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( Related Postings: Psalm 37:4 & Psalm 20:4 "...grant you your heart’s desire..." and "...give you the desires of your heart..." "dual-natured layers of meaning" )

(Proverbs 17:16) (ESV) Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense?

(Proverbs 17:16) (NASB1995) Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom, When he has no sense?

(Proverbs 17:16) (KJV) Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?

(Proverbs 17:16) (NKJV) Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, Since he has no heart for it?

17:16 Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex לָמָּה־זֶּ֣ה מְחִ֣יר בְּיַד־כְּסִ֑יל לִקְנֹ֖ות חָכְמָ֣ה וְלֶב־אָֽיִן׃

The (Proverbs 17:16) bible verse seems to be another example of a bible verse that can have multiple meanings or even layered meanings.

( 1st Interpretation ) If I read the ESV and NASB1995 translations then I interpret it in the following manner:

  1. A fool is a person who has "no sense"

  2. which in turn means she/he has "no wisdom"

  3. thus, a fool needs "wisdom" which will propagate to having "sense"

  4. therefore, a fool should Not set a fixed/concrete price on "wisdom" because for her/him it needs to be absolutely precious which could mean that she/he should give all that she/he has to get "wisdom"

(2nd Interpretation) If I read the KJV and NKJV translations then I interpret it in the following manner:

  1. A fool is a person who has "no heart"

  2. which in turn means she/he has No desire for "wisdom"

  3. therefore a fool should Not set a fixed/concrete price on "wisdom" because she/he has does Not care about having "wisdom"

(3rd Interpretation) Some of the commentaries on biblehub.com ( https://biblehub.com/commentaries/proverbs/17-16.htm ) seems to suggest:

"Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges" ---> "Wisdom cannot be bought for a price: it can only be assimilated by a wise, or wisdom-loving heart" which seems to suggest that "wisdom" can Only be acquired by a "wisdom-loving heart", and therefore, it can Not be bought at a financially-based/monetary-based/material-based "price"

Therefore, could someone please read the OT Hebrew translation, and evaluate which of the aforementioned interpretations is more closely aligned with the OT Hebrew translation?

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2 Answers 2

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The key to the series of criticisms in ch17 is that the word "wisdom" in Proverbs does not mean ordinary human wisdom. It is about knowing what God wants from us. Conversely, being a fool is mostly about not wanting to know what God wants from us (the "scoffer" or atheist being the most extreme example).

This relationship is defined at an early stage; "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and understanding" (ch1 v7, RSV).

Since "buying" stands for "trying to acquire", the question "Why?" claims that he's wasting his time.

This brings us to the Hebrew behind "no sense". Not being an expert myself, i rely heavily on https://biblehub.com/interlinear/ , which offers "heart" as the literal meaning.

This rather favours your second interpretation. A fool's quest for wisdom is a waste of time because he doesn't really want it. He only thinks he wants it, because he doesn't understand what it really demands from him.

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When God said in Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NIV):

  • 33 - “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
  • 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

As is today, this covenant apply to gentile as well, for if it is only for Jews, then we would not have our salvation. Therefore we shall believe that knowing God is beyond languages, for we are not teach by anyone, or any book, for God His Holy Spirit is with us, teach us by Himself.

I do not know Hebrew, nor Greek. But I have heart to seek for His wisdom. It is my eagerness to know God make me worthy to earn His wisdom, the wisdom of knowing Him. I may not have the wisdom to make a lot of money, nor that money can use to buy His wisdom. If I think it could, I was a fool.

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