Is Proverbs 22:6 a Warning, Not a Promise?

November 3, 2013 — 2 Comments

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon repeatedly tells how to raise and train kids and it involves teaching godly knowledge, gaining wisdom from that knowledge, and warnings against ungodly influence.  A verse of Solomon we use frequently when teaching kids in Christian Schools, and parenting is Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse has become a passage for teachers and parents to put their hope in, a promise to rest on, and the passage to point a finger at when kids stray from godliness.  It seems to be the only Scripture passage promising such, and I am wondering if it is is interpreted wrongly.

I believe this verse is not a promise with a guaranteed return on your investment of biblical teaching and costly Christian education, as it seems to be interpreted in many of our translations, but is a warning. 

warning sign

The original Hebrew wording of this verse does not have “he should go” but literally reads: Narrow down your parental training to only what the child wants, and they will habitually do, and recall the approval of, their way and will not leave their childish ways even when they are old. It means if parents and teachers are narrow minded and give in to the wicked self-centered nature of children, and don’t teach them God’s ways which are different than our natural instincts, those children will always be sinful, and self-centered even when they grow old.  Solomon knew children, and wisely knew godly training was the best way to raise them, or they would grow up always being spoiled, selfish brats useless to God, and eternally separated from God.

It is unfortunate that several of our popular translations of the Bible today render this verse the way it is. Other than the literal wording above, a more accurate translation might be “Train up children in their ways, and they will not depart from them even when they are old.”  I am not saying those modern translations are wrong, parents and teachers SHOULD train up children in God’s ways, but insinuations resulting from this translation can be wrong, let me mention these and see if you would agree:

1) If God’s ways are taught to children, they will never rebel, and those few that do, will always come back to God’s ways when they are older. This thinking could be wrong.  Do you know of any children raised in a godly homes who went to godly Sunday schools and churches or even Christian schools who turned away from those godly ways and never came back to them?  I do.  And the Bible is full of them. Even in Isaiah 1:2, God’s children rebelled, and they all didn’t come back to Him.  Then that makes this interpretation of this passage wrong, and we know God’s Word is not wrong.

2) If kids trained in the godly “way they should go” are godly Christians when they grow old, the praise and glory could go to their parents and teachers who taught them those ways. This could be wrong because the praise goes to people, not to God the facilitator of grace and gospel truth required for their godliness.

3) If children raised in godly homes where the Word of God was taught, went to biblical churches, or even attended Christian schools turn away from godly things (rebel, become prodigal children, wander away) then that means their parents or teachers didn’t do a good enough job teaching God’s Word to those kids. It is then the parents’ fault, they were not godly enough, they didn’t do enough family devotions, or didn’t read enough Bible passages to those kids, or didn’t discipline their kids, or didn’t love their kids enough.  This thinking is wrong.  It is wrong because it minimizes the power of sin, the choices each person must make such as their own realization of sin, repentance of sin, and acceptance of Jesus’ gospel message.  It is wrong because it casts immediate judgement on parents without hearing their defense.

4) If a child at a young age said a “prayer of salvation” or “asked Jesus into their heart” without personally fully understanding sin and their depravity in it and its required penalty, personally repenting of that sin, and giving their life to Jesus, that child may not be truly saved.  Some kids will say that prayer because they just wanted to please you, or said the prayer because their friends did too, or maybe did so just to avoid hell (as I did at age 4). They could have done so their way, but not God’s way, and they could go through life with a false sense of eternal security thinking they are saved and going to heaven continuing in that error and not departing from it.

5) It gives parents the hope that if they follow a certain system of training their children, their kids will be godly when they grow old.  Instead, their hope should be in the grace of God and the gospel message of Jesus Christ.  Hope in God does not disappoint, but hope in a system, or efforts of parents or teachers could disappoint.

6) The popular interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 could take away the ability of God to write a testimony for those children, robbing of Him the glory He deserves, and the possibility of winning others to Jesus. If a program is followed by parents and teachers to ensure godly adults, then the program gets the praise, not the redemptive work of Jesus on the Cross. I have often said, as my own life can attest, that it takes as much grace of God to save a person in a godly Christian home and to keep them saved, as it does to save a person out of a wretched ungodly home. I just don’t have as elaborate and astonishing testimony as others may. And I don’t care.  My testimony may help someone else to be saved and give Jesus the glory, just like someone else’s testimony may help someone else.  The point is each person must have a testimony of salvation of grace by Jesus, not a testimony of a system followed by godly parents and teachers.

I have found it interesting, and possibly substantiates my point here, that Solomon’s own father (David, who penned most of Psalms) taught godly principles to his children,yet not all of his kids were godly, such as Absalom, even when they became old.

You will see in this blog, I repeatedly state that teaching God’s Word, and inter-weaving it into all scholastic subjects is THE foundation of sound Christian education. That foundation is needed so the grace of God, and the gospel message of Jesus Christ has a place to grow out of and occur.  As Paul said in Romans, God’s laws don’t save, but they point to a need for a Savior.  God’s word needs to be taught so school kids know of their need and Who fills that need. This Proverbs 22:6 passage says the same thing.  It just says it conversely, and warningly: If you let kids have their own way (and we know their way is selfish and many times sinful), they will grow up not departing from those selfish and sometimes sinful ways. They will never know their ways are wrong and a penalty of those wrongful ways must be paid. They will never know that the penalty of those ways, their sinful ways, was graciously paid for on a cross by Jesus.

“I insist upon conquering the will of children early because this is the only strong and rational foundation of a religious education. Without this both precept and example will be ineffectual. But when this is thoroughly done, then a child is capable of being governed by the reason and piety of its parents until his own understanding comes to maturity and the principles of religion have taken root in the mind.I cannot yet dismiss this subject. As self-will is the root of all sin and misery, so whatever nourishes this in children, insures their later wretchedness and irreligion. Whatever checks and mortifies it, promotes their future happiness and piety. This is still more evident, if we further consider, that religion is nothing else than the doing the will of God and not our own will. Self will is the one grand impediment to our temporal and eternal happiness and no indulgences of it can be trivial, no denial unprofitable. Heaven or hell depends on this alone. So that the parent who studies to subdue it in his child, works together with God in the renewing and saving a soul. The parent who indulges it does the devil’s work, makes religion impracticable, salvation unattainable, and does all that in him lies, to damn his child’s body and soul forever”
     -Susanna Wesley in a letter to her son John Wesley July 24,1732
       http://carlarolfe.com/swesley.pdf

Copyright 2013  Kevin Brownlee

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2 responses to Is Proverbs 22:6 a Warning, Not a Promise?

  1. I just wrote something similar and posted in on my blog. Check it out if you get a minute at http://asiseeittoday.com/2014/10/22/train-up-a-child-in-the-way-he-should-go/ and let me know what you think of it.

    • Yes Dick, your blog post is spot-on. Parents are still to train their children in God’s way, as Scripture says in numerous places (common knowledge too). However, this verse is not about that. It is about not allowing sinful and/or self-centered behavior in children to go un-checked, and what will happen when not corrected. Chapter 4 in my book expands on that post a bit too and relates it to Psalm 1.

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