The Distortion of Bible Translations - A Study on Proverbs 17:8

A reading of Proverbs 17:8 on different translations give different answers. Which one is right? It is a good illustration of how our biases or corrupted minds, even with a group of experts, could get the translation wrong. It is important that we read different translations of the Bible carefully.
Proverbs 17:8

(ESV)  A bribe (H7810) is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.
(ISV)  A bribe works wonders in the eyes of its giver; wherever he turns he prospers.
(NASB)  A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; Wherever he turns, he prospers.

Some translations find it odds, and hence translate as:
(GNB)  Some people think a bribe works like magic; they believe it can do anything.

(KJV)  A gift(H7810) is as a precious stone in the eyes of him that hath it: whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.

So, some translators translated H7810 as bribes and some as gifts. The following translated it as wages.

(ABP+)  wage G3408 is a favorable Instruction to the ones employing it; and wherever it shall turn, the way shall be prosperous.

The Issue - The Meaning of H7810

The Strong's Concordance gives:

H7810 שַׁחַד shachad shakh'-ad

From H7809; a donation (venal or redemptive): - bribe (-ry), gift, present, reward.

Total KJV Occurrences: 23
  • reward, 7 : Deu_10:17, Deu_27:25, Psa_15:5, Pro_21:14, Isa_5:23, Isa_45:13, Mic_3:11
  • gift, 6:Exo_23:8 (2), Deu_16:19 (2), Pro_17:8, Pro_17:23
  • gifts, 4:2Ch_19:7, Pro_6:35, Isa_1:23, Eze_22:12
  • bribes, 3:1Sa_8:3, Psa_26:10, Isa_33:15
  • present, 2:1Ki_15:19, 2Ki_16:8
  • bribery, 1: Job_15:34
We can see of the 23 occurrences, bribes only occur 4 times where as gifts occur 12 times (including present 2 times) and rewards 7 times.

The Differences of Gifts, Bribes, and Rewards:

Gifts have a neutral or positive meaning. It may be just a show one appreciation for some work or help or just for nothing but being there.

Rewards are repayments for work done. It is like wages or incentives.

Bribes, however, is negative and considered bad.

Which One is Right?
We should go by the context of the verse. In the whole of Proverb 17, H7809 appeared twice.
The first in verse 8 and then the second one is many verses later in verse 23.

Pro 17:23  A wicked man taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment. 

If I am the writer, I will make sure that my readers do not misunderstand me. I would not write something odd and then explain it many verses later.

So, I would say that the KJV is right in using Gifts or even Rewards in verse 8 but not Bribe. It is very misleading to use bribe as if the author endorses the behavior.

Verse 23 is fact tells us the true definition of a bribe - a gift with the wrong use of distorting the truth. That is clearly to be condemned. The use of 'wicked' makes it very clear.

The Best Interpretation:

Ironside (Ironside's Notes on Selected Books) interpreted 17:8 as:
A gift presented as a token of pure affection and respect will be highly valued by its possessor. It will pave the way for a deeper relationship. He who would find love should be a giver, not just a receiver. Jonathan’s gifts to David cemented their friendship by expressing the love that was in his heart (1 Samuel 18:3-4).

The BKC Bible Knowledge Commentary:
The commentators know that translating 17:8 as bribe gives rise to problems and so added much explanation:

  • This verse does not encourage bribery, which is condemned in Pro_17:23; Pro_15:27; Exo_23:8; Deu_16:19; Deu_27:25 (see comments on Pro_6:35). Pro_17:8 of Pro_17:1-28 is simply speaking from the giver’s perspective; a bribe “works like a charm.” To say bribes are effective (cf. Pro_18:16; Pro_21:14) is not to approve them; it simply states the way things are.
All these extra explanations are actually unnecessary if the verse has been translated rightly in the first place.

Modern Day Meaning:

17:8 in modern context actually means use rewards and incentives to motivate people to work for you! Nothing about using bribery to smooth your path. Using 'money' to distort the truth to gain an advantage is called bribery and it is wrong. Using 'money' as incentives and motivations to get people to the right thing well is wisdom.

How our corrupted mind could distort our understanding is clearly seen here. (Titus 1:15-16).

Lim Liat (c) 30 Jan 2018

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