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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The new £10 note has provoked outrage across the nation.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. But it’s certainly inspired some disgruntled comments from Jane Austen fans. The new note, complete with a picture of the author herself, includes a quotation from Pride and Prejudice: ‘I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!’

Although these words are delightful, and no doubt express a sentiment that Austen and many of her fans would agree with, their context within the book itself leaves something to be desired. They are uttered by the simpering and deceitful Caroline Bingley as she tries in vain to woo Mr Darcy, a character everyone knows should be with the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. Caroline Bingley actually hates reading. She’s just saying she loves it because Mr Darcy does.

These words, printed on thousands upon thousands of £10 notes, are a prime example of ‘proof-texting’. This is the practice of using isolated, out-of-context quotations from a document to establish a proposition which may not accurately reflect the original intent of the author.

Like the designers of the new £10 note were with Jane Austen’s books, how often are we so focussed on finding the ‘right’ biblical quotation that we forget to check the context? I know I’ve been guilty of this.

One of the best examples of this is Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you…’ It was Bible Gateway’s second most popular Bible verse in 2016. On its own, it’s cuddly and comforting. We speak it to individuals, we pray it over people, we instagram it. But in its context, it means something different.

Jeremiah 29 is spoken to Israel as they are exiled in Babylon. Verse 11 is a declaration that God will fulfil his good promises to the nation once they have been in exile for seventy years. These seventy years, the chapter says, should be spent seeking Babylon’s peace and prosperity, and praying for the city that has taken them captive.

In context, it’s less instagrammable. But it is, actually, more encouraging. It is a call to commit to the place in which God has put you, to go ‘all in’ and trust that God can fulfil his promises, no matter where you are.

So, I shall agree with Jane Austen, and Caroline Bingley, but I will take the liberty of adding three more words: there is no enjoyment like reading… quotations in context.


Nell Goddard


  1. So true…..

    By Chris Edmonds  -  21 Jul 2017
  2. Thanks Nell, succinct & insightful. I can see myself using this as an illustration in the future 🙂

    By Mike Hallard  -  21 Jul 2017
  3. Thank you, Nell, for this article. I have long felt a slight recoil every time those words are proclaimed from a pulpit or stage in that (wrong) out of context way, so often described as a favourite verse, applicable to all believers as individuals. It never seems quite right to criticize a speaker after the event – it always seems easier to keep one’s thoughts to oneself and to smile briefly as you pass the speaker at the exit door!

    By philip  -  21 Jul 2017
  4. Learnt from a long term pastor, now retired;
    “A text taken out of context can become a pretext”

    Thank you Nell. OLDun

    By Malcolm Dunmow  -  21 Jul 2017
  5. Nell I can’t tell you how much this reflection has helped me today. I love the fact that’s sometimes we have to stay put physically and spiritually in order to actually be part of Gods long term or ‘fuller’ plans for us.

    Magdalen Smith

    By Magdalen Smith  -  21 Jul 2017
  6. Thank you. If ever I needed a kick up the … God has used your words to do it.
    Thank you for being obedient. Father I pray that I will … and allow you the space to be Lord

    By Maggie  -  21 Jul 2017
  7. Well written – completely agree with you! thank you so much for your contribution.

    By Ros Watson  -  21 Jul 2017
  8. Another classic example – ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’, which is highly ironic when spoken by Polonius (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), not that people know that these days…

    By Alfred  -  22 Jul 2017
  9. “A text without a context is a pretext” is how I heard it put once. Thank you for your reminder.

    By Peter Johnson  -  22 Jul 2017
  10. Another much used aphorism from Polonius is “To thine own self be true”. The sort of Romantic excuse for self-indulgence that Jane Austen satirised so tellingly in “Emma”. Thank you Nell for your timely reminder that it is God to whom we are called to be true.

    By Jeremy  -  22 Jul 2017
  11. What an indictment on us who pick and mix, sitting over and using the Word of God rather than sitting under it and submitting to it/Him! Mea culpa!

    By Robert (Bob) Hyatt  -  22 Jul 2017
  12. I’ve been wondering how to use this news bite – thanks – but still think it also reminds us that people are forever seeking the worst in any good intentioned effort. Too much?

    By PastaPete  -  22 Jul 2017
  13. Well said! And how about: “Where there is no vision the people perish” being applied to human outlook rather than divinely-bestowed spiritual gift?

    By Ian Hore-Lacy  -  22 Jul 2017
  14. Very helpful illustration and comment. The over-use of this verse has always made me slightly uncomfortable, but I am more encouraged by how you’ve highlighted that in it’s place, it is more encouraging. I returned to Jeremiah 29 this morning to discover that I’d already highlighted v7, something which I had forgotten I’d done.

    v7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

    Thank you for sharing this, God Bless — Graham

    By Graham King  -  22 Jul 2017
  15. good point!

    By Antonio Moya López  -  22 Jul 2017
  16. I entirely agree your sentiments about misusing the bible.
    But I do not think your example is a good one. I think the message proclaimed by the £10 note is not dependent on the context in which it was originally “spoken” – indeed the original context in this case is a distraction.
    Thanks hugely for the piece – anything that focusses attention on the wonderful work of Jane Austen has to be good. A little quote for you to enjoy
    “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.
    [Note to self – must go and re-read “Pride and Prejudice”]

    By Mick  -  23 Jul 2017

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