Proverbs 22:6: Train a Child
Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.
What makes this text a hard saying is not the meaning of the words as
they stand; they are plain and easy to translate. Instead, the problem
centers in the differing views of the central phrase, "the way he should
go," and in the fact that the verse doesn't always "come true."
Readers often assume this verse is a promise given to all godly parents:
Raise your children as moral, God-fearing believers, and they will turn out
all right in the end. But what about children raised in just such Christian
homes who appear to abandon their faith or lapse into immorality?
To answer this extremely important question it is best to start with an
analysis of the text itself. The verb translated "train" means to dedicate
something or someone for the service of God. The verb is found in
Deuteronomy 20:5 and in the parallel passages on the temple dedication
in 1 Kings 8:63 and 2 Chronicles 7:5. In its noun form it is the name of the
Jewish feast of Hanukkah.
The resulting range of meanings for this act of dedication includes: to
prepare a child for service, to dedicate a child to God or to train a child for
adulthood. Parents are urged to dedicate and begin training each child as
an act of dedication to the living God.
But interpretation problems emerge as soon as we look for an antecedent
for the pronoun in the phrase "according to his way," translated above as
"in the way he should go." Literally, the phrase is "according to the mouth
of," which has led some to suggest "in accordance with the training he
received at his `beginning.' " However, the use of the word mouth for this
concept instead of the word beginning would be strange indeed. Or it could
be rendered more generally as "after the measure of, conformably to" or
"according to his way."
What is the "way"? It could mean the way that the child ought to go
according to God's law; the proper way in light of God's revelation. It could
also mean the way best fitting the child's own personality and particular
Which is correct? There is no doubt that the first presents the highest
standard and more traditional meaning. However, it has the least support
from the Hebrew idiom and seems to be a cryptic way of stating what
other proverbial expressions would have done much more explicitly.
Therefore we conclude that this enigmatic phrase means that instruction
ought to be conformed to the nature of the youth. It ought to regulate
itself according to the stage of life, evidence of God's unique calling of the
child and the manner of life for which God is singling out that child. This
does not give the child carte blanche to pick and choose what he or she
wishes to learn. It does, however, recognize that the training children
receive must be as unique as the number of children God has given to us.
The result will be, as the second line of the proverb underscores, that even
"when he gets old he will not turn from it." The "from it" refers to the
training of youth which was conformed to God's work in the child's very
nature and being. This training was so imbued, inbred and accustomed
that it became almost second nature.
As with many other moral proverbs of this sort, the question often comes
from a distraught parent: "Does this proverb have any exceptions to it, or
will it always work out that if we train our children as this verse advises,
we can be sure they won't turn from the Lord?"
No, this verse is no more an ironclad guarantee than is any other proverb.
Like many other universal or indefinite moral prescriptions (proverbs), it
tells us only what generally takes place, without implying there are no
exceptions to the rule. The statement is called a proverb, not a promise.
Many godly parents have raised their children in ways that were genuinely
considerate of the children's own individuality and the high calling of God,
yet the children have become rebellious and wicked.
There is, however, the general principle which sets the standard for the
majority. This principle urges parents to give special and detailed care in
the awesome task of rearing children so that the children may continue in
that path long after the lessons have ceased.
Taken from Hard Sayings of the Bible by Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and
Manfred T. Brauch, © 1996 InterVarsity Press. Permission kindly granted to Faith and Reason
Forum by InterVarsity Press.