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.
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.
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