"Show himself friendly" or "Come to ruin" in Proverbs 18:24?

"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, KJV)

This verse reads differently among the various translations depending on how the word "להתרעע" is translated. Adding to the disagreement on how to translate "להתרעע" are the disagreements on what supporting words to add in English to render idiomatically a phrase that is vague in the Hebrew. The verb "להתרעע" is an infinitive (ל) in the Hitpael form (הת), which means it refers to a reflexive resulting action. Beyond that, there are three theories as to which verb is used for the stem: רעע or רעה or רוע.

רעע (ra'a')

Most modern translations such as the ESV and NIV go with רעע , which means, "to be broken, be broken in pieces, be broken asunder" (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). Despite agreement with respect to the translation of "להתרעע", these translations differ quite noticeably in how the rest of the first clause of the verse is translated:

  • NIV 2011: "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

  • ESV: "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

  • NASB: "A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

  • NLT: "There are "friends" who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother."

רעה (ra'ah)

Some Jewish commentators go with רעה, which means "to be companions" (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). The following commentaries are by Jewish scholars:

that one hath to his own hurt. The verb may be derived from two roots: (1) 'to associate with,' and then the sense is 'to act as companions one to another.' This type of friendship is referred to in the passage, 'There is a friend that is a companion at the table, and he will not continue in the day of thy affliction' (Ecclus. vi. 10). (2) 'to break,' which gives the text the meaning 'to break one another,' i.e. they pretend a friendship but do not scruple to do harm to one another if it is to their personal advantage. Classical commentators adopt the first alternative, which is to be preferred.

(Dr. A. Cohen, revised by Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, Proverbs: Hebrew Text & English Translation With An Introduction And Commentary (New York : Soncino Press, 1985), p. 123)


A man has companions for companye,

But a true friend is closer to him than a brother.

e Reading lehitra'ot, for MT lehitro'ea', "to be broken"; cf. xvii 17, xxvii 10.

(R. B. Y. Scott, The Anchor Bible: Proverbs/Ecclesiastes (New York : Doubleday & Company, 1965), p. 113)

רוע (rua')

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary goes with רוע, which means, "to shout in triumph; to shout for joy" (Brown-Driver-Briggs’ Hebrew Definitions). The commentary for Proverbs 18:24 states:

24. A man . friendly-better, "A man . (is) to, or, may triumph (Ps 108:9), or, shout for joy (Ps 5:11), that is, may congratulate himself." Indeed, there is a Friend who is better than a brother; such is the "Friend of sinners" [Mt 11:19; Lu 7:34], who may have been before the writer's mind.

KJV: "shew himself friendly"

The KJV appears to have followed the the most common Jewish rendering of the word, which is "to act as companions one to another". The NKJV and the YLT agree with the KJV. According to the NKJV footnote, the KJV rendering follows "Greek manuscripts, Syriac, Targum, and Vulgate". The KJV rendering could be supported also by the interpretation that the word means "to shout for joy". Perhaps a man who shouts for joy is a jovial man, and joviality is characterized by conviviality, at least in English (Merriam-Webster).