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20:16 Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex לְֽקַח־בִּ֭גְדֹו כִּי־עָ֣רַב זָ֑ר וּבְעַ֖ד [נָכְרִים כ] (נָכְרִיָּ֣ה ק) חַבְלֵֽהוּ׃

( Proverbs 20:16 ) (NASB 1995)

Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger; And for foreigners, hold him in pledge.

( Proverbs 20:16 ) (English Standard Version)

Take a man’s garment when he has put up security for a stranger, and hold it in pledge when he puts up security for foreigners.

When I read the NASB1995 and the ESV, I could interpret Proverbs 20:16 as a warning to people that emphasizes that they should Not be in a position where they are beholden to someone who they know very little about. Let's take a more realistic example. A Christian church leadership at a large megachurch who seeks financial management advice from NonChristian financial advisors of the world. The Chrisitan church leadership may have seen tv/internet/billboard advertisements from big corporate banks or auditing firms about their skills in providing financial management. The church leadership may have been impressed by worldly aspects of these financial firms like the nice brochures, their posh downtown offices, etc. However, the church leadership may have Failed to ask God to give Spiritual insight into these financial firms in regards to the financial advice being given.

Therefore, if the church leadership takes their financial advice, and then end up in debt or bankrupt due to some church building expansion or improperly financing missionary trips then the church will have to face the consequences. All the consequences came about because the church leadership took the wrong advice from Nonchristian financial advisors.

However, I find it a little strange that some translations like NKJV and KJV narrow it down in Proverbs 20:16b part of the verse by emphasizing sexual promiscuity with promiscuous women. In other words, NKJV and KJV translations of Proverbs 20:16 reduce the broadness when it comes to interpretation.

20:16 Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex לְֽקַח־בִּ֭גְדֹו כִּי־עָ֣רַב זָ֑ר וּבְעַ֖ד [נָכְרִים כ] (נָכְרִיָּ֣ה ק) חַבְלֵֽהוּ׃

( Proverbs 20:16 )(New King James Version)

Take the garment of one who is surety for a stranger, And hold it as a pledge when it is for a seductress.

( Proverbs 20:16 ) ( KJV)

Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.

Could someone please read the OT Hebrew Translation, and give an elaborate explanation as to whether Proverbs 20:16b narrowly warns about sexual promiscuity Or if it's a broader warning?

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  • you interpret the verse correctly if you remove your church example and the rest of it. The church example is a poor illustration for if the church leaders were not greedy the church will not suffer severe lost. They will still suffer the same consequence even the finance advisor was a Christian, for the church leaders motive, determines the consequence. If taking the 2nd half of vv16 in parallel to its 1st half, I don't see any sexual implication. Jul 2, 2022 at 3:24

2 Answers 2

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There is a textual matter here with the second-last word of the proverb. Is it:

  • נָכְרִיָּ֣ה = strange woman and thus, a euphemism for a harlot (see BDB #2) as per the Masoretic text margin as used by the KJV, NKJV, NHEB, etc
  • נכרים = strangers/foreigners as per the Masoretic text, as used by NIV, NLT, ESV, BSB, NASB, etc.

That is, should one follow the main text or its marginal reading? Different versions have made different choices. For example, Ellicott summarizes -

(16) Take his garment that is surety for a stranger.—Another warning against suretiship. (See above on Proverbs 6:1.) If a man is rash enough to become surety for another, he must suffer for his imprudence, and learn wisdom by feeling the effects of his folly.

And take a pledge of him for a strange woman.—Rather, take him as a pledge (seize upon his person who has become surety) for a strange woman, (according to the margin) or, for strangers (as the text reads).

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To better understand this verse, it helps to view it in the context of the time period, i.e. ancient Israel.

The first and second parts of this verse are an example of parallelism within Biblical poetry. Both parts are speaking about "surety" or "security" which was a pledge, guaranty, or bond for an item or task.

If a person was poor and was working to pay a debt, the poor person could give his garment as surety at the end of the day to basically say "I will be back tomorrow to finish my work" (see Exodus 22:26, 27). If the poor person gave his garment to a fellow Israelite, then the fellow Israelite could be trusted because he/she was showing love for a fellow Israelite. (Leviticus 19:18) But if the poor person was to give his garment to a foreigner or stranger, then he/she had no guarantee that they would get their garment back; this would be foolishness on their part.

A similar situation arises when a person gives surety to a "strange woman/seductress". The woman could abscond with the garment or surety because she is probably looking out for her own interests.

In effect, this verse is speaking about making foolish decisions. While the verse is talking specifically about "strangers/foreigners", it can be applied in a broader sense in all matters, business, marital, or secular.

For more information, see the topic of "Pledge" in the Insight on the Scriptures.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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