Proverbs 31: virtue vs. valour.

I’m a little confused, but maybe you all can help me. or at least give it your best shot…

Below are all the same verse, just worded differently. Proverbs 31:10

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” (KJV)

“Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies.” (NLT)

“A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.” (NIV)

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (ESV)

“An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” (NASB)

“A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” (RSV)

“A worthy woman who can find? For her price is far above rubies.” (ASV)

“A woman of worth who doth find? Yea, far above rubies [is] her price.” (YLT)

“Who can find a woman of worth? for her price is far above rubies.” (DBY)

and, in hopes to convince you all that I’m super smart — the Greek:

“γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν τίς εὑρήσει τιμιωτέρα δέ ἐστιν λίθων πολυτελῶν ἡ τοιαύτη”

and the Hebrew:

“אֵֽשֶׁת־חַיִל מִי יִמְצָא וְרָחֹק מִפְּנִינִים מִכְרָֽהּ׃”

(if any of you can read either of those two languages, I will be super, incredibly impressed with your skills.)

now, here’s where my confusion comes in…

the Word of God is perfect, right? It does not and cannot contradict itself, right? so then, if all these translations are supposedly the Bible, why aren’t they matching up?

Last time I checked, a person of worth isn’t always a good person. a person that is capable doesn’t always mean they’re a good person. and a virtuous woman isn’t the same thing as a woman of valour. not to mention the fact that just because someone is a woman, doesn’t mean they’re a wife… yet (or ever will be).

so… it seems to me (in my uneducated mind) that somewhere along the way someone messed up in their translation of Proverbs 31:10.

alright, Bible scholars… help me out!

What have you to say about this?

Ladies, if you had to choose one of the above verses to describe you, which translation would you choose?
(meaning, would you rather be described as “excellent,” “virtuous,” “valiant,” “good,” “capable,” “worthy,” etc.)

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Posted on August 24, 2012, in Proverbs, The Bible and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Oooooo…! I can’t wait to get home to tackle this one! This should be fun! Great post, Heather. In one corner the KJV-only bunch, while in the other corner everybody else, including a heathen or two. Should be interesting 😉

  2. PLEASE DON’T HATE ME FOR THE LENGTH OF THIS RESPONSE!

    When it comes to Proverbs 31:10, the key words in question are “virtuous” and “woman.” You are asking why translations apart from the KJV would translate these two words any other way. You are assuming that only one way is absolutely correct (in your case, the KJV). The problem with this is assumption is that ancient words, just like some modern words, were used in different contexts to convey different shades of meaning. For example, when one reads the word “love” in the Authorized Version he can never assume its definition considering that there are various words in Greek which are translated into English as “love” (or “charity”).

    As I see it, the word translated “virtuous” can also be translated into several other words without doing the meaning any harm, and we must be careful to avoid prejudice. We have a pre-conceived idea what “virtuous” means, but we should not fear “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).

    Essentially, there is not a “wrong” way to translate these two words, as long as they do not stray from the immediate context. A “virtuous” woman is not just a sinless, holy, god-fearing woman, but she is also a woman of strength and efficiency. A “woman,” in this context, is obviously referring to a wife, not a single woman who takes care of her live-in man. On the other hand, the “wife” is a “woman” and is to be understood as an example to all women, much like Paul advised Timothy and Titus to instruct mature women in their churches.

    I want to try to include my source material, such as dictionaries, lexicons, and commentaries, but I am not sure how it is going to work. I tried copying it from a Word document with footnotes, but it looked horrible and none of the footnotes posted with the text. I’ll try to do it another way…

    REGARDING THE WORD “VIRTUOUS”

    חַיִל chayil (298c); from 2342b; strength, efficiency, wealth, army (Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition. Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc.)

