Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 13

Implications of Genre

Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 13
Watching Now
Implications of Genre

The Implications of Genre

Part 1

I. G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible

A. Chapter 1 - Two Kinds of Language

1. Referential

2. Commissive

B. Chapter 2 - Types of Meaning

1. Referent = Subject matter

2. Value = Significance

3. Entailment = Implication

4. Sense = Meaning

5. Intention = Meaning (if author is competent)


The Implications of Genre

Part 2

II. The Genre of Proverbs

A. Definition: A short, pithy saying that expresses a general truth - exceptions are allowed.

B. Examples

1. Proverbs 3:9-10

2. Proverbs 10:3-4

3. Proverbs 13:21

4. Proverbs 15:1

5. Proverbs 22:6

6. Proverbs 22:16

7. Matthew 6:21

8. Matthew 26:52

9. Luke 16:10

10. 1 Corinthians 15:33

C. Difference between biblical proverbs and other proverbs

D. The Problem of Job

1. Job 4:7-9

2. Job 5:15

3. Job 8:3-4, 5-7

  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

How do you even start to study your Bible? What are the guiding principles? Are the rules for interpreting narrative any different from parables and apocalyptic literature?...

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Reading from C.S. Lewis on Christian Marriage.

The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism — for that is what the words ‘one flesh’ would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact — just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.

As a consequence, Christianity teaches that marriage is for life. There is, of course, a difference here between different Churches: some do not admit divorce at all; some allow it reluctantly in very special cases. It is a great pity that Christians should disagree about such a question; but for an ordinary layman the thing to notice is that the Churches all agree with one another about marriage a great deal more than any of them agrees with the outside world. I mean, they all regard divorce as something like cutting up a living body, as a kind of surgical operation. Some of them think the operation so violent that it cannot be done at all; others admit it as a desperate remedy in extreme cases. They are all agreed that it is more like having both your legs cut off than it is like dissolving a business partnership or even deserting a regiment. What they all disagree with is the modern view that it is a simple readjustment of partners, to be made whenever people feel they are no longer in love with one another, or when either of them falls in love with someone else.
~ Christian Marriage by C.S. Lewis

Let us pray.

Father in Heaven we are thankful for this gift you have given to us and to your creation in general – the gift of marriage. We pray especially as Christians that we will honor, that we will treasure this great gift. For those of us who are married, we pray that we will dedicate ourselves to a love affair with our beloved that will last for all this lifetime and will continue into eternity. Protect our marriages our Father. Give us in times of difficulty the kind of love that remembers the oath and promise we made that we will be true until death us do part. We pray our Father then for our families. We pray our Father for those in our midst that are about to be married in the near future that you would bless them in this, that indeed we will exemplify to the world this great gift that you have given to us for we ask in Jesus name. Amen.

The material by G.B. Caird which we tried to have the copyright permitting us to duplicate. That has not taken place so that you have not been able to read Caird. Is that right?

It was on the website. Ok. So some of you have but let me just make a few comments about Caird here about some of the things that I think are especially important.  In chapter 2 in this book, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, he talks about meaning in different ways. 

He talks about meaning with an ‘r’, meaning with respect to referent. 
meaning with a ‘v’, meaning with respect to value.
meaning with an ‘e’ with respect to entailment.
meaning with a ‘s’ in regard to sense.
meaning with ‘i’ in regard to intension

Now he says that this is the way that this word is used and to distinguish the various differences and nuances involved in this word, he puts a letter with it. Now with regard to meaning with respect to referent, he has an interesting comment and I think it is absolutely right on.

He says, “the distinction between sense and referent is so indispensable to any discussion of meaning and so self-evident once it has been pointed out that it is a shock to find learned writers ignoring it.”

Now he is absolutely right on. There are professors who teach and when it comes to meaning there is great confusion for them as to the meaning with respect to the sense or the meaning with regard to referent. Now with referent he is referring to what we call the subject matter. 

Meaning with respect to what it is referring or talking about - the subject matter, the stuff, the event – if you talk about historical materials.

Meaning with respect to value, we have a separate word for. When you value the meaning we are talking about significance. So we will use the word significant.

Meaning with regard to entailment points out that sometimes when we talk about a word, we are talking not about what it means but what this word entails. We have a separate word for that which would be implication. The implications of something.

Meaning with regard to sense would be our simple meaning as such and meaning with regard to intension, I would say is also what we would call meaning if the author is competent. Okay? He makes a separate issue there because sometimes it also might not be competent to do what he is writing. We agree.

But here he has these different ways of expressing meaning – different ways the word is used and he defines these different ways. We fortunately have a vocabulary in which all of those separate aspects have a particular term. It is easier to refer to subject matter than meaning referent. Easier to talk to significance than talk to meaning value. It is easier to talk about implications than meaning entailment then so forth and so on.

But much of what he says in the chapter is very valuable if we translate into our own vocabulary it makes a lot of sense.

Student: I thought that was really interesting. I thought ???

Dr. Stein:  Yeah. Well, we will look at some of that and later on in the rest of the book, he deals with some of that. He is a moderate in the sense that he is not the radical British scholar but he is not a where we are either. He is in between that way. And so for him if there are mistakes in the Bible it is not quite as big a problem as it is for us.

Student: ???

Dr. Stein:  We will come across one thing about prophecy when we talk about that later today. Let us hold off on that.

Now he has a couple of places I just want to refer to what he says because it is helpful for us. Page 39, two-tenths of the way down there is a new paragraph and it reads this way.

“In our attempt to analyze the meaning of meaning we shall have to discriminate between the public meaning which is characteristic of language and the users meaning which is characteristic of speech.”

Our vocabulary – let us translate that.  We must distinguish between public meaning which is characteristic of language and the user’s meaning which is characteristic of speech. Yeah. The norms of language versus the norms of the utterance.  So ok.

Seven-tenths of the way down:

“To understand why a speaker says what he does is not the same things as understanding what he is saying. Many times in the Bible we will know what the Biblical author is saying but we are just wildly guessing as to why he may say that.  We may notice that a Biblical writer – James – is emphasizing the importance of good works with regard to the Christian faith. Why does he emphasize this? That is part of the mental access that we don’t have access to. Sometimes the writer will tell us why he is saying it. Well that is no longer the mental access part of what he expressly states, but to understand why a speaker says what he does is not the same as understanding what he is saying. We can understand what he is saying much more easily than why he or she may be saying that.”

Then in page 40, right in the middle of the page at the end of that paragraph there,

“The most we are entitled to say is that any speaker who wishes to be intelligible will take account of the capacity of his audience so that our judgment about what they are likely to have made of his words provides one possible clue to his intention.”

“Here is why if we say the author is competent, he is using shareable words, how would his reader have understood this combination of words? If we can understand that and we can then we have a good idea of what the author is trying to say. Then…”

Two more references and then we will leave Caird.

The one I have read already. 61

“In dealing with the words of the Bible, we are bound by evidence. Literary critics have wisely warned us against the intentional fallacy – the error of supposing that a writer meant something other than he has actually written.”

We get very spiritual about that too. We have a deeper meaning than what the apostle meant, that the Holy Spirit has given us or something like this. 

“We have no access to the mind of Jeremiah or Paul except through their recorded words – a fortiori – how much more. We have no access to the Word of God in the Bible except through the words in the mind of those who claim to speak in His name. We may disbelieve them – Paul or Jeremiah – that is our right. But if we try without evidence to penetrate to a meaning more ultimate than the one the writers intended, that is our meaning, not theirs or God’s.”

I want to read that again. I like that.

“Literary critics have wisely warned us against the intentional fallacy – the error of supposing that a writer meant something other than he has actually written. We have no access to the mind of Jeremiah or Paul except through their recorded words how much more. We have no access to the Word of God in the Bible except through the words in the mind of those who claim to speak in His name. We may disbelieve them that is our right. But if we try without evidence to penetrate to a meaning more ultimate than the one the writers intended, that is our meaning, not theirs or God’s.”

Very good material from G.B. Caird.

We are going to start now to talk about the genres of Scripture. We have talked about our understanding of what our goal is. We want to know what the author meant, but the author uses literary forms and therefore we must understand what these literary forms are seeking to teach.

I used as a subheading to the book, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing By the Rules. When the book was first published, the person in charge of the final editing was one who also drew some of the pictures and illustrations. I wasn’t too excited by them. It happened to be the owner of the publisher’s companies’ son – vice president, so I liked it better after I found out who he was. But he changed the title to Playing by The Rules: A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible.

Later on they changed it back because they found out that they were being located in Sports sections in libraries, in bookstores. They thought it was a game book.  And Playing By the Rules – it was not a – and finally they realized that somehow the label of the title was misleading people away and so they switched it back to a basic guide.

