Controversial verse

Ecclesiastes 7 contains two of the more controversial verses in the Old Testament.  It’s verse 16:

15 In my vain life I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing. 16 Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself? 17 Do not be too wicked, and do not be a fool; why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of the one, without letting go of the other; for the one who fears God shall succeed with both.

What do you think the author means in context?


About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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19 Responses to Controversial verse

  1. Whittney Smith says:

    It is very difficult to say what the author may mean in this chapter because it seems as if its intertwining two different concepts. I gather that the author doesn’t want a person to be too evil or too righteous but to balance the two without giving yourself to one at a time. The author proceeds to tell us what would happen if a person was to be too much of one thing. In verse 18, the author gives us the way to balance both righteousness and wickedness and thats through the fear of God. Another underlying concept that the author may be trying to present to us is that of reality. The fact that there are people who perish for being too much of one and its a part of life.

  2. Cameron Cates says:

    It seems the author is saying to not be too rich and righteous and also do not be too evil and wicked. The author seems to imply that the rich and righteous will die earlier in life while the wicked and evil live longer lives in their evil doing. The author suggests to find a balance between both in order to prolong life. He says that the one who fears God will succeed and live the longest and seemingly have the perfect balance.

  3. dylan kremer says:

    The author says do not be too righteous/rich or wicked/evil, however, this is not the reason you die. The author implies that good people will die early because of there ways, and there also be evil people who live longer due to their evil ways. But the author wants a person to focus on one then the other will follow, and if they fear God they will succeed in both.

  4. Philip O. Ramirez says:

    To me, the author of this verse is given the readers an instruction on how to live a good and healthy life. He explains that when a person tries to be to proper he tends to create his one destruction by being too proper and never feeling like he is good enough. Later on he explains that if he a person is careless and doesn’t think before making an action, he will accelerate his death, perhaps with a tragedy. So then the author states that in order to live a long healthy life one must know how how balance our righteousness and our craziness.

  5. Paige Hinrichs says:

    I think that verse 16 is going along with the realism idea we talked about it class with Ecclesiastes. He is saying don’t kill yourself trying to be the most righteous person or the wisest person, because it won’t make a difference in your outcome. He doesn’t think that good will come to the righteous or evil will come to the wicked. There’s no reason to stress trying to be the ideal person, because your destiny was already chosen. This verse is tellling everyone to focus on day to day life and live as you normally do, because trying to be something you’re not will not affect your outcome in life.

  6. Darrinton Moncrieffe says:

    I think the author is basically trying to say that we should live a balanced life. He says that if we live a righteous lifestyle we will die early and if we live an evil lifestyle we will live for a long time. I think the author wants us to strive for a balance between the two.

  7. Jessica Williams says:

    This may mean that you should neither be too righteous nor too wicked – you must accept your faults and seek forgiveness for them and try to change, but at the same time you shouldn’t go overboard with trying to be good. (And I doubt you would succeed anyway) Out of all of the scriptures we read, I actually like this one the most.

  8. Taifa Goff says:

    To me, this means that one should not try and be too perfect. No one on this earth is perfect though we all seek perfection. Live within one’s means and accept all mistakes as lessons learned. In short, I think this scripture is simply telling everyone to live a normal life and be who we are, but constantly try and better ourselves; never lose sight of who we really are. And through as many changes that occur always fear God and be faithful to Him, for it shall all pay off in the end.

  9. Victor Harewood says:

    This verse conveys a very odd concept. In some since its seems to justify doing wrong, while somewhat denouncing doing good. Oddly enough it seems to promote one of the biggest dislikes of God as portrayed in the new testament, lukewarmness. However, I personally believe that this passage notes that the most important thing for us to do is to believe in God and remain steadfast in that belief. Whether we do wrong or right, because surely we will make mistakes, we must remember that the most important thing is to remain on the path that leads us to God. It may be easy for others to judge and note that our actions are either righteous or wicked, but our intent and goals must ultimately be to maintain a good personal relationship with God. In this world, survival often comes from situational conflicting choices, one will prolong their life on earth with somewhat of a balance, but I feel this passage poses the question of quality over content. Is it better to live a righteous life that may be short, or to live a long life that was filled with wickedness?

