I'm not sure if this question has a simple answer or not since I don't read any Hebrew, but when I was reading through Proverbs 22 this morning with my wife, her translation at verse 20 said

Have I not written for you thirty sayings of counsel and knowledge, - ESV

while mine said.

Have I not written to you excellent things Of counsels and knowledge, - NASB '95

I did a quick look with the Blue Letter Bible app of the Hebrew word used here and saw that it could refer to a three-fold measure, and I wondered if that is why some translations use 30 while others use excellent. I've included a sampling of English translations that use both in no particular order.

  • Thirty: NIV, ESV, NLT, RSV, CSB
  • Excellent: NASB, NASB '95, KJV, NKJV, ASV, AMP

I looked at the Septuagint, and I noticed there is a word τρισσῶς that has no Strong's number and could be modifying βουλὴν which here means counsel. Forgive me; my Greek is very rusty.

This also may have nothing to do with this, but in an English Greek interlinear Septuagint, I noticed that there is a note that verse 6 is probably not original, so maybe this is an indication that other manuscript issues are contributing to the widely different English translations.

I also recognize that it is probably just because the Hebrew word has a different and wider semantic domain than its English counterpart.


Before posting, I noticed that this question addresses the same verse but, in my opinion, is different from what I'm asking. The first answer with two upvotes, however, does provide some information related to my question. I believe the second answer with one upvote more closely addresses the question I am asking. The question above has no accepted answer yet, so I thought maybe I could ask mine here as a separate question.


1 Answer 1


The word "thirty" is not in the LXX of Proverbs 22:20, or in the MT as is indicated by the masoretic nekudot/vocalization (however the consonantal text supports it, see below). The LXX has "threefold" instead, and the MT supports this.

In Proverbs 22, NIV has a section title "Thirty Sayings of the Wise".

Saying 1 starts in Proverbs 22:17.
Saying 2 starts in Proverbs 22:22.
Saying 30 ends in the last verse of Proverbs 24.


Cambridge Bible explains the LXX translation:

  1. excellent things] The word has been thought to denote the chief of the three persons who formed the complement of an ancient war-chariot, and so to mean principal or excellent. In Proverbs 8:6 “excellent things” are literally princely things or words. The LXX. and Vulg., however, render the word literally, “thrice,” or “in threefold form,” τρισσῶς, tripliciter, possibly with the idea of reiteration to impress the lesson. Comp. Acts 10:16.

Acts 10:16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Some versions translate it as “excellent things” and some as “thirty sayings”.

thirty sayings
שָׁלִישִׁ֑ים (šā·lî·šîm)
Noun - masculine plural
Strong's 8032:

The word שלשים when vocalized שְׁלֹשִׁים would mean "thirty"

The MT's nekudot (שָׁלִשִׁים) however suggest an interpretation of "threefold" (see NJPS), similar to the LXX. Indeed Young's Literal Translation and others translate it as

Have I not written to thee three times With counsels and knowledge?

Why does Proverb 22:20 say “thirty sayings” in some translations and “excellent things” in others?

Yes, this is a messy verse to translate. The "excellent" part comes from a nuance of the Greek τρισσῶς. The "thirty" part comes from interpreting the verse as part of the 30 sayings that span from Chapters 22 to 24. Also, if vocalized correctly, the Hebrew שלשים would mean 30. Actually scholars have long noted the similarity between this chapter and the instruction of Amenemope, who also has thirty sayings. Erman has therefore proposed to vocalize שְׁלֹשִׁים thus preserving the Egyptian influence on the text of "thirty sayings". This has since become the accepted interpretation of this verse among biblical scholars.

  • So I guess that in a sense neither "thirty" nor "excellent" are better English renderings? They both have merits. The only issue would come if someone was reading the verse by itself without the greater context extending to Proverbs 24.
    – WnGatRC456
    Mar 30, 2021 at 14:55
  • 1
    Agreed. NIV tends to interpret a bit more than other versions.
    – user35953
    Mar 30, 2021 at 14:58
  • Thank you. This helps pull everything together for a better understanding of the authorial intent. I will accept this answer shortly.
    – WnGatRC456
    Mar 30, 2021 at 15:01
  • Glad to be of service.
    – user35953
    Mar 30, 2021 at 15:04
  • 1
    I agree. I meant "the potential collective intelligence of this forum in the future is unbeatable".
    – user35953
    Oct 25, 2021 at 18:31

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