Matthew 10:16 (DRB):

Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves.

Is it possible to be wise as serpents and simple as doves in the same time?

I mean wisdom and simplicity seem to be opposite qualities.

The wise usually is patient, careful, prudent and discreet while the simple seems to be naive, unsophisticated, gullible, credulous, guileless and explicit.

Some translations used "innocent", "harmless", "gentle" and "guileless" instead of "simple".

Innocent, guileless seem like simple, has opposition with wise.

Harmless, gentle seem to be more accepted with wise.

So, what is the accurate translation: simple, innocent, harmless, guileless or gentle?

Also, there are translations instead of wise like: crafty, cunning, prudent, shrewd, cautious and sagacious. All of these translations are reliable versions of English Bible.

If the accurate translation is "simple" then how to be possible wise and simple at the same time?

How to be cunning and innocent?

How to be crafty and simple?

A more accepted and logical translation, which is Good News Translation, says:

"Listen! I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves. You must be as cautious as snakes and as gentle as doves.

Latin Vulgate had the word "prudentes" which is translated in DRB as "wise" in Matthew 10:16, in Romans 16:27, Latin Vulgate has the word "sapienti" which is translated as "wise" also. This means that in spite of being loyal to the Latin Vulgate text, DRB has some inaccuracies. But I think that Latin Vulgate is the most reliable and authentic text of the Bible. Also DRB is of high quality.

Biblehub - Matthew 10:16

  • The KJV translates this as 'wise as serpents, harmless as doves'. Thayer has 'without admixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple'.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 4, 2020 at 15:41
  • Could you minimise the link?
    – salah
    Apr 5, 2020 at 0:26
  • I hope you could make the link shorter using the word [look] only. The link at the end of my post.
    – salah
    Apr 5, 2020 at 7:47
  • 1
    @NigelJ thank you very much.
    – salah
    Apr 5, 2020 at 7:59
  • When linking in a comment you do it with a square bracket round the title of the link immediately followed(no space) by round brackets enclosing the URL of the linked site. [Title](https:xxxxx).
    – Nigel J
    Apr 5, 2020 at 8:02

2 Answers 2


DRB - the Douay-Rheims Bible - is an English translation published in 1582 of a version of the Latin Vulgate. It is not a translation of the original text of Matthew. Although Matthew may have been written originally in Aramaic1, this edition is lost, so generally the "original" text of Matthew is considered to be the Greek one.

The Greek text here reads:

Ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω ὑμᾶς ὡς πρόβατα ἐν μέσῳ λύκων· γίνεσθε οὖν φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὄφεις καὶ ἀκέραιοι ὡς αἱ περιστεραί.

Aside from punctuation, there is no disagreement between the Textus Receptus (TR)(Scrivener edition), Nestle-Aland (28th ed.) Critical Text (CT), or the 1904 Patriarchal Text (PT) of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The words you ask about are in bold. The 11th edition of the United Bible Societies Greek-English New Testament identifies a couple of minor textual variants, but all contain φρόνιμοι and ἀκέραιοι.

φρόνιμοι (phronimoi) is the plural of φρόνιμος (phronimos), meaning "sensible", "thoughtful", "prudent" or "wise."2 ἀκέραιοι (akeraioi) is the plural of ἀκέραιος (akerios), meaning "pure" or "innocent."3

The Lord warns the Apostle here in advance to be prepared to suffer at the hands of those to whom they will preach:

But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles (Matthew 10:17 KJV).

The exhortation to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves is meant to teach them that they must be guileless, but at the same time unfoolish. Theophylact explains here:

[Although they must suffer], He also wants the disciples to be wise. So that you might not imagine, hearing them referred to as sheep, tha a Christian must be foolish, Christ says that he must also be wise, knowing how to act when surrounded by many enemies. For just as the serpent allows all the rest of its body to be struck but guards its head, so let the Christian give all of his belongings and even his body to those who would strike it; but let him guard his Head, which is Christ and faith in Him. And just as the serpent squeezes through a narrow hole and sheds its old skin, so too let us traverse the narrow way [cf. Matthew 7:13] and shed the old man [cf. Ephesians 4:22]. But since a serpent is poisonous, He commands us to be innocent, that is, sincere, guileless, and harmless as doves. For when the offspring of doves are taken from them and they are driven away, they fly back again to their masters. Be wise, then, as the serpent lest you be tricked in this life, but be blameless in all your ways; and as for harming others, be as the dove that is guileless.4

The Douay-Rheims, as mentioned above, is translating from a Latin translation of Matthew's text. The Latin here reads:

Ecce ego mitto vos sicut oves in medio luporum. Estote ergo prudentes sicut serpentes, et simplices sicut columbæ.

Simplices is the plural of simplex which can mean "simple", but also has the meaning of "honest", "frank", "straightforward" or "guileless."5. the latter meanings here are more consistent with the Greek. Prudentes is the plural of prudens, which means "wise" or "prudent".6

Jerome (347-420) comments in Latin on the Latin text and gives an explanation similar to that of John Chrysostom:

Be simple as a dove and lay snares for no man: but be cunning as a serpent and let no man lay snares for you. For a Christian who allows others to deceive him is almost at much at fault as one who tries to deceive others (Letter LVIII, to Paulinus)

1. Eusebius (263-339), quotes Papias (70-163): "So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able" (Ecclesiastical History, III.39). In the introduction to his commentary on Matthew, Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1107) wrote: "Matthew, also known as Levi, tax collector turned apostle, was the first to compose the Gospel of Christ, in Judea in the Hebrew language, for those of the circumcision who believed. it is unknown by whom it was later translated into Greek. The Hebrew text is preserved to this day in the library of Caesarea that was most diligently assembled by the Martyr of Pamphilus. The Nazarenes of Berroia in Syria, who use this text, gave me permission to copy it"
2. F.W. Gingrich and F. Danker, Bauer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (2d ed.; University of Chicago Press, 1979)
3. Ibid.
4. The Explanation of the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (tr. from Greek; Chrysostom Press, 1992), p.85-86
5. J.M. Harden, Dictionary of the Vulgate New Testament (London: Society of Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1921)
6. Ibid.

  • 1
    Excellent and balanced. This is exemplary work. Much appreciated. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Apr 4, 2020 at 16:03
  • Thank you for your nice comments @NigelJ
    – user33515
    Apr 4, 2020 at 16:36
  • @user33515 DRB for me is more accurate than KJV. Latin Vulgate is one of the most accurate translations.
    – salah
    Apr 4, 2020 at 16:51
  • @salah - Your questions all ask whether the DRB is accurate, not whether the underlying Latin (Vulgate) is accurate. Is this what you are really meaning to ask? If so, I think it would be helpful to state that and quote the Latin text in your questions.
    – user33515
    Apr 4, 2020 at 17:37
  • @user33515 DRB is literal translation from Latin Vulgate, thus it has accuracy like that of Latin Vulgate.
    – salah
    Apr 4, 2020 at 17:42

The Greek word you have as "simple" is ἀκέραιος. according to The Complete Word Study dictionary, it literally means "not mixed." The actual definition is "Without any mixture of deceit, without any defiling material". The BDAG has "pure, innocent".

I would use "guileless."

Jesus used two contrasting qualities to make his point. We should be aware of people's treachery without being treacherous ourselves.

As far as the use of "simple," the word can have the meaning of unmixed, not complex. However, I don't see it used that way in normal use.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.