Wisdom and Proof-Texts

Our lives should be completely permeated and informed by Scripture. The Bible is (or must be) our “only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Whenever we read Scripture, we should think to ourselves, “What does this reveal about how I should think about God and what does this reveal about what God expects of me as one who loves Him?” Scripture must inform our life at every turn. However, I have seen this idea misused; sometimes we forcefully put forward ideas or commands as though they are from a plain and clear reading of Scripture, but actually the conclusions are not so explicit in God’s Word, after all.

A pitfall here is that, in order to convince ourselves and others that we are sticking to the truth of Scripture, we describe ideas or practices as being from Scripture when they are, in fact, perhaps compatible with Scripture but not actually the teaching or requirement of Scripture. This practice neglects the fact that, by reading Scripture, we are given practical wisdom by God for making day-to-day decisions in life. Wisdom can and should also inform our decisions.

I will just mention two examples of this issue. Genesis 5:1-2 says, “…When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them *Man* when they were created.” The “Man” in asterisks is the Hebrew word which could be translated “Man” or “Adam”; it’s the same word. So this could be transliterated that God “named them Adam when they were created.” Grammatically, this translation is rather awkward, but some teachers use this text to say this is a biblical reason wives should take their husband’s last name at marriage. (Even John Piper references this passage in the context of women changing their name.) Would you say a wife’s name change is clearly commanded, taught, or even referenced in this passage?

I have searched high and low to find why Western women traditionally take their husbands’ names and haven’t found a clear Christian root. In 9th century England (hundreds of years after Christianity arrived in the area), property laws viewed women as being absorbed into their husband’s legal standing; women had no individual rights to own property, sign contracts, etc., so it made sense for them to use their husband’s name, probably starting around that time. By contrast, Spain has had Christian influence for as long as England, yet people there take a hyphenated last name from both parents. Korea, the most Christian country in Asia, has only had Christianity for 200-some years but it is a strong influence; Christians there were persecuted and even martyred by the Japanese in the early 1900s because of their faith. Yet in Korea, women don’t officially change their family name when they are married. This is a cultural difference because of the way the “family of origin” is regarded in the East.

Scripture says the man and woman, at marriage, become “one flesh”, and the Bible is also clear that the husband serves in a particular position of headship in marriage (Eph 5:22-23, 1 Cor 11:3). There may also be historical or cultural reasons it is reasonable or even wise for a wife to take her husband’s name. However, in countries even with substantial Christian influence, the practice varies; it is not strictly a “the Bible supports this one practice” sort of issue. We can’t really say that Scripture, which was written long before people even had “last names”, demands this name change. God allows us to apply our own discretion, through the lens of wisdom, to make such a decision.

Another example is a book I read recently by Christian psychologists. It was filled with many wise and practical insights about cultivating and maintaining healthy relationships. However, it seems the authors felt they had to prove every single conclusion, principle, and piece of advice with a proof text from Scripture. Many times, this actually diluted the strength of what they were saying because the verses didn’t actually mean what they were using them to mean. It is better to give wise advice and leave it at that. The Bible doesn’t comment on every single situation in life; how often I brush my teeth or how much I save for retirement or how much screen time a 10-year-old should have (or not) every day is very practically important but these things are, at best, only indirectly informed by Scripture. Instead, these things, along with so much of life, are reliant on wisdom. God gives us wisdom so that we can use our knowledge of the world and of His Word to make everyday decisions, large and small.

There is a kind of biblical handling which can be dangerous. “Biblicism”, as defined by Michael Horton, is the tendency to ‘free’ onself of the theology of Scripture by limiting its normativity to explicit proof-tests.”* In other words, you can quote isolated verses to prove something but you may not take the context of the passage or the entire story of Scripture into account, and, therefore, you actually misuse and misapply God’s Word… a serious mistake, indeed, particularly if it is not incidental but intentional. This also means we should not pretend something is clearly supported by or even taught in Scripture if it’s not. Inappropriately proof-texting and claiming something is a Scriptural imperative or truth claim is a problem, in part, because we may convince ourselves of something untrue, but also because this makes us less credible when we say “the Bible says so” when we say that about literally… everything.

Thankfully, as we read Scripture and become more mature, we also grow in wisdom. Scripture says “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). In other words, wisdom is a practical understanding of how to please God with our lives. We must make room for the category of godly wisdom which informs how we live. It is silly (and possibly even dangerous) to say every single thing you think is a good idea or which is the traditional practice in your culture is something we could or should do because it is the clear teaching of Scripture.

So while I am personally glad that my wife took my last name and I’m also grateful for the helpful principles in the book I just read, these are situations that are governed not primarily by specific Bible proof texts but by the good gifts of wisdom and judgment God gives to His people. We should always seek to live in accordance with God’s Word. We should also let Scripture speak for itself as we carefully study it and then let God-given wisdom stand in the gap, helping us to apply what we know of God to daily practical matters in our lives. Wisdom, too, is a good gift from God.

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