Proverbs 8:22-31 (LXX)

Dec 31, 2023

Proverbs 8:22-31 LXX.pdf

By way of explanation, I want to include (and somewhat respond to) a few well respected teachers. First, Dr. Leland Ryken, who is an expert on the Bible as literature, in a recent blog entry ( asks, “Who is Wisdom in Proverbs 8?” The following quotation is part of his answer to this question (but the italics are mine). "The purpose of the entire eighth chapter is to praise and exalt wisdom. In conducting this praise, the writer invents a fictional creation story in which wisdom, as an attribute of God, was actually present at creation. Proverbs 3:19 tells us propositionally that “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth.” Proverbs 8 turns that statement into a fictional narrative in which a personified wisdom was present at the creation of the world. It is as simple as that.” Apart from the fictional aspect, I think we can/should appreciate Dr. Ryken's point.

Second, there is a generally fine contribution by Father’s Andrew Damick and Stephen DeYoung on a recent “Lord of Spirits” podcast (Youtube version:  During the earlier portion of the podcast they discuss this particular passage. Their overall point was summarized later, “... in a nutshell, we're talking about what order is. When we say that God created the universe by putting it in order, what is that order we're talking about? And ultimately that order, that pattern, that logos, that wisdom, is Christ. It's the person of Christ.”  Yet, they caught my attention when they brought up the (probably less than optimum) translation of Proverbs 8:22 from the Hebrew. In fact it turns into basically a rant about "people out there in the audience who are still clinging to this whole some version of the Greek Old Testament is the canonical Old Testament.”  Fr Stephen call such people, “Greek OT supremacists.” This conjures up almost a "guilt by association" with white supremacists! Although I do believe the Greek Bible should be more highly regarded as a textual witness than most MT text afficiandos will like to admit, I would never say the LXX is perfect. I don’t think Fr. Stephen knows me. So, I won’t take his rant personally. Though I may be an Orthodox Christian and a Greek OT affecianado, I am probably not an a “canonical OT” supremacist anyway. Regarding their criticm of the Proverbs 8:22 in the LXX, first, they assume the Hebrew word qānāh is the same as what is reflected by today’s MT text. I will grant that assumption (since I have no other likely proposals). I just want to note that, to assume the MT text is correct could, in many cases, be a fundamental mistake. In this episode they read the text from an unknown MT based English translation. (You can tell the text is MT based because the MT of Proverbs 8:29 includes additional text not in the LXX: "when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, and he made strong…")  Their translation of Proverbs 8:22 reads: “The Lord fathered me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” So, that translation understands the text as meaning “Fathered.” This is clarifed as, “The Lord fathered me or begat. Begot is just a good older English word for, that “I was brought forth”... It's “giving birth to."

Without picking and choosing, the lexical meaning of the Hebrew word qānāh (Qal stem form) is usually documented as:

to buy, acquire, get (85x);

to create, bring forth; (as a title of God) Creator (6x).

Although not definitive, it is worth noting that neither the LXX “created” (Greek  ἔκτισέν), nor the Lord of Spirits preference “Bring forth” (used ~6x in that manner) is the way this word was normally translated. It was also seldom translated as “Beget” by the LXX translators, rendering the Hebrew as ἐγέννησέν. The lone exception to that rule would be Zech 13:5. That verb, for begat, is actually used in Proverbs 8:25. 

In the show’s favor, the NIV 1984 translates this phrase, “The LORD brought me forth.” Yet, it is interesting the NIV felt obligated to note "or - The LORD possessed me.” This is because, usually this Hebrew word qānāh means “to buy, acquire.” The vast majority of times, it was translated by the LXX translators from the Hebrew using the Greek κτάομαι: to acquire possession of, procure for oneself, acquire, get, possess. (NT examples: ‘I give a tenth of everything I acquire’ Lk 18:12; ‘do not acquire gold, silver, or bronze’ Mt 10:9.) I do not know why the LXX translators choose not to go this route. Maybe the Alexandrian translators shrank away from the idea that God might be regarded as needing to “acquire” wisdom (thereby implying there was a time that he didn’t possess wisdom).The show proposes that maybe the rabbis, dealing with a gentile audience/readership would be uncomfortable with the idea of talking about God begetting/fathering/giving birth. So, they shrank away from it and changed it. In any case, these “maybe" theories are just speculation. 

Just to summarize so far, it seems to me, the Lord of Spirits translation would be just as minority a translation choice as the LXX translation (which they rightly criticize). Of course, their translation preference certainly helps the case for orthodoxy in terms of the person of Christ vs Arianism (rather than hurting it as the LXX rendering). 

I want to suggest yet another alternative to consider - one which I have not seen brought up in this context of Proverbs 8.

It is based on first, a known idiomatic usage of this verb (and in its majority sense, i.e., to acquire, or “possess”). 

In a non-literal sense, the word can be used to euphemistically refer to “possession" for the purpose of intimate (implied sexual) relations.

E.g., Louw & Nida note this usage in particular with "σκεῦος κτάομαι" (literally ‘to possess a vessel’) in 1Thess. 4:4

Very woodenly this might be expressed, “each one’s vessel (= wife? body?) should be “possessed” (i.e. utilized for intimate relations) in holiness and honor.”

I would not have suggested such a provocative alternative if it were not for the second basis for this proposal. That is, it seems there may conceptual parallesm between the main “A” terms in the overall chiasm (which would relate to the idea of the intimacy of betrothal/marriage). Note that Proverbs 8:30 is usually not translated with any word that would convey this idea. But I think this idea may very well be present. For vs 30, the NETS version reasonably translates it, "I was beside him, fitting together;” The word is a present active participle form of the Greek ἁρμόζω.  BDAG lists the meanings as either fit/fit in or join (in close association). BDAG mentions the betrothal/marriage concept as part of this latter, 2nd meaning (possibly with middle or passive usage, though this is not explicitly stated). The word in the middle voice can certainly be used with an active sense, e.g., 2Cor. 11:2, “for I betrothed you to one husband.” Louw & Nida list this verb as ἁρμόζομαι along with "to be engaged, to be promised in marriage” as the one main meaning. So, if this altenative is correct, the text of Proverbs 8: 22 might have been better translated as, “ The Lord possessed me” and understood as idiomatic of the intimate character of the relationship. That usage, in turn, would match up with the intimate betrothal reference in the corresponding term in vs 30 of the pericope.

Apart from interacting with these two blog/podcasts, I thought I should draw attention to how the author (likely Solomon, at least for chapters 1-9) crafted vs 22-31 with main emphatic statements strategically placed (as the A terms in the outline). I placed these statements in bold font in my translation so they stand out. The reader should note how they shift from Wisdom being acted upon in the third person by the Lord in the first half, to a nuetral (non-wisdom related) statement in the center, to first person, more synergistic perspective in the last half. Note also the very purposeful temporal usage of particles such as “before” in the first half and “when” and “as” in the second half. Also, the name of the Lord (Yahweh) is placed at the beginning and middle. Lastly, in the LXX text, the word “earth” seems to be used to signal the beginning of the first set of B terms (in the first half) and then used to mark the end of the last set of B terms (in the second half). Thus, the word “earth" marks off the middle section of the structure. However, the use of the word “heaven” is limited to the second half of that middle section of the structure.