The original Hebrew title of the book of Proverbs is "Míshlê Shlomoh" ("Proverbs of Solomon"). When translated into Greek and Latin, the title took on different forms. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) the title became "paroimai paroimiae" ("Proverbs"). In the Latin vulgate the title was "proverbial", from which the English title of Proverbs is derived.
The authorship of Proverbs has long been a matter of dispute. Solomon’s name appears in Proverbs 1:1, "The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, King of Israel." There are also references within Proverbs to Agur (30:1) and Lemuel (31:1) as authors distinct from Solomon. These names are missing in the Greek translation of the Septuagint. Medieval scholars used in the Vulgate the Hebrew rendering of these two verses, and in their eyes the words "Agur" and "Lemuel" were but symbolical names of Solomon. Solomon is often mentioned as someone who has extensive wisdom in the Bible as well as in extra-biblical literature. However at the time of composition it was often the custom to place the name of the King or someone of prominence in writings in order to honor them, or to give those writings more prestige. In 1 Kings 4:29-34, 3000 proverbs and over 1000 songs are said to have come from Solomon and it is also said that people came from all over to hear the wisdom of Solomon. The general assumption is that Solomon was a part of the authorship to some extent, but that the book was not solely his work. Not only are the names "Agur" and "Lemuel" linked to other sections of the book, there are elements of disunity within the book that suggest more than one author. Some of the authorship is attributed to "Men of Hezekiah" (25:1), though it is stated that they simply transcribed the proverbs rather than writing them of their own accord.
In terms of the text itself there are at least eight specific instances where authorship is mentioned:
|25:1||Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men)|
|30:1||Agur son of Jakeh|
|31:1||Lemuel (or his mother)|
As for the eighth section there are scholars who consider the poem at the end of the book vs. 10-31 as written by an unknown author. The attributions of authorship are as follows in accordance with the scriptures above; Solomon, Solomon, Wise Men, Wise Men, Solomon (as copied by Hezekiah’s men), Agur son of Jakeh, Lemuel (or his mother), and the unknown author. With this possibility it is speculated that the sections written by the Wise Men were studied by Solomon and added in and that they influenced his writing. With this possibility it is likely that there would be similarities in the section written by Solomon as well as the sections by the Wise Men. Studies of word usage have indicated that the highest percentage of commonalities are between the three Solomon sections. The next most common are the Wise Men sections, showing that they could have influenced Solomon’s writing, and the least commonalities were with the Agur, Lemuel, and the unknown author. A majority of critical scholars, including James L. Crenshaw, Roland E. Murphy and L.G. Perdue, hold to the belief that much of Proverbs was brought together from a time well after Solomon. However, many well respected theologians continue to attribute most of the book to Solomon, including J. I. Packer, John Piper, John F. MacArthur, and Albert Mohler.
There have been suggestions that there is a crossover of some Egyptian nature in the proverbs from The Instructions of Amenemopet.
Proverbs as wisdom literature
The book of Proverbs is referred to as wisdom literature along with several others: the book of Job, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and certain Psalms, known as wisdom psalms. Among the deuterocanonical books, Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon are wisdom literature.
It is difficult to pin the provenance of Proverbs down. Several suggestions have been made.
In the society of ancient Israel, the family played an important role in the upbringing and education of children. Some internal evidence hints to the use of Proverbs in a family setting; the phrase "my son" appears some 20 times throughout the book. The role of the mother is also listed some 10 times.
The name of Solomon stands in the title of the book, thus suggesting a royal setting. Throughout the Old Testament, wisdom is connected with the court.
It is possible practical and reflective wisdom was transmitted in a house of learning or instruction.
Messianic interpretations in Christianity
There are found in Proverbs, and other wisdom literature, references to Wisdom as a personification. These have long been taken by Christian exegetes as references to Christ, who is called the wisdom of God by Paul the Apostle. The first time Wisdom is personified is at Prov 1.20. In all these passages Wisdom is spoken of as a woman because the Hebrew word for “wisdom” is itself feminine; thus there is no problem associated feminine-personified Wisdom with the male Messiah.
The King James Bible reads, in reference to wisdom, that "The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old." The LORD possessed wisdom and it, or she, was with him from the beginning. She was with him to create what has been created. However some apparently claim that Prov 8:22 was a crucial verse in the Arian controversies of the fourth century. The RSV reads “The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old.” Proverbs 8 has long been taken to refer to Christ, so whether or not the Hebrew qanah should be taken as created or as possessed was used in the debate over the eternity of Christ. Both these meanings are used in the Old Testament, but created is never the sole possible meaning. Kidner goes on to point out that it is absurd to think that God would need to create Wisdom, implying there was a time when he lacked Wisdom. Also, “Prov 8 starts from the indisputable commonplace that God existed before the start of time and ascribes the same precedence to wisdom.” The remainder of Prov 8 shows Wisdom taking a role in creation, and contrasts Wisdom with created things. It is therefore best to take qanah to mean “possessed”; and Wisdom not as a creature.
It has been noted that Col 1:15-16 is dependent on this chapter of Proverbs. The parallels in the roles of Christ and Wisdom lend credence to understanding qanah as possessed rather than created. We are told that Wisdom was, before the Lord made even a particle of matter (verse 26) or gave order to creation (verse 29); Wisdom participated in the creation story. This strongly parallels the role of Christ in Colossians, where he is the “first-born of all creation” and in him were all things created. To add to the identification of Wisdom with Christ, we find that Wisdom was identified with the Greek concept of logos, which was in turn identified with Christ.
- Proverbs 31
- Dean, Matt (1913). "Book of Proverbs". Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12505b.htm
- W. Dennis Tucker, "Literary Forms in the Wisdom Literature" In: An introduction to Wisdom Literature and the Psalms, FS Marvin E. Tate, ed. H. Wayne Ballard, 163-166
- Wade Johnston, Proverbs 8, 2004, 4.
- Derek Kidner, The Proverbs, (Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 79.
- Michael Fox, Proverbs 1-9: The Anchor Bible, (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 284.
- Ibid., 279.
- Ibid., 293.
- Benson, Clarence H., Old Testament Survey: Poetry and Prophecy, 1972
- Blank, S. H. "Book of Proverbs," in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible 
- Chapman, Milo L., Purkiser, W.T., Wolf, Earl C. & Harper, A. F. Beacon Bible Commentary: Job through Song of Solomon, 1967
- Crenshaw, James L. "Book of Proverbs," The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992
- Dean, Matt (1913). "Book of Proverbs". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12505b.htm.
- Jewish Encyclopedia, with dates of compilation and manuscript traditions
- Lasor, William Sanford, Hubbard, David Allan, & Bush, Frederic Wm., Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 1996
- Murphy, Roland E., Wisdom Literature: Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. Grand Rapids, 1981
- Perdue, Leo G. Proverbs: interpretation A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 2000
- Steinmann, Andrew E. "Proverbs 1-9 as a Solomonic Composition," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43, no. 4
- Waltke, Bruce (2004). Book Of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802825452.
- Waltke, Bruce (2005). The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802827760.
- Jewish translations: