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Reading the Bible: Proverbs

Updated on January 10, 2011

In this hub will investigate how to read the proverbs.  When I refer to the Proverbs, I am not referring to the book in the Bible necessarily.  I'm talking about the literary genre of Proverbs.  Proverbs are found mostly in the book of Proverbs, but there are a few scattered here and there throughout the Bible, mostly embedded inside of a narrative.

There is a difference between interpreting the proverbs found in the book of Proverbs and those found elsewhere however.  A proverb from the book of Proverbs is a divinely inspired piece of wisdom.  It is Godly wisdom.  However, if you encounter a proverb in a story in the Old Testament for example, it may or not be Godly wisdom.  When you find a proverb inside of a story, all we can know is that a person said it.  The story is simply telling what happened, and what happened is someone spoke a proverb.  That proverb may have come from a righteous person or an unrighteous person.  For that matter the righteous man could have spoken wrong or the unrighteous man could have spoken right.  So those proverbs need to be checked with other scriptures to see if they are from God or not.  The one's in proverbs are truth.


Most of the Proverbs were written by Solomon.  This is only fitting given the person the Solomon was.  In 2 Chronicles 1 we get the story of the young king sitting there feeling very insignificant for the task before him of ruling a country.  God asked Solomon what he wanted.  Solomon could have asked for power, wealth, a genie in a bottle...anything.  Rather than ask for something material he famously asked for wisdom.  God said that because he had asked for wisdom and not something else that He would make him the wisest man who ever lived.  So that's the author of the majority of the Bible's proverbs: the wisest man of all time.

When reading the Proverbs there is not much context to consider.  I used to try to read the whole chapter and look for an overarching theme that Solomon was talking about.  However upon further study I came to discover that historically this was not how the Proverbs were written.  When Solomon spoke a Proverb, it was just one or two verses typically.  There are some larger ones, but most of the time it is just a sentence.  All of these Proverbs were eventually compiled into one book, and then later chapter and verses were added.  These chapters and verses lead us to think that everything in chapter 20 was written at one time and all tie together.  This isn't the case.  When reading the Proverbs, take them one at a time.

The proverbs were meant to be universal wisdom.  What is wise 1000 years ago is still wise today.  Wisdom is wisdom no matter when it is.  A famous proverb is "a gentle answer turns away wrath."  That was true is Solomons day, and is still true today.  Context makes little impact on that statement.

Truth or not Truth

I want to be very careful how I communicate this because I do believe in the complete truth of the Bible.  I believe that the Bible is a standard for truth, and there aren't any mistakes in it.  With that said I will say that absolute truth and absolute wisdom are not the same thing.  What do I mean by that?  Let me illustrate it by a famous proverb: Proverbs 22:6

"Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."

What Solomon is talking about in this Proverb is how to influence our kids to do the right thing.  If you want your kid to be a certain kind of person, the wise thing to do is raise them in such a way that they will be that kind of person.  For example, if you don't want your child to be a quitter, then never let your child quit anything when they are young.  By teaching them to finish everything they start from a young age you are indoctrinating them to be that kind of person their entire lives.  How you train your children matters.  Wisdom says that if you want something to be present in your adult child's life, then instill it when they are young.

This is Godly wisdom, but its not absolute truth.  What am I saying?  This is not a guarantee that just because you raise your kids right that they will do right their whole lives.  In the end when your kids grow up they are people who are capable of making their own decisions.  Just because you trained them the way you want them to go does not mean that your children are going to stay on the straight and narrow.  So if its not true then whats the point?  While this proverb is not a guarantee of success in parenting, it is still the wisest thing you can do as a parent.  When you think about it, how many kids truly complete depart from how there parents raised them?  Sure, they may rebel in the late teenage years and into college, but typically speaking they will continue on the path their parents put them on.  This is seen very clearly in politics.  If the parents are liberal, normally the kids are liberal.  If the parents are conservative, then the kids are conservative.  Is that always true?  No.  Is it a trend?  Yes.  

So in the end a proverb gives you the wisest way to approach a situation, but does not guarantee that the situation will go they way you are expecting.  Not having a guarantee should not discourage us from following a proverb however, since it is wisdom from God.  And wisdom from God is the kind I'm looking for.


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    • thequast profile image

      thequast 7 years ago

      Appreciate the comments. The point of the hub was to offer a model of interpreting the Proverbs. I have met many people who say the Bible is not absolute truth because they applied a Proverb to their lives and it didn't work for them. With the example of 22:6, I have met a woman who says the Bible can't be trusted because she raised her son right, but now her son is in jail for criminal activity. She went on to say if she can't trust in the truth of Proverbs then she cannot trust anything in the Bible. The fact of the matter is though it is still true wisdom although not a guarantee of the outcome.

      Also have heard some outrageous interpretations of Proverbs because people attempted to read them as a chapter and find the central thing that Solomon was talking about. I agree that there are some that can be read as a chapter such as chapter 2 and chapter 7, but there are more proverbs that need to be read and understood verse by verse such as chapter 26 and 27.

