Monday, October 25, 2010

Show Yourself Friendly

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." -Proverbs 18:24 KJV

Here is yet another verse out of the book of Proverbs that, because of KJV rendering, is used improperly in multiple ways.
The first improper use of this verse is simply this: If you want to have friends, you must be friendly.
Various versions appear at first glance to not agree here but the notes for the NET bible tell us clearly what is happening:

"The text simply has לְהִתְרֹעֵעַ (lÿhitro’ea’), which means 'for being crushed' or 'to be shattered' (but not 'to show oneself friendly' as in the KJV). What can be made of the sentence is that 'a man who has [many] friends [may have them] for being crushed' – the infinitive giving the result (i.e., 'with the result that he may be crushed by them')."

What the verse is trying to say is that those with too many friends will find that many of those friends are either fair-weather, or out to use them. Not that if you want friends, to be friendly. The second half of the verse tells us what we all know to be true, namely, that true friends are rare. There is "a friend" that "sticks closer than a brother." If you have many friends, most of them are likely not true friends, but everyone typically has one person who is a true friend. There is one true friend in the bunch.

The second improper use of the verse comes in this last half. When Scripture says "there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother," this is sometimes made out to be a messianic prophecy to the effect that Christ is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. The words "a friend" are taken to refer to some specific personage not mentioned in the text. However, there is no warrant for this. The use of "a friend" is specific for sure. But it is specific in the sense of one out of many, not a specific person. Of your many friends, one is true and will stick close to you--thus, "a friend."

There is one way in which the KJV rendering of the first half of this verse might be vindicated. When it says "He that hath friends must show himself friendly," it could be taken sarcastically. This would have the effect of saying that having many friends is exhausting work. The problem is that sarcasm is an implied tool. Our guess that this is sarcasm is just that, a guess. Secondly, this understanding of the first part of the verse makes its contrast with the last half incomplete--there is no negative counterpart to the idea of a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Lastly, the KJV rendering is not true to the text, but highly dynamic at best.

I don't think any version really does well here, but the NASB and NIV do the best with this verse:

"A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NASB)

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (NIV)


Veronica @ Luv My Quiver Full Of Arrows said...

Thank you for this post. It was very helpful. It helped me in a study I am doing on the verse.

God bless you!

David T. said...

Glad to be a blessing, especially to a fellow San Diegan!