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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13 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.

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