Train Up a Child
Basket of Figs, June, 2005
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Pr 22:6 AV)
The Bible is such a great book that it can transform the lives of those who understand it. It can also destroy the lives of those who don’t understand it. It is a very dangerous book for those who only read it once and think they know what it says.
The verse quoted above has been badly used and has resulted in badly used children in many Christian homes. It very emphatically does not mean:
“Train up a child in the way that he SHOULD go, and when he is old, he will still be a good Christian and a joy to his parents.” This is one-sided as does not do justice to the biblical doctrine. It has caused a great deal of strife and agony in homes of strict disciplinarians who insist that the child has to be conformed to what they think he should do. Often parents do not understand the Bible well themselves, but they still impose their sense of rightness on the child. They also condemn parents who have wayward children, for they “failed somewhere” in not teaching the child what he should do.
Neither does it mean: “Train up a child by letting him do what he wants to do, and when he is old he will be a pain in the neck.” This is true, but a very one-sided view of the verse.
It is certainly Biblical to teach children the values of right and wrong, and it is terrible sinful to allow a child to do as he pleases, but the promise in the second clause is not connected to either of these ideas. Many a child who was taught good values departs from them in later life, and many a child who grew up as a wild weed has come to Christ to live a godly life.
What does the verse mean? The meaning is found in the words “the way he should go.” The word is literally “of the mouth.” The child is to be taught “the way of the mouth.” This means two things in the life of a human being.
One, the Word of God’s Decree. Who is this child? What are his gifts and abilities as they are given to him by God. Not all children are alike. There are many different kinds of intelligence: verbal, mathematical, aesthetics, relational, ability to read motives, etc., each with many applications. What is the child’s “bent,” by virtue of his creation? Some may be like David, a man after God’s own heart, sweet singer of Israel, and a terror to the Philistines. Others may be like Samuel, called of God to be a prophet and teacher of Israel. Maybe a Solomon, wise but foolish, a man of peace, called of God to build the Temple. Parents should study their children, to understand what their “bent” is.
Two, the Word of God’s Precept. These are the laws of morality and decency that apply to all men, summarized in the Ten Commandments, which Christ interprets to mean that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, mind, and strength. They must be taught their manners, how to behave in church, how to treat people, how to protect property, reputation, and life. In other words, they are to be civilized, and now allowed to be unwashed savages. They are to be prepared to earn a living, to respect work and creativity.