I grew up hearing this verse. All the time. In fact, it was a often-used reason for my sweet mama to spank my ornery little self.
But when my husband learned Hebrew and began to translate the book of Proverbs, he shared something with me that shook my world.
It was one of those moments when you want to deny it and explore it at the same time. Here is what shook me up.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (King James Version)
But wait! look at this one. It comes from the Complete Jewish Version and it makes my point.
Train a child in the way he [should] go; and, even when old, he will not swerve from it. Proverbs 22:6 (Complete Jewish Version)
Interesting thing about this verse. The word “should” isn’t really there. But translators, trying to make it a complete thought, added it in.
The word “go” here is the word ol-phi [פ -עַ ל] meaning “way of him” or the “way he is.” So it really reads:
“Train up a child in the way he is, and when he is old, he shall not withdraw from the way he is.”
How does that make sense?
Of course, this sounds stilted and odd. But the idea behind it – that a child should be trained according to who he is – makes perfect sense to me. As a parent, I’ve seen the unique qualities in my children, those vast differences that make them so special. And those individualities that require more discipline than others.
These things make up “who he is” or she is, and I am to train each child with those in mind. They are not all the same, and they certainly require one-on-one teaching and training in order to best grow them up to be the men and women of God He created them to be.
God’s Word always makes sense.
Really, I appreciate both translations. The one we see in the King James Version is most often true – generally training your child to follow the right way works. But not all the time.
We all know someone who had great parental upbringing (and siblings who turned out to be amazing adults) who, in spite of their training, turned against God, their family and all the faithful instruction they’d received to pursue a self-centered path of unrighteousness.
But, this helps me be a better parent.
But this second thought – the one that sticks closest to the original Hebrew – it blows my mind with its simple truth. Look at your children – really look at each one. Then think:
“Who is this child? How has God created him (or her)?” Then use your observations – as our Father in heaven does – to gently mold and shape, teach and train, love and encourage, discipline and correct that child individually.
Parenting is not a conveyor belt of actions and reactions. It’s a living, breathing, lifelong dedication to love – no matter what comes and thinking nothing of what is required.
Go forth and parent! But remember, your child is a unique individual with a call from God to be something no one else can or will ever be. See your child. Then work with them to become the man or woman of God He has created them to be from before the foundation of the world.