“Train up a child in the