65 Out of context? Proverbs 23:7.

Proverbs 23:7.

I have often heard people quote Proverbs 23:7: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Then the quote was usually followed by an encouragement or reprimand that what you are thinking of yourself is a self fulfilling prophecy, directly from the Bible.

Because I normally use the NIV, I was a bit upset to find something quite different in it. How could this be? Which Version is right?

When I compared a few Bibles, something interesting emerged.

KJV: “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”

NIV: “for he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. “Eat and drink,” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.”

The German Bible “nach der Ubersetzung Martin Luthers “ also agrees with the NIV: “…denn in seinem Herzen ist er berechnend: er spricht zu dir: Iss und trink! und sein Hertz ist doch nicht mit dir.”

But look at the interesting rendering of the 2011 Common English Bible: “…Because they are like a hair in the throat. They say to you, “eat and drink!” but they don’t mean it.” (Translation of the Septuagint. Hebrew uncertain.) This immediately opened my eyes to where the problem might be! These translators gave up on the Hebrew text and rather translated the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, made during 250-125 B.C. The problem is caused by an unintelligible Hebrew text!

But what should an honest translator do when confronted with such a problem. Should he just translate and render the difficult part in some gibberish, in order that every one would know that it is not clear? Or should he look at the context in which this phrase is found and give a rendering that would agree with the context and make sense?

Most probably verses 6-8 form an elaborate proverb with seven unequally measured lines, called a heptastich. In this case our phrase would directly have to do with this stingy man inviting you to dinner. Then the “he” of the KJV is not applicable to any man, but to this specific person. And what he “thinketh in his heart” has all to do concerning the meal he has invited you to!

The second problem I have with the quote and applying it as a self fulfilling prophecy, is that it takes this phrase completely out of its context. If one does that, he becomes a ventriloquist, forcing Scripture to say what he would like it to say! Verse 7 is an integral part of the phrase 6-8, be it a proverb or not. This verse is not an isolated phrase standing on its own, but an integral part of verses 6-8. It is not legitimate to snatch it from the context it is embedded and misuse it to incorporate a complete new meaning.

Conclusion:

When one discovers that any verse or phrase is translated differently in different versions of the Bible, one should be cautioned. Bible translators are highly skilled devout academics with a thorough knowledge not only of the ancient languages, but also of their culture and customs. If the difference cannot forthright be explained by obvious causes like archaic language; or interpretation of capacity, linear or monetary measures; or even explanatory translation verses direct translation, take care. It is possible that the source texts differ in an important aspect. Rather use some other Scripture, but do not become a Scripture ventriloquist.

But is there something wrong with the statement that the Bible teaches us to take care what we are thinking, since it might in fact be a self fulfilling prophecy! No! This principle is clearly stated in Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.

This is the verse that should have been quoted.

God bless,

Herman.

Comments are welcome at the bottom of this page.

About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
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31 Responses to 65 Out of context? Proverbs 23:7.

  1. mark ogle says:

    Thank you for your explanation to this! I encountered this verse at a revival between kjv and niv versions and could not come to a viable conclusion. I also thank you for quoting the Proverbs 4:23 verse! God bless you!

    • Thank you Mark for visiting my blog.
      I love to look at the evidence that is available so that I can make an informed decision. In more than 100 verses of Scripture that I have studied, I found only one that touches on Christian doctrine. That is Revelation 22:14 where the King James Version mentions “Blessed are they who do His commandments…” as prerequisite for entering into the gates and access to the tree of life instead of the original “Blessed are those who wash their robes…” as is found in the New International Version. The NIV corresponds with Rev. 7:14, and Christian doctrine that we are saved by the Blood of the Lamb (washing our robes) and not by fulfilling the Law.

      • Sharon Apple says:

        Interesting… Actually, downright fascinating! Thank you, Herman, for your insights. I will see scripture in a different way from now on, I do believe.

  2. Lovefam6 says:

    Agreed, thanks for your insight. While I do believe that the Lord can prompt verses from His word out of context to bring light/wisdom/revelation into a situation, I think it is vitally important to understand the context from which it came regardless. I appreciate the way you chose to write your cautionary words.

    • Thank you for this comment.

      The problem of applying any Scripture out of context, is that we then force the Word to say what we want it to say. The Word should address us, and not us (mis)using the Word for our own purposes.
      God bless,

      Herman.

