Inductive Bible Studies,

[Copyright by W. R. HARPER, 1887.]

PREPARED BY PROFESSORS W. R. HARPER (Yale University), W. G. BALLANTINE (Oberlin Theol. Sem.), WILLIS J. BEECHER (Auburn Theol. Sem.), and G. S. BURROUGHS (Amherst College).


Fifteenth Study.—Proverbs I. - XXIV.

[The material of this "study" is furnished by Professors Harper.]



1. While not all of the Book of Proverbs can be attributed to Solomon, it is deemed best to take up the entire book at this point, in order, thereby, to gain a more comprehensive and more exact idea of the book as a whole.

2. Too little attention has hitherto been given to that department of Hebrew literature known as Wisdom., The law and the prophets have engrossed our attention. This is not as it should be. The practical value of the Book of Proverbs can hardly be estimated. The religious life and experience of ancient Israel cannot be appreciated without a knowledge of that third great department of literature.

3. The whole Book of Proverbs can be read at one sitting of forty-five minutes. If you would prepare yourself in the best manner for a study of the details of the book, its authorship, origin, etc., read the book thus several times.


1. The Book, its Introduction and its Title. Read through the entire Book of Proverbs at one sitting, noting

(a) The Introduction, 1:1-7 (indicated in this " study" as A), of which v. 1 furnishes the title; v. 2, the general purpose of the book; vs. 3-5, an expansion of v. 2a; v. 6, an expansion of 2b; v. 7, the motto.

(b) The New Titles found in 10:1; 22:17; 25:1; 30:1; 31:1; what is the interpretation of each? What inferences may be drawn from them as a whole?

2. Contents of 1:8-9:18. Read one by one the fifteen discourses in 1:8-9:18;2 (indicated in this study as B), and study them as minutely as possible; that is,

(1) read repeatedly;

(2) compare the old and revised versions;

(3) examine the marginal readings of the revised version;

(4) ascertain the meaning of doubtful expressions;

(5) study the parallelism of each verse;

(6) group together the verses needed to complete a single thought;

(7) classify these groups, and decide whether the theme given covers the contents of the passage;

(8) select the more important teachings of the passage:  

(a) 1: 8-19, Admonition against associating with murderers and thieves.

(b) 1:20-33, Wisdom (personified) points out the wicked and destructive policy of the fool.

(c) 2:1-22, Seek wisdom; its attainment will be attended with important results.

(d) 3:1-18, Continuation of the same thought.

(e) 3:19-26, Jehovah, the Creator, will protect those who fear him.

(f) 3:27-35, Be charitable and be upright.

(g) 4:1-27, Advice received by the writer from his father.

(h) 5:1-23, Admonition against the consequences of licentiousness.

(i) 6:1-5, Admonition against inconsiderate suretyship.

(j) 6:6-11, A rebuke of the sluggard.

(k) 6:12-19, Admonition against deceit and malice.

(l) 6:20-35, Admonition to chastity, the consequences of adultery.

(m) 7:1-27, An example of a young man led astray.

(n) 8: 1-36,Wisdom discourses upon the richness of her gifts; her divine origin; the benefits derived from having gained possession of her.  

(o) 9:1-18,Wisdom'sbanquet; contrasted with that of folly.

3. Characteristic Features of B. Note and verify the following characteristic features of B:

(a) For each case of antithetic parallelism there are nine cases of synthetic, and fifty-two cases of synonymous parallelism.

(b) Several groups of ten verses are found, e. g., 1:10-19; 3:1-10,11-20; 4:10-19; 8:12-21,22-31.

(c) The heading "my son, " is of frequent occurrence, e. g., 1:8,10; 2:1; 3:1,11, 4:10.

(d) The style is often very complex, a single sentence extending through three, five, or even more verses, e. g., 1:29-33; 6:20-26; 7:6-20; 8:22-31; 9:13-18; cf. also 2:1-22.

(e) The same subject comes up for treatment in different places, seemingly without plan or systematic arrangement, e. g., the strange woman, 2:16-19; 5; 6:20-35; 7:1-27; 9:13,18; wisdom, 1:20-33; 2;3:13-20; 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9.

4. Contents of 10:1-22:16.

(a) Read chapter by chapter 10:1-22:16 (indicated in this "study" by C) as critically as time will permit, in accordance with the plan suggested above, endeavoring, if possible, to find some connection of thought

(1) between the several verses in a chapter and

(2) between the several chapters of the section.

