Proverbs 22:6a: Train Up a Child? -- By: Ted Hildebrandt

Journal: Grace Theological Journal
Volume: GTJ 09:1 (Spring 1988)
Article: Proverbs 22:6a: Train Up a Child?
Author: Ted Hildebrandt

Proverbs 22:6a: Train Up a Child?

Ted Hildebrandt

Careful consideration of lexical and contextual factors suggests thattrain up a child in the way he should go needs to be reexamined. The verbto train really refers to a bestowal of status and responsibility. The noun translatedchild denotes the status of a late adolescent rather than a child.In the way he should go is best understood asaccording to what is expected.” The original intent then of this verse addresses a late adolescents entrance into his place in adult society. This should be done with celebration and encouragement—giving him respect, status and responsibilities commensurate with his position as a young adult. This reinterpretation necessitates fresh application of the proverb beyond the concerns of childrearing.

* * *

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he “will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). This proverb has brought encouragement, hope, anxiety and guilt to countless parents who have faced the uncertainty and confusion of child-rearing. It has provided encouragement to those responsible parents who, after working to balance family, relationships and careers, find reassurance that all of their labors ultimately will not be in vain. This verse has also provided rays of hope to those who, having reared their child in the best way they knew, have had their hearts broken as their child rebels and goes astray. They agonize under the pain that God recognized to be one of the deepest sorrows of human existence (Matt 23:37; Hos 11:1–2; Prov 10:1). To those parents this verse gives hope that when he is old the prodigal will return. Another group of young parents, sensitive to daily feelings of inadequacy, experiences intense anxiety over the possible long-term damage they see themselves doing to their child. If the child does go astray, this verse seems to point the finger of guilt at them.

Assuming that Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb, and not a promise,1 the first question of interpretation must be: “What did this verse originally mean when it was recorded in the book of Proverbs?”2

חֲנֹךְ: Train Up Or Initiate?

“Train up” is an initial verbal imperative, found only five times in the Old Testame...

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