  3. Nick Meron says:

    Dear Herman, thank you especially for the concept of “Bible ventriloquism”, a very pithy way of explaining a popular hermeneutical error. I have been guilty of this (even with respect to this particular verse, as NASB was my first Bible). I happened to come to the same conclusion as you this morning before I got to your site, but Bible ventriloquism alone was worth the visit.

    BTW, to put the passage in cultural context, compulsive hospitality (e.g., Abraham and Sarah receiving the three visitors) is a fixture of Middle Eastern culture even today. Arabs automatically invite you to stay and have a meal. You really have to use judgment about their character, especially with people you have just met – am I going to annoy or be a burden to them; can they really afford this? Declining a sincere offer might offend; accepting, especially when they might slaughter their last goat or chicken to feed you, might hurt their children, unless you have with you a socially appropriate magnanimous parting gift that would compensate them adequately for their trouble, or you are in a position to return their favor (you know you will see them again). We have faced this dilemma many times…

    We also use Luther as a cross-reference, because he often gets things surprisingly right.

    God bless you. Nick

  4. Neil says:

    I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. Good job. We need to really be careful about interpreting Scripture IN ITS CONTEXT! I’m all about applying Scripture to my life in a very literal way (when it’s literal), but we DO need to guard against plucking them out of context. Granted, even out of context, the gist of this scripture, even when taken out o f context, is still accurate, but the Proverbs 4:23 is a much better reference.

    • Hi Neil,
      Thanks for the comment. This is exactly what it is all about. Scripture has all we need, but we need to search and find the truths where they are given by God, not manipulate Scripture to be altered (out of context) to our needs.
      Scripture gives us directions to conquer sin in our lives. This can even be applied as a “pathway” to become a self fulfilling prophecy in our lives. This is what I found:
      Proverbs 4:24, (Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.)
      read with 2 Cor 10:5, (We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ),
      and Phil.4:7 (And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus)
      and 1 Cor 10:13 (No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it)
      Following these steps should bring you to victory and fulfillment of Godly prophecy in your life!
      God bless!

  5. Fran Schaeffer says:

    Thank you for your explanation. I was reading a book that quoted Prov. 23:7 as “as a person thinks within himself, so he is.” I had heard a version of that all my life. I decided to look it up in the New American Bible (Catholic) and it was no where near what was quoted. I read the entire verse and was even more convinced it did not say that. So I started Googling it and found your explanation. The NAB says “For in his greed he is like a storm. ‘Eat and drink,’ he says to you, though his heart is not with you.” I do love the other scripture you quoted and it helps make sense of what you said of Prov. 23:7.

  6. Michael Sims says:

    My only question is, if the man throwing the feast can be accused of defining himself by the very thoughts in his heart, why is the rest of humanity excluded from such simple truths?

    I don’t take the proverb to say anything about self fulfilling prophecy, but rather it is simply stating a phenomena that is almost common knowledge as inferred in the language …

    “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats, for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
    -KJV

    After the words ‘dainty meats’, the word FOR is there, which to me is a flow of natural thought … simply reminding the reader of this natural truth … not that there is something so special about the man throwing a feast that he, somehow, defines himself based on the thoughts he dwells on, and the rest of us don’t.

    It would be like saying, “Don’t hold your term paper in your hand wile you run through the sprinklers, for the water is wet!”

    We all know that thoughts lead to actions, actions to consequences (positive or negative) and those consequences mark our personal lives by defining who we are, what kind of a character we possess … what our nature consists of… etc.

    So the way I read it, the Proverb is merely stating the obvious to a reader who is already aware of this truth … and if they aren’t aware of it through seeing it in writing, then certainly when they consider it, it would resonate with them. After all, who could argue that the deep heart felt thoughts we have within us, ultimately manifest into the actions which define us?

