Help Me Find This Passage

It is better to die in the desert than to live with a nagging wife. Matt mentioned this weekend that the book of Proverbs makes the above statement and yet if I were to search that phrase online, I would come up empty. Not a single translation includes this passage. Nowhere do I find these exact words as I search my ESV, NASB, NKJV, or even NIV.

 

“It is better to die in the desert than to live with a nagging wife.”

Matt mentioned this weekend that the book of Proverbs makes the above statement and yet if I were to search that phrase online, I would come up empty. Not a single translation includes this passage. Nowhere do I find these exact words as I search my ESV, NASB, NKJV, or even NIV.

Was Matt lying? Was he quoting some apocryphal Proverbs to which only pastors are privy? Was he just kidding?

Of course not. Rather, he was merely alluding to and summarizing an actual passage to give the idea and meaning which it conveys. Such allusion is a common tool of the preacher or teacher to communicate God’s truth without always turning to each and every passage and reading verbatim.

This habit of mentioning Scripture without quoting it directly can easily frustrate the efforts of those who desire to be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search out the exact text for themselves. Oftentimes, I will get e-mails from members or attendees who are looking for a particular passage which was referenced by Matt or another pastor from the stage—thinking I will have better success in my search.

In order to help equip in this area, I thought it might be helpful to gather my own thoughts on the process by which I would go about this type of search if I was not a pastor with fancy Bible software (shout out for Logos). Here is how I would conduct my search:

  • I would first search for the phrase exactly as I remembered it.
  • I would next search for only the key terms in the phrase (for example: desert, nagging, wife) with no conjunctions, prepositions, interrogatives, articles, pronouns, etc. I would try various combinations of those key terms.
  • I would then think of or consult a thesaurus for as many of the synonyms or overlapping terms as I could find for all the major words:
    • wife: woman, bride, companion, partner, mate, helpmate, spouse, etc.
    • nagging: annoying, quarrelsome, fussing, pestering, berating, etc.
    • desert: wilderness, uninhabited places, wasteland, etc.
    • As I came upon new synonyms or related words, I would initiate a new search in a concordance or online site for each of those terms in the book of Proverbs and see if any qualify.
  • Honestly, if that did not work, I would probably just take my time and read the entire book of Proverbs. Even if I did not find what I was looking for, I would still benefit greatly from the process.
  • I would next ask my Home Group leader or a close friend if I still could not find it.
  • If all of that failed, I would then shoot an e-mail to a pastor for his help.

All of this could make it a long and somewhat laborious task, but the joys of discovery along the way should certainly make every effort well worth the time and energy which you invest.

Having familiarity with the text of Scripture (especially one particular version) is probably the biggest help in our searches. For example, when I received an e-mail about this passage, I immediately knew that the word “nagging” was not going to be helpful because I have not seen that word in the text of the ESV. At the same time, I remembered that there are a number of passages that speak of a “quarrelsome” wife. Therefore, I simply had to search for the word “quarrelsome” and immediately found there were only five options from Proverbs. The more you read the Scriptures, the more you should be growing in your ability to narrow down future searches.

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By the way, Proverbs 21:19 (ESV) says, “It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.”