    Virtuous—literally, “of strength,” that is, moral courage (compare Pr 12:4; Ru 3:11). – Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Pr 31:10). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

    “The person enquired after, and that is a virtuous woman—a woman of strength (so the word is), though the weaker vessel, yet made strong by wisdom and grace, and the fear of God: it is the same word that is used in the character of good judges (Ex. 18:21), that they are able men, men qualified for the business to which they are called, men of truth, fearing God. So it follows, A virtuous woman is a woman of spirit, who has the command of her own spirit and knows how to manage other people’s, one that is pious and industrious, and a help meet for a man.” – Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: Complete and unabridged in one volume (Pr 31:10–31). Peabody: Hendrickson.

    REGARDING THE WORD “WOMAN”

    851 אִשָּׁה (ʾiš∙šā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 802; TWOT 137a—1. LN 9.34–9.40 woman, female, i.e., the biological female of a species in creation, counter-part of the male (Ge 2:23; 7:2), note: the biological female also had varying unique societal roles; see also 408, 632; 2. LN 10.53–10.61 wife, i.e., female spouse in a marriage union (Ex 4:20) – Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

    Aleph: “A wife of noble character who can find?” The expression combines the ideas of moral goodness and bodily vigor and activity. The representation in this chapter is that of the ideal woman—the perfect housewife, the chaste helpmate of her husband, upright, God-fearing, economical, and wise. Whoever has married such a woman knows from his experience how priceless is her worth. She is far more valuable than rubies or corals (31:10). – Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms. Old Testament Survey Series (Pr 31:10–31). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

    ‘An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.’ She is a strong woman who will strengthen you. The Hebrew word translated ‘excellent’ (or ‘virtuous’) is the same word translated ‘strength’ in verse 3. This word was also used of valiant warriors. The ‘weaker sex’ is not weak in every sense. Such a woman is a rare and valuable gift from God (18:22; 19:14). – Newheiser, J. (2008). Opening up Proverbs. Opening Up Commentary (176). Leominster: Day One Publications.

  3. God’s word is perfect, but I often question His decision to entrust it to men. In one corner, literal-leaning interpreters will say there can only be one correct translation, because as Dr. Hutson said, “Things that are different are not the same.” But, on the other hand, there are others who see the words more poetically. One interpretation of Proverbs 31 I particularly like suggests that the chapter is an homage to Wisdom itself, which is the focus of the book. To personify wisdom as a woman really nails its value and its beauty.

    As to which adjective I would prefer, I’m aiming for…wise.

    • But “wise” is not one of the words the interpreters used to describe this woman in Proverbs 31:10….

      • I am saying it may be that the woman in Proverbs 31 is not an actual human being, but instead, the personification of Wisdom. It *could* be that chapter 31 is a lovely summary of the entirety of the book of Proverbs. In that case, one would assume that Solomon, and later, the translators, would not use the term “wisdom” to describe “wisdom.” Throughout the book,wisdom is referred to with the feminine pronoun “her.” (see 6:17, 6:22, 7:24, 9:9, 10:9,)

        Anyway, it’s just a thought.

  4. Dale Vanderzee

    I am not a scholar to be clear. There is much to say about translating the scriptures. I would like to comment on how to go about arriving at an answer as opposed to just providing one, since the concept and methods are very useful. This attempt is just a very simple beginning. What we ultimately want is to know the mind of God and what he means when he moved the men of God to write the scriptures. Without the Holy Spirit to guide us, this is a hopeless endeavor. The words you seem to be focusing on are virtuous and woman as translated by the KJV. I would like to look at the word virtuous first but the two are linked in this verse and as such provide more depth to what the author is trying to say. Keep that in mind when trying to understand what the words mean and the idea they convey. The hebrew word 02428 lyIx; chayil {khah’-yil} is translated in KJV here as virtuous in this verse.

    (Added Note here by me that the Hebrew characters do not translate properly in this forum from my BibleWorks program. Also the references in the HALOT do not translate well either when I pasted since it uses subscript to show the verse next to the chapter number of the book. When pasting it ran the chp and verse numbers together. I corrected the formatting for verses pro 12:4, pro 31:10, and Ru 3:11 below in the HALOT so you can see the verses that translate corresponding to the meaning indicated by wealth, property.)

