Proverbs 8 has its fair share of controversy. During Sunday morning, we discussed the Arian controversy that mostly surrounded Proverbs 8:22. But another translational difficulty appears in 8:30, albeit this one not quite so theologically charged.
The ESV translates Pr 8:30: “then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.” A survey of other translations yields many possibilities for the first line: “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him” (KJV, emphasis original); “Then I was constantly at his side” (NIV 2011); “I was the architect at his side” (NLT).
The interpretive difficulties center on the Hebrew word amon. It can have several possible meanings, including “master workman/craftsman,” “little child/ward,” “trustworthy/true/faithful” (friend).
The first of these possible definitions, “master craftsman,” has the majority support of both modern translations as well as ancient translations (LXX, Targum, Vulgate, Syriac, etc.). This would seem to imply that Wisdom was part of the creative activity of God as He made the world.
Some commentators prefer “little child/ward” (i.e., Fox, Proverbs 1-9, 285). The passage has overtones of God “giving birth” to Woman Wisdom (8:24-25 – the word “brought forth” means to writhe in painful labor). Thus, to carry on the metaphor, Wisdom could be pictured here as a young child beside her Father as He created the world. Verses 30b-31 may depict her in childlike delight, watching Daddy create.
Bruce Waltke argues strongly for the third option, “faithfully.” He points out that this best accords with the structure of the text (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 420):
(A) And I was / (B) beside him / (C) faithfully
(A) And I was / (B) delighting / (C) daily
(B) celebrating before him / (C) at all times
This would give the structure an ABC – ABC – BC pattern. This pattern also agrees with the Masoretic accents (the Masoretes were the guys who added the vowel system and accenting system to the Hebrew letters).
This is one of those times where it is difficult to be dogmatic in our interpretation. Certainly, Waltke’s argument does great justice to the structure of the verse, but the first option seems to fit the majority of the evidence and context. A decision between the two should be held loosely.