Proverbs 22:6 – Thinking it through [Part 2]

Friend:
I do not wish to bore everyone with our never-ending discussion, so I will attempt to make this response as concise as I can. I also understand that I will not sway anyone with this email. We are all pretty firm in our beliefs. As in my first email, the purpose of this email is simply to clarify my position further (as I felt that some of my points were misunderstood; it is my own fault for not elaborating on my points enough) and nothing more. Just an interesting aside, Psalm 119 is actually an acrostic.

James:
I would argue that many are not “bored”; on the contrary, I believe many are refreshed by our discourse on Proverbs; after all, our current bible study references the book of Proverbs ad-nauseum. I cannot speak for everyone, but I am capable of being “swayed” with arguments of merit. For example, I now see that there are acrostics in the bible, especially in the book of Psalms. I see that Psalm 119 is an acrostic. However, it was not apparent because I was thinking in terms of the English alphabet and not the Hebrew. By the way, I am completely aware of your position even prior to your first email. The purpose of my response then, which is still the purpose now, is simply to suggest some sound refutations that proponents of your point of view ought to examine.

Friend:
Anyway, I did not intend, as James says, to “limit the semantic field” of a proverb. I was speaking generally about the definition of proverbs. There are definitely proverbs that can and should be read absolutely. My technique for interpreting Proverbs allows for these verses.

James:
Your technique only allows a proverb to be considered an absolute truth if it is based on the authority of another book of scripture that is not the book of Proverbs; otherwise, you relegate it to a non-absolute, “simple distillation of general wisdom” or something that is not “precise grammatical[ly].” Therefore you limit the semantic field of the word “proverb” by not recognizing other acceptable definitions (e.g. wise or profound saying, dark or puzzling saying, similitude, etc.) of the word “proverb.” In addition, you also distort the semantic field of the word “proverb” by incorrectly asserting that proverbs are not meant to be grammatically precise (I hope this was just a “proverbial” slip of the tongue). So, while you may not have intended to do so, I feel compelled to reiterate the fact that you did “limit the semantic field” of the word “proverb.” Certainly, it is not fair to base the intent or purpose of a proverb on one criterion alone (especially when several are in scope). For example, in the “King James Dictionary” the word proverb is defined as: A dark or puzzling saying. In the “Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.0.1)” the word proverb (in the biblical scope) is defined as: a profound saying, maxim, or oracular utterance requiring interpretation. In “Easton’s 1897 Bible Dictionary” the word proverb is defined as: a trite maxim; a similitude; a parable. Based on the above definitions alone, the “general intention of proverbs” (as you say) does not appear to be limited to “a simple distillation of general wisdom” and the general intention of a proverb is not to be “[im]precise grammatical[ly].” Furthermore, the collective definition for a proverb based on the above speaks nothing about its intention to be “easily understood and remembered.” So, the question I would ask you is, where are getting your definition of a proverb from?

Friend:
If an absolute reading of the proverb is supported elsewhere in Scripture, then you can be sure that proverb is intended absolutely.

James:
So according to your technique and logic if Proverbs 18:10 (The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe) was not “supported” elsewhere in scripture you (Friend) would be unsure about whether the message conveyed was absolute? To me, this is analogous to saying that the book of Proverbs is only “absolutely” authoritative in as much as its message is corroborated by another book of the bible deemed “absolutely” authoritative. It is my humble opinion that your technique relegates the book of Proverbs to a “how to be successful most of the time” book. I’m sorry, but I could not be so callous, without warrant, regarding the designation of theses inspired words no matter how many theologians attest to the soundness of your technique.

Friend:
I would not call my technique a “hasty generalization”, as I believe that there are many proverbs that are not intended to be taken literally or absolutely.

James:
My designation of your technique as a “hasty generalization” has nothing to do with whether proverbs are to be taken “literally” but has everything to do with your assertion that “a proverb is not an absolute truth” (unless “directly supported” elsewhere in scripture). I have previously demonstrated why this technique is flawed.

Now that you have introduced the word “literally” to our discourse, I would like to remind our readers that I have always suggested that proverbs may use figurative speech (which is a literary device); therefore, in such a scenario, a literal interpretation is not possible. I would also urge our readers not to confuse the words “literally” and “absolutely.” In other words, there exist proverbs that are not literal but are still absolute. In fact, from a cursory glance I would venture to say that a majority of biblical proverbs have this distinction. For example, it is obvious that Proverbs 18:10(The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe) is unquestionably true yet we see that “a strong tower” is a metaphor (a figurative literary device) for the “name of the LORD.” Finally, I submit to you that, to date, you have not provided even one example of a proverb that does not have an absolute meaning (or at least one that has not been soundly refuted – see my notes in the previous reply on the two examples you provided:Proverbs 10:30,Proverbs 3:9-10). This is not to say that one may not exist, only that you have not provided one.

