Quotation Quandary – Hebrews 12:6 versus Proverbs 3:12

I have been reading Hebrews recently and came across a verse that I have read before but never really took much notice of. Interestingly enough, it reminded me of sermons I have heard in my church, on the radio and on TV over the years of how God chastens the children that he loves. But what struck me as I read the verse was a particular word it used to describe how God treats his children. In Hebrews 12 verse 6, it says “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” As I thought about it, I found it to be an outrageous statement that God “scourgeth” his children. Scourge is a very strong word and it brings image of someone brutally whipping another person with a whip. This is not the image of God that I have seen in the scripture over the years, and to be honest, spanking a naughty child is not the same as scourging another person. So, what’s the deal here? As I asked myself these questions, a thought popped up in my mind, which I believe was directly from the Holy Spirit. The thought was to check if that verse was a quote from the Old Testament. Right after I had this thought, I did a quick search and found out that indeed the verse was a quote of Proverbs 3 verse 12. To my surprise, as I checked what Proverbs 3:12 says, I immediately realized that there was one slight but major difference between the verses, and for me, it changed everything. Here I discuss what I found.

Difference of one word

If you compare Hebrews 12:5-6 with Proverbs 3:11-12 in the KJV, you will see clearly that the writer of Hebrews was not writing his own words but was quoting from Proverbs. You can see this in the comparison table below:

Hebrews 12:5-6 5 And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
Proverbs 3:11-1211 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.

In the comparison matrix above, I have highlighted the words that differ. As you can see it is more than one word that is different. However, when you examine it more deeply, you will see that most of the differences, except for one, are truly equivalent in meaning. Most of these differences can be understood by translation preference in word usage. For example, one translator will translate “de nada” in Spanish to “you’re welcome” in English, while another may translate it to “no problem”, and almost all English speakers would understand both in the same way as Spanish speakers understand “de nada”. However, when “de nada” is translated word for word, it is “of nothing”, but the phrase “of nothing” has no functional meaning to an English speaker. This reference to how that Spanish phrase is translated to English gives the main understanding of how most of the differences of words between the two passages are essentially the same.

The presence of “thou” in Hebrews and its absence in Proverbs 3 does not affect the meaning of the verses. The phrase “nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” has essentially the same meaning as “neither be weary of his correction”. To be faint and to be weary have very similar meaning in general. To be rebuked and to be corrected also have very similar meaning in the context given. Rebuke is a form of verbal correction. Similarly, “Chasteneth” is basically the same as “correcteth”. Chasten has multiple applications of meaning, where it can be verbal or physical, but usually means correction in the form of punishment.

“Every” in Hebrews is missing from Provierbs, and “even as a father the” and “in” in Proverbs is missing in Hebrews. However, the presence or absence of these words and phrases does not change the meaning of the passages. In Hebrews, we see the word “receiveth” as compared to the phrase “he delighteth” in Proverbs. Although the words are different, the meaning is essentially the same as they both refer to acceptance.

The only word that I didn’t mention is the word “scourgeth”, which is present in Hebrews but absent in Proverbs. This, to me, is a significant difference, as its presence in the later text as a quote of an earlier text actually changes the meaning and perception of God in general. As was said in the introductory paragraph, scourge gives the graphic idea of using a whip and lashing someone. This is not an act that any person does in love to someone else. Sadly, it is because of this word that many feel justified in violently beating children over the years. It is also a key source for teaching that God scourges us through suffering as a show of how he accepts us as his children. To me, I think that this line of thinking is quite perverse, and morbid. It does not reflect the teaching of many other passages of scripture. So, how can this be reconciled? I think first we have to look at the originals and not at the translations.

Septuagint (LXX) versus Masoretic Text (MT)

There are two main sources for any Old Testament translation. One is the Ancient Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), which dates back to about the 7th century AD. The second is the Greek Septuagint (LXX), which dates back to about the 3rd century BC. The LXX was a Greek translation of an assumed older Hebrew manuscript that is commonly referred to as Urtext, but which has been lost. Either way, the MT was used as the source for the Old Testament in the KJV bible, and many other protestant bibles, whereas the LXX was used by the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the translation source for Catholic Bibles. The interesting thing to note is that the quotations in the New Testament seem to be taken from the LXX. So, the question of which is the correct or better source considering the differences is a very puzzling question, which really has no satisfactory answer for anyone.

In this particular discussion, I will look at both the LXX and the MT sources, and compare them. What we will see with shock you, and make you think more deeply about translation biases, and how translators’ perception of the world may influence their own work. What is very interesting is that if you compare the Greek of the Textus Receptus (TR), the Greek Critical Text (CT), and the Greek LXX, they all have the exact Greek words and rendering of Hebrews 12:6 and Proverbs 3:12. So, all the Greek text agree. The issue comes when you compare the Ancient Hebrew of the MT with the Greek.

KJV Pr 3:12 MT Hebrew (transliteration) LXX/TR/CT Transliteration KJV Hebrews 12:6
For כִּי אֶת (ki ath) Gar For
Whom אֲשֶׁר (ashr) Hos Whom
The Lord יְהוָה (ieue) Kyrios The Lord
Loveth יֶאֱהַב (iaeb) Agapao Loveth
He correcteth יֹוכִיחַ (iukich) Paideuo He chasteneth
Even as a father וּכְאָב (u k ab) De And
Mastigoo Scourgeth
Pas Every
The son אֶת־בֵּן (ath – bn) Huios Son
In whom יִרְצֶֽה׃ (irtze) Hos Whom
He delighteth paradechomai He receiveth

As you can see from the table, once you compare the original texts, the difference is very apparent. There is no reference or word for scourge in the original Hebrew Masoretic Text for Proverbs 3:12. What is even more interesting is that if you do a lexicon search for the Hebrew words for “scourge”, you will come up with three words, and none of those words are used in Proverbs 3:12:

Strongs Number Hebrew Transliteration Description/Meaning
H1244 Biqqoreth Animadversion (strong criticism; a critical or censorious remark); punishment; correction. [Note that the KJV translators translated it as “scourge”, Strongs concurs with this, but other Hebrew lexicons do not mention scourge. Keep in mind that Strongs defines it as properly meaning “examination”]
H7752 Showt A whip; a scourge
H7850 shotet A whip; a scourge

So, how did the LXX translators end up adding the Greek word for scourge, mastigoo, in that verse? Did the original Urtext have a different rendering of the Hebrew to the Masoretic Text that we have access to today? In all honesty, we will really never know. However, even if it did, which word would be used there? Most likely, it would be Strong’s H1244, biqqoreth, which does not necessarily mean scourge, but gives the idea of giving a strong verbal criticism. It is the only word that really makes sense. Regardless of this point of speculation, it is more likely that there is a bias employed by the LXX Greek translators that assumes that all correction is done through “scourging” or what we call “corporeal punishment”, and thus, they could safely translate the idea of correction more concretely by using the Greek “mastigoo”.

To be honest, I do not want to make this discussion be about saying which source manuscript is valid or better than the other, but rather to point out how errors in understanding can be introduced by bias of translators when they make additions in an attempt to clarify the text from one language to another. The ancient (almost legendary) translators of the LXX were not exceptions to this. The fact that Jesus and the apostles had access to and quoted from the LXX is, nonetheless, very significant. I would even speculate that “mastigoo” may have had a wider scope in meaning than our lexicons are explaining to us. Of course, this minor point is just my personal speculation.

Putting it all together

I am a firm believer that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16) and as such I believe that scripture complement scripture. I don’t believe that God whips his children as a show of acceptance. There are many scriptures in Proverbs that talk about how to properly correct children. The scriptures talk about how merciful and long-suffering God is to his children, and how he loves us. I believe the Record of Proverbs 3:12, which declares that God accepts (or receives or delights) in us as a father does with his children. Correction is meant to keep us safe, show us love, and make us better in life. Nobody uses a whip on someone they love. Criminals and convicts were whipped. Whips give permanent marks on the skin. To become God’s children, Jesus had to suffer as a criminal, although he did nothing wrong. Jesus was whipped, but not because he was the Son of God, but because he came for us to become sons of God. So… No… God does not scourge his children, because Jesus already took that on himself.

As a final note, I don’t believe that the LXX translators had any evil intent when they used mastigoo. I think that maybe their understanding of its use was broader than ours. I think they used it to convey the understanding of correction in a practical way, but in doing so has added a misunderstanding of God’s interaction with us.