“He That Winneth Souls is Wise”, An Exegetical Comment on Proverbs 11:30b

Evangelistic rallies, tent revivals, and door-knocking gospel programs appeal to Proverbs 11:30 as justification for their conversion agendas. The old King James translates it as “He that winneth souls is wise.” The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, used this as proof-text for evangelistic endeavors. While a call to arms to invade neighborhoods with tracts and pamphlets may be a worthwhile endeavor, this passage has been poorly misused by well-intentioned Christians, and should therefore be cautiously used.

Solomon has been building a strong case ever since the beginning of verse one of chapter 11. The matter here is life versus death in the realm of wisdom. Wisdom leads to a fructiferous life whereas foolishness leads to destruction. Verse 11 in the ESV says “…and whoever captures souls is wise.” The Hebrew loqeah mepasot usually implies the “taking of lives” as in “to kill.” Yet this does not make sense out of the context, since the “wise” is the subject of the verb. A direct translational read would be unhelpful at this point, and would seem to minimize Solomon’s argument.

The better approach to this section of verse 30 is to parallel Solomon’s words to the central theme of Proverbs (1:3), which is to “receive instruction” or to “comprehend instruction.” There is then a parallel between 11:30a and 11:30b. The tree of life is a reference to the wise who “gathers/plucks/captures life from death. The wise is like a strong green leaf filled with energy and abundance. As Paul Koptak summarizes: “This is an envcouragement to become wise in order to save not only one’s own life/soul but also the lives of others.”

The wise man, the man who bears good fruit (Ps. 1:3) is a man who is deeply interested in the rescuing of those who abide in wickedness and whose choices are leading them on the crooked paths (Prov. 11:20). One must be wise, in order to provide life for the unwise.

In summary, there are evangelistic implications to this passage, but any form of evangelism needs to be grounded in wisdom, rather than a quick 4-step plan to conversion. If there is an evangelistic implication to this passage it is that placing new Christians at the forefront of these endeavors may be unwise since he lacks maturity and biblical knowledge to communicate the wisdom of Yahweh to the world. Solomonic wisdom offers unbelievers more than simply a quick way to heaven, but the very offer of heaven on earth to those who have despised kingly wisdom.

P.S. As Tim Russel observed in a conversation we had, there is a danger of interpreting this as “only the theologically astute can evangelize.” This is not what I wish to convey, so it is an important reminder. In order to best reflect this skepticism, I changed that sentence to this: “…it may be unwise since he lacks maturity and biblical knowledge to communicate the wisdom of Yahweh to the world.”

As Daniel Hoffman observed on FB, there is some type of interaction between Solomon in Proverbs 11:30 and Genesis 3. I have suggested:

One way to consider this is to assert that finding life or being joined into a wisdom/tree implies dying first. Therefore, rescuing necessitates death…abandoning foolishness and embracing wisdom is a form of death.

{Thanks for the interactions of Tim Russell and Daniel Hoffman}

 

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
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