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.