But the fact is, you can’t interpret a game unless you know the rules of the game.  Now, I don’t want to sound irreverent like studying the Bible is a game, but the analogy is a good one.  If you have somebody for instance who has all his life has lived in Europe and they are familiar with football which is soccer in American understanding and he comes to watch American football, it is just incomprehensible – because these guys are holding the ball with the hand. You can’t do that in football and you find that only one person ever kicks the ball. Everybody kicks the ball in soccer that way and so you have people going out of bounds and throwing the ball back in out of bounds in soccer.

You can’t understand the game. You have to know the rules of the game. So any game has rules associated with it and in a similar way, any literary form has rules associated with them. Now we are going to look at one literary form and that has to do with Proverbs. Proverbs – proverbial literature. 

I’ll give us an illustration – a very familiar one. “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  And I remember back in Minnesota, one of the pastors preaching a sermon on that and telling the congregation, he knows his children will grow up to be Christian, because they are being raised as they should in the fear and admonition of the Lord and when they are old, they will not depart from it.

And I thought “What a dumb thing to say!” from the pulpit. I mean that’s really foolish. For one thing of those devout people in your congregation who have sought through prayer and all their lives sought to raise their children to know and follow the Lord and one of them is a prodigal and it breaks their heart. They don’t need to hear that. They don’t need to all of a sudden be given a guilt trip in addition. God has been very good to my wife and I. We have three children. They all love the Lord. They married fellow Christians who love the Lord. They are raising their children to know and love the Lord.

But the last thing I would ever say would be that the reason they all are following the Lord is because their father raised them perfectly. I am just thankful that despite my foolishness and errors at times, God in His grace won my children to the Lord. So no one is going to be able to say, “I have raised my children perfectly.” And there will be people who are more devout and more godly than you and I who did their best and they have a child, daughter, son who isn’t following the Lord’s footstep.

There are godly people in the Bible, Eli who has two rotten sons. He knows it but no one has ever blamed Eli. He is a very devout man in the Old Testament. So it happens.

The second dumb thing about it was that think of the pressure you put on the kid. I mean if he comes out as a good Christian, it is all his dad’s doing. The only way he can be an individual is if he decides that - not do what his dad wants him to do. In other words to go the opposite direction.  But what really is silly as far as we are concerned is that it completely misunderstands what a proverb is.

Now proverbs are short pithy sayings often in poetic form that express a general truth. There can be exceptions. And if you go through the bible there are all sorts of verses that clearly indicate there are exceptions to this. Now let us look at a few of them. Proverbs 3:9 and 10,

9 Honour the Lord with your substance
   and with the first fruits of all your produce; 
10 then your barns will be filled with plenty,
   and your vats will be bursting with wine.

When I first graduated from seminary, I was a pastor in North Dakota, so all I would have to do is drive along the country roads and look who had good barns and I’d say, “These people ??? Lord.” And a barn disrepair, “Sinners here” and go on that way.

Now the fact is, you and I know that there are some godly people, things haven’t worked out for. And there are also ungodly people that everything seems to work perfectly. It is not always like that, but it is a general rule.  It allows for exceptions.  But in 10:3 and 4,

3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
   but he thwarts the craving of the wicked. 
4 A slack hand causes poverty,
   but the hand of the diligent makes rich.

There are some exceptions to that. There are some people who work very very hard, so have two jobs, full-time and they are trying to keep things together so that their family can survive. They are not slack in their work.

But isn’t it generally true that people who work hard do better than people who are lazy?

Wouldn’t you want to tell your son and daughter, “If you work out, it will work out, you will do alright?”  One of the great things about our country, if you work hard, its alright. You will do well. Now there can be exceptions, but that does not destroy the general rule.

Proverbs teach a general rule. 13:21, we will look at the other side in a minute.

21 Misfortune pursues sinners,
   but prosperity rewards the righteous.

Its generally true. Lifestyles do affect what happens to people, but there again are exceptions.

A soft answer turns away wrath,
   but a harsh word stirs up anger.

That – generally true as well.  Sometimes a soft answer doesn’t do any good. Generally good.

22:6, still up there. You can actually look at verse 4 as well.

4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
   is riches and honour and life.

Ah for some, it doesn’t quite turn out that way. Then you have,

6 Train children in the right way,
   and when old, they will not stray.

Generally true. You know it’s a tragic thing to see as a pastor and as a friend, people who are botching up raising their children and you just know … you are not keeping your word to them. You say you are going to discipline them, but the discipline is never forth coming.  Or you promised them to do something, you don’t do something. You know this is going to end up disastrously and it does.  You just worry about that. Train them in the right way and generally come out real well.


16 Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself,
   and giving to the rich, will lead on

There are some people that do very well oppressing the poor, but general truth.  Now you have in the teachings of our Lord also Proverbs. He uses proverbs in numerous occasions. Matthew 6:21,

21For where your treasure is, there will your heart will be also.

