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Some translations state that “gray hair is a crown of glory; it is found in the path of righteousness”, but other translations word it as “gray hair is a crown of glory if it is found in the path of righteousness”. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but I think there could be good arguments for both translations, and I wondered if there is a good justification for the insertion of the word ‘if’, which changes the meaning significantly. Is this a manuscript issue, or a grammar issue? Thank you.

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  • Welcome to the group Courtney. This is a good question. Do take a look at the Tour and Help pages when you have a chance. I won't add to the answers other than to say that "if" does make sense, because gray hair is given to the wicked as well as the righteous. But this does change the literal sense of the original. Commented Apr 29 at 14:07

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You will notice here that the word "if" is not explicitly present in the Hebrew. However, the meaning of the verse implies a condition. The verse describes the condition under which the silver-haired head is considered a crown of glory: when it is found in the way of righteousness.

The verse does not say:

gray hair is a crown of glory; it is NOT found in the path of righteousness

Therefore, while the word "if" is not directly stated in the text, its inclusion helps to convey the conditional nature of the statement in English. So, it's a matter of translators ensuring clarity in the translation. Its meaning seems to be implied contextually.

Conclusion: Other translations communicate the conditional aspect of the verse in different ways:

Proverbs 16:31 NIV

31 Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.

Proverbs 16:31 ESV

31 Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Proverbs 16:31 NASB

31 A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.

These verses communicate that the crown of glory is found in the way of righteousness. Adding "if" implies that it's conditional and not found in other places, which seems to be implied in the verse.

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  • I'm only being facetious, but if 'head is' is also implied, it could be that the grey-hair is not on the head, but elsewhere we could find grey and imply a crown of some sort?
    – Neil
    Commented Apr 29 at 13:35
  • But none of the translations without an "if" express a condition...
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Apr 29 at 13:51
  • @OrangeDog Thanks for the comment. I note that "if" is not found in the original Hebrew. My reasoning was saying that, when we say something is found somewhere, we tend to imply that it's NOT found somewhere else, which in itself, is a condition. Which is why I believe 'if' is appropriate. I think it's safe to assume that a crown of glory is NOT found in the way of wickedness, which means that in some sense it has a condition. If the verse had said "only if" it is found in the way of righteousness, I may have to second guess my answer. That's my reasoning at least.
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 29 at 18:20
  • @Neil I suppose you are right. Though, I'm not sure where else you tend to find grey-hair, but the head. Amusing to think about.
    – Jason_
    Commented Apr 29 at 18:22
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Let us remind ourselves that proverbs and aphorisms are notoriously difficult to translate; most exploit quirks of the original language that cannot be transferred to the receiving language.

Having said that, here is my attempt to render the sense and force of Prov 16:31 -

A crown of glory is [a] gray head as found in the path of righteousness

Most other versions I checked are just as correct because the grammar of the Hebrew is quite versatile here. However, I cannot see any justification for a conditional clause beginning with "if" (as is unique to the KJV and NKJV).

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  • How did you come to the decision to use "as" to join the two parts of the sentence?
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 29 at 0:45
  • @LarsH - There has to be something and because it is in synthetic parallelism, I chose "as".
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 29 at 2:31
  • the justification for "if" must be in the mind of the translators, and in this case I think it is reasonable -- because the wicked as well as the righteous obtain this "crown." Commented Apr 29 at 14:03

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