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Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean That If a Child Departs, He Was Not Properly Trained?

By December 1, 1988November 9th, 2022No Comments


I would appreciate your comments on Proverbs 22:6. Does this verse mean that if a child does depart, he was not properly trained? As you may guess, I am a sorrowful mother whose son was brought up to love and serve God, gave every evidence of being saved at an early age, but in high school he began to drift away and question the truth of the Word, and now as an adult he has completely turned from God and claims to be an atheist.

I have heard the Scripture passage above interpreted literally and confess that my faith has begun to falter.

First of all, be assured that you are not the only parent who has struggled over the meaning of this verse in light of a wayward son or daughter. Some parents have even begun to question the authority of the Word because of this verse. Don’t fall into the same trap.

To understand this verse we must look at the book of Proverbs as a whole. When we do, we discover that the book is a compilation of general observations of life on the part of the writer, not a series of guarantees. In other words, Solomon was not saying, “If you parents do your part in raising your child, you will never, never fail in producing a child who will not depart from the truth when he is grown up.” Rather, he was saying, “My observation is that the rule of thumb is that when you train up a child in the proper way, the general result is that the child will not depart from this training when he is mature.”

Some teachers of the Word have attempted to give parents the idea that there is an absolute guarantee here. This is foolish. If we would just think of people we know, we would quickly realize there are exceptions. On the other hand, who would not agree that usually and generally the child who is raised right will not leave the principles of the Word of God when he is mature?

The verse also implies that the child here has a willing heart of obedience. This verse shows that he will not depart from the way he should go if trained properly—provided there is no willful refusal to go that way. If the person deliberately goes his own way, like the Prodigal Son, despite the proper training, this principle obviously won’t apply.

Thankfully, too, a departure from the proper training of the Word is often temporary. Again, like the Prodigal Son, there is a “returning to the father and home,” showing that all the love and training were not in vain after all. Sometimes a parent has to wait a while until the last penny is spent from riotous living and the child comes to the end of himself (see Luke 15:11–32). Suddenly the principles the child has seemingly spurned make sense to him!

As we look at this passage we must also face another possibility: We did not train our children in the way they should go as well as we think we did. We are not commanded to raise a child the way we think he should go, but rather the way God wants him to go. Many times parents feel they did everything right when, in reality, they failed to measure up. This verse indicates three essential elements in training children in the way they should go: discipline, education, and example. When one or two of these three elements are missing, there will be a lack in proper child rearing. For example, many parents were very strict disciplinarians but did not teach the children much of anything. Or, it is also common that the discipline and teaching were there, but the parents did not demonstrate before the children the things they said they believed. (I, of course, mention this for the warning and benefit of Christian parents at present and parents-to-be.) We must also be careful of our motives—we are to train up a child because God commands us to and because it will benefit our child, not so we can “look good” or so that it will ensure us good kids.

In your case, like others whose children are grown, never underestimate the power of prayer. I can hear amens from others reading this who have at one time felt they were failures as parents but who continued to pray, and ultimately the children got right with God and are today living for Him. Some perhaps even ended up in prison. The same change can take place in your son. And the teaching and discipline and example he did receive will bear fruit after all.

Undoubtedly, too, there will be readers who will take you and your situation to the Lord in prayer. That in itself should be a great encouragement to you.

One final word of warning: Don’t swallow the liberals’ current charge that the Bible is wrong on child rearing. Many liberal psychologists and educators are attempting to disprove the Bible by such verses as Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod hateth his own son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” They say that the Bible can’t be inerrant because this advice from the Scriptures goes contrary to modern psychology that “has proved” that corporal punishment simply suppresses misbehavior. But like their arguments against creationism or capital punishment, we must decide which to believe—God or the “wisdom” of men.

This article appeared in the “Q & A” column of the Baptist Bulletin (December 1989) by Norman A. Olson. 

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