Tag Archives: James 2

What is the Most Misused Verse in the Bible?

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)

God bless,

Fred Lybrand

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.

If you grasp the insights in this book, you’ll understand FAITH ALONE IN CHRIST ALONE in such a way that you’ll never be tempted to judge anyone’s eternal destiny again.

OK…so, I want to shamelessly tell you about the power of sorting out the Faith/Works issue in keeping the Gospel clear, assurance solid, and judgmentalness banished.  It is all in Back to Faith (see www.backtofaith.com)

Here’s the beginning of Chapter 5 from the book to consider:

The Cliché Is Pragmatically Invalid
If the arguments presented have been unpersuasive to this
point, consider that this one great weakness of the cliché is the
only real challenge needed to justifiably abandon it: The cliché is
pragmatically invalid. Pragmatic invalidity simply means that, in
any practical sense, the theology behind the cliché is useless, even
if it is true. Assume the cliché, “It is therefore faith alone which
justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone,” is true. In
other words, with the assumption that the cliché is valid, it is held
that one can indeed look at works (or the lack of works) and
determine something about the true nature of an individual’s
eternal salvation. Said otherwise, works prove faith. But can one
truly know if the works are authentic? Or, can the works be
hidden? Here a great problem appears, practically speaking,
because the true works arising from a true salvation are
indeterminable, and so the cliché is pragmatically useless. How
can one know for sure that the works seen in another are “because
of salvation,” rather than “in order to get saved?” To appreciate
this argument, one need only consider the distinction between fact
and theory.
A fact, in the simplest sense, is something that corresponds
to the actual state of affairs. Facts are those things which are
knowable and demonstrable and correspond with how things really
are. A theory, on the other hand, as used in this context, is an
unproved assumption. It parallels words like conjecture and
speculation when one speaks of theory in this sense. Obviously the
[This argument admittedly matches the correspondence theory of truth.
Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy [book on-line]

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, accessed 4 October 2006), 267;

available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d= 74362715;Internet.

Defined 6b: an unproved assumption: conjecture, c: a body of
theorems presenting a concise systematic view of a subject. Merriam-Webster’s
Collegiate Dictionary, 11 ed. (2003), s.v. “theory.”]

word of God does not contain theory, as such, but the factual
explanations from God concerning His will and revelation to
mankind. Whether or not one can demonstrate the validity of the
cliché as a biblical concept is not at issue. At issue is the
distinction between that which is provable and factual, in contrast
with that which is theoretical and based on conjecture.
If the cliché’s theory is true, then it is apparent that one can
look at works or lack of works to point to the genuine nature of
another’s saving faith. So the puritan Matthew Henry asserts,
Faith is the root, good works are the fruits, and we
must see to it that we have both. We must not think
that either, without the other, will justify and save
The truth, however, is that scripturally speaking, believing
individuals can indeed lack works, while unbelievers can indeed
have good, albeit dead, works. Judas serves as a glaring example
of one whose works never betrayed him. When Jesus predicted
that one of the disciples would betray him, all were perplexed, and
no disciple stated, “Well, it is obviously Judas.”


Fred Lybrand

“Back To Faith” is now available


I’ll have them on sale at the Free Grace Alliance Conference (www.freegracealliance.com)

I’ll also offer a .pdf for purchase shortly (if you buy the book…I’ll probably give you the .pdf for your Kindle by request)

This is like nothing you’ve ever seen…I hope it turns out to be quite a resource!


Order BACK TO FAITH by Fred Lybrand

“Maintaining veneration for Calvin, this work resolves inherent contradictions to the Gospel found in the Reformed tradition.  Lybrand reiterates “faith alone in Christ alone,” and works accompanying salvation are “normal but not necessary” while cogently requiring the reader to reexamine theological traditions.  My prayer for the mindful Reformer: Read and wrestle with these words. Be willing to abandon all, for the clarity of the Gospel cannot be undervalued.”

Jay Quine, ThM, PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary;
President, College of Biblical Studies


“Fred Lybrand’s analysis of the common saying, ‘Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone,’ exposes the logical and biblical fallacies inherent in Calvin’s famous statement. With careful exegesis he dissects James’ discussion of faith and works with fresh insight into this controversial passage. When I read his doctoral dissertation I immediately encouraged him to publish this so that many others could benefit. The book is well written and finally puts Calvin’s cliché to rest—where it belongs.”

– Jody Dillow



Order BACK TO FAITH BY Fred Lybrand