    According to the WTT: (WTT is the Codex Leningradensis Hebrew Text)
    02428 lyIx; chayil {khah’-yil}
    Meaning: 1) strength, might, efficiency, wealth, army 1a) strength 1b) ability, efficiency 1c) wealth 1d) force, army
    Origin: from 02342; TWOT – 624a; n m
    Usage: AV – army 56, man of valour 37, host 29, forces 14, valiant 13, strength 12, riches 11, wealth 10, power 9, substance 8, might 6, strong 5, misc 33; 243

    .
    ————————————————————-
    definitions from the The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament:

    hV’ai noun common feminine singular construct lyIx; noun common masculine singular absolute

    Hal2825 lyIx;

    lyIx; (245 x): MHb.(2 )JArm.(tb )pl. armed forces, MHb.(2 )JArm. strength; Ug. hÌl army (Aistleitner 927); Pun. OArb. EgArm. and Palm. DISO 87; ï BArm. JArm. CPArm. Syr. Mnd. (MdD 120a); OSArb. hÌyl, Eth. häail, Tigr. Wb. 93a hÌiÒl; Arb. häail horses, cavalry, hÌail power, hÌailat goat-herd; Akk. ellatu, strength, family, pl. armed forces, ï 3; abs. lyxe 2K 1817 and Is 362 (? dialect BL 202k, 457o), lyIx†’, cs. lyxe, $’l†,yxe, ~l’yxe, ~yliy”x], ~h,leyxe Is 306 (BL 252r, 1QIs(a )~lyx):

    —1. faculty, power (to effect something, Pedersen Isr. 1-2:230): sexually Pr 313, of trees Jl 222, of a horse Ps 3317, hm’x’l.Mil; Åx Ps 1840 Åx hf'[‘ to show strength Nu 2418 Ru 411 Åx rz:a’ 1S 24 and Åx rZEai Ps 1833.40; ~yliy”x] rBeG: to exert one’s strength Qoh 1010; human strength || x;Ko Zech 46; never of God (:: x;Ko !), later on gnostically Elkesai = *ys;K. lyxe hidden strength, ï RlAC 4:1171ff; metaph. Åx†’h, yven>a; = the legs Qoh 123;

    —2. wealth, property, (by which the farmer proves himself competent, cf. pecunia: pecus), a) Gn 3429 Nu 319 Dt 817 Is 84 1014 Jr 1513 (|| tArc’Aa) Jb 55 (Alyxe Hölscher) 3125 Sir(M ii:3 )(= 4013) etc. (34 x); Åx hf'[‘ to get wealth Dt 818 Ru 411 (alt. children), Åx hB’r>hi Ezk 285 Åx hG”f.hi Ps 7312; hr’WmT. lyxe profit from trading Jb 2018; thus b) lyIx; vyai wealthy landowner who is competent, apt for military service (vi. c) and brave 2S 2320 1K 142, loyal 1K 152; pl. Åx yven>a; Gn 476 Ex 1821 2S 1116 Is 522 (in carousing) Sir 446; Åx-!B, of good family, brave 1S 1452 1817, pl. Åx-ynEB. Dt 318 etc.; Åx vyai-!B, (var. ?) 1C 1122; Åx tv,ae capable wife, Pro 12:4 Pro 31:10 Ruth 3:11; Åx hf'[‘ to prove oneself brave 1S 1448 Ps 6014 10814 11815f Pr 3129 (woman); c) Åx rABGI brave man Ju 111, pl. Åx yreBoGI 1C 524 cj. Neh 118, ~yliy”x] yreABgI (double pl., GK §124q) 1C 75; indicating class: (important) landowner, under obligation of military service employment of a certain amount of men Meyer Isr. 428f, 500, :: vdPloeg OTSt. 9:58f, de Vaux Inst. 1:110: first of all knights, heroes, indifferent as to property;

