Comparing Proverbs 22:8 – Doctrines of Sin

by Ruth Magnusson Davis, founder and editor of the New Matthew Bible Project

I’ve been discovering that the 1537 Matthew Bible and the Geneva Bible treat sin differently. Sometimes the differences are obvious, sometimes subtle. In this blog post I look at Proverbs 22:8. The issue concerns the end, fruit, or consequences of sin.

The question is, where does sin take us? What are the consequences of doing evil – or of “sowing iniquity,” as Myles Coverdale put it in the Matthew Bible? Another way to ask the question is, what are the consequences that really matter? What would God have us to understand? Does wisdom teach us that sin leads to (1) personal destruction, or (2) a loss of personal authority, or (3) merely to useless anger? All three of these very different things are taught in various Bibles. Clearly they cannot all be correct translations.

Proverbs 22:8

1537 Matthew Bible (from Coverdale 1535): He that soweth wickedness shall reap sorrow, and the rod of his plague shall destroy him.

1599 Geneva: He that soweth iniquity, shall reap affliction, and the *rod of his anger shall fail.

   Geneva note: His authority, whereby he did oppress others, shall be taken from him.

KJV: He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.

NIV: Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

Complete Jewish Bible: He who sows injustice reaps trouble, and the rod of his angry outburst will fail.

The Message: Whoever sows sin reaps weeds, and bullying anger sputters into nothing.

The Matthew Bible teaches that the man who sows wickedness will be plagued; that is, he will reap sorrow and troubles. These plagues will destroy him. This applies to everyone, high or low, weak or strong. ‘Plagues’ in the Scriptures are usually understood as trouble sent by God to punish sin.

The Geneva Bible, however, changes the message quite significantly. First, the ‘plague’ becomes a ‘rod of anger.’  Second, the rod is not wielded against the evil-doer, but it is his own. The evil man himself wields it. This takes God out of the picture as the one wielding a rod to plague the evil-doer.

According to the Geneva note, the rod of anger symbolizes the authority of the evil man. Thus the verse is made to apply to persons in positions of power or authority, and the consequence is merely that they will have their authority taken away. This abstracts the teaching from ordinary daily life and loses the message that evil-doing destroys a man. (I have a strong hunch that the Puritan interpretation is related to their post-millennial vision for the Church. The rod of anger to be destroyed is that of the Roman Antichrist. They believed they were prophets who, with God’s aid, would do this, and would restore the true Church to glory. They saw such prophecies everywhere in the Old Testament. However, that topic is for another time and place.)

In later Bibles the ‘rod of anger’ becomes not a man’s authority, but, more obviously, his anger. This is certainly a more intuitive understanding of the Puritan English translation, if moderns were guided in part by the English, which I suspect is the case. In the end, according to modern Bibles, a wicked person simply discovers that his anger gets him nowhere. The Message makes the evil-doer out as an impotent bully, which I think wrongly diminishes the powerful impact of sin on its victims.

All the revisions lose the idea that God punishes sin by visiting plagues upon evil-doers.

Does it matter? I think so.

In my last blog, I compared translations of Proverbs 10:16. The issue there was the agency of sin: in particular, human responsibility for working evil (or good). I cannot really criticize this revision, because the Puritans did not deny human agency. They simply followed the Hebrew literally, and it made no express mention of man as the agent of sin. But in the final analysis, the result has in modern Bibles been to diminish our understanding of the process and intentionality of people who work good and those who work evil. The post on Proverbs 10:16 is here.

It helps to have a bit of background. The Geneva Bible was a Puritan revision of the Bible translations of William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale. The early Puritans, to advance their vision for their Church, revised and annotated the original translations according to their “new light” – as they themselves said in their preface. This “new light” was their belief that they were the prophets foretold in the Old Testament who would restore the Church and lead it to glory. They taught about this restored Church in many of their notes. This partly explains why they departed from Tyndale and translated the Greek ‘ecclesia’ by ‘Church’ instead of ‘congregation.’ First they worked over Tyndale’s New Testament, which they characterized as immature and irreverent. Then they took the Great Bible as their base for the Old Testament and changed it also. More information about this fascinating and largely forgotten chapter in English Bible history is linked here.

Cite this article: Davis, Ruth Magnusson. “Comparing Proverbs 22:8 – Doctrines of Sin,”, etc.

** To purchase the OCTOBER TESTAMENT in Ruth’s favourite format, the “full size” hardcover, click here