Another KJV Verse You Probably Memorized without Understanding It
Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
This is a very common memory verse, as well it should be, but how many people know what issues means here? It doesn’t mean what we would usually expect that word to mean in a sentence like this one, “a matter that is in dispute between two or more parties” (Merriam-Webster).
I gather from the Hebrew word and an OED check that the KJV translators used issues to mean something more like “out-goings” (the OED offers, “the action of going, passing, or flowing out; egress, exit; power of egress or exit; outgoing, outflow,” and it attests this use in Wycliffe as early as 1382). Modern translations tend to use “springs” in this verse—“out of your heart flow the springs of life.” In other words, what happens in your life flows out of your heart (cf. Waltke, NICOT, p.298).
Today we tend to use the verb form of issue to mean something like “out-goings” when we say, “Senator So-And-So issued a press release.” And when we say, “There’s a new issue of TIME you’ve got to read,” we are using the noun in a way that stems from the “out-goings” sense—because a press issues or sends out each print run. (This connection, however, is not present in our minds when we use the word.)
But I don’t think very many people at all today use the noun form of issue in quite the way the KJV did in this verse. Yes, you got the gist of Proverbs 4:23, but are you content to memorize a verse in which you don’t really understand one of the major words?
And archaic usages in the KJV do create problems. I went to a funeral a few years ago where an old African-American preacher preached on “the woman with the issue of blood” from Matthew 9. He began something like this: “This woman had an issue—an issue of blood. I got issues, you got issues, we all got issues!” Yes, we can blame this man for poor exegesis, but his use of a 400-year-old translation certainly didn’t help.