Friday, January 27, 2006

A Very Strange Proverb

I was reading in Proverbs 22 for my devotional, and came across something so strange I had to post about it. It's verse 14, which in the ESV reads, "The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit; he with whom the LORD is angry will fall into it."

That's odd, I thought. Don't you? Isn't that incorrect grammar? "Mouth" doesn't match in number with "forbidden women." I thought I'd try the old King James to see what it said. That same verse reads, "The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein." There it is again, this mismatch of number. So now I was curious. Did every version translate it this way? The NIV does not. It reads, "The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the LORD's wrath will fall into it." The NASB also matches number, as does the NKJ. The old American Standard Version does not match number. So out of six translations that a conservative Presbyterian like me could trust, fully three of them have a mismatch in number, including my favorite translation, the ESV. Perhaps Lane could enlighten me as to what the Hebrew says; surely number is easily verified in the original.

What is the reason? If the best translation is a mismatch in number, what could this proverb be saying? Well, one possible explanation is that perhaps the identification of "mouth" with "forbidden women" emphasizes the "deep pit"-ness of them all. A mouth is a pit of sorts (for those teenagers out there that would be 'bottomless pits'). So the warning is against the mouth, which we know from other Proverbs will drip honey but conceal death. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

In Christ.

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At 2/01/2006 07:26:00 AM , Blogger Susan said...

I'm wondering if you've had any further insights on this proverb. I've thought about it a great deal over the last several days, but hadn't commented yet since I had no insights. I have nothing to add, but am wondering if you have additional thoughts.

At 2/02/2006 02:33:00 PM , Blogger Mr. Baggins said...

According to Waltke-O'Connor's _Biblical Hebrew Syntax_, it is possible for a noun to represent a collection of things, the so-called "collective use" of the singular. That is probably what is happening here. "Mouth" is the collective singular representing all the "mouths" of the strange women. This goes back to Proverbs 9, where Lady Folly and Lady Wisdom are duking it out over the soul of the young man. Lady Folly is instantiated in the strange woman/women, and Lady Wisdom in the Woman of Great Worth in Proverbs 31. All strange women speak with one mouth, as it were.

Interestingly, one commentator (Koptak) said that we expect the reverse of this proverb: we expect God to be wrathful on those who listen to the mouth of the strange woman. That is true, but not what this proverb is saying. This proverb says that God will hand over the young man to the voice o the strange woman, if God is angry with that young man.

At 2/02/2006 05:57:00 PM , Blogger Adrian C. Keister said...

Aha. Thanks much, bro. That is the sort of explanation for which I was looking.

In Christ.


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