Train Up a Child: What Does Proverbs 22:6 Actually Mean?
She was not happy with me, not at all. I was teaching Proverbs 22:6, which says essentially the same thing in every modern English translation, some variation of the ESV translation above. I made an observation about the nature of Proverbs. They are statements about the general course of life but are not meant to be ironclad promises or absolute guarantees. That bothered her. Still single, she anticipated getting married and having children, but if she did not have a guarantee that her children would turn out great, she wanted nothing to do with the whole thing.
Maybe she thought kids came with some kind of money back guarantee as well?
I don’t mean to ridicule her – actually, her interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 is common. Many have interpreted this to be a heavenly guarantee of success in the child-rearing task. If they did their job right, they could lay their heads on the pillow at night with full assurance that the outcome was fixed, their children would turn out great and there was nothing to fear. This verse has been a great comfort to parents of young children embarking on the awesome and fearful task of raising children.
This verse is often a dagger in the heart of parents of older children. These parents, having done the best they knew to do, have watched their children wander from the straight and narrow path into sin, skepticism or indifference. Some in the church will look at them askance – what did you do wrong? How did you let this happen? If you had done your job right, you would not have to worry about your children going astray. Proverbs 22:6 is sometimes used as a hammer to beat down the already heartbroken people who have watched their prodigals leave the home.
I’ve struggled with understanding this passage. On the surface, it does seem to be a promise – “they will not depart.” On the other, there seem to be clear exceptions to this rule. I have several different attempts to put this verse in its proper perspective. But in this article, I want to advance a theory about this book. Here it is in a nutshell.