Friend:
In fact, I believe that it is a well-founded generalization, based on the general intention of proverbs and the large amount of hyperbolic and non-literal proverbs. I just gave a couple of examples, but I believe that there are many more that are hyperbolic and non-literal, so it is difficult to be sure if many of the absolute statements are intended to be taken absolutely.

James:
As an interesting aside, a hyperbolic proverb is a non-literal proverb yet you list them separately as if they did not have a subset vs. superset relationship. Anyway, your implication that figurative speech makes it difficult to understand whether a passage is absolute or not is interesting for at least two reasons. Firstly, Proverbs 22:6 does not contain any figurative speech so according to your implication, it should be easier to understand why its message is in fact absolute. Secondly, the whole bible is rife with figurative (non-literal) language (2 Peter 2:22, Corinthians 13:4-5, Isaiah 8:14, Romans 11:17, Deuteronomy 4:24, Jeremiah 1:17, Galatians 4:21ff , Matt. 8:22, Luke 13:31-32, Ephesians 6:11-17, Mal. 1:2-3, Mark 16:15, 1 Kings 18:27, Acts 27:37, Gen. 12:8, etc.), yet, according to your logic you would not call the absoluteness of these passages into question because the biblical books where these passages reside are not in the poetic genre. This seems very inconsistent. Your implication (that figurative language makes it difficult to “determine” absolute truth) actually allows us to call into question the absoluteness of these passages as well. The fact of the matter is much of the Bible is written in figurative language. Therefore, to understand a passage properly, we must acquaint ourselves with every applicable literary device, in this case, the figures of speech. It is obvious that if we interpret literal language as if it were figurative or figurative as if it were literal, we will certainly miss the correct meaning.

Additionally, over and over again, I have demonstrated that “the general intention of proverbs” is actually not what you have suggested. Proverbs 1:1-6not only tells us the purpose of the book of Proverbs (To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion) but it actually defines what a proverb is (the words of the wise), its “intention”, if you will. It may also be worth noting thatProverbs 1:6 uses a Hebraic poetic structure known as synonymous parallelism where a line strengthens, develops, reinforces or repeats the line before it; in this case, the word “proverb” is reinforced as “the words of the wise.” This seems like the most authoritative definition for two reasons, (1) because the definition comes from the author of the book of Proverbs, and (2) because it’s inspired. Incidentally, another common denominator that would help resolve this particular point of contention would be a dictionary (especially a bible dictionary). However, I have already demonstrated in a previous paragraph that the dictionary definition coincides with the author’s definition.

Friend:
An absolute reading ofProverbs 22:6 is not supported elsewhere is Scripture, so, according to my interpretation technique, I don’t assume that it is absolute, but I also don’t assume that it is general either. I read it generally, because there are other passages and major doctrines that support a general reading, in my opinion.

James:
I disagree that an absolute reading ofProverbs 22:6 is not supported in scripture. In my previous response I gave details and supporting verses that attest to the absolute truth in this verse but you failed to provide a rebuttal. You say that you don’t assumeProverbs 22:6 to be general. How can you read something “generally” without making an assumption a forehand as to its generality? In my opinion, one cannot read text in a certain way until after they have made an assumption about the type of text they are reading. We read novels like novels because we know a forehand that it is in fact a novel, the same goes for news, or technical writings or any other genre of writing. When we come across a particular writing that has no designation we should read it without any particular slant until we can discern a slant. When it comes to the book of Proverbs, if neither the context nor the rules of the language give an indication as to whether the writing is absolutely true or not, we must assume that it is absolutely true, because God cannot lie.

Friend:
Just as you, I believe that one verse is all you need to build a doctrine (except in the case of many of the proverbs for the reasons given above). I agree that my question concerningEphesians 6:4 was a prepositional fallacy. It was not intended as iron-clad defense for my viewpoint. It was simply an interesting question to ponder and not intended as anything more. My main point was simply that you cannot useEphesians 6:4 to defend an absolute reading ofProverbs 22:6

James:
Well you posed the question and I surmised that you were using it as part of your defense (otherwise why would you ask it) so I felt compelled to provide an appropriate answer. As an interesting aside, according to your question aboveEphesians 6:4 supports half ofProverbs 22:6 as an absolute truth. I could pose a question similar to yours by asking: If half ofProverbs 22:6 is supported as absolute truth (even according to your standards) why would the entire verse not be absolute truth? However, I’d be guilty of committing the same logical fallacy you did.