Now isn’t that a nice succinct way of saying it.  You can have sermons for 30 minutes on tithing or something like that. Doesn’t quite hit it like this proverb. Where your treasure is, that is where your heart is.  That’s the problem with a lot of love of money. Very succinct. Very well put.


52 … for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Ahh… some people have done well as mercenaries or something like that. But if you read that in a church after World War II in Germany, how many people do you think in the congregation would have said “Nah. Its not true.” Wouldn’t they have said, “Yes. We took the sword and perished by it”? It happens. And that’s the general rule.

There can be exceptions occasionally, and that’s the general rule. There can be exceptions occasionally but that’s the general rule. Luke 16:10,

10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

Great. I have one I haven’t put up here. I want you to read. I want you to teach your young people in church – if you are working with young people. 1 Cor. 15:33,

33Do not be deceived:
‘Bad company ruins good morals.’

33Do not be deceived:
‘Bad company ruins good morals.’

One of my close friends and colleagues in Minnesota had a teen age son and he was hanging around with bad company and so his friends said, “I know where there is a warehouse. Let us steal some skis.” They broke into the warehouse and stole some ski equipment and they said to him, “Your father has a bigger garage than ours. Why don’t we store it in your garage?” He is not only not wise in choosing friends, he is not too bright in some ways.  Well it was discovered and the interesting thing was, the other two kids were minors and they were essentially dismissed. He had to appear before the judge and the judge said “This is the first time this has happened to you and so I am going to put you on a year probation and so many hours of community service.”

And then he looked at him and then he said, “But I want to tell you something. If you don’t get some new friends, you are going to get into serious trouble.” The judge knew that bad company ruins good morals. And he was hanging around with bad company.

So what is a proverb?

A proverb is a short pithy saying that expresses a general truth. A general truth. There can be exceptions but it is generally true.  The exceptions do not refute it. It is true despite the exceptions.  The exceptions – but exceptions that prove the rule.

Now these proverbs generally come from wise people who have observed carefully the world around them.  And that’s why a proverb is not limited to the Bible.  There were Egyptian proverbs, Greek proverbs. Every society has a group of proverbs.  They are handy ways of teaching basic wise rules for life that have been passed on down through the families.

Have any of you heard proverbs from your parents? Can you think of it?

Student: One bad apple spoils the bunch.

Dr. Stein: Yeah. One bad apple spoils the bunch. A penny saved is a penny earned – something like that.

Student: Nothing good happens after midnight.

Dr. Stein: Nothing good happens after midnight. Alright.

Student: One apple a day keeps the doctors away.

Dr. Stein: An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Ok. All sorts of proverbs like that.

My mother shared a proverb in German with me. ??? What one doesn’t have in the head, one must have in his legs. I remember that every time I come to a class like this and I realize I left something in the office.  I say, if you don’t have any brains, you have to make it up in your legs that way.

The unfortunate thing about the proverbs is that when your mind is clear and you don’t need your legs, you have good legs and when your mind is going, then your legs are usually going. So it doesn’t always help that way. So – short pithy saying. General truth.

Student: ???

Dr. Stein: Sure. Sure. They are general rules for life as to wise living. And many of them have a general aspect that anybody can find access to.  If I were a pastor today I would have in my bulletin, things every week I’d have a proverb from the book of Proverbs. Probably have a catechetical question and answer or something like that. I’d do a number of things. But I think I’d regularly have a proverb in there. They are great ways of teaching people.

Having said this, what is the difference between a proverb in our Bible and a proverb in the Egyptian book of wisdom or in the other wise observations made in the world? What I would suggest is that the difference between a biblical proverb and a proverb that is not inspired is that the biblical proverb has been formed by wise people who filter their observations of life around them through the filter of Scripture and the Word of God, so that they bring with them a God-given sense of reality in the world around them and as they observe they observe the world through that God-given filter. A so they have a better understanding and thus a better proverb results.

For example, years ago when Alexander Solzhenitsyn was finally released from Russian in the gulag in which he had been a prisoner for years, he came to America and was involved in a series of lectures. And after one lecture somebody in the group said to him, “Professor Solzhenitsyn, have you ever heard the proverb ‘Better Red than dead’?”  And Alexander Solzhenitsyn looked at him and said, “That’s a terrible thing to say. We also have a proverb in Russia, ‘Better dead than a scoundrel.’”

I would suggest that the second one is filtered more through the biblical understanding of reality than the first and the writers of the proverbs in Scripture bring with them that understanding of Scripture that helps them observe nature in light of that.

