Proverbs 21:8

ESV The way of the guilty is crooked, but the conduct of the pure is upright.
NIV The way of the guilty is devious, but the conduct of the innocent is upright.
NASB The way of a guilty person is crooked, But as for the pure, his conduct is upright.
CSB A guilty one's conduct is crooked, but the behavior of the innocent is upright.
NLT The guilty walk a crooked path; the innocent travel a straight road.
KJV The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.

What does Proverbs 21:8 mean?

This verse contrasts sinfulness and evil with those "pure" actions aligned with God's will (Proverbs 1:7; 3:1–5; 8:34–35). Scripture often uses the metaphor of a path to refer to one's life and life choices (Proverbs 2:12–15). The term used for "crooked" here is hapakpak', rather than the term 'iqqesh seen in other Proverbs, often rendered as "perverted." The word used here suggests something being turned or rolled over. This verse also contains a poetic use of rhyming words: the Hebrew terms used to translate "guilty" and "upright" sound almost identical.

While this verse primarily speaks of those who are persistently, deliberately evil, the Bible teaches that all human beings wander away from the path of righteousness (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:12). A clear distinction was evident between righteous Noah, who found grace in God's sight, and all others. Genesis 6:5 reports that "the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Genesis 7:1 notes this distinction: "Then the LORD said to Noah, 'Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you are righteous before me in this generation.'"

Our ability to know another person's heart is severely limited (1 Samuel 16:7; John 7:24). Still, there is a clear distinction between the conduct reflecting purity which rightly reflects a life saved by grace, versus a life fully engaged in the slavery of sin. The unsaved walk "following the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), but those who are saved and respond as they should participate in good works (Ephesians 2:10).
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