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Train Up a Child and Everything Is Your Fault, Part 2: What is the way of the Child?

train up 4 small sxc huIn a previous post, we turned our attention to a literal rendering of Proverbs 22:6,[1] which being one of the most hurled about texts, whether in accusation, self-defense, or hopeful soothing, suffers much in the shadow of questionable translation. The problem phrase “על־פי דרכו   upon the mouth of his way” was shown to best reflect the somewhat vague notion of “according to his way,” which demands the question, “What is the way of the Child.”

There are five suggestions about the meaning of “according to his way” in addition to the earlier suggestion that “upon the mouth of his way” was a point of timing, “at the beginning of his way,” which I rejected.

  1. Train up a child according to his way… taking the way of the child as the way of his nature. This calls for a hand crafted methodology of instruction based on the idiosyncrasy of each child and his or her learning style.
  2. Train up a child according to his way… taking the way of the child as the manner befitting a child. This calls for a method of training that uses vocabulary, concepts, and illustrations that a child can grasp.
  3. Train up a child according to his way… taking the way of the child as the way of folly, focusing on “according to his way” as the use of a method of training designed to deal with the child as the fool that he or she is. This would be a solid piece of advice met in Proverbs 22:15. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”
  4. Train up a child according to his way… taking the way of the child as the way of folly, but seeing this as a sarcastic command with disastrous consequences. This would be a warning: If you train up a child giving him his own way, he’ll still be doing his own thing when old. Train your child to remain on the path of the fool and he’ll remain on the path of the fool all his life.
  • Some have noted that “the way of the child” which is “the way of the fool,” is a common theme in Proverbs.
  • Proverbs 13:24 says, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.”
  • Proverbs 23:13-14, reads, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
  • Proverbs 12:15 goes, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
  • Proverbs 29:15 in the NASB is rendered, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.”
  • Proverbs 29:15 in the ESV, however, is translated, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.”
  1. Finally…Train up a child according to his way… taking the way of the child as the way one OUGHT to go. This is the most popular sense given to these words. Train your child to walk on the path of wisdom and he’ll remain on the path of wisdom his whole life…which, by the way, disavows any sense that these words are a promise for some vague return in the end after a life of prodigal living.
  • It assumes that Proverbs would not give a sarcastic command with negative consequences, but would aim always toward the positive with positive results.
  • Unfortunately, this is not the case. The general sense of wrong action leading to bad ends is common, and is at times actually marked with Imperatives (like Proverbs 22:6)—as in Proverbs 19:27, “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”
  • The existence of other sarcastic commands and suggestions does not disprove this proposed sense, it merely adds a legitimate consideration to the discussion.

So… which is it?

Perhaps it would be easier to answer this question if we shrink our numbers a bit. Only two of these are a grammatical likelihood. Only two provide a solid antecedent for the final 3rd person feminine singular pronoun at the end of the proverb—“even when he is old he will not depart from IT.”

What is IT?

The only feminine singular noun in the proverb is “his WAY.”

This begs the question, “Which of these suggestions provides a reasonable antecedent for IT.”

Any suggestion that makes “his way” a method, or a timing, forces the discovery of an antecedent for IT in a word that does not actually appear in the proverb… some hazy feminine noun “training” which sits behind the imperative verb “train,” but does not appear in the proverb. Not impossible, but unlikely.

Thus, only #5 and #6 provide this. “His way” is either the path of the fool or the path of wisdom.

Rather than making some iron clad choice, however, let me suggest that you, O’ Dearest Reader, read the book of Proverbs many times digesting the unfolding of the implications of both paths as a worshiper and a parent.

So long as you grasp the true nature of Proverbs as wise guides as opposed to say, “Divine Promise” both together will set your mind more steadily in Good Parent Mode (GPM). I’ll discuss this element next time, however.

[1]“Train Up a Child and Everything Is Your Fault Part 1: Translation Issues in Proverbs 22:6”

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