  10. Ruth Carter says:

    I think that taken at face value, this verse does seem controversial because we are taught to believe that we are suppose to always be righteous and always try our hardest to to do what is good and what is wise. I think though that if you delve a little deeper into the meaning of the passage, you can take away from it something a little more meaningful than “don’t be too good and don’t be too bad.” I think what the author is trying to convey is that we shouldn’t kill ourselves trying to do what we think pleases the Lord because that is not what determines whether or not we will get into heaven or not. I think that the author means that we should enjoy our lives and live in moderation and do what feel right because God gave us this life to live it not to just watch it go by because we are afraid of what the outcomes might be.

  11. Sarah Saladino says:

    I think that in this case the phrase “Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise” simply means to remain modest in your actions and speech. “Why should you destroy yourself?” explains that by being overly righteous (such as, maybe thinking you are better then your peers) or by “acting” too wise (maybe as a false pretense of wisdom) could potentially be an example of character flaws.

  12. Alex Hall says:

    These controversial verses in Ecclesiastes are likely a result of Ecclesiastes role as the third book in the set of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes. The book of Ecclesiastes’s role was to reconstruct a realistic view of the world after the view of the world set forth in Proverbs (a world where the just and righteous triumph) was shattered in Job, where the righteous, Job, do not triumph. The verses seem to be seeking a balance. They don’t say “don’t be righteous”, nor do they say “only do righteous things”. They find the medium between the two.

  13. Naomi Stewart-Rubik says:

    This verse is trying to tell people to live in moderation, rather than extreme ends of the spectrum. I think the author is saying life is not always fair, sometimes good people die early, and sometimes evil people live long lives. If you are not too righteous or wise, you will be able to live a long and prosperous life, because you will not have become extreme in any way. To live a long life, you have to be righteous and wise within reason, without placing yourself above others. Once you start seeing yourself as wiser or more righteous than others, you run the risk of dying earlier than you should.

  14. Jeffrey Ramon says:

    This reminds me of one of the best lines in movie history. In Dead Poet’s Society, Dr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) says “sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone.” I agree that this says the same type of thing, meaning to live life in moderation. Of course, this is much easier said than done in modern society (especially in New Orleans and as college students). All in all, this part of Ecclesiastes replicates a lot of what biblical messages are all about and what the general message of the Word is about. The author’s context is just saying to live your life in moderation, because by not living in moderation (either too righteous or too vain) will cause death of the soul.

  15. John Hickey says:

    I think that the author meaning to give the reader a real world view on how to live your life. The author is saying that don’t overly try to be just good and righteous, instead live your life to the fullest because even if you are good, you could die at any point. Another way to sum up this passage is live your life to the fullest because it could be over at any point, good or evil has nothing to do with it.

  16. Marielly says:

    These verses to me say, don’t let the idea of being too righteous consume you alive. No one on this Earth is perfect and shouldn’t try to be. Take for example the people that try to follow everything the bible says, it just can’t happen there are many passages that contradict each other and people who say they follow the bible are usually just focussed on one part of the bible. These passages are just telling you to be the best people we can do without becoming wicked or consumed with the idea of righteousness we become wicked.

  17. Sean Hart says:

    The author seems to be saying that although you may see people around you being extreme to one side or the other, always maintain humble perspective.

  18. Jade Tang says:

    I think the author is trying to talk about the balance that a person needs to get through life. You can’t have too much of anything or it will negatively affect you. Don’t spend your life trying to fit into this mold of what you think you should be.

  19. Robin Takami Tanner says:

    I think the author is describing here what it means to be human, and presenting his insight into how to live which is a kind of middle path, where one should not act too wise or righteous nor should one act too wicked or foolish, since both can be pitfalls of losing one’s self or “perishing.” The challenge is how to be wise while being foolish, and how to be righteous while being wicked. Both dichotomies are necessary for walking the path of God, since this path I think is understanding what it means to be human and being that to the full extent possible. This being human refers to our natures, that we do good to each other and we do bad to each other, and that to come to a place of acceptance of these two aspects is to begin to transcend their perceived importance and transcend the constructing of an identity altogether. Because what is it that gets in the way of experiencing God, or how I think of God as being the wordless phenomenon/vastness of the present moment? It is the assumption that an identity is all there is I think that separates one from the experience of a kind of liberation or absorption in the present moment.

    On a different note, I know from my experience that I have used personal beliefs and dogmas to disconnect from the world or to “one up” people, missing the whole point of certain teachings in the first place, namely to be humble enough to really be there for someone. The author he is saying that one must address how to balance these two dichotomies in order to practice the path of God.

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