What does Proverbs 6:26 really mean?

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Kim G

Puritan Board Junior
(I apologize in advance if this doesn't make any sense--I was up all night with a sick child.)

I am reading through Proverbs and came across Proverbs 6:26, which has two different meanings depending on which translation I read. I looked online at a number of translations and they are split down the middle.

One way of translating contrasts going in to a prostitute versus going in to an adulteress: "for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life." (The ESV, NIV, and HCSB translate it this way.) It's almost as if going to see a prostitute is not that big a deal, in this translation.

The other way of translating compares going in to a prostitute and an adulteress: "For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, And an adulteress hunts for the precious life." (The KJV, NASB, and NLT use this translation.) In this case, seeing a prostitute leads to poverty, and seeing an adulteress costs you your life.

Why is there such a difference between these two translations? Is there any indication which one is more accurate to the text?

I ask in part because I have heard a growing number of young "Christians" insist that the prohibition of premarital sex is only if you are committing adultery with a married person. Otherwise, spend a little money on a date and have fun. (Yikes!)


Puritan Board Junior
1 Corinthians 6 makes it clear anyways that fornication is wicked. Whoever joins himself with a prostitute becomes one body with her, without any stipulation on whether the two are married or not. The implications of 1 Corinthians 7 are that extramarital sex is always a sin, or marriage would not be commanded for protection against immorality. Maybe ask them, "If premarital sex is permissible, then why does Paul state marriage as a means of preventing uncleanness? Why does he advise it for the unmarried? Wouldn't that imply that all sexual activity outside of marriage is unclean?" If the HCSB or ESV translation were correct, it's only showing the absolute stupidity of committing adultery, and it's about the same as the extreme difference of consequences between hate and murder. You won't receive capital punishment for hatred, but you will for murder. Scripture is clear in other places that fornication is sin.


Puritan Board Sophomore
In answer to the original post, Proverbs are hard to translate because of their epigrammatic nature. In this case it is compounded by the fact that Hebrew has no separate disjunctive pronoun ("but"); the prefix waw serves for both "but" and "and". So both translations are possible.

The two alternatives are either contrasting going to an adulteress as much more costly than going to a prostitute (even though it seems to be "free") or comparing them as equally degrading. Either way, the assumption is that people know that going to a prostitute is wrong (which doesn't seem too hard to establish from Scripture); committing adultery is at least as costly.

I think I slightly prefer the ESV/HCSV disjunctive approach since the focus of the surrounding section is on the folly and cost of adultery. I don't think there is any suggestion that going to a prostitute is no big deal; simply that the hidden costliness of adultery can be far greater even than that of prostitution. But I wouldn't argue with someone who preferred the alternative rendition.

Besides, as has already been mentioned, if you can't see the Biblical teaching the sex outside of marriage is wrong whether or not the other person is married, I don't think that Proverbs 6 will convince you.


Puritan Board Freshman
I do not believe the proverb is meant to contrast the harlot and the adulteress but to point to the vanity of both actions.

Proverbs 6:23-27

23 For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:

24 To keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman.

25 Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.

26 For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adultress will hunt for the precious life.

27 Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?

The way I see it, it's basically saying that if a man fornicates with a harlot he is nothing but a piece of bread to her, on the other hand the adulteress does not depend on her adultery to have bread on the table, but she is looking for lustful fulfillment which cannot be quenched. Both scenarios bring nothing good to the man who commit those acts with these women and will only bring shame and destruction to him.
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