Friend:
Proverbs 15:5 is not directed at the parents. It is directed at the child.Proverbs 15:5 and more relevantly 4:1-6 are included in Scripture as a warning to children to obey their parents teaching. My point is that ifProverbs 22:6 is to be read absolutely, then it would not be necessary to warn children to obey their parents teaching, as they do not have choice but to do so.

James:
Proverbs 15:5 is directed at both the parent and the child. It lets the child know that it is foolish to despise the father’s instruction; it lets the father know that if the child is consistently despising the father’s correction that the child is acting foolishly and that perhaps it’s time to pull out a bigger rod to drive the folly out of the child. It does not follow that ifProverbs 22:6 is to be read absolutely, then children would not need to be warned to obey their parents. In fact, part of training your child the way he should go is “warn[ing] children to obey their parents teaching.” I’m sorry but once again I do not get your point in this particular argument.

Friend:
Both parents and children have a responsibility. It is the parents’ responsibility to teach their children, and it is the child’s responsibility to follow their parents’ teaching. There is one other passage from Scripture that I would like to mention. InDeuteronomy 21:18-21, Moses gives a law concerning rebellious children. It says that if a child will not listen to his parents, then he will be stoned because he is evil. Obviously, the parent is not at fault for not teaching the child properly, otherwise the parents would be punished and not the child. Once again, ifProverbs 22:6 is to be read absolutely, then this would never happen, so why did God feel that it was necessary to include this in the Law?

James:
I do not fully understand how this argument relates toProverbs 22:6 but I can speak to the fact that just because the child alone is punished doesn’t mean that the parent is not as fault. In fact, unbelievably you have again committed the exact logical fallacy that you were just warned about in your previous email, “affirming the consequent.” Once again, in this logical fallacy the antecedent (the parent is at fault for not teaching the child properly) is presumed true by affirming the consequent (the parents would be punished).

Your argument follows:

(1) If the parent is at fault for not teaching the child properly, the parents would be punished.

(2) InDeuteronomy 21:18-21only the child is punished.

Therefore:

(3) The parent is not at fault for not teaching the child properly.

This argument is clearly fallacious; there is any number of reasons why God commanded the Israelites to punish only the child (e.g. He is a sovereign God and can command us to do whatever he wills, etc.). God commanding the law to punish only the child and not the parents does not show that the parents are not at fault or thatProverbs 22:6is not an absolute promise.

Friend:
I hope that has further clarified my position, so that it is understandable. I apologize if it haven’t elaborated enough (I skipped over a lot), but I really didn’t want to write a dissertation (and I am sure that there are probably theology doctorate candidates that have written dissertations on how to interpret Proverbs).

James:
I thought that you brought up a lot of interesting observations; I just think your defense is lacking.  I had hoped that you would rebut many of my refutations but you chose only a few of them to respond to. I try to be thorough and detailed when I respond to individuals that are worthy of such a response. Unless my refutations were so absurd that a response would be pointless, I would appreciate a response, obviously, when you have the time and it is convenient to do so.

Friend:
I’m sorry, I’m just not interested in to getting in to a long, protracted, detailed discussion. I simply wanted to summarize my viewpoint. I thought that you might do the same, and that would be the end of it. I guess I’m not much of a sparring partner. There is just no way to be 100% sure about either viewpoint. The Bible is not a formal, logical system where you can use deductive reasoning to come up with an irrefutable proof that necessitates a particular interpretation of all verses, thus the great diversity of denominations and interpretations of Scripture. It is communicated using the imprecision of natural human language to an audience of finite, flawed human beings. It is not surprising that a book like Proverbs, which is full of figurative language and poetic devices, would contain verses that have many possible interpretations. And, I am not arrogant enough to believe that I am 100% correct in all of my interpretations (Believe me, I am not trying to say that you are). For me, it is very simple. When I am presented with two perfectly valid interpretations of a verse (and I believe that both interpretations of Proverbs 22:6 are valid), I will choose the one that I believe is more consistent with the rest of the Bible. You might call my arguments “logical fallacies”, but they are still evidence that when viewed as a whole seems to point me to a specific interpretation. I might not be able to give you incontrovertible evidence that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that my interpretation is correct. But, from my reading of the numerous, related Bible passages, my belief in man’s individual responsibility before God, and my understanding of the intent of Proverbs, I am lead to the conclusion that a general reading of Proverbs 22:6 is probably correct. You might disagree and that’s fine, because I would not stake my life on my interpretation. Ultimately, our differing views on Proverbs 22:6 will not lead to differing behavior. We will both fervently strive to instill in our children a love and passion for God and His commandments. God will take care of the rest in a way that fits His perfect will. I can say no more. I know you might be disappointed. It has been a interesting conversation, but I’m just not up for any more.

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