    As far as self fulfilling prophecy goes, I have personally seen where a person dwells on something so intently (for example, they truly believe that their girlfriend will break up with them someday or their wife will divorce them someday), that they begin to BEHAVE in a manner consistent with that reality, which affects the way they interact with the world and often the result of that is they bring their feared reality into existence in a round-about way. So when the girlfriend is being treated in a manner consistent with his belief that she will leave him, she will begin to feel like leaving him because his heart is obviously not in it … I could go on for days about this, but I think I’ve made my point … and thank you for taking the time to read it.
    :-)

    • Dear Michael,
      Thank you for you contribution. I agree with both points you make. You truly bring out the essence of the context of Prov.23:7. It is about the attitude of the person inviting you to a meal and not about a self – fulfilling prophecy. People (mis)using it as such, take it out of context.
      I love your explanation of how a self – fulfilling prophecy works, and that is also consistent with the Bible. But that is found in Prov. 4:24, not Prov. 23:7, as I explained in my answer to Neil earlier.
      Thanks and God bless.

  7. Grays says:

    I have been quoting this for years! I am so embarrassed… I read it today in context while preparing a sermon and it just did not sound right, so I search the internet and found you… thank you

    • Dear friend, thank you for stopping by.
      I am glad that my little post could be of assistance. No need to be embarrassed though! God sometimes draws a straight line with a crooked stick, why then wouldn’t He let his Word reach the right person with the right message, even when we misquote Him? He sees our hearts and those whom He sent to the sermon we are privileged to conduct to His glory!

  8. bhoogter says:

    Reading this today, while I am familiar with the popular usage (and mis-use) of it… It appears what the verse is saying, sticking simply to the KJV context, is simply that it is not the outward man that matters, it is who he really is in his heart. Since the outward is saying “Eat! Eat!”, but the inward man is counting the cost and cursing you for it, the verse is saying, “It’s the man on the inside that you need to be aware of.”

    While there may still be some application for the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ type application (that is, you need to be aware if you are really the man who is doing this, because it’s the man on the inside that counts, not what you say), it is not a case of simply believing whatever you want to cause it to happen (I think I’m superman, therefore I am!).

    I think the NIV continues to capture this, saying that “he” is that kind of man, although it seems to lose the significance of the KJV, which is drawing the focus to the inward, not the outward life.

    Interesting read, nonetheless.

    • Dear Friend,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      As I emphasized, using this verse as a self-fulfilling prophecy is applying it out of context.
      Yet I agree with you that one should always be aware of what is really going on inside. Even in our own lives!
      God bless

  9. Oh my goodness. Thank you. I have yet to read everything here. I found your post after sending an email to Penguin Random House because of this verse quoted in the book of James Allen, As a Man Thinketh! It’s the first sentence of his very first chapter.

    First of all, i read all of Proverbs 23 and I love it.
    Second, I want to know if i should even trust this book of James Allen. He started with a verse taken out of context, yet Proverbs 4:23 states what ue wants to get across.

    I read the NAB

    6 Do not take food with unwilling hosts,and do not desire their delicacies;7 For like something stuck in the throat is that food.“Eat and drink,” they say to you,but their hearts are not with you;8 The little you have eaten you will vomit up,and you will have wasted your agreeable words.

    Proverbs 23:6-8 | NABRE

    • Dear Jeannie
      Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.
      Concerning the book of James Allen; I do not have any knowledge of the book or its author. Therefore I can’t give an opinion.
      Yet one should never discard or reject anything on the grounds of finding something out of the order. Even using Scripture out of context, the principles and/or message might be in order and from God. We all make mistakes and no-one has all knowledge.
      God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick!
      God bless
      Herman, Pretoria, South Africa.

  10. Joanna says:

    Hi Herman,
    The KJV and NIV both refer to a man (or gives an example of a man) who is frugal. The Bible uses this man’s thoughts as an example and states: so as a man thinks in his heart so he is. Therefore; my interpretation is: if a person is thinking frugal thoughts he is frugal; if a person is thinking generous thoughts he is generous; if a person is thinking sad thoughts he is sad, and so forth.
    I appreciate your insight and look forward to your comment.

    • Joanna says:

      …That is why I often help people I counsel to change their thoughts because what they think is what defines who they are.

      • Dear Joanna, thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.
        If this verse stood completely on its own, I would have agreed with you and also of the way you apply it in counselling. But unfortunately I do not agree with you on your interpretation and hence your application of this verse in counselling. Look at this verse in its context. Pro 23:6 – 8: “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.” Verse 6 gives a clear warning not to desire the delicacies of the rich. Verse 8 warns that when you discover the true character of this person you will be so disgusted you would rather vomit! Between these two brackets stand the words “as a man thinks in his heart…” That means where you cannot see! This is not about a frugal person, but a false person, or as the NIV says: “…a stingy person”!
        As I suggested the message you want to bring forward, and the true guidance you want to give, is found in Prov.4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”(KJV) or as the NLT translates: “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
        I pray that this makes sense to you.
        God bless,
        Herman.

