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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






15 August 2005

A Difficult Translation of a Simple Verse


ArcherQ: My wife and I were doing our devotion. Coming across Proverbs 26:10, we read The King James Bible. It says, “The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.” The NIV says, “Like an archer who wounds at random is he that hires a fool or any passer-by.” How do these translations seem so different when saying the same thing?

A: Here is a place where words that look the same to us have different meanings. The word rendered as “archer” in most modern translations was translated as the “Great [God]” or as a “great [man]” by some earlier scholars. I’ll share one other modern version: “Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard. (ESV)”

Since only a few long vowels were written out, context determines meaning of some words; this is especially true of verbs. Still, after I looked at the Hebrew, I had to agree more with the moderns on this one (although this is not always the case). The second half of the verse convinced me even more, because of the sense of the words and the type of comparison each makes. Note that “transgressor” and “passer-by” have an overlapping root meaning, that can make translating even more difficult.

Evidently, translators have been wrestling with this passage for centuries. When I looked at the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), I saw a passage that was different from both the Hebrew and from the English translations.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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