Question of the Week: Why is Proverbs 26:10 written two different ways in two different translations?
Proverbs 26:10 (KJV): The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.
Proverbs 26:10 (NIV): Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.
In order to understand the discrepancy, we first need to clarify something that is often taken for granted when reading our Bibles. It was not originally written in the English language. While this proverb remains consistently translated in the original language, different translators have taken two different positions regarding two key words in the passage. The word translated as transgressor and archer are the same because it’s the word we use for sinner. Someone who misses the mark. Likewise, the word translated great and employer are the same because they are the word we use for someone in authority. This is where the translators had difficulty. Is the passage referring to the one with ultimate authority and his dealings with sinners and righteous alike? That is a biblically consistent conclusion since we read elsewhere in Matthew 5:45 that God is good to people regardless if they deserve it or not. On the other hand, is the passage referring to those generally in authority over others unwisely making themselves responsible for people they don’t know? That is also a biblically consistent conclusion given the immediate literary context of the Proverb. Proverbs 26:9 and Proverbs 26:11 are both addressing foolish people in the horizontal sense. This is more likely to be the accurate translation. The key detail to note is that given both translations and all available information, we could choose one Proverb over the other, or even remove the Proverb entirely from all English translations, and no doctrine of belief of Christianity would change as a result. The real issue with this passage is how often do these kinds of translation hazards occur? The answer is extremely rarely and never in the kind of passages that make a real difference to the Bible as a whole. The complete list of problem passages in the Old and New Testament combined total a half page of text. And no major doctrine of Christianity is affected by any of them.
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