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In Proverbs 30:11-14, which more accurately conveys the sense of the Hebrew (and optionally, the Koine texts)? The NKJV "there is a generation" or the NASB20 "there is a kind of person"?

Proverbs 30:11-14 NKJV

11 There is a generation that curses its father, And does not bless its mother. 12 There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, Yet is not washed from its filthiness. 13 There is a generation--oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. 14 There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, And whose fangs are like knives, To devour the poor from off the earth, And the needy from among men. [italics theirs]

Proverbs 30:11-14 NASB20

11 There is a kind of person who curses his father And does not bless his mother. 12 There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, Yet is not washed from his filthiness. 13 There is a kind--oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance. 14 There is a kind of person whose teeth are like swords And his jaw teeth like knives, To devour the poor from the earth And the needy from among mankind. [italics theirs]

Is the original author describing a particular people or a particular period of time? Or a type of person?

3 Answers 3

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The Septuagint (LXX) often provides a good snapshot of the interpretations of the Jewish scholars who translated the Tanakh into Greek approximately in the second century BCE. Obviously, the source Hebrew manuscript was a pre-Masoretic (MT).

The Greek word they chose was ekgonos (Strong's Greek 1549) which was translated as "progeny" By the Apostolic Polyglot Bible (APB).

With that perspective, one can see how both "generation" and "type" would apply. In this case, I think "progeny" is more the specific term, and it fits well within the context.

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In my reading of the verses, I conclude that it's a class as a whole (a kind of people). If it's not a class of people, then we are at a loss as to ascertain which generation it being referred to.

BDB cites this as an example of "kind" or "class":

  1. generation characterized by quality or condition, class of men: דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ crooked generation Dt 32:5 (song) cf. v:20, ψ 78:8, 78:8, Je 7:29; of diff. classes of wicked, Pr 30:11,

(BDB, s.v. “דּוּר,” 190.)

Steinmann expands on this quite well:

Prov 30:11-33 opens with a list of four kinds of people in 30:11-14, although this passage does not use the number “four” It closes with a list of three actions in 30:32-33, though this tina] list does not use the number' “three .” Moreover, this section consisting of list sayings (3011 1-33) is arranged chiastically into seven (the sum of three plus four) units. See figure 19, which gives chiastic parallels in italics.

Note that 30:17 and 30:20 are not list sayings. Instead they are connected to the list saying in 30:18-19 by catchwords. Prov 30:17 is connected to 30:19 by the catchword "נֶשֶׁר, “vulture, eagle,” and 30:20 is connected to 30: 19 by the catchword דֶּרֶך, “way.”

As with other sections of Proverbs, the arrangement (in this case a chiasm) is not as tightly organized as in nor1~Wisdom literature. None of the units are completely parallel with their counterparts. This looseness allows the reader not only to see a connection to the chiastic parallel, but also to draw connections in other directions, including other chapters ofthe book of Proverbs. This is, of course, similar to the loose constructions found in many sections of Solomon’s proverbs (chapters 1-29). 1

Nevertheless, Agur has carefully and intricately arranged his sayings in 30:11-33 into a cohesive section that explores three main topics: (1) family; (2) government; and (3) foolishness (in contrast to wisdom). The iirst four units (30:11-14; 30: 15-16; 30:17-20; 30:21~23) concern family in some way: fathers, mothers, daughters, birth (womb), and marriage. The fourth unit speaks both of government (“king” in 30:22) and of family (“wed” in 30:23). Therefore the theme of the family in the lirst four units over aps wi the theme of government, which is evident in the fourth through sixth units (30:21-23; 30:24~»28; 30:29-31), each of which refers to a “king” (Note again the organization involving three and four.) The seventh and final unit (30:32-3 3) serves as a warning to those who are foolish enough to have an inflated ego about their own wisdom. This final unit cautions against the notion that if one can comprehend these sayings, one has mastered wisdom (contrast the selfaggrandizement warned against in this unit with Agur’s confession in 30: lb-3).

That Agur has chosen to arrange his list sayings into seven units is no accident. Like other passages in Proverbs that involve seven (6:16-19; 6:31; 9:1; 24:16; 26116; 26:25), he is signaling comprehensiveness: in the case of 30:1l»»-33, the cornprehensiveness of God’s wisdom as it encompasses all of temporal life in both the estates of family and of government. Moreover, Agar has implicitly used the number seven to link the list sayings in 30:11-33 with the sayings about the estate of the church in 30: 1»l0, since there are a total of seven numerical sayings in Proverbs 30 (3027-9; 30: 15a; 30:15b-16; 30: 18-19; 30:21-23; 30:24-28; 30:29-31).

30:11-14 Unit A (see figure 19) lists four kinds of people with attitudes that are opposed to wisdom. All these people are lacking in wisdom because of their opposition to God. Prov 30:11, which describes the first person, is reminiscent of 20:20, where we are told that a person who curses father and mother will be subject to judgment when his lamp is snuffed out. Opposition to parents is a rejection of God’s wisdom throughout Proverbs, as is stated already in 11:8.