  11. Michael says:

    Romans 12 1-3 Be transformed (Gr metamorphosis by the renewing of your mind (heart – the way you think)
    Because the way you think is the way you are ?
    Here is a thought ” well meaning theologians have wrecked many churches” and “scripture out of context is pretext”
    Michael

    • Dear Michael,
      Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.
      Pretext? Call it what you like but when we use a Scripture in a way to say what we want it to say, is wrong. Whether some theologian points it out to us or whether we open our own eyes, we should not abuse Scripture! It is not the well meaning theologians that wreck our churches, it is ignorant pastors not listening to the Word of God, but ventriloquizing the Word to say what they want it to say.

  12. Joanne says:

    I don’t believe it is taken out of context at all. The man may say “Eat and drink,” but in his heart he is selfish, and so that is who he truly is. You are what you believe yourself to be in your heart. This is evident in the practice of social experimentation. Take a group of normal children, place them in a special class for the gifted, and they will improve their performance. Tell a child his whole life that he will amount to nothing, and most times he will amount to nothing. This same idea of perception and belief is found in various places:

    And we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.
    With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.
    Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

    Jesus continually sought to impress his followers with the power of faith and belief: It is done unto you as you believe. And his emphasis of belief was on God’s love for ALL.

    Frankly, I don’t think the verse has anything to do with food, but with idolatry. There’s no such thing as “deceptive food” (vs. 3) and no reason why one would “vomit up the morsel” (vs. 8) served by a selfish host. These are not logical in the physical, so it must be a spiritual truth relating to one who wearies himself to gain wealth, which is the admonition smack dab in the middle of these two meals. Sucking up to authority and envying the evil to acquire wealth will both ensnare.

    The reward of humility and fear of the Lord are riches, honor and life. Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; he who guards himself will be far from them. (Proverbs 22:4-5)

    • Michael says:

      Joanne, tx y9u have i believe nailed it
      Michael

    • Dear Joanne,
      Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting.
      On the one hand I agree with everything you are saying. Your description of how a self fulfilling prophecy works is right on.
      But somehow we miss one another concerning “quoting out of context”. Prov.23:7 is not about a self fulfilling prophecy at all. If you apply the words “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” as a self fulfilling prophecy, the facts and the outcome might be just that, but that is NOT what the Word of God is saying in that verse. In Prov. 23:7 the point the Word of God is making is the reality of the contrast that can be between what one says, and what he means. He says: “eat my friend” but the word then cautions us: “make sure he honestly means that invitation!” He might not mean it at all, but is weighing the cost of that meal, “for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he”! In reality me might mean the opposite! So this is a caution to us not to jump into what someone is offering us, but to take circumstances into account and know that hospitality customs and being friendly to others cause people to make offerings that they in reality do not want you to honour, or even be in the position to keep up without damaging themselves, resulting in damaging relationships. If someone offers you something, don’t only weigh his words, rather discern his heart.
      Yet, as I have pointed out, the true self fulfilling prophecy is right there in you Bible, in Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
      God bless,
      Herman.

      • bhoogter says:

        This last comment of yours makes the difference you are trying to bring out much more clear… Thank You. Do you have any thoughts about reversion the proverb, to raise awareness that you yourself could be saying one thing and meaning another, or is that beyond the scope of this proverb?

  13. Dear friend,
    Thanks for the comment.
    We all are constantly living out this proverb. Out of politeness we do say things like “we should get together for some coffee”, actually meaning “I like you”. Yet we do not mean the appointment at all, or have the time or the urge to really get involved.
    The sad thing is that we often even say “I will pray for you” and never follow up on that! If one really wants to pray for someone, do it right there, on that moment, in the supermarket, or the carpark, but don’t promise what you do not intend to do!

  14. Thank you sir. I have been pointing this error in bible studies for years and felt I may have been one of a few to catch it based on the constant misquoting of the scripture. I am now a fan!

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