 describes “the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink”. In this case the strong drink is the drink of self-deception from Babylon. The priests “err in vision” because they are more concerned about worldly cares than the cares of God. Verse 8 describes that the people’s offerings to God are “full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.” Verse 9 describes how Jehovah has no one to teach as no one is listening to his message. No one is capable of being weaned from the most basic milk of the gospel.
Verse 10 actually describes how God has to speak to his people in what would be best translated from the Hebrew as baby talk. This is essentially, “goo goo gaga” or very basic repetition for a baby. Verse 11 clarifies that God has to speak with “stammering lips and another tongue”. This is in no way positive and is frankly quite sad. Jehovah had worked with his people and done everything he could for them, and yet they constantly sought after the false gods of their neighbors. Imagine how sad you would be if you had a child that willingly wouldn’t move past a baby stage even though you knew they were capable of doing so.
And one shall say unto him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.’Zechariah 13:6 – Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted to mean Christ is going to hold out his hands, people are going to ask what the wounds are, and he will describe how he was wounded by his friends. This is a pretty comforting idea as it shows Christ still loves his people even though they crucified him. This is certainly what I heard in church and thought for a very long time. However, a reading of the previous few verses show that meaning is not even close to what the verse actually says.
The chapter starts off describing how in a future time a fountain will break out and cleanse Jerusalem of her sin and uncleanness. In this case the Hebrew word for fountain means a flow of “life, joy, and purification”. The chapter continues by describing how the idols will be cleared from the land and “no more remembered”. The people will be fully converted to God so that the false prophets who continue to prophesy falsely in the name of God will be a threat to the people. Verse 3 mentions that the parents of these false prophets will say to them, “Thou shalt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the LORD;’ and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth.” This frankly doesn’t sound very pleasant however someone attempting to lead the people after a false god must be dealt with swiftly. Because of this drastic behavior these false prophets will cower in shame and attempt to hide themselves by blending in.
Verse 6 then describes that these false prophets will have wounds that they then try to describe as innocent wounds they got among their friends. The KJV translates the word for wounds as meaning wounds in the hands however the word itself just means “space between” with almost all Bible translations translating this word has meaning the chest. Therefore, this verse seems to mean the false prophets will have wounds on their chest either from their parents, as mentioned earlier, or their own selves that they are trying to mask as being from another cause. It is important to realize that idol worship in biblical times, and some degree today, always was accompanied with self-flagellation. This is very apparent in the famous story of Elijah and the priest of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Verse 28 even mentions that the priests were crying out to their god, “and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them”.
Adam Clarke, who was one of the most famous biblical scholars of his day, wrote an extensive commentary on the Bible. For that verse he wrote:
Marks which he had received in honor of his idols. But he shall excuse himself by stating that he had received these marks in his own family; when, most probably, they had been dedicated to some of those idols. … I do not think that these words are spoken at all concerning Jesus Christ. I have heard them quoted in this way; but I cannot hear such an application of them without horror.Adam Clarke
Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick and write upon it, ‘For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions;’ then take another stick, and write upon it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions;’ and join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand.Ezekiel 37:15-17 – Index, Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted as a prophecy of the Book of Mormon and the Bible coming together into one book and going to all the world. This is a simple and clear scripture since Lehi, the patriarch of Book of Mormon people, was of the tribe of Ephraim and the Jews, who we get the Bible from are from the tribe of Judah. This is even the interpretation I taught as a missionary while trying to explain how the Bible and Book of Mormon go hand in hand. Today though I am horrified that I had such a shallow understanding of that scripture. This is another clear example of a scripture that completely means something else if you just read a few more verses.
The Hebrew word for stick in this case means, “tree, trees, or wood”. That word is never translated as anything remotely similar to book, scroll, or written artifact. The word tree in Isaiah was always used to refer to people and it is no different with Ezekiel. Writing on a piece of wood, which we would call today a staff or a wooden pole, was a common thing to do in order to signify ownership of an area. This is described in Numbers 17:2 where Moses is told to get a rod or staff for each of the tribes and write their names on them. Each of these rods were a symbol of the corresponding tribe.
To easily understand what this means though God says in verse 18 that he will give us the interpretation. Verses 21 & 22 make it very plain that this is about the reunification of Israel and not about books.
Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land; And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore at all;Ezekiel 37:21-22
This is a prophecy of God’s people coming back together and worshiping him again. This is certainly not a prophecy from Ezekiel of the LDS quad scripture combo.
Know ye not, my son, that these things are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?Alma 39:5, Index, Index
For context, this scripture is Alma speaking to his son Corianton who had essentially stopped his missionary efforts and went after “the harlot Isabel”. This scripture itself is commonly interpreted to mean that sexual sins are so serious they are almost equivalent to murder. Several LDS leaders have even used this scripture while speaking about the extreme seriousness of chastity violations. I am in no way speaking positively about promiscuity, however teaching that youthful lust is almost equivalent to murder is frankly mentally damaging. In Mormonism, the concept of sexual purity is so important that President Kimball even wrote:
Once given or taken or stolen it can never be regained. … It is better to die in defending one’s virtue than to live having lost it without a struggle.Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness
Upon analysis though, the scripture doesn’t lead to this interpretation and was likely just a response to the sexual freedom of President Kimball’s day. That interpretation is also quite damaging because sexual assault victims have described being in a complete state of shock during the attack, not believing what is happening and not knowing what to do. They have even mentioned that it might be better if they were no longer alive because they are perceived as having lost something which they can never get back.
In Chapter 39, Alma makes it clear that Corianton was guilty of 3 major sins: pride, abandoning the work, and immorality. Verse 11 describes that together these 3 sins combined so that when others saw Corianton’s actions “they would not believe in [Alma’s] words”. This made everything more difficult for Alma and caused the people of the time to see far less value in what Alma was teaching. In verse 13 Corianton is commanded to repent, return to the people, and acknowledge before them the errors of his ways. If sexual immorality was the only problem or even the major problem, then it would seem unlikely that a public confession would solve much. However, if the problem was that he was guilty of being a bad example and leading them astray then a public confession would certainly make sense.
The importance of not leading people astray was verified by Christ in Matthew 18:6. Prior to that verse Christ mentions that we must be like little children, and then he says, “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea”. Leading someone away from Christ is the sin which is very grievous to God. It would be logical to think that if the sin next to murder was immorality that Alma would spend far more time talking about it. However, according to the record he spends almost no time. Instead Corianton is asked to repent, confess publicly, and return to the work. It seems murdering people spiritually is akin to physical murder and sexual immorality is not.
Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith,” saith the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.Malachi 3:10 – Index, Index, Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted as meaning that if the members don’t pay a full honest tithing, then they are robbing God and if they do pay a full tithing then God will bless them more than they are able to handle. This interpretation makes sense when the scripture is read without context. However, when the book of Malachi is read as a whole then it has a totally different meaning.
To understand what this means we need a little bit of historical context. The Israelites were given permission to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem and the temple. This was a long effort however was finally and the people returned to God. Nehemiah who was a contemporary of Malachi described, in Nehemiah 12:44, how the people were very happy to bring in tithes and offerings to the temple. The people actually rejoiced in this because they were righteous and had a temple again. Nehemiah continues in Nehemiah 13, and discusses a priest named Eliashib who had authority over the entire storehouse. According to verse 5, it was his job to make sure that all the temple workers received their allotted portion of the offerings so they could individually live off their work in the temple. For some reason though according to verse 7 the priest Eliashib had allowed Tobiah, who actively tried to stop the rebuilding efforts, to live in the court of the temple and was hoarding all the offerings for himself. This caused the temple workers to effectively abandon the temple because they had to return to the fields in order to support themselves.
