Proverbs 20:11

Legend: “PN:” = “Personal Note”

Proverbs 20:11 reads in the KJV,

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

But translations can differ widely in their rendering of this verse.

It seems like the NET and HCSB are safe in rendering נער (“child” in the KJV) if you look at how the word is used not just in Proverbs but in the rest of the Bible—though the word has an even broader range (from baby Moses to 13-year-old Ishmael to 17-year-old Joseph and beyond):

NET Even a young man is known by his actions, whether his activity is pure and whether it is right.

CSB Even a young man is known by his actions—by whether his behavior is pure and upright.

Waltke (NICOT) takes a view which lands him in the distinct minority, judging by the dozens of translations in various languages which agree instead with the KJV! The JPS Tanakh comes closest to his view: “A child may be dissembling in his behavior Even though his actions are blameless and proper.”

He argues that the traditional translation “fails”:

  • It does not account well for the גם (“even”). PN: But couldn’t I write “Even by his deeds a young man is known”?
  • It makes “deeds” neutral despite that word’s negative connotation everywhere else in Scripture. PN: But Waltke’s just not correct here. In a quick search I found two places in the psalms where the word refers to God’s deeds! And though the word is assumed to be negative in some of the verses I checked, more frequently it is collocated with רעה (“evil”), as in “the evil of their deeds.”
  • It makes yitnakker a reflexive of the Hiphil, not the Piel. PN: I think I have to buy this argument. It appears to match what Holladay and BibleWorks say about the parsing and meaning.
  • You would expect, “Whether it be pure or whether it be evil,” not “Whether it be pure or whether it be right.” PN: No, see Steveson’s cross reference to Josh 22:22.

WBC comments on the JPS Tanakh option but doesn’t argue for a particular rendering.

Garrett (NAC) is trenchant:

The translation of v. 11 is not altogether clear, but the thrust of the verse is conspicuous. Conduct is the best proof of character in a child. Certainly no child who says, “I am well behaved” will find his or her words taken at face value. People will evaluate the child by how he or she behaves. The implication is that appearances and words can be deceiving; behavior is a better criterion of judgment.

A footnote mentions that גם can mean “even” as an intensifier (like και) so “It is mainly his doings that distinguish a child” is best.

Keil & Delitzsch entertain the possibility that the TNK is right, but they dismiss that rendering as untrue to experience.

Steveson (BJUP) brings up a helpful point: Josh 22:22 uses the …אם…אם (if… if…) construction without implying contrast. He also says גם applies to the whole sentence, giving it all emphasis. I’m still just not following that, though. He gives no example.

Matthew Henry ends up taking it as the opposite from what the TNK does:

Children will discover themselves. One may soon see what their temper is, and which way their inclination leads them, according as their constitution is. Children have not learned the art of dissembling and concealing their bent as grown people have.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary sees the verse as saying that you can’t just listen to a child’s words; you have to watch how he acts.


So… You dig through all your exegesis, looking at the text first, the lexical and grammatical helps next, your most Hebrew-intensive commentators next, and your other commentators last, just to see what their sense was.

And you come to… and you come to… some hard choices you don’t have the capacity to make. You understand the commentators’ reasoning (as far as it is possible to understand them when sometimes they are just a bit muddleheaded), but no one really seems to nail it. Garrett at least doesn’t pretend that the answer is easy. He aims for the gist. I like that.

The best I can do is “Even by his deeds an adolescent dissembles; so is his work pure or right?”

But if nothing really satisfies, you have to save your notes and table it till a later time. Lord willing you’ve already asked for illumination. Ask again and table it. Who knows what insight the Lord may later provide. And remember that Peter through inspiration admitted that some parts of the Scripture (he named Paul’s writings) are “hard to be understood.” Clarity is “hard-won” sometimes. May God let me win clarity on this verse in the future!

Bible Typography

TNIV & Popularity Contest

DISCLAIMER: I’m still not in favor of the TNIV’s systematic and subtle—what can I call it?—twisting of gender renderings. Please see Grudem for more. But I do think educated American Christians should use the multiple translations at their disposal, and I am particularly excited about the verseless format of the TNIV edition I’m about to recommend to you (again). If you know Greek and/or Hebrew you’re not going to be led astray by reading the TNIV; you can always check its accuracy for yourself.

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Popularity Contest

I’d like to see how many people I can persuade to follow my example and get an edition of the TNIV “Books of the Bible.” That’s the one with no chapter or verse numbers. I’m reading through it this year myself and I’m in Isaiah. It’s been a great experience to read without my mind being stopped subtly by extraneous markings.

If I can get 10 or 11 readers in the Greenville, SC orbit (like a tight orbit to avoid hassle) to go in with me, you’ll save $6 on each copy. You’ll get it for $9 instead of $15. I’m paying the extra 2 cents for each of you. You’re welcome. =)

Comment on this post or send me an e-mail if you want in. If you’re a ministerial student you might as well have a copy of the TNIV—and you might as well have this neato edition.

UPDATE: The signups are coming! Let me know if you’d like two. I think this would make a great gift, and I’m planning to keep some for my (eventual, Lord willing) kids.

UPDATE 2: I put the order in on faith so the Bibles would come before school is out. Sign up fast before the slots are all taken! Just six left!

Essential IVP Reference Collection for Logos $80

I don’t think you’ll find a better price than this on this:

  • Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels
  • Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
  • Dictionary of the Later NT and Its Development
  • Dictionary of NT Background
  • IVP Bible Background Commentary: OT
  • IVP Bible Background Commentary: NT
  • Hard Sayings of the Bible
  • New Bible Commentary
  • New Dictionary of Theology
  • New Dictionary of Biblical Theology
  • Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies
  • Pocket Dictionary for the Study of NT Greek
  • Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms
  • Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion
  • Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
  • New Bible Atlas
  • New Bible Dictionary

I bolded the books I have found particularly useful. If you were to purchase even three of these otherwise, you’d probably come out ahead buying the software instead.

Product Features:

  • Over 10 million Searchable words (mlwj note: Hey, that’s .0008 cents per word!)
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The ESV Study Bible and Seminarians

The new ESV Study Bible, out in October, looks very cool. I just love the creativity (including design sense!) and energy Crossway is showing in their production and promotion of the ESV.

And there’s substance, too. (Sometimes I forget about that briefly in my delight over good design…) The contributors are solid commentators and exegetes; this is one to buy for your family.

But here’s my question: What place should a study Bible have in the life of a seminarian himself, not just that of his family? Obviously, I am not too good to read other people’s interpretations! But I do think it unwise for seminarians who should be doing their own exegesis to make a steady diet of others’ interpretations—at least without being provided with the underlying exegetical reasoning. So I wonder openly: Will the ESV Study Bible (like the NET Bible, which I do really appreciate, especially after it shipped with BibleWorks) have any space to tell me how it came to its conclusions?

If not, that’s totally fine! Not every study Bible (in fact, few to none) should be written for pastors or seminary professors.

A solid study Bible may give me a quick reminder of the most God-honoring and scripturally faithful way to view a given text. Great! I need that.

And a solid study Bible may provide me a helpful chart or map or picture or cross reference or shekel equivalent. Great!

I do plan to get one, and you probably should, too.