The Didactic Function of Proverbs 1-9 for the Interpretation of Proverbs 10-31
Proverbs 1-9 has long been called a “prologue” and “introduction” to the book of Proverbs, a label that I attempt to clarify by answering the following question: how does Proverbs 1-9 function with respect to the interpretation of Proverbs 10-31? I argue that, in the detail and holistic context of Proverbs, Proverbs 1-9 functions didactically by supplying interpretive frameworks in literary, rhetorical and theological contexts for representative portions of Proverbs 10-31. Proverbs 1-9 functions didactically by intending to teach interpretive skills, and it functions for the interpretation of Proverbs 10-31 by instilling the competence required to explicate this material. In this way, Proverbs 1-9 provides a didactic introduction for the remainder of the book. The exegetical starting point for this study is Prov 10:1-22:16, a collection of proverbs with hermeneutical challenges that require certain information and skills for interpretation. After exposing the assumptions that underlie these interpretive challenges, I demonstrate how Proverbs 1-9 informs them and hence how it functions didactically, whilst organising the material based on three features of the entire book of Proverbs: character types, educational goals, and the book’s theology. Character types involve the identity and function of certain characters in Proverbs, such as the wise, wicked or diligent man. Educational goals account for the overall aims and values towards which Proverbs guides the reader, as well as highlighting the importance of discerning moral ambiguity. The theological context considers passages representative of those that mention the Lord: human postures towards the Lord, the Lord’s affection and assessment, and his superior wisdom and sovereignty. With established conclusions regarding the relationship of Proverbs 1-9 and 10:1-22:16, the didactic function of Proverbs 1-9 for 22:17-31:31 is also explored, showing the book-wide function of this “introduction.” This study demonstrates the function of Proverbs 1-9 for Proverbs 10-31 in some of the most prominent interpretive contexts of the book and, in the process, advances current key interpretive debates within Proverbs scholarship.