If we remember that Malachi was a contemporary of Nehamiah, then the context of the book of Malachi becomes clear that the people themselves were sacrificing to the priests however the chief priest Eliashib was hoarding everything. A reading of the text itself also makes it clear that Malachi was referring to the priests themselves with his rebuke. For instance, he addresses them in Malachi 1:6, Malachi 2:1, and Malachi 3:3. Therefore, it is clear that Malachi was referring to the priests who were not trusting God and taking the offerings before they made it to the storehouse. The amount of offerings themselves were also seasonal so there would be a natural tendency to hoard a little in the months of plenty so you could live on that in the scarcer months. However, God wants the priests to trust in him and his watchful eye that he will take care of them. As is recorded in Matthew 6, God takes great interest in making sure the animals of the world are taken care of, therefore we should expect he would take at least equal interest in us also.
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, until he revealeth the secret unto his servants the prophets.Amos 3:7 – Index
This scripture is commonly interpreted to mean that God will not do anything until he reveals his action to the current LDS prophet. This is certainly something that I taught as a missionary and the scripture by itself is very clear and concise, so it makes it fairly easy to see why people interpret it that way. However again this is a scripture that is easy to misinterpret when taken out of context.
Strictly if this was the interpretation then why didn’t God reveal to President Nelson that the pandemic would happen and the adjustments that would need to be made accordingly? During the October 2019 conference President Nelson stated that the 2020 conference would be “a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.” However, it seems the pandemic was a surprise to him because at the start of the 2020 conference he remarked, “Little did I know, when I promised you … would make this conference so memorable and unforgettable for me!” The church was planning on doing a very large event in the sacred grove however had to adjust their plans because of the pandemic.
At the start of Chapter 3, Amos is warning the people that God is speaking against them. God begins the message by declaring the people as his however they have to be purified and cleansed from their iniquities. The message then continues in a cause-and-effect type fashion. This indicates to the people that God is supreme of all things and if one thing happens then another greater thing has to happen. The sequence then culminates in verse 7 to indicate that if one thing leads to another then if God is going to do something he is going to warn his people first. In the KJV the word translated as secret would honestly be better translated as “plans” or “consultation”. This indicates that God will always reveal his plans or warnings of repentance before God causes the destruction to occur.
In the English language this is slightly cumbersome however other scriptures make it much clearer. For instance, in Ezekiel 3:17, Ezekiel is declared a watchman in Israel and God tells him that the warnings he is given he should in turn give them to Israel. Thus, Israel would be accountable if they don’t heed the call to repentance. Without this voice of warning then the destruction from God would be unjust. Another great example is in John 13:19 where Christ mentions that he will tell of future things so that when they actually come to pass the people will know that it was from God. Lastly, a similar example is John 14:29, where Christ mentions that he tells of future things so that when they happen we can have more reasons to believe on him.
It is clear that God does work with his prophets however the commonly accepted idea that he reveals secret works to his prophets seems to not be based on the scriptures. God reveals his plans to hold his people accountable for their spiritual deviations and the prophets must in turn tell the people so they can be accountable for their own individual actions. This is similar to the appeal for repentance King Benjamin makes in Mosiah 2:27, where he asks the people to repent so that he personally is not responsible for the people’s individual sins. This voice of repentance and warning is similar to what any parent would do. For instance, no parent that loves their children would punish them without first asking them to change and then warning them for consequences for not changing. Parents will always do this as a help for their children to have better behavior. Parents however certainly do not reveal all their plans to the children like the common interpretation would suggest God does.
We are honestly at a certain disadvantage when trying to understand the scriptures using the text alone. This is especially true if we just take specific passages out of the context that surrounds them. This is why the Holy Ghost is so critical. We live in a different environment, have a different language, and have a different cultural understanding. Therefore, it is understandable that we will interpret things incorrectly. However, we should always seek to understand the true meaning of the scriptures. If we discover that a scripture has a different meaning, then we should be thankful to God for our new understanding and seek to incorporate that new knowledge in other places. Scriptures can certainly have multiple meanings however proof texting the scriptures just to support our current flawed understanding of God is not what God gave us the scriptures for. God gave us the scriptures to understand him better, not to prove ourselves correct.