There are few things more heart-breaking to parents than watching one of their children drift away from the faith.
While there are many passages in scripture that offer comfort and hope, there is one that can cause confusion:
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Join us this Wednesday at 6:00 PM as we discuss how best to translate, interpret, and apply this proverb. We will meet at the Pastor’s home.
As I studied this passage in greater depth this week, I was surprised to find two opposite interpretations being offered by able and pious commentators.
The “minority view” troubled me at first, but after I took the time to translate the proverb myself, I discovered that it does stand on firm exegetical ground.
Below is brief presentation of both interpretations and also a final point that demonstrates how they actually teach the same essential lesson.
The Majority View
The proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” [KJV]
Interpretation: This is a promise intended to impart hope and motivate greater diligence as parents train their children in the ways of godliness.
Problems with this interpretation:
– Even well-trained children still fall away from the faith
– Parents then experience guilt: “Did I fail in training him?”
Solutions to these problems:
– Proverbs are more aphorisms than absolute promises
– Promises are always subordinate to God’s secret will (Deut. 29:29)
– Many scriptural promises are conditionally received
– The phrase “when he is old” allows for a season of wandering
The Minority View
The proverb: “Start out a child in his own way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” [CMM]
Interpretation: This is not a promise, but a warning to parents who fail to discipline their children.
Paraphrase: “Capitulate to a child’s self-will early, and he will be self-willed for the rest of his life.”
Warrant for this translation/interpretation:
– The word “train” means “dedicate, begin, etc.” [c.f., Strongs 2596]
– The phrase “he should go” does not appear in the Hebrew text *
– Parallel proverbs: Prov. 12:15, 13:24, 14:12, 22:15, 23:13-14, 28:26, 29:15
The Common Conclusion
Whichever translation/interpretation you choose, the application ends up being the same: Train your children!
Biblical child-rearing involves the following:
– Consecrating the child to God (i.e., baptism)
– Imparting scriptural knowledge
– Offering a consistently good example
– Correcting sinful attitudes and actions
– Praying with and for your child
– Bringing them to worship/studies
– Pointing them to Jesus Christ
If (after all that) they still fall away, parents should not suffer too much guilt, but simply call their children to repentance as they continue to trust in God’s promise (which is explicitly offered in the Majority View and implicitly implied in the Minority View).
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* Here is an inter-linear translation that demonstrates the absence of the phrase “should go”: