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Enjoying God Blog

Yesterday I cited the work of Douglas Stuart who believes we have mistranslated two important OT passages. The first was Genesis 3:8. Today we turn to the second text, Proverbs 22:6. There the ESV renders: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Continue reading . . .

Yesterday I cited the work of Douglas Stuart who believes we have mistranslated two important OT passages. The first was Genesis 3:8. Today we turn to the second text, Proverbs 22:6. There the ESV renders: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Before I jump into the discussion, I want to point out that the verb translated “train up” comes from the Hebrew word that means to initiate, or to begin, or to inaugurate. It was often used of the dedication of objects, such as the Temple. In fact, it is the word from which the Hebrew term Hanukkah is derived. You will recall that Hanukkah is the Jewish festival commemorating the re-dedication of the Temple following its defilement by Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century b.c. Some conclude from this that parents are therefore to consecrate and dedicate their children to God from a very early age, committing themselves from the start to raise them for the glory of God.

Returning now to the text, most take this as a promise, or at least as a general rule (admitting of some exceptions). There is but one way that every child “should” go and that is in the path of obedience and righteousness and truth as a disciple of Jesus. In other words, the “way he should go” is God’s way of holiness and trust in Christ. If you are faithful to do this, rest assured that even in old age he/she will not depart from it.

But what about the second half of the verse? What precisely are we being told? Some take this to mean that if you raise your child in the way Scripture prescribes God will save him/her. But we know this isn’t always true. It is true, of course, that God most often works through means. Being raised in a Christian home with parents who discipline and educate their kids according to God’s Word more often than not results in those children eventually coming to faith in Jesus. But we all know of exceptions to this. And what about those kids who are raised in ungodly homes by abusive parents? Some of them have wonderful stories of conversion to Christ.

Others take this to mean that although they may not be saved they will retain in large measure the moral influence of their upbringing. Or perhaps if they are raised properly, but then go astray, at some point in the future they will return to the lifestyle and moral principles instilled in them by their Christian parents.

Even if this is the correct meaning of the text, we must remember that it isn’t an iron-clad guarantee. Remember: proverbs are principles, not promises! Thus there are always exceptions. I can’t count the number of parents I’ve spoken with who live in paralyzing guilt, as they’ve watched their children spin out of control well into their adult years. They then blame themselves, concluding that it’s all due to their failure as parents.

Sometimes that’s true. But definitely not always. You may well be nearly the perfect parent who established and maintained a godly, biblical atmosphere in your home. You may well have applied discipline precisely as God would have it. Yet your child or children rebelled and they give no signs of repentance. The bottom line is this: You cannot control their choices. You can control your will, but you cannot control theirs. Your kids are not computers who can be programmed to behave precisely as you want of them.

Stuart argues for another translation. The passage literally says, “train up a child according to his way.” Some say this means, show respect for his/her individuality and vocational aptitude. Training and childhood education should be tailored or modified to make room for and to help develop the child’s own unique gifts and capacities. Others take the words “his way” to mean the nature of the child as a child. In other words, train up the child in accordance with what we know about the nature and behavior of children as children. But that seems so obvious and common sensical that I hardly think Scripture need tell us.

There is yet another interpretation that takes this verse not as a promise but as a warning. When the verse refers to “his way” it means the way or path or manner of life and behavior that the child desires. Stuart prefers to render the verse as follows: “Train an adolescent [not a young child, by the way] in his own way and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In other words, let him have “his own way” and you are destined for trouble. Here is how another author put it:

“Allow a child to have self-expression, allow him to pick and to choose what he will and will not do, and as that habit is formed in his youth he will not change when he is older. If he does not learn discipline from you as a child he will never learn it as an adult. . . . If you let your child run over you, if you withhold the rod, if you fail to discipline them, if you fail to diligently and meticulously instruct them in the little things as well as the big, . . . look into the future and you will see those same children unbridled, undisciplined, and unable to bring their bodies into submission to the commands of God. . . . To allow the child to go his own way, to allow him to take things naturally as they come, is to assure the destruction of his soul” (Bruce Ray).

Jay Adams writes:

“Children are born sinners and when allowed to follow their own wishes they will naturally develop sinful habit responses. The basic thought is that such habit patterns become deep-seated when they have been ingrained in the child from the earliest days.”

This interpretation may find support from what we read in Proverbs 29:15 - “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).

If the first and more traditional translation is accepted, we must understand that the second half of the verse is not an iron-clad guarantee. It is a general rule that articulates what most often will happen, but a rule to which there are obvious exceptions. If we raise our kids based on good and godly principles derived from Scripture, and we should, but at the same time assume this means they will never depart from what they learned as children, we are setting up ourselves for disappointment and disillusionment.

But if Stuart is correct, and this is a warning that we not yield to the sinful and selfish impulses of our children or allow them to set the agenda for how they are raised, the application takes on an entirely new meaning!

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