The second person (30:12) is a person who considers himself “pure, clean” (טָהוֹר, 30: 12), without fault and presentable to God, though he is unwashed and anything but pure. This is a person who does not repent of his sins. Jesus speaks of the necessity of being washed by him (Jn 13:8-10), and the “clean water” (מַיִם טְהוֹריִם, Ezek 36:25) that God promises to pour out on his people in order to give them a new heart and the Holy Spirit (Ezek 36:25-27) is fulfilled in Christian Baptism. Through this Sacrament, God bestows the Holy Spirit and salvation as he works repentance and saving faith (Acts 2:38-39; l3:24; 1914; Rom 6:1-4; Titus 3:4-7; 1 Pet 3:18-22).

The third person (Prov 30:13) is related to the second, because he has a haughty attitude. The expression רָמוּ עֵינָיו, literally, “his eyes are high,” denotes an arrogant attitude toward God (see the similar expressions in 2 Ki 19:22 ll Is 37:23; Pss 18:28 [ET l8:27]; 13l:1) and is a disgusting thing to Yahweh (see Prov 6:17). The person with this attitude, like the one who curses father and mother, will have his lamp darkened (21 :4).

The final person (30:14) is the most brutal of all, because he not only refuses to help the poor and needy, he actively harms them. hi this way he insults God, his Maker and the Maker of the poor and oppressed (14:31).

(Proverbs, Concordia Commentary Series)

Finally, as a translation note, even if the NKJV translates it as "generation", that doesn't necessarily mean "people within a certain age group." It might just simply be the traditional word "generation" from 400-500 years ago that, at that time meant both "kind of" and "folks within a specific age range." In our own age we mean "within a certain age range" with that word. 400-500 years ago, it meant both of these definitions.

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  • I hear what you are saying. I'm not qualified to opine on the Hebrew language in this situation, so I'll not put up an argument. I will only say that the usage of DOR with which I'm most familiar is more "generation" than "type,' so my mind has no trouble understanding the passage as referring to a "generation" rather than a "type."
    – Ruminator
    Oct 12, 2023 at 16:09
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    @Ruminator For my own part, I'm not saying it's thoroughly conclusive (one way or the other). I'm just simply saying that if both definitions are on the table, the fact that there's no referent for what "generation (people within ~30 timeframe)" leads me to conclude it's "kind/class". But I'm trying to give you the data to work with so you can ponder it through on your own.
    – Epimanes
    Oct 12, 2023 at 16:15
  • And I appreciate your contribution, certainly. We all see from our unique angle.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 12, 2023 at 16:27
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The operative noun in this passage, occurring four times is דּוֹר (dor) and is a difficult word to translate because there is no direct equivalent in English. BDB is not much help because, in this instance, it is delightfully vague. דּוֹר (dor) is a word that is VERY context sensitive.

The Complete Word Study Dictionary (OT) by Baker and Carpenter is more helpful with this meaning:

A masculine noun meaning generation, period of time, posterity, age, time, setting of life. In general, the word indicates the time from birth to death; the time from one's birth to the birth of one's first child; the living adults of certain time or place; a period as it is defined through major events, persons, behavior, and the spirit of the age. ...

In Proverbs 30 it appears to denote the spirit characterizing the life of various types/classes/groups of people. Modern versions clearly struggle to accurately render the word in English. However, in this instance, I think the NIV provides the safest translation which I provide below in point form of Prov 30:11-14 -

  1. “There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers;
  2. those who are pure in their own eyes and yet are not cleansed of their filth;
  3. those whose eyes are ever so haughty, whose glances are so disdainful;
  4. those whose teeth are swords and whose jaws are set with knives to devour the poor from the earth and the needy from among mankind.

Note that V11 is only seven words in the Hebrew (V12 is only six words); the initial "there is" is supplied by the translators and could have equally been supplied as "there was", or, "there will always be", etc. Hebrew proverbs are notoriously difficult to translate.

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  • What might be your problem with translating it with the most obvious reading, which is "generation." Doesn't seem that hard to me. Who told you this was a hard to render, "nothing like it English," word? Most of the scriptures are apocalyptic in nature, and Jesus talks a LOT of trash about his OWN generation, which is clearly the generation upon whom God's wrath was destined to fall:
    – Ruminator
    Oct 13, 2023 at 22:47
  • [Mat 23:34-37 NKJV] [34] "Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: [some] of them you will kill and crucify, and [some] of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, [35] "that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. [36] "Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
    – Ruminator
    Oct 13, 2023 at 22:48
  • @Ruminator There is a big difference between "this" generation and "a" generation. Oct 15, 2023 at 12:44
  • Well like I said, I don't think I see anything here to die over. I did once write this relevant song: drive.google.com/file/d/0B6tcjfI4UpGtdE1wdFRBUnpHUzQ/…
    – Ruminator
    Oct 15, 2023 at 12:54

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