Some thoughts on the translation of Proverbs 8:30-31

When I started reading the Old Testament in Norwegian, I discovered a hidden jewel in Proverbs 8. It was the word playing, found in verses 30 and 31.

The idea of God being playful was a delightful discovery for me. But it is somewhat obscured. Interestingly, there is lot of variation in how English translators have chosen to interpret these verses.

The New International Version (NIV) translates them like this:

Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.

There are two words which the various translators have interpreted differently.

  1. The first is the Hebrew word 'āmôn which is translated to one of three very different meanings:

    • constantly (NIV, NIRV)
    • master workman (ASV, ESV, NASB, RSV), master craftsman (AMP, ISV, NKJV), architect (GNT, NLT), master artist (TPT) or artisan (NAVRE)
    • nursling (Darby), child by his side (ERV, ICB, NCV) or one brought up with (KJV)

    The only other verse where 'āmôn appears is Jer 52:15, where it clearly means craftsman.

  2. The other Hebrew word is śāḥaq, which most English translators interpret as rejoicing. However, a few translate it as playing, including CJB, DRA, ERV and NAVRE. (And a few more include playing as a footnote.) The Passion Translation combines both aspects, interpreting it as playfully rejoiced.

And yet, every Norwegian translation, except one, interprets śāḥaq as playing. (The exception is the 1988 translation, which is a conservative reaction to the somewhat liberal 1978 translation. I suspect that conservative committee may have found the idea of a playful God to be too liberal).

Norwegian translations follow the Germanic translation tradition, which is greatly influenced by Martin Luther's translation. Most English translations are heavily influenced by Calvinistic scholarship from Geneva in the late 16th century. And I have discovered that there are a number of places where these two translation traditions differ, such as in Proverbs 8:30.

I am not a Hebrew scholar, so I look to dictionaries, such as Strongs. But as far as I can tell, playing is a more accurate translation than rejoicing. And laughing might be an even better translation. Of the 36 times that śāḥaq appears in the Bible, the KJV translates 20 of them as play or laugh, while only 3 are translated as rejoice (2 of them in Proverbs 8).

Even Wycliffe, who made the first translation to English, interpreted śāḥaq as playing. So I find it a little bit unfortunate that the Calvinistic scholars chose to downplay the playfulness of God, and that their interpretation has prevailed to most English translations, even to this day.

Further reading