Proverbs 11:30: Soul-Winning Or Wise Living? -- By: Lee M. Fields

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 50:3 (Sep 2007)
Article: Proverbs 11:30: Soul-Winning Or Wise Living?
Author: Lee M. Fields


Proverbs 11:30: Soul-Winning Or Wise Living?

Lee M. Fields

Lee Fields is professor of Bible and biblical languages at Roanoke Bible College, 715 N. Poindexter Street, Elizabeth City, NC 27909

פְּרִי צַדִּיק עֵץ חַיִּים וְלֹקֵהַ נְפָשׂוֹת חָכָם׃

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls. (NASB95)

I. The Problem Delineated

This verse has presented an interpretational difficulty for centuries. Commentators still differ on how to interpret the verse, and one commentator concludes that up to the present there is no satisfactory explanation.1

The central interpretational problem is the meaning of לֹקֵהַ נְפָשׁוֹת, which the kjv and many other translations render, “he who wins souls.”2 Many Christian preachers have found this a useful translation to teach the merits of Christian evangelism.3 However, this understanding neither fits the context of Prov 11:30, of Proverbs as a whole or the old covenant in general, nor the usual understanding of the Hebrew idiom “to take life” and must therefore be rejected.4

The nature of the problem can be clarified and illustrated graphically by examining the deep structure following the approach advocated by Ted Hildebrandt.5 Though he limits his study to the antithetic proverbs in chapters 10–15, the principles he uses can be applied to other types of parallelism. He analyzes each line as a topic and comment and classifies each as “approach”

(positive, +) or “avoidance” (negative, -). Proverbs uses any combination of these two: approach/approach, approach/avoidance, or avoidance/avoidance. Hildebrandt identifies eight patterns of antithetic proverbs. He specifies 11:30b as Act Evaluation type. Though he does not specifically discuss the line as positive or negative, he apparently views it as negative, and hence an “avoidance” motivator, because only in this way can the sentence be antithetic. Also, of those proposed solutions listed in the table below that make a choice of whether 30b is positive and negative, at least half choose to make it negative, so that 30b is antithetic. Commentators are influenced by the fact that 90% of ...

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