(b) Select the fifty proverbs in this section which seem to you to be the most interesting and profitable.

(c) Make a selection of those which seem to you to be the most obscure and unintelligible.

(d) Classify the proverbs of a few chapters according as they relate

(1) to the attributes of God;

(2) to his attitude toward the righteous;

(3) to his attitude toward the wicked;

(4) to the family;

(5) to the state;

(6) to ordinary acts of life;

(7) to wisdom;

(8) to vice.

(e) Read a few chapters, and note down any other topics than those just given, concerning which statements are made.

5. Characteristic Features of C. Note and verify the following points:

(a) The fact of a special introduction, 10:1; cf. 1:1.

(b) Each individual verse in C contains a complete idea; but cf. the complexity of style of B (see above).

(c) There are many cases of repetition: 10:1 = 15:20; 10:2 = 11:4; 13:4 = 14:27; 14:20 = 19:4; 16:2 = 21:2; 19:5 = 19:9; 20:10 = 20:23; 21:9 = 21:19; further, in case of parts of a verse, 10:15 = 18:11; 15:33 = 18:12; 11:13 = 20:19; 11: 21 = 16:5; 12:14 = 13:2, etc.

(d) While in chs. 10-15, antithetic parallelisms outnumber synthetic, eight to one; in chs. 16-22:16, synthetic outnumber antithetic, seven to one. Is this accidental or designed?

(e) There is great technical precision in adhering to the regular measurement of lines.

(f) The lack of connection between verses is so marked, that the order might be changed without doing violence to the thought.

(g) There are still other evidences of artistic arrangement:

(1) the use of the same (important or leading) word in two successive verses, e. g., "righteous" (" just"), "wicked," 10:6,7; "life," 10:16,17; "lips," 10:18,19; "righteous," heart," 10:20,21; "wicked," 10:28,29; "froward," 10:31,32.

(2) the recurrence of "Jehovah," 15:33; 16:1-9,11; "king,'" 16:10,12-15.

6. Differences between B and C. From a study of the contents of B and C, and from a comparison of the facts noted as characteristic of each,

(a) formulate a statement showing the differences;

(b) determine whether these differences prove different authorship, or different purpose on the part of the same author, and

(c) form an opinion as to the relative age of the two styles of writing exhibited in these two sections.

7. Contents of 22:17-24:34.

(a) Study closely chapters 22:17-24:34 (indicated in this "study" as D), and prepare an exhaustive list of the subjects treated.

(b) Classify the material thus obtained under comprehensive heads.

(c) Make a concise statement of what is said in these chapters concerning

(1) justice to the poor;

(2) intemperance;

(3) indolence;

(4) avarice;

(5) right treatment of one's neighbor.

8. Characteristic Features of D. Note and verify the following points:

(a) Chapter 22:17 furnishes a new and significant introduction;

(1) compare 1: "7; 10:1; and 24:23;

(2) what is meant by the expression hear the words of the wise"?

(b) The parallelism is everywhere (except 24:16), synthetic; the measure of the lines is irregular (cf. 22:29; 23:29; 24:12), and there is often entire lack of any parallelism.

(c) A thought is seldom completed in one verse (cf. 23:1-6; 24:30-34; 23:29-35).

(d) The use of the address "my son," is frequent; likewise the use of the second person of the pronoun.

(e) There is no systematic arrangement of the material, the same subject being treated partly in one place, and partly in another.

Remark. The relation of B, C and D to each other, their relative age, and other general topics connected with this part of the Book of Proverbs, will be taken up in the next " study."



1) The student of this lesson has only a limited amount of time at his disposal; it will be more profitable to spend this in following out the directions given, and thus coming to an independent knowledge of the facts in the case, than by reading what others have written. But for those who have opportunity to read, the following are recommended: (1) Article on Proverbs in Smith's Bible Dictionary; (2) the introduction in the commentaries of Stuart and Delitzsch; (3) the comments of Stuart and Delitzsch on particular passages; (4) Giekie's Hours with the Bible, Vol. 3, chap. xvii.; (5) Stanley's History of the Jewish Church, 2d series, chap. xxviii.

2) Should there not be time for the minute study of all these chapters. select those in whose themes you may feel the greatest interest.