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What does it mean that there is a way that seems right to a man (Proverbs 14:12)?

there is a way that seems right to a man

Proverbs 14:12 states, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (ESV). This proverb lays down a truth that echoes all the way back to the fall of man (Genesis 3). It seemed right to Adam and Eve to take the fruit, but its end was the way of death for all creation (Romans 5:12). Since then, humanity’s nature has been one of rebellion, as the prophet Isaiah lamented, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:6‬a). Even our perception of right and wrong is skewed, leading to a faulty interpretation of reality and poor decision-making.

‬‬‬ There are many ways in which Proverbs 14:12 plays out in our world. What seems right to a person so often ultimately leads to death. Sometimes, it’s physical death. Passing the slow-moving vehicle on the hill seems right, but then comes the head-on collision. The feeling that the drugs produce seems right, but then comes the overdose. Other times, it’s emotional or relational death. Flirting with the other woman seems right, but then comes the dissolution of a marriage. Pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle seems right, but then come the health complications, unfulfilled promises, and empty dreams. Deceptive paths lead to negative outcomes.

Of course, “the way of death” can also refer to the ultimate type of death: separation from God for eternity (Revelation 20:14–15). Many roads lead to hell. False teaching oftentimes sounds good—it appeals to our fleshly nature and makes sense to our sin-clouded minds. But its end is the way of death. Jesus warned that “if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Rebellion against God usually seems right, too, as we relish the chance to exercise personal autonomy and please ourselves. But God warns against such foolishness: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).

Without Christ’s illuminating light, we would all be the person mentioned in Proverbs 14:12, walking a deadly path that only appears to be right. The apostle Paul said that sinful humanity has darkened hearts and futile thoughts (Romans 1:21), and any wisdom outside of God is tainted by envy and selfish ambition (James 3:13–15). Jesus is the Source of True Wisdom, and seeking godly wisdom is synonymous with seeking Him. As Matt Emerson writes, “While Proverbs certainly gives us wisdom about day to day life, the early church read it primarily as a book about Wisdom himself—the Lord Jesus. This was especially true of Proverbs 8:22–31, one of the most important texts for the early church’s understanding of Jesus” (“Where’s Jesus in Proverbs?” 3/21/20,, accessed 12/12/23). Therefore, every follower of Jesus has access to the Wisdom that founded the earth, allowing us to discern the right path that leads to life.

Proverbs 14:12 also encourages self-examination and caution in following our desires, cravings, and inclinations. While Christianity is not an ascetic religion promoting “self-imposed worship, false humility and harsh treatment of the body” (Colossians 2:20–23), it does not advocate a “follow your heart” philosophy. We are instructed to not lean on our own understanding but to follow the Lord’s direction (Proverbs 3:5–6).

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What does it mean that there is a way that seems right to a man (Proverbs 14:12)?
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This page last updated: December 12, 2023