    —3. army, (WSem. > Akk. häi/ayaÒlu AHw. 342b): Ex 144 Dt 114 Jr 322 etc (62 x); br’ Åx Ezk 3815, lAdG” Åx Ezk 1717, dbeK’ Åx; ( ÅK lyxe 2K 1817/Is 362 ? rd. Åx;) many troops 2K 614 ab’C’h; lyxe army, armed forces 1C 201 2C 2613 yd;m’W sr;P’ lyxe Est 13, hn”ydIm.W ~[; lyxe-lK’ all armed forces of a people or a satrapy 811 Åxh; ydequP. 2K 1115 Nu 3114 2C 2314 (ï dqp), Åxh; rv; 2S 242, ~yliy”x]h; yref’ (double pl.) 1K 1520; B. Åx !t;n” to place forces in 2C 172;

    —4. (foreign) upper class of a city (important because of their economical and their military weight): !Arm.vo lyxe Neh 334 (Alt Kl. Schr. 2:320ff, EgArm. alyx Kl. Schr. 2:323(2)), dbeK’ Åx great retinue 1K 102 2C 91;

    —Ps 414 rd. lyIx†’l.; Da 117 prp. lyxeh; :: zA[m’; ? Ps 1103 $’l†,yxe ~Ay, > strength ? young people ? conscription, joining the troops ?, rd. $’l†,yxi birth (Lib. Ps. 233) ?.

    Der. lyIx;ybia].
    ——————————————–

    Look for the section -wealth, property and see it says capable wife and references Pro 12:4, Pro 31:10, and Ruth 3:11

    I said all that to say that for “Virtuous” the Hebrew word depending on its context has great breath and volume in its meaning and usage. Using the Lexicon you can determine better what the original translators were trying to convey from the original language that it was translated from. This helps to sort out ambiguities and apparent contradictions in the translations and even to spot where the translators are biased in their renderings. By also looking up the verses where the same original word is used, you can better understand the full meaning of the word based within its context in the verse and in the various other contexts. In all verses where the same word is used, the meaning will not contradict itself but will show additional insight into the meaning of the word used in the original language. If you have a bible program like BibleWorks ( my favorite, lil plug here but I am not affiliated with them ) or Logos Bible Software, this makes this type of word studies much easier to perform. Part of our problem when we study the scriptures is that we try to understand the scriptures from our understanding of the words that are used. I try to understand what the scriptures are teaching me about the words it uses and by its usage in the texts. It is very difficult to embody an idea being illustrated by only using one word. For instance the word translated as faith in the scriptures. Ask 10 people what faith is and they will either give you a Heb 11:1 quote or 10 different definitions. Both dont really fully explain it even in their own minds. What we are really after is the understanding of what the Holy Spirit is trying to convey. We can know, if we are interested, if we seek after God’s.own heart like David did. Study to show thyself approved..In the translations above we see that the KJV translators used the word virtuous. It is also important to note here that this word as with most words evolve in their meanings over time. In this instance of virtue, over time its meaning has been devalued, and this word has been obsoleted in our day to day vocabulary. Back then its meaning more closely matched what the original language was communicating. Sometimes words loose their original intended value and sometimes morph into completely different meanings such as the word “let” It should be noted that it appears the KJV translation is probably the most accurate translation used above and the NIV is probably the worst with the RSV near the bottom of the list . ( I used the RSV for many years, sad to say ) This is primarily due to the NIV using something called “dynamic translation” which severly alters the renderings in many places. I know I probably have stirred up a hornet’s nest but that is not my intention. The whole point is we need to seek God and ask him to show us and not be afraid to delve into the scriptures to find out what he is trying to say. Using tools to get to the depths the bible can provide will certainly enrich your understanding and appreciation for the scriptures as well as bring you closer to God.
    Hope this helps.

  1. Pingback: Kerrie of Virtuous Styls Interview at RVC Magazine « Highlanda Sound System

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