Periodical Reviews -- By: Carisa A. Ash
BSac 174:693 (January-March 2017) p. 109
By The Faculty and Library Staff of Dallas Theological Seminary
“ ‘Iron Sharpens Iron’ as a Negative Image: Challenging the Common Interpretation of Proverbs 27:17, ” Ron L. Giese Jr., Journal of Biblical Literature 135 (2016): 61-76.
Ron Giese, who serves as executive pastor and elder at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has provided a challenging and well-composed critique of a common positive interpretation of Proverbs 27:17. He contends that the most natural interpretation of this text is inherently negative (p. 61).
Giese begins his analysis by surveying previous interpretations of Proverbs 27:17. With few exceptions, published commentaries on Proverbs interpret the phrase “sharpen the face” (which occurs only in Proverbs 27:17) to indicate positive aspects of friendship “along the lines of improving one’s character” (p. 63). Though several authors in the nineteenth century connected the expression to a negative meaning, they “did not explore possible parallels elsewhere in the Old Testament that could imply that ‘sharpen the face’ was a negative act” (p. 64). After examining parallel concepts elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g., “sharpness” connected with parts of the face), Giese concludes that “understanding the expression . . . as ‘improve character’ does not cohere with the dozens of other figurative uses” of the Hebrew term for “face” in the Old Testament (p. 65).
According to Giese, parallel concepts in both the Masoretic text and the Septuagint lead to a negative, rather than positive, interpretation of the text. He finds that the Hebrew word for “sharpen” is inherently negative (pp. 63-67). After briefly discussing interactions with the text in rabbinic Judaism, he addresses the data of the Septuagint and the New Testament. The Septuagint uses two related terms, ὀζύνω and παροζύνω, to translate the two uses of the Hebrew יחד, “sharpen,” in the proverb. The second of these terms, παροζύνω, used in the second line to describe the effect of a person on his friend, is strikingly negative in its other uses in the Septuagint and the New Testament (e.g., Num. 14:1; Deut. 1:34; 9:19; You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe