Christian Parents and a Wayward Child
Dear Ceo and Gery,
I want to thank you for coming by and visiting with me last week and wanted to begin this letter with how much I appreciate your unconditional love for Johnny, as well as your desire for him to turn from the poor choices that you both have seen him make. As I listened to your words, I heard the hurt and pain you are feeling, and I do understand that it is both real and deep. You must feel like what Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 4:8, that you are being hard pressed on every side. I assure you that the pastors and I here are praying for you, your son, and for a restoration to that relationship that only God can accomplish.
You shared with me your feelings about Proverbs 22:6 and how you feel that this is a promise that rings hollow, because you feel like you held up your end but for some reason, God did not. Because you shared with me that both of your desires were to really understand what God meant by this passage, I want to take this opportunity to address that particular verse, and while I walk you through the process that we should go through for understanding a Biblical text, I hope that the conclusion gives you both some measure of comfort that God has not forgotten about you, and that His word is true forever.
First of all, as we read God’s word, we must take note of a few things to correctly understand it. As you know, you read a poem differently than you read a novel, and you read the US Constitution differently as well. The same should hold true for reading the Bible. We should read the poetry and wisdom books with a different lens than we read a prophetic or historical book. They each have different nuances that we must endeavor to understand, to correctly arrive at the text’s meaning. We also need to look at who the author was, what was going on at the time of the passage’s writing, consider who the intended audience was, study the original words and how they translate into English, and then try to understand the intended meaning, in light of not only the context of the book we find it in, but also as it stands against the entire theology of the Bible. These few guardrails will help us find the true meaning of a Biblical text, and from there we can understand what the text teaches us in the 21st century.
While every word in the Bible is God inspired, we must get back to the original intent, by the original author, to understand the meaning of the verse. After we do that we can begin to apply the meaning to us today. Because this verse is found in the book of Proverbs, right off the bat we know that this text is found within the genre of wisdom. It is a proverb, so it is by its very definition stating a general truth or wisdom, but not a guarantee or promise, so we must read it as such. We see this exemplified elsewhere in Proverbs 26:27a where the text reads “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it…” This certainly does mean that everyone who has ever dug a hole has fallen into it.
Most scholars today agree that the author is Solomon, so knowing a bit about him will also help us find the correct meaning of the text. Solomon lived in the mid-900’s BC, and ruled Israel following his father David, in a mostly peaceful time in the region. According to the Bible, Solomon saw his own brothers being trained up correctly, and then not go the way of the true faith of their father. Solomon also saw the same thing with his children too. So much so, that the kingdom shattered into disarray and two separate factions formed upon the end of his reign. With that in mind, he must have had an intent that was not so dogmatic, as he had seen and experienced the exact opposite of our modern day translation. We know that Solomon was recording wisdom in this book. 1 Kings 3 records Solomon asking God for discernment, and God giving him wisdom beyond what any man had ever known. It is with this heavenly gift that Solomon would pen these words.
As we turn our lens to the words in their original language, we see some words jump out at us. First, the word “train” seems to be of importance. Elsewhere it is translated “dedicate”, as in dedicating a house or the temple, so this exercise starts off with a word that can be translated a few different ways. Secondly, the phrase “in the way he should go”, translated as a phrase, means “in accord with” and “the way”. Different scholars state that this could mean a few different things too. Either it could be pointing towards spiritual training, it could be pointing more toward vocational training, or it could even mean that children should be trained in the way he/she learns best, as some people learn verbally, some learn tactilely, or others learn by example.
We now come to the last step in this process, where we must look throughout the Bible and make sure that the meaning we have found does not disagree with the Bible elsewhere. It is my fundamental belief that the Bible does not contradict itself, so I feel that if I arrive at a textual meaning that is in opposition with proper and accepted theology, then I need to start my process over, because the Bible is never wrong, however, I can be. If we take the text to mean, as it seems it does on its surface, that if we train our children up properly and godly, then they will become Christians; that seems to disagree with the accepted theology that Salvation is only from the Holy Spirit and is a personal decision. Salvation is an act of free will on the part of the individual, and no one, not even parents, can save their children. Parental modeling has lots to do with the child’s exposure to the faith, but ultimately all men are given the free will to choose. We train out children as best we can, pointing them to God, but it is their choice ultimately whether they choose Him or not.
With this, we are faced with some final conclusions to this verse. We could argue that this verse is merely clarifying that children should be taught in the way they learn best, and that if they learn that way, they will never forget the skill or lesson they were taught, which has nothing to do with their spiritual training. We could also argue that this verse means that children trained in a vocational skill will always have a skill with which to return to, should they need it in their older age, almost like a Biblical equivalent to the modern day saying “give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, he will eat for a lifetime”. Or we could finally conclude, as is my personal opinion of the verse’s meaning, that this verse is acting merely as a proverb, where it is listing accepted wisdom but is not an expressed guarantee, where generally the statement is true but ultimately an individual’s decision is based in free will.
I do want to close this letter with a few observations. First, I would like to state that no one knows another’s true standing with God; that matter is solely between them and God. Certainly, there may be people that are saved, but are not living at their full potential in God’s plan. Certainly, Christians continue to sin, but we are forgiven. We constantly try to turn away from our fleshly desires, but so often fall short. If this is the case with Johnny and he was saved earlier in life, then pray for the Holy Spirit to convict him and turn his heart back to his love for his faith and his love for his family. Secondly, this verse speaks of a child returning to his training later in their lives. While Johnny might be living outside of God’s plan now, this gives you both an opportunity to pray without ceasing for his return to his family, like the prodigal son that Jesus spoke about in Luke 15. Pray for his soul’s conviction and for his heart to turn towards a loving Heavenly Father and caring earthly family. And, if the day comes that he does come home, run out and meet him in the driveway with open arms, and most importantly with forgiving and welcoming hearts.
Maranville, Cecil. “Train Up a Child: What Does Proverbs 22:6 Mean?”. https://lifehopeandtruth.com/bible-questions/what/train-up-a-child
McGee, J Vernon (John Vernon). Thru the Bible with J. Vernon Mcgee. Vol. 3, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon Mcgee, Volume 3. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 1981.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, ©1983.
The Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Vol. 4, The Book of Psalms - the Book of Proverbs. New York: Abingdon Press, 1952.
The Pulpit Commentary. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1980-1989.
Walton, John H. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009.
Walton, John H., Victor Harold Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas. The Ivp Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2000.