Herbert Armstrong, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many other religious leaders and groups have used proof texts from the Bible to support their beliefs/doctrines/theology. Indeed, if we examine the literature of these groups, we will see numerous scriptural citations/references throughout their articles, pamphlets, booklets, books, and doctrinal statements. Of course, these scriptural citations are seen by them as justifications for their beliefs/teachings - a tangible demonstration that a belief/teaching is derived from God's Word! Likewise, for those seekers of truth who regard Scripture as authoritative, these proof texts can be very persuasive in evaluating the beliefs/teachings of these groups. So, what's wrong with proof texting? Shouldn't all of our beliefs/teachings be based on Scripture?
In the Theopedia article on Proof Texting, we read: "Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing." This problem is summarized in a quotation that is familiar to most first-year seminary students: "a text without a context is a pretext for a proof text." In its own article defining proof texting, the Bible Study website observed that "The problem with this method is that the person who is Proof texting usually gives their selected verses a meaning that may be entirely different from what the writer intended. The Bible is written in such a way that most verses cannot be correctly understood in a stand-alone fashion. The context of a particular verse, who wrote it, the time period in which it was written, where did they write it, etc. is needed to arrive at what God intended it to convey." The same article went on to note that "Proof texting can easily lead to wrong conclusions regarding what is the truth of God. An argument or doctrinal stand that relies heavily on proof passages is ultimately considered weak. In fact, those who preach and teach others based on such special passages in Scripture are generally viewed negatively by true Biblical scholars and those who seriously study the word of God."
While those are excellent ways of defining the problem with proof texting, a concrete example would probably be more instructive in this instance. The statement of belief: God hates soldiers! The supporting proof texts: "The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates those who love violence." (Psalm 11:5) and "here are six things the Lord hates — no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. (Proverbs 6:15–19) The reasoning: Since soldiers love violence, kill the innocent, plot evil strategies to kill others, and are full of pride, God hates them! Now, most of my readers are probably saying to themselves, "That's absurd!" My point, exactly!
Unfortunately, most of the folks who focus on proof texting in their messaging are NOT really worried about getting at God's will in a particular matter - they are more concerned with demonstrating that their opinions are founded in Scripture. In other words, proof texting is one of the most egregious manifestations of confirmation bias which exists in our world! In their article on the topic, Wikipedia defines "confirmation bias" as: "the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values. People display this bias when they select information that supports their views, ignoring contrary information, or when they interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing attitudes." In other words, these folks ignore or discard any evidence which doesn't support their thesis. In terms of logical fallacies, this is "cherry picking" at its finest!
Hence, for anyone who is truly interested at getting at the truth of the matter - of discerning the will of God, proof texting is NOT the best way to do that! Of course, studying the context of verses and weighing ALL of the scriptural evidence related to a particular topic takes a lot more effort and time. Nevertheless, for those who are truly interested in getting at the truth, we can hopefully see that the extra effort will give us a much better chance of achieving that goal!