Questions From Readers
Why does the New World Translation at Proverbs 27:6 read: “The wounds inflicted by a lover are faithful, but the kisses of a hater are things to be entreated”? Various translations in various languages read that such kisses are profuse, lavish, false, deceitful, frequent, plentiful, and so forth.—M. F., United States.
It is true that many other English translations, as well as translations in other languages, do not read the way the New World Translation does in its main text at Proverbs 27:6 regarding the kisses of a hater. However, the New World Translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, Vol. III (1957 edition), does contain a footnote to Proverbs 27:6, which reads: “By corrections of the Hebrew text it may read: ‘are excessive,’ or, ‘are corrupted.’”
Some translators thus have chosen to change the Hebrew word involved. These translators did not accept the original Hebrew word but substituted a Hebrew participle that looked like the original one and that they thought must have been the original reading. For example, the Lexicon for the Old Testament Books, by L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, suggests the substitute word, ra‛a‛, in the niphal (reflexive) form. The Hebrew word ra‛a‛ means to be bad, worthless and hence deceitful.
Now the question is whether to use this substitute word in the main text of a translation of the Holy Scriptures or to keep the original. The original Hebrew word in the Masoretic text is the reflexive participle of the verb athar, and, according to the aforementioned Lexicon, the word means “be entreated.” The New World Translation thus sticks to the original word and renders it “be entreated.”
Another translation that basically sticks to the original Hebrew word is The Soncino Books of the Bible, which renders Proverbs 27:6 this way: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are importunate.” The word “importunate,” of course, conveys the thought of asking repeatedly or of entreating. This same translation also has a footnote on Proverbs 27:6, showing the problem with which translators are faced: “Importunate. It is uncertain what [the translator] intends by this translation. A.V. has deceitful and R.V. profuse. . . . Modern commentators emend the text to obtain a more usual word meaning ‘deceptive’ as a contrast to faithful; but Eitan and Ehrlich maintain that the Hebrew word has that signification [that is, importunate] on the analogy of the [related] Arabic, although each connects it with a different Arabic root.”
Here is an instance, then, where Bible translators, not appreciating what the writer meant, changed the text so that it would read in a way that made sense to them. But the thought seems to be that a lover will inflict a wound upon one in a faithful way in order to do one good. On the other hand, if one wants to have a hater do one a nice, kind thing, he would have to entreat him, because his hate does not naturally incite him to bestow kisses upon the object of his hatred. Instead, he wants to act cruelly. So one has to importune or entreat a hater to render one a kindness. One may even have to entreat the indifferent person. In the parable of the widow and the judge, Jesus Christ told about a judge who did not fear God or have any respect for man. It was only because the widow kept on entreating the judge that he finally responded to her appeals and saw that she got the relief to which she was entitled. (Luke 18:1-5) The judge did not have his heart in it. Likewise even if a hater does render a kindness to one, as a result of being entreated, he may not have his heart in it or behind it and may do it just to be relieved of that one’s entreaties. A person does not have to entreat his hater to inflict a wound upon him; but something nice like a kiss, yes. But the lover who inflicts faithful wounds does so with love in his heart and without having to be entreated.