Train Up a Child: A Lifetime Guarantee? Part 1

Train Up a Child

A Lifetime Guarantee?

Part 1

“Train up[1] a child[2] in the way[3] he should go, even when he is old,[4] he will not depart from it.[5]” Proverbs 22:6[6]

A Lifetime Guarantee?

Countless families were led to believe that if they followed certain steps in parenting, their kids would turn out right. Perhaps what persuaded them was the life-time, iron-clad promise from Proverbs 22:6. The inclusion of that small but pregnant phrase, even when he is old, he will not depart from it,” promises that there will be no lapses, no times of rebellion, no periods of wandering in the life of the child. The promise is irrefutably comprehensive.


The Promise Seems Hollow

Good fathers and mothers trained their children in “the way they thought they should go,” but for many, those children choose a path they should not have gone down. The life-time promise of Proverbs 22:6, in hindsight, seems so painfully contradictory. What happened? What went wrong?

Questions Without Answers

In the wake of rebellious children, parents are forced to ask themselves: “What did we do wrong? What did we miss? What happened? We tried our level best; but our son abused drugs or alcohol and deserted Christianity.” “We thought we raised her right, but our daughter rebelled against us and our God.”


Frequently, parents blame themselves: “We must be terrible parents. It’s our fault. We failed. We must have done something wrong for our children to have turned out like they did.”

It is a heavy burden for mums and dads to bear, and for some, just too heavy. They never recover from the feelings of guilt and failure. Their faces frequently hide a sad heart. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” It is hard to conceal inner grief 24/7. These parents deserve comfort and encouragement.  

Feelings of Guilt are Normal

If the traditional understanding of Proverbs 22:6 has been your home-base guide for parenting, these feelings of disappointment and guilt are expected. Taken at face value, the verse in the Authorized Translation does in fact promise a lifetime guarantee without gaps or temporary lapses.

Men and women who teach this version of the verse at the very least must be honest enough to admit that this is exactly what the verse says. To equivocate and say, “Well, there might be lapses of judgment and temporary wanderings, but in the end, they’ll come back to the Lord” is a failure of interpretive integrity. The verse itself does not allow for any lapses. To suggest such is to insert a gap of time into the verse which does not exist.

Proverbs 22:6 Does Not Allow Exceptions

I’ve heard this slippery compromise from well-meaning folks who adamantly claim this verse. But when countless sons and daughters of good parents in their congregations and their close relationships walk away from God, Bible teachers reluctantly admit that something is amiss in the verse. So, an admission that there are exceptions to the lifetime promise appears to be a convenient way out of the jam they find themselves in.

But despite the sincere, compassionate attempt to soften the blow, it is, at the end of the day, an unacceptable response. It is an admission that what is promised—a lifetime guarantee–is really not completely true. Scripture is not quite right. The verse needs a little bit of help from us. God must have messed up or resorted to hyperbole. He really didn’t mean to provide parents with theassurance of a lifetime guarantee. God knew there would be lapses. He just set the bar higher so we as parents would try harder.  

But, integrity forces us to conclude otherwise. The verse as it stands in the Authorized Version is either completely true or it is not. Selecting what is true and what is not true in the verse is not our call to make, even when driven by love and compassion for hurting parents. But there is a better way.

Can You Identify With Parental Guilt?

The feelings of parental guilt and grief are only deepened when this verse is used as a club to beat them down or spelled out in the books written for parents. Fewer things are harder to hear than reminders of our past failure, especially when much effort and hard work resulted in that failure. Few experiences of grief can match the feelings associated with failure, bitter disappointment, and shattered expectations.

Perhaps you can identify with the disappointment and pain of parents whose child has rejected Jesus, His people, and His Word. Perhaps you are embarrassed and ashamed of the behavior of a son or daughter whose lifestyle is reckless, whose vocabulary is vulgar, or whose faith has orbited into a full eclipse.

There is Hope for Parents

But there is hope for you. There is another side of the story, and I suggest, a far more accurate version of what God said in Proverbs 22:6.

This is not to suggest that the people who translated Proverbs 22:6 in the Authorized Version of the Bible were bad people or insincere. Quite the contrary, they were good people, very sincere, and excellent in Bible translation. The prose demonstrated in the Authorized Version of Scripture is unmatched for beauty, cadence,[7] and dignity.[8]

But there are some challenges in the verse itself[9] that require some hard exegetical thinking and tough decisions. Translating Scripture from the Hebrew and Greek languages into accurate and readable English is a very challenging enterprise. The larger and more varied the team of translators, and the better they know the original languages, the lower the risk of mistranslating becomes.

In this case, there is no room for criticism of the wonderful people who gave us the Authorized Version of the Bible. I think, though, that they missed it on this verse. But, I wish I had missed as few things as they did. It would be a esteemed privilege to sit under any one of them.

The English language can take us a great distance when reading our Bibles. But when we examine the same Scripture in the original languages, we realize there are other options, and in this case, a another way of translating and understanding this verse.[10]

The Next Edition

There is a better way of translating and understanding Proverbs 22:6, a way of remaining absolutely faithful to the inspired Word of God[11] and to the glorious and incomparable triune God of the Word.

In the next edition[12] of this blog post, I’ll offer some serious exegetical, lexical, and theological challenges to the way Proverbs 22:6 is rendered in the A.V.[13] I’ll also offer an alternative translation that will offer hope and encouragement to all parents who tried their best to raise children but whose children have chosen another path.

If you’re a parent[14] who did your best to raise your children to love God and their neighbors, but have been bitterly disappointed with the outcome, take hope. The next blog post will be a comfort and encouragement to you. Thank you for your patience.


And thank you for reading.

Part #2 is now being prepared from scratch in the kitchen.




[1] The word “train up” generally means “to dedicate” or “to inaugurate” in the Hebrew Bible. There are some juicy meanings taken from the Arabic synonym for the word and used by popularizers because they preach well, but it is spurious to draw exact parallels with the Hebrew word.

[2] The word “child” can be used of an infant or even an adult in the Hebrew Bible. But in this context, it suggests, just as the translation renders it, a child or a youth.

[3] Literally, the Hebrew says, “according to the mouth of his way;” the word “the way” is the Hebrew word, “derek,” דַרְכֹּ֑ו, meaning street, path, road, or figuratively as a “way of life,” such as “the way of folly” or “the way of wisdom,” “the way of a fool,” or “the way of the wise.” The streets of Jerusalem today are marked with street signs with this exact same word: “derek, דרְכֹּ֑” Literally, “derek” means “street” or “road” or “path.”

[4] “older person”

[5] Pronoun referring to “the way he should go.”

[6] From the Authorized Version of the English Bible, authorized by King James I of England—formerly King James VI of Scotland, for usage in worship in the Church of England, known either as the Anglican Church or the Episcopal Church.

[7] In each of our worship services, in keeping with the practice in the Jewish synagogues, we deploy three public readings of Scripture: the first from Israel’s Scripture (OT), the 2nd from the Gospels, and a 3rd from the Epistles. Most English translations make it difficult to read publicly due to issues of choppiness or being too wooden. While the New American Standard Bible, for example, is very accurate, it is so wooden that it makes public reading—especially in unison—almost unbearable. But, due to its cadence and poetic configuration, the Authorized Version is the best for public reading, though its vocabulary is archaic and hard to understand. We use another translation which I believe displays the best wording for accuracy, for reading publicly, and because it retains dignity.

[8] An example of the translation expertise of the translators of the A.V. can be found in Psalm 46. The translators accomplished two things in this Psalm. They translated the original Hebrew into beautiful English and they also honored the literary work of William Shakespeare within the translation itself. The tribute to Shakespeare is easy to spot once you start looking for it. But that is another story for another blog.

[9] Challenges that rarely are addressed in the commentaries and never articulated in the pulpit because it is a rare person who knows the Hebrew language well enough to see the challenges. But the challenges are significant.

[10] Other well meaning teachers have chosen what seems to be a viable option. The child’s way is his/her “bent.” The Amplified version of the Scriptures offers this as a possible option. Train up a child according to his bent, in other words. But the meaning of “bent” is never an option for the word “way” in the context of Proverbs. Interpreting “way” as a child’s bent, of course, makes no sense when the full verse is viewed, and is a case of taking words out of their context. The context of Proverbs 22:6 is first, the book of Proverbs, of course, and more specifically, the issue of true riches, the issue being discussed in Proverbs 22:1-9. Proverbs 22:6 must be interpreted within the boundaries of 22:1-6.

[11] “All Scripture is inspired by God….” 2 Timothy 3:16. For Paul, “Scripture” is the word for Jesus’ Bible, composed of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (the Tanakh). The book of Proverbs is located in the third section called “the Writings.” Thus the book of Proverbs is inspired by God. James, the brother of Jesus, cites the book of Proverbs as “Scripture.” Observe: “That is why the Scripture says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives garce to the humble.’” James 4:6, quoting Proverbs 3:34. Proverbs equal Scripture.

[12] Part 2

[13] Without impugning the motives of the translators, and hopefully, presented in an irenic fashion.

[14] Fathers and mothers, single mums or single dads.