I’ve been working through the Proverbs in the Matthew Bible, versifying them and preparing the text for the Old Testament of the New Matthew Bible. I’ve discovered many fascinating changes. See for example Proverbs 10:16, and how the meaning has been recast over the centuries.
My question: Have the changes impaired our understanding of responsibility for sin? Or our understanding of what evil people do?
Note: There is no verb in the Hebrew. It was up to the translator to determine the meaning.
♦ 1537 Matthew Bible (also Coverdale 1535 and 1540 Great Bible): The righteous laboureth to do good, but the ungodly useth his increase unto sin.
(“The ungodly useth his increase unto sin” means evil people use their wealth or influence for sin.)
♦ 1599 Geneva: The labour of the righteous tendeth to life, but the revenues of the wicked to sin.
♦ KJV: The labour of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin.
♦ ESV: The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin.
♦ NIV: The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.
♦ The Message: The wage of a good person is exuberant life; an evil person ends up with nothing but sin.
See how in English, the verb evolved from useth for > tendeth to > leads to > is> ends up with.
In the Matthew Bible, good and evil are done by people. In the Geneva Bible (apparently following the Hebrew more literally), responsibility is abstracted, and labour and revenues are personified as agents of good or evil. My best guess is that the verb ‘tendeth to’ was used in the obsolete sense “to turn one’s attention, apply oneself to do something.” Thus it had the same sense as the Matthew Bible, but agency was abstracted, so it was the labour and revenues that applied themselves, rather than the people. I’m not saying that this is wrong. In early modern English, a reader would probably have understood the metaphorical manner of speech, and that it was the persons who were active in the deed, given the meaning of the verb. Coverdale, however, clarified the agency of man. In this he apparently followed Martin Luther, who in 1534 had in the first clause “der gerechte erbeitet zum leben.”
However, in modern Bibles the meaning changed again, until finally in the NIV and the Message we find that sin is earned by people, not done by them. This is misleading no matter how you look at it. I suspect the modern translations are actually a misunderstanding of the old English “tendeth to.” It is not the first time I have suspected that the moderns were guided by old English words that have changed in meaning, and which they did not therefore understand properly.
In the end, the clarity of the Matthew Bible proves its worth.
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