The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that is translated as “wisdom” in English is rendered in Amganad Ifugao and Tabasco Chontal as “(big) mind,” in Bulu and Yamba as “heart-thinking,” in Tae’ as “cleverness of heart” (source for this and all above: Reiling / Swellengrebel), in Palauan as “bright spirit (innermost)” (source: Bratcher / Hatton), in Ixcatlán Mazatec as “with your best/biggest thinking” (source: Robert Bascom), and in Dobel, it is translated with the idiom “their ear holes are long-lasting” (in Acts 6:3) (source: Jock Hughes).

See also wisdom (Proverbs).

wisdom ("word wisdom")

In the Tzeltal translation for the dialectal variant of Highland Tzeltal (Biblia Tzeltal yu’un Oxchuc soc Tenejapa, 2001) the translation team used three different words to translate the Hebrew term that is translated as “wisdom” in English. For the verses referenced here, it uses p’ijil c’op or “word wisdom.”

For the complete story and more background, please see wisdom (Proverbs).

Translation commentary on Proverbs 1:2

“That men may know wisdom”: “Men” is supplied by Revised Standard Version. The literal form is “for knowing wisdom and instruction.” Note that New Revised Standard Version has not kept “men”, a term that can be taken to exclude women, and says, “for learning about wisdom and instruction.” Good News Translation “Here are proverbs” makes clear that it is the study of the entire book of the proverbs, which are to follow, that will give a person “wisdom”. Both Good News Translation and Contemporary English Version address the reader as “you.” If the translator is to use a form of “you,” it should be plural and include both men and women, if the language makes these distinctions; in many languages the form most naturally used in this context will be “we” (inclusive). Examples of this are “These good words can give us. . .” and “This talk is to help us to. . ..”

In the Wisdom school of ancient Israel, “wisdom” is both the subject and aim of education. “Wisdom” is the first and most general of a series of words in verses 2-7 whose meanings are closely related. “Wisdom” is a religious attitude that is acquired by discipline and is defined in 9.10 and Job 28.28 as the “fear of the Lord.” As Job 28 makes clear, “wisdom” is hidden, a mystery that is made known to the person who seeks God, who honors and worships the Lord. At another level, the one that is emphasized most frequently in the book of Proverbs, “wisdom” is insight that applies in everyday, practical matters, the equivalent of sound judgment and clear understanding. That is clearly the meaning in this opening statement.

As a general principle, the first step in translating the term “wisdom” in Proverbs is to determine which meaning is intended in a particular context. In the sense that it has here, “sound judgment” or “good sense,” “wisdom” is handled in some languages as a phrase; for example, “knowing the know things” or “seeing the spirit of things.” It may need to be expressed idiomatically in some languages; for example, “having a live liver,” “having a live head,” or “ripe eyes.”

“Know wisdom” translates the Hebrew literally, but the sense is to “obtain wisdom,” “acquire wisdom,” or “get wisdom.” Good News Translation has “help you recognize wisdom.” It is the teaching of this book that will enable a learner to have “wisdom”, and so Contemporary English Version says “Proverbs will teach you wisdom. . .,” which is a good model.

“Instruction”, which is also sometimes called “education,” as used here refers to a disciplined effort. In Revised Standard Version and New Revised Standard Version the same term is rendered “discipline” in 3.11 and is used there in parallel with “reproof,” which means to scold someone to correct their error. “Instruction” in this sense is not merely teaching information; it is the strict practice required to reach a goal. The same word is used in 23.13, where it is said that discipline may need to be reinforced by physical punishment. R. B. Y. Scott says “wisdom is the subject and goal of education in the Wisdom school, moral discipline is its method and process.” Some modern translations that render “instruction” as “discipline” are New American Bible (New American Bible), New Jewish Publication Society Version (New Jewish Publication Society Version, also called Tanakh), New International Version, and New Jerusalem Bible. Contemporary English Version expresses the idea of discipline as “self-control.” However, Proverbs makes clear that discipline is also exercised by parents, wisdom teachers, and the Lord.

The idea of discipline may need to be rendered, for example, “to make people obey what is taught,” “to bring you to do what they teach,” or idiomatically “to command the heart.” We may then translate, for example, “These proverbs will teach you wisdom by obeying what they say,” or “These proverbs will make you wise if you command your heart to learn them.”

“Understand words of insight”: It is through the discipline of training that the learner comes to an understanding or grasp of the sense and significance of these proverbs. To “understand” refers to mental discrimination and discernment—knowing what is true and what is not. The verb translated “understand” is used in 1 Kgs 3.9, where Solomon prays for an understanding heart to “discern between good and evil.” Understanding in this sense is a near equivalent to wisdom.

In the expression “words of insight”, “words” refers to discourse and not to lists of individual words. Traduction Œcuménique de la Bible renders it “maxims [sayings] full of meaning.” Scott says “thoughtful speech,” while Moffatt has “wise teaching.” All of these refer to the proverbs in the whole book, and translators may wish to make that clear in verse 2; for example, “This book of proverbs will give you wisdom as you obey what they say, and you will understand the deep meanings of their teaching.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. and Fry, Euan McG. A Handbook on Proverbs. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2000. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .