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The standard translation of Proverbs 14:34 is along the lines of (ESV, for example) the following:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

But Young's Literal Translation (YLT) has this instead:

Righteousness exalteth a nation, And the goodliness of peoples [is] a sin-offering.

I couldn't find any other similar English rendering (either Christian or Jewish) of this verse, but the 1599 Geneva Bible has the following alternate in the margin, "and the mercy of the people is a sacrifice for sin."

How can the second clause of this verse have two entirely different possible meanings? And why is the YLT rendering given much less frequently among various English translations?

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  • Because it's a bad translation, proper translation: Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.
    – GFFG
    Apr 28, 2019 at 20:23
  • It should be noted that the Geneva basically matches the KJV in its main text for that verse.
    – user21676
    Apr 29, 2019 at 3:40
  • Related to hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/48375/17080
    – user17080
    Jan 27, 2021 at 18:50

4 Answers 4

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  1. In Hebrew the same word is used for both sin offering and sin: חטאת -- hattath -- It's up to the interpreter to decide whether an offering is being discussed. This is why Young has "sin offering" while others have "sin" and both are literal translations. Slightly more than half the time, hattath is translated as "sin" and slightly less than half the time, as "sin offering".

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However in Proverbs, excluding this verse, hattath is never translated as "sin offering" and only as sin.

  1. In Hebrew, the vav is a generic conjunction that can be translated "and", "but" -- or not at all -- again, depending on interpreter preference. This is why Young has "and" whereas others have "but" with both being literal translations.

  2. The word translated as "reproach" here is חסד -- hesed -- and is almost always translated as loyal love, lovingkindness, mercy [Proverbs 16.6, Proverbs 19.22]. This happens 249 times in the Old Testament. But can also mean "shame", as in Proverbs 25.10 or Leviticus 25.17. However this meaning of hesed is much more rare, occurring only twice in the Old Testament (as determined by the ESV/KJV) (excluding this verse).

Young went with the positive interpretation, translating "hesed" as "goodliness", while the others picked the negative. From this, Young decided to translate hattath as a sin offering and the vav as "and", in order for the proverb to make sense, while mainstream interpretations chose the negative sense of hesed which drove them to interpret the vav as "but" and hattath as "sin" in order for the proverb to make sense.

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In Prov 14:31, every translation I could find (see https://biblehub.com/proverbs/14-34.htm ) has something similar to the NASB:

Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.

As noted in the question, the Young's literal is an exception. The Pulpit commentary appears to explain this well:

But sin is a reproach to any people; to peoples. The words for "nation" (goi) and "peoples" (leummim) are usually applied to foreign nations rather than to the Hebrews; and Wordsworth sees here a statement a fortiori: if righteousness exalts and sin degrades heathen nations, how much more must this be the case with God's own people, who have clearer revelations and heavier responsibilities! חֶסֶד (chesed) occurs in the sense of "reproach," in Leviticus 20:17, and with a different punctuation in Proverbs 25:10 of this book. Its more usual meaning is "mercy" or "piety;" hence some have explained the clause: "The piety of the peoples, i.e. the worship of the heathen, is sin; and others, taking "sin" as put metonymically for "sin offering," render: "Piety is an atonement for the peoples." But there is no doubt that the Authorized Version is correct (comp. Proverbs 11:11). Thus Symmachus renders it by ὄνειδος, "shame;" and in the same sense the Chaldee Paraphrase.

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If you translate the Hebrew literally it can make sense:

" righteousness lifts up a nation, and kindness to nations is a sin"

Misplaced kindness steals from one and gives to another. Just take a look at the social welfare system and high taxes in the modern world.

Righteousness- i.e. charity- is a great thing.

But misplaced kindness is theft.

If you understand French Hebrew and can read Rashi, check it out.

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The word 'reproach' in Hebrew is a derivative called 'behesed' and has a dual meaning. It is used 5 times in the OT. Four times it is used for the loving kindness or the grace of GOD. We know that CHRIST JESUS is the epitome of His loving kindness. Only one time it is used here in Prov. 14:34 as reproach or shame.

The word 'sin' in Hebrew is a derivative called 'hattat' - and also has a dual meaning. Out of the 52 times that it was used in the OT, nearly half of the times it means 'sin' and the other half means 'sin offering'. We also know that CHRIST JESUS is the epitome of GOD's sin offering. Many of you are already beginning to visualize GOD's ultra wisdom in Prov. 14:34b.

Many commentaries flow with the line of thought that part (b) is, naturally, that the sin in today's societies condemns the nation, and unless they repent, sin will continue to drag the nation into degradation and death. Biblical Hermeneutics offers a few new perspectives.

But, also is the Finished Perfect Work of CHRIST JESUS at the cross: free & immense grace of GOD. Proverb 14:34b reveals to us that, yes

  1. sin is a reproach to any people,

but more importantly, the dual meaning here is

  1. the Loving kindness-Grace of Father GOD in CHRIST JESUS had already, more than 2,000 years ago, provided The Sin Offering CHRIST.

This is the very same Sacrificial Ram that Abraham lifted his eyes and turned his face to see behind (behind for him, Abraham, but in his future, in fulfillment of John 3:16 for us all) ever ready for anyone who only needs to believe, to receive eternal salvation & everlasting righteousness, by faith through the grace of ABBA Father.

Quite ever so similar to how Genesis 4:7 describes it when GOD explained to Cain that not all is lost, take heart, don't be crestfallen nor condemned, look! The Precarnate Sin Offering Is ever ready, crouching right at your doorstep, desiring for you if only you would simply believe and rule-take action by appropriating it.

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