Proverbs 29:21

ESV Whoever pampers his servant from childhood will in the end find him his heir.
NIV A servant pampered from youth will turn out to be insolent.
NASB One who pampers his slave from childhood Will in the end find him to be rebellious.
CSB A servant pampered from his youth will become arrogant later on.
NLT A servant pampered from childhood will become a rebel.
KJV He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child shall have him become his son at the length.

What does Proverbs 29:21 mean?

"Proverbs" are short statements of common sense or creative ways to teach life lessons. These may rely on deliberate exaggeration or wordplay (Proverbs 25:15). They may require careful thought to understand (Proverbs 1:6–7). Of course, when figures of speech are translated, they become more difficult to interpret. This verse uses two separate, uncommon Hebrew words which each appear only here in the entire Old Testament. This opens the door for several different applications.

The word translated "pampers" is mepannēq'; scholars are reasonably certain this refers to delicate treatment or indulgence. A pampered servant is said to become a mānon'. That word is even more obscure and difficult to interpret. Scholars have suggested meanings such as "son," "heir," "grief," or "thankless one."

The concept of "pampering" is usually negative, like the modern English phrase "spoiling a child." It's awkward to interpret this verse to mean that if you treat a servant or employee well, they will become like family. What makes more sense is Solomon (Proverbs 25:1) warning about being taken advantage of by excessively pacified servants. Authority figures are commended for maintaining a positive, fair relationship with others (Colossians 4:1). Letting people ignore their responsibilities helps no one (Proverbs 12:21; 13:24); it leads them to be dependent on the charity of others. The ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament frames this lesson as, "He that lives wantonly from a child, shall be a servant, and in the end shall grieve over himself."

Some interpreters apply this verse to the spirit-body relationship. A believer who pampers his body instead of disciplining it finds that it becomes the master of the soul instead of the soul's servant. It is disastrous to give in to the body's every desire. Paul writes: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (Romans 6:12–13).
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