When my husband and I started dating, we decided to alternate languages, speaking English one day and German the next. "This will be great! J. can help me with my English, while I can serve him in working on his German," ... or so I thought. Little did I know that my boyfriend had studied every minute detail of the German language, making him willing and able to correct me in my native tongue. What a blow to my pride! It took me a while to appreciate his grammatical abilities. Now I see that my husband studies the language usage in the Bible with that same intensity and sees details that others may overlook.
Proverbs 22:6 is a clear example of this: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." This sounds like an amazing formula to success, promising that faithful training automatically produces godly offspring. Oftentimes it does, but experience shows that even children from Christian homes, who have enjoyed the best training, sometimes choose to walk away from faith in Jesus Christ. Their parents feel shattered, having put their hope in the Biblical promise of Proverbs 22:6. They ask in disbelief, "What happened? This is not the way it's supposed to be!" After the initial shock, guilt sets in. Any failure of the child to adhere to Biblical standards is laid at the parents' feet. "Their training must have not been good enough," we assume. This Bible verse becomes a source of heartache and disappointment for many.
This is where my husband's love for grammar is helpful. J. was able to explain to me that because "the way" and "child" both share the masculine gender in the Hebrew language, a different translation of Proverbs 22:6 is grammatically possible and would read this way: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old it will not depart from him."
Is this rendering of verse plausible? Let's take a look ...
First, the Bible repeatedly emphasizes that it is possible for a child to reject the instruction of his parents. The Bible offers no guarantees that our children will always walk in the prescribed path. This alternate translation of Proverbs 22:6 seems to line up with that reality. If we go with the more popular rendering of the verse, it would seem to be in conflict with other Scriptures.
Second, we can find more examples in Scripture of things departing from people than people departing from things. For example, the Word talks about the scepter not departing from Judah (Gen. 49:6), and strength departing from Samson (Judges 16:19). Our alternate translation is consistent with this pattern, as it says God's truth will not depart from a child trained up in it.
Convinced that this translation is possible and probable, let's now draw encouragement from this verse. The self-condemnation under which some parents have lived for many years has lost its grip. No longer can a poor choice made by a son or daughter of Christian parents be understood as lack of training. This new rendering of the verse promises that "the way" which has been imparted to the children of Christian parents remains as a living voice, continuing to call them for the rest of their lives. This is a message of hope rather than heartache for those whose children seem to have fallen away.
Parents, let's respond to the charge to train up the children who are in our care, and pray for those who have chosen not to live by the Biblical truths they were taught. Take heart in the knowledge that "the way" remains in them, serving as a constant reminder of the truth and calling them to a relationship with God. May they listen and ignore it no longer.