Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

The text of this proverb is difficult and translations and interpretations vary. 1 The proverb is clear enough when we keep the teaching of Proverbs as a whole in mind. The word for train up means to initiate, inaugurate, dedicate, or train. The word for way is common in Proverbs to refer to the course of one’s life. There are no words for he should in the Hebrew and the word for go literally means mouth. It is used figuratively for speech. John Gill rendered it literally: “according to the mouth of his way.” The word here indicates the beginning, or entrance. The sense of the first phrase is, “Start a child in his own way.”

The proverb is a warning to parents about neglecting the instruction and correction of their children to drive the natural foolishness from them (Proverbs 19:18; 20:30; 22:15; 23:14). It is neither a guarantee nor a promise that following certain steps with your children ensures they will mature to be wise. Wisdom warns parents not to leave their children to their own devices and wants (Proverbs 10:1, 5; 17:21, 25; 29:15). Parents must diligently bring up their children to be wise, but parents cannot make their children wise. A fool in Proverbs is one who rejects wisdom and goes his own way (Proverbs 1:30-32; 13:1; 15:20). A fool will also bear the consequences of his own folly (Proverbs 9:12; 19:3).

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Notes:

  1. Much could be said about the issues with this verse in terms of translations and the historical survey of interpretations. Commentaries present a range of options beyond the scope of this commentary to explore. I recommend the book, “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs” by Dan Phillips for further study. Phillips has an extensive discussion of this verse and his book is one of the best resources on Proverbs to own. You can find it here.

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