Prov. 20:1 – "strong drink"

I was reading Proverbs 20:1 from the TNIV the other day and found that it uses the word beer rather than strong drink.

  • Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. (TNIV)

It did sound a bit strange to me that beer would be used rather than strong drink so I checked what other translations were using.

NASB, ESV, NRSV, NKJV : Strong drink.
TNIV, NIV, HCSB, NCV, Message: Beer.
NLT: Alcohol.
GW: Liquor.

Strong drink (“shekar“) according to the BDB lexicon is an intoxicating drink, fermented or intoxicating liquor. Strong drink is still accurate, but I am not saying that I think beer is inaccurate either. I feel that there is a problem in using strong drink and beer. The problem with beer is that it sounds overly interpretive and paraphrastic. It also limits what kind of alcohol the writer of Proverbs is referring to. Maybe the wisdom writer did not intent to be so specific as to refer to beer. Also, the problem with strong drink is that it is too vague; that is, a strong drink can be anything. Wouldn’t a cup of expresso or a strong cup of coffee at Starbucks also be considered a strong drink too? God’s Word Translation uses liquor and the NLTse uses alcohol. I like either of these terms; but if I had to choose between alcohol or liquor , I might go with liquor. Since wine is already used in Prov. 20:1, liquor is differentiated from wine yet liquor still leaves some room open for the readers’ interpretation, and it isn’t overly-interpretative that it limits what kind of alcohol it might be referring to.

If one wants to push for an interpretative position of beer, the alcoholic content of beer is actually lower than that of hard liquors. This makes beer less fitting than say liquor or even rum. If one wants to be interpretative, would it not seem more appropriate to translate shekar as whiskey or rum rather than beer due to its higher alcoholic content. And just an aside, I learned about the alcoholic content of various alcoholic beverages. Beer ranges between 3-5% in alcoholic content, wine ranges between 10-15%, liquor is 15-55%, and whiskey or rum is 60%. I am not advocating that using the term wiskey or rum is better than beer but to refer to a specific alcoholic drink might render it less accurate. But then, I could be wrong. It could all come down to one’s preference in taste too. Personally, if it’s a strong drink, I prefer a strong cup of espresso. 😉

2 thoughts on “Prov. 20:1 – "strong drink"

  1. Kevin

    Yes, that’s kind of what I was thinking too. Beer and brawler seem to fit quite well together, even in a modern day “trash the place” bar scene. I’m sure the NIV translators may have had that picture in their mind back in 1970s.

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  2. Mike

    I think the TNIV chose “beer” for the alliterative effect – bear/brawler.

    Also, thanks for your comment. I wonder if perhaps the “and” in Rom 8.21 comes from viewing those two genitives as in apposition to each other. I don’t know. The meaning isn’t very different anyway.

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