Turning Prov 22:6 On its Head
John D. Telgren

Sometimes a vigorous study and fresh translation of a text can yield some fresh insight into a very familiar passage. For instance, Proverbs 22:6 typically reads, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."

A sound bit of advice for the discerning parent. Now, here is a wooden, literal translation: "Dedicate/inaugurate/raise to the lad according to his way/road and when he is old, he will not turn aside from it." You may notice a couple of peculiar differences. Let's look at them.

The first word (Heb: "Hanak") means to "dedicate" or "inaugurate." It is used for inanimate objects (Dt 20:5; 1 Kng 8:63), and of a child as in the case of this proverb. The idea behind the word is to "begin to use" something. In the case of a child, it is making reference to raising them up.

The word "way" also means "road" or "path." So the imagery is one of beating down a path or a rut to travel in. Once you start a child in a certain direction, you begin to beat a path for his feet.

You will notice that the phrase "should go" is not in the text. It literally says to raise a child in "his way."

This turns our typical interpretation of this proverb on its head. It is similar to Proverbs 29:15, "The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother."

Raise a child according to his way, instead of God's way, and he will be stuck there in the path you have allowed him to beat for himself. He will be stuck in a rut. In other words, if you let a child have his way all the time, and do not discipline him, when he is old, he will continue to be a spoiled self-centered egotist always having to have his way.

So, the exhortation that would naturally flow out of this proverb is an exhortation for parents to be raising up their children in God's way instead of the child's own way.

It is tempting, and often the path of least resistance to let the child have his own way, but a child who is guided to God's way will be a glory to God and to his own parents.