      Appreciate the historical context additions and literary structure diagram. I left those out to keep it from being too much info in one hub, but they do lend help to the subject.

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      Errol Kane 7 years ago

      Sir, I can see that your writing is sincered however, certain truths must be brought. This is not to argue and with respect, I enter these words of truth.

      You wrote sir:Most of the Proverbs were written by Solomon. This is only fitting given the person the Solomon was.

      WHEN Solomon, the son of David, became king of Israel in 1037 B.C.E., he prayed to Jehovah for “wisdom and knowledge” to “judge this great people.” In response, Jehovah gave him ‘knowledge and wisdom and an understanding heart.’ (2 Chron. 1:10-12; 1 Ki. 3:12; 4:30, 31) As a result, Solomon came to “speak three thousand proverbs.” (1 Ki. 4:32) Some of this spoken wisdom was recorded in the Bible book of Proverbs. Since his wisdom was really that which “God had put in his heart,” then in studying Proverbs we are in fact studying the wisdom of Jehovah God. (1 Ki. 10:23, 24) These proverbs sum up eternal truths.

      As you said, They are just as up-to-date now as when they were first uttered.

      The reign of Solomon was an appropriate time for providing this divine guidance. Solomon was said to “sit upon Jehovah’s throne.” The theocratic kingdom of Israel was at its height, and Solomon was favored with surpassing “royal dignity.” (1 Chron. 29:23, 25) It was a time of peace and plenty, a time of security. (1 Ki. 4:20-25) However, even under that theocratic rule, the people still had their personal problems and difficulties due to human imperfections. That the people would look to wise King Solomon to help them solve their problems is understandable. (1 Ki. 3:16-28) In the course of pronouncing judgment in these many cases, he uttered proverbial sayings that fitted the many circumstances of life arising from day to day. These brief but impressive sayings were greatly treasured by those who desired to regulate their lives in accordance with the will of God.

      The record does not say that Solomon wrote the Proverbs. However, it says that he ‘spoke’ proverbs, also that “he . . . made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order,” thus showing that he had an interest in preserving proverbs for later use. (1 Ki. 4:32; Eccl. 12:9) In the time of David and Solomon, there were official secretaries in the lists of court officials. (2 Sam. 20:25; 2 Ki. 12:10) Whether these scribes in his court wrote and collected his proverbs, we do not know, but the expressions of any ruler of his caliber would be highly regarded and would normally be recorded. It is generally agreed that the book is a collection compiled from other collections.

      The book of Proverbs may be divided into five sections. These are: (1) Chapters 1-9, opening with the words, “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David”; (2) Chapters 10-24, described as the “Proverbs of Solomon”; (3) Chapters 25-29, which division begins: “These also are the proverbs of Solomon that the men of Hezekiah the king of Judah transcribed”; (4) Chapter 30, introduced as “The words of Agur the son of Jakeh”; and (5) Chapter 31, which comprises “The words of Lemuel the king, the weighty message that his mother gave to him in correction.” Solomon was thus the originator of the bulk of the proverbs. As to Agur and Lemuel, nothing definite is known about their identity. Some commentators suggest that Lemuel may have been another name for Solomon.

      The Contents Of Proverbs is another story and one of interesting learning.

    • profile image

      Errol Kane 7 years ago

      SUCCESSFUL gardening requires much more than scattering some seed on the ground and then returning a few months later for the harvest. Much hard work is involved in preparing the soil, sowing the seeds, and watering and nurturing the plants so that they can grow to maturity.

      This process could well illustrate the truthfulness of Proverbs 22:6, which says: “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.” Indeed, parental training is a major factor in successful child rearing.

      In today’s permissive world, however, many parents fail to heed this counsel. When they follow conventional wisdom that children must learn to handle problems on their own, their children are often left to fend for themselves. Such a course leaves young ones vulnerable to the harmful influence of unprincipled and unscrupulous individuals.—Proverbs 13:20.

      How much better it is for parents to instill Christian principles in their children through godly training at an early age! How early? “From infancy,” says the apostle Paul. That was the case with the young man Timothy. His mother, Eunice, and his grandmother Lois inculcated “the holy writings” in Timothy so that he “learned” and was “persuaded to believe.” The result? Such training played a vital role in making him “wise for salvation.”—2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14, 15.

      Likewise today, parents who do “not give up in doing what is fine” will reap rich rewards if they “do not tire out.” (Galatians 6:9) Says wise King Solomon: “The father of a righteous one will without fail be joyful.”—Proverbs 23:24.

      Training our children from infancy according to the ways of Jehovah

      Deut. 6: 4, “Listen, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. 5 And you must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your vital force. 6 And these words that I am commanding you today must prove to be on your heart; 7 and you must inculcate them in your son and speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road and when you lie down and when you get up. 8 And you must tie them as a sign upon your hand, and they must serve as a frontlet band between your eyes; 9 and you must write them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates