MY PICK FOR THE MOST MISUSED VERSE IN THE BIBLE: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7) -King James Version
Someone gave me a copy of John Eldredge’s “Waking the Dead”–which I must say, I actually find a likable volume. However, on page 45 he makes a double-stumble:
“Thus, the writer of Proverbs preempts Freud by about two thousand years when he states, “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he…”
Never mind how debunked Freud has been by those thoughtful and good researchers in ‘psychology’, but the casual mention of the verse has become all-but-cliched in our day and age. In using my research software I found the phrase mentioned in 29 separate articles…all ‘positive’ in the mention.
Here’s the idea: you think…you do. In fact, it is a little worse than that— you do BECAUSE you think. More generally it is said that, “You will eventually become what you think.” Not to ruin it for you…but, what if you think like what you’ve become instead?
I would be the last one to say that our thoughts don’t influence our actions, but to say all action is caused by ‘thought’ is bordering on the absurd. Think about it…don’t we say that we ‘loose our mind’ when we do inane things? Don’t we look at teens and say, “You weren’t thinking?” It is not that thinking doesn’t influence is, but rather, it is that there are other sources of input in our actions (think about such things as emotions, temptations, the flesh, duress, others, low blood sugar, drugs, etc.).
No less than Packer and Ferguson misuse the verse too:
These twin doctrines are characteristic of all oriental mysticism, especially in the Indo-Aryan world. The law of Karma is simply the law of causality applied rigorously in the moral and conceptual realm as well as the physical. ‘As a man thinketh, so is he’ is an example of this law as it works in the realm of thought and moral intent.
Ferguson, S. B., & Packer, J. (2000). New dictionary of theology (electronic ed.) (303). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
So, now causality, karma, and ‘as a man thinketh’ are all linked together under the banner of truth [pardon my agitation].
Here’s the trick (before we look at the verse): IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN THERE CAN BE NO HYPOCRITES
Hypocrites act one way and think another. I supposed one could pitch the idea that they are acting consistently with their thinking by being deceptive. However, the plain truth here is that one can act (or not act) in a way that is inconsistent with his own thinking. James 2 is eloquent on this point, though it is often misunderstood as related to one’s eternal salvation (for an alternative explanation of James 2 as having to do with spiritual growth not spiritual re-birth, see my book at www.backtofaith.com).
Of course, all we need to do is figure out what the verse actually is talking about:
ESV | Pr 23:6 Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy; do not desire his delicacies, 7 for he is like one who is inwardly calculating. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, but his heart is not with you.
NCV | Pr 23:6 Don’t eat the food of selfish people; don’t be greedy for their fine foods. 7 Selfish people are always worrying about how much the food costs. They tell you, “Eat and drink,” but they don’t really mean it.
NLT | Pr 23:6 Don’t eat with people who are stingy; don’t desire their delicacies. 7 They are always thinking about how much it costs. “Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
NKJV | Pr 23:6 Do not eat the bread of a miser, Nor desire his delicacies; 7 For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. “Eat and drink!” he says to you, But his heart is not with you.
It should be easy enough to see what’s up with these versions of the famous phrase. In fact, unless the KJV and the NKJV translated it in the now popular way, then it would never have made it into our christian/western folklore. All we have here is a hypocrite, a stingy person. He THINKS one way, but ACTS another. The verse itself is a counter-example of the point the ‘man thinketh’ theory asserts.
The truth is that you can think and act, think and not act, not think and act, and not think and not act…on some particular point. All of these options float around out there in the real world.
If I were a betting man, I’d say: IT’S HARD TO THINK STRAIGHT AND WALK CROOKED.
But I would never dare to reduce the amazing nature of the human spirit to something so incomplete, and something not taught in the verse that claims it.
“But Fred,” someone might say, “It’s still true.”
“OK,” I’d respond, “Then why not use the verse that really teaches it?” [Philippians 4:8 is a good choice…except 4:9 shows ‘doing’ is a separate step].
The first danger is in misusing scripture to support a theory we’ve come to love. The second danger is in not appreciating how important choosing action to match our thinking really is in our growth.
Here’s how I’d finally say it:
Hypocrisy: Thinking one way and doing something else
Integrity: Thinking one way and doing that which matches the thought
We really don’t believe the ‘as a man thinketh’ theory because we truly admire integrity. Integrity turns out to be special because our actions don’t necessarily match our thinking. “Wow,” we say, “There walks a person who really lives what he believes (thinks)!”
Sounds like Jesus when He said of Nathanael,
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)
P.S. The reason this is so important is because the importance of taking action is easily ignored if one buys into the ‘as a man thinketh’ theory.