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.

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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 in the seventies. 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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119 Responses to 65 Out of context? Proverbs 23:7.

  1. Jeanette Carlisle says:

    Hi Herman, I must say, I too was very confused when I couldn’t find the traditional rendering of Prov 23:7 in my NIV. I have therefore turned to the Hebrew. The words mistranslated are ‘sh’ar benafsho’. benafsho means in his soul (nefesh). Sh’ar שער Strongs 8176. In my Brown-Driver Briggs says to calculate,reckon. It translates Pr23:7 ‘as he has calculated in his soul, so is he’. I do have huge respect for translators, I am just a beginner, but I don’t understand why we feel the need to defend the text, instead of saying what it says ( even if seems obscure) and let the text, together with the Holy Spirit ( who will guide us into all truth) defend itself.

  2. Linda says:

    The way I see it and am learning: It is actually about creation. We are spiritual beings and are perfect in God’s eyes. But over our lives we forget that and learn and take on so many false beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Like I’m not good enough for God’s Love. I don’t deserve good in my life etc. None of which are true. There are natural Laws in our universe and Law of Attraction is one of them. We are are co-creators with God. What you focus your mind on and all those false beliefs that have been stored in your subconcious mind are creating your life and your reality Hence “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” What you believe creates your reality.

    Imagine 2 people One believes that God Love’s him, The other believes that God hates him and is scary. Now imagine how their lives are playing out.

    We are all Divine beings and we are all connected to that Divine Source of all creation, all wisdom whether you are religious, spiritual athiest doesn’t matter we are all connected. If you are breathing you are connected. But even more so when you go within to connect on a higher level.

    Most importantly the Universe (God to me) supports and guides us through our live, if we get quiet enough to hear.

    Just some things to ponder.

    Love Linda

    If you wanted to take a look at that. you could go to YouTube pinchmeliving. I really recommend it

    • Linda, Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

      I agree with the content of what you are saying, however, using this verse from the King James Version in this way, is misquoting it and applying it out of context.
      The correct verse to quote, as I mentioned, is in fact Proverbs 4:23.

      God bless,
      Herman.

  3. Annette Radvansky says:

    Thank you for your writing. I was confused also, since I use the NIV. After reading the first paragraph of Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind, this is the reference quoted in KJV: “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” What might have been a better choice could have been Rom 8:5, which she references later on the page,”Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance to the spirit have their minds set on what the spirit desires.”

  4. Sharon Worth says:

    Thank u for that insight!

  5. Amy says:

    Thanks for this.

  6. Jesse Pruett says:

    Thank you Herman for your wonderful post and your attention to the context of the passage! “Context determines meaning” is a crucial component of exegesis and here can shed light on an incredibly confusing text.

    In my opinion, the CEB (as well as the NRSV) actually renders the verse rather well. The primary issue is the translation of šˤr in the Masoretic Text. As it stands the term is a rare word (only appearing here) that based on potential cognate data from Aramaic might indicate an economic term indicative of a measure (thus the KJV and the NIV). It should be noted that this cognate data is from later Jewish Aramaic, but given that the date of the Proverbs is largely unknown, it could be useful.

    The CEB, howver, (following data from the Septuagint) reads the root as śˤr which translates as “hair.” The difference here is between two letters that are graphically the same in all stages of biblical Hebrew (Sin and Shin) and only really distinguished in the Masoretic pointing system. The reading of the root as “hair” also fits a parallel proverb from an Egyptian wisdom collection on the similar issue of generosity. Further the term nepesh should be read as throat/gullet rather than heart (a different term in Hebrew). This is a common use of the term throughout the biblical text and cognate languages. In this case, it seems the help from the Septuagint has made a rather tricky text understandable and better support the larger meaning of caution when dealing with stingy people.

    Hope this helps! Grace and peace!!!

  7. Wisdomkid says:

    I love this. It is so refreshing to see a clear perspective on such a widely used content.
    I was search for a verse encouraging one to thinks about the word of God and came across this.
    Keep up the good works.

  8. Terry says:

    Herman
    I’m glad you pointed out the “context” of this verse. I’ve heard people using it and then following it with a statement about putting garbage in you get garbage out. I’m glad you tied it to Proverbs 4:23. I was studying Proverbs 23:7 years ago and when I read it in context I was stumped by what it was actually saying. After searching through a bunch of information with regard to word meaning, I discovered that the word “thinketh” carried a meaning that in today’s society is lost. When it was originally used it had something to do with allowing in and out like the gatekeepers of old.

    With this understanding I realized that what this passage was saying not only had to do with the immediate situation, but it also points back to 4:23. A man is the gatekeeper of his heart allowing in and out what he chooses, however I also realized that this only applies to the conscious mind, for the subconscious mind, which controls much of what we do and how we react flows from the wellspring. As a general warning the Proverb 23:6-8 is warning all of us to be aware of the fact that we as humans allow in and out what we choose during those conscious decisions however if we look at the whole of the person we see more of what they really are than what they might be consciously presenting to us.

    I think Proverbs 23:6-8 has to be seen as it relates to Proverbs 4:23, however it seems equally prudent to view Proverbs 4:23 in the context of all the other things God has to say about the heart. I asked a pastor friend of mine if he thought we had the ability to change our heart; his answer was “No only God can do that”. This business of the heart is probably one of the reasons we are told not to judge for from the heart springs all manner of things most of which you and I do not understand. I have a friend who lashes out at people who opposes him, he seems like a cruel person who is so self absorbed that he cannot see another persons point of view, not only so but he will not take criticism. While speaking with him one day he, in a rare moment let down his guard and told me of his childhood and the abuse he suffered. Suddenly the light went on in my head, his reactions to things are classic examples of an abused child. This caused me to look at his actions in an entirely different light.

    We like to use the phrase “your actions speak louder than your words” sadly what we do not say is “I am terrible about translating the actions flowing from your heart” hence the caution about judging.

    Thanks for your insights
    Terry

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