When was the Book of Proverbs written? I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Permit me to explain my answers.
According to Proverbs 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1, many of the proverbs included in the book come from King Solomon, who flourished in the 10th Century B.C. Proverbs 25:1 adds that some of these Solomonic proverbs were collected by scribes of King Hezekiah, who reigned from 715 to 686 B.C. The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, includes Proverbs; it dates to approximately 200 B.C. Based on this range of dates, then, the Book of Proverbs was not written before 1000 B.C. or after 200 B.C., but somewhere in the middle. Precisely when is anyone’s guess.
If you think about it, however, the precise date of the writing of Proverbs isn’t all that important. Now, if you were trying to establish the historical reliability of the Gospels, when those four books were written would be important. Or, if you were trying to reconstruct a chronological outline of Paul’s ministry, knowing when he had written each of his letters would be important. But Proverbs is not about what happened in the past but about what should happen right now. It is a book of timeless wisdom, not time-sensitive data.
Consider, for example, what is arguably the foundational saying of the entire book: Proverbs 1:7:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Is there any age in which this proverb is not true? Is there any time when reverence for God is not the fundamental principle of the truly good life? Has there ever been a day when fools haven’t hated common sense? Obviously not! This proverb is always true.
Another key lesson of the Book of Proverbs is the importance of a good marriage. Now, marriage in the ancient world was significantly different than marriage in the modern world. For example, many of the marriages were arranged. Men had considerably more political and economic power than women. There were often rigidly defined and enforced social roles based on sex. And yet, Proverbs offers timeless advice for starting and maintaining a healthy marriage. For example:
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. (Prov. 5:18)
A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown,
but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones. (Prov. 12:4)
He who finds a wife finds what is good
and receives favor from the Lord. (Prov. 18:22)
Better to live in a desert
than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife. (Prov. 25:19)
Admittedly, these proverbs are written from a man’s point of view. But does that make them any less true? And anyway, just substitute the word husband for wife in any of these proverbs, and the saying is still applicable. Regardless of when the Book of Proverbs was written, in other words, its sentiments are for all times.
After all, common sense has no expiration date.