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The KJV seems to indicate that both the plans in man’s hearts and the answers on their tongues come from the Lord, is this a correct interpretation?

Proverbs 16:1 KJV

The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.

If so, why is this interpretation different in meaning than almost every other translation available, which all indicate that the plans of the heart belong to man exclusively, and the answer of the tongue to God exclusively? Which one is correct?

NIV

To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.

ESV

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

NKJV

The preparations of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.

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  • A man may arrange his thoughts, But what he says depends on the LORD. Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Pr 16). Jewish Publication Society.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 18 at 0:06

1 Answer 1

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First, succinct proverbs are notoriously difficult to translate in any language because of their almost deliberate ambiguity.

Second, the Hebrew of Prov 16:1 is just six words in the Hebrew. It literally reads:

to man preparations of heart and/but from Yahweh answer of tongue

To properly translate into English, extra prepositions, article and verb must be added; and in doing so, some interpretation is required. various versions do this in different ways.

The matter at hand here is the conjunction (a single letter) - should it be translated as "and" or "but"; ie, is the proverb synthetic or contrasting?

The grammar strongly favors the latter as most modern versions render it. Thus, I would render the proverb as:

To man is the preparations of the heart; but from Yarweh is the answer of the tongue

The Cambridge commentary makes this helpful remark:

To man belong the preparations (or plans) of the heart; But from Jehovah is the answer of the tongue.

This cannot mean that wise thoughts are human, but wise words divine, that man unaided can plan well, but only by God’s help can speak well; but rather that after man has done his utmost in planning, his wisest plans may come to nought in the comparatively easy act of giving utterance to them with a view to their accomplishment, unless Jehovah guides his tongue. And the implied moral of the proverb is, If you cannot do the less without God, do not attempt to do the greater without Him; “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths,” Proverbs 3:5-6. Comp. Proverbs 16:9 of this chapter.

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  • + 1 - Bottom line: and & but can be so tricky, not to mention where to place the commas, which don't even exist in the original! Jan 17 at 21:13
  • Thank you! This is a very helpful explanation with a beautiful illustration. I am very impressed at your ability to answer me so well.
    – Judah Girl
    Jan 25 at 4:24

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