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There’s no doubt that wisdom is priceless and the Bible is the source of all wisdom. A misunderstood Bible verse can cause a life of unnecessary confusion and suffering. The Bible teaches us who we are and who God is. Both are the foundations for understanding how life works. Errors in understanding will have serious consequences.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and the one who obtains understanding.Proverbs 3:13 (God’s Word Translation)
What happens if the Bible, the very source of truth, isn’t interpreted correctly? When you don’t understand a Bible verse, do you skip over it or do you stop and search for a way to better understand it? A wise person will prioritize gaining understanding. Difficult passages of the Bible make sense when you make an effort to understand them.
What Exactly is Wisdom?
Proverbs 18:4 defines wisdom as a “rushing stream.” But is that all it means?
The words of the mouth are deep waters,NIV (Proverbs 18:4)
but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.
What is this verse saying? Is it saying that words coming from a person are deep but wisdom is simple (shallow?) like a rushing stream? That doesn’t make sense to me, or it’s confusing at best. To me, it seems to be saying that a person’s thoughts are complicated but God’s truth is simple. While there is some truth to this, that’s not the full meaning behind this verse.
As a new Christian, I read the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. I like it because it translates many difficult passages into more understandable English. But, for Proverbs 18:4, the NIV leaves me scratching my head.
In the post Are You Interpreting the Bible Correctly? I talked about how using multiple versions of the Bible can help you find a more accurate meaning. Let’s see how that helps.
Wisdom is Understanding
Since I became a Christian nearly 30 years ago, many new translations have been developed. This is good news because any one translation has its biases. In considering Proverbs 18:4, the NIV seems to lean more towards a word-for-word translation (like the ESV). It stays closer to the original wording but in this case, lacks readability.
Words of wisdomCEV (Proverbs 18:4)
are a stream
from a deep fountain.
A person’s words can be a source of wisdom, deep as the ocean, fresh as a flowing stream.GNT (Proverbs 18:4)
The CEV, GNT, and other translations omit the “but” and instead find harmony within the verse. The deep fountain and bubbling brook are one and the same. These translations clearly present a positive meaning. Words of wisdom come from a deep place, but they can be expressed in understandable and meaningful ways. When checked against common sense, it sounds right.
The TPT version, even though more of a paraphrase translation, amplifies the meaning further. It adds the idea of wisdom coming from “the one with understanding.”
Words of wisdom are like a fresh, flowing brook—TPT (Proverbs 18:4)
like deep waters that spring forth from within,
bubbling up inside the one with understanding.
The TLB combines it all together into one concise thought.
A wise man’s words express deep streams of thought.TLB (Proverbs 18:4)
A wise person can find ways to express his deep thoughts in ways that others can understand. I summarize verse 4 as a wise man’s words gush from a heart of understanding (see the Pulpit Commentary verse 4). Finally, I conclude that Proverbs 18:4 means that deep words come up from within a person of understanding ready to be applied to life. The deep represents a person’s experiences; the brook represents applicability to life in the moment.
From here we might go on to ask, how does a person find wisdom and obtain understanding? How do you know you have understanding? What are the fruits of understanding something? Wisdom is essentially recognizing that God has all the answers. Sometimes people gain it directly from the Holy Spirit and sometimes it comes through personal experience and reflection (lessons learned).
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.