Now one of the books that I have had trouble in understanding for many years was the book of Job and the reason I have problems with this book was that I know Job’s comforters are not doing something right.  But every time I read them they seem to be saying good things.

What they are saying – yeah – I mean they are quoting proverbs, who can argue against these proverbs?

Job 4:7-9, this is Eliphaz.

“7 ‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished?
   Or where were the upright cut off? 
8 As I have seen, those who plough iniquity
   and sow trouble reap the same. 
9 By the breath of God they perish,
   and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.”

Right on Eliphaz. You are right on. 5:15,

15 But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth,
   from the hand of the mighty. 
16 So the poor have hope,
   and injustice shuts its mouth.

Yes. He is right on Job, listen to Eliphaz here. 8:3 and following…

3 Does God pervert justice?
   Or does the Almighty* pervert the right? 
4 If your children sinned against him,
   he delivered them into the power of their transgression. 
5 If you will seek God
   and make supplication to the Almighty,* 
6 if you are pure and upright,
   surely then he will rouse himself for you
   and restore to you your rightful place. 
7 Though your beginning was small,
   your latter days will be very great.

Yeah. Alright – Bildad, you are right on. Now what is the problem in all this?

What they are doing is quoting good proverbs . . . The problem however is that – and here is where for instance I disagree with G.B. Caird.  He has kind of a lower view of proverbs and says that the book of Job is an attempt to refute this. I don’t this is a refutation of Proverbs. I think it’s a refutation of interpreting proverbs as being universal and never allowing an exception.

What the problem is, they are applying a proverb to Job and Job is saying, “Yeah. But that doesn’t fit here.” What you are saying is true and I agree with it but it doesn’t apply to me.  I am not the one that the proverb is talking negatively about in this regard and so here you have an example of proverbs that have been universalized without exception.  And all Job is saying, but that’s not true in this instance.

He is the exception. He is the person for instance who has raised his child up in the fear and admonition of the Lord and yet that child has become a prodigal.  When somebody blames him and says “Well. That’s not right. I have tried to raise him in the fear and admonition of the Lord.”  It doesn’t fit here. It just doesn’t work.

The problem of Job’s comforters is that they universalize the general truth-like nature of a proverb and that’s where their failure comes in. And for the person for instance in the church who has raised their child as best as they have known how and they have drifted away someway. Instead of clubbing them with a proverb and bringing more guilt upon them, what you say is you know the one thing that you gave to your children that they can never lose. They know where to turn. They know where home is.

And like the prodigal of old, when their world collapses, they at least know how to how to come back to their father. They know the way to the Lord that you taught them and they will never lose that.  Lets pray – why don’t we pray together? I’ll pray with you each week that God in his mercy would bring them to turn around and that they will come back and remember what they have been taught.

Try to encourage them that way by the proverb rather than using it as a club or something like that and hurt them even more.

Simple rule for Proverbs. Proverbs teach general truths.  They allow for exceptions. Remember teaching a Sunday school class and some of the people said – you know its always bothered me and it makes perfect sense. Now I understand – yeah. That makes good sense. Sure. Sure. Its is a simple rule.

When you utter a proverb, you don’t list the exceptions.  You don’t say, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it, except in the following instances of course.” That’s not the way proverbs work. They are short, pithy, general statements that are very useful. Now you can of course make a proverb in a form that it will be universal but lots of time you must allow for an exception.

Student: ??? if we universalize ???

Dr. Stein: It would still be a proverb yeah but. For instance if you say, everything that goes up comes down. Now that’s a … very few exceptions to it.

Student: The reason I ask is ???

Dr. Stein: Yeah. There is no exception to that but there is an exception that all who take the sword shall perish by the sword. Yeah. So that … as long as you allow for the possibility. Now if the exceptions of the rule - its not a proverb anymore so it’s a miscommunication, so generally yeah. That’s what happens.

If Proverbs are wise observations about life it shouldn’t be surprising to any of us that there would be proverbs in other religious groups in other parts of the world that are very close to what - what we have as well. But I would say that all the proverbs that we have, I would except as being wisdom from godly people who are led by the spirit to record it.  I wouldn’t say that about all the wisdom in the other groups.  Sometimes though – they can observe that. Sure.

There is a general understanding of life that Proverbs deals with. Wise people can look back and make wise observations.

Student: ???

Dr. Stein: Yeah. I think you could say that. What Job’s friend is saying is a very good proverb. It is a general truth.  The danger of course is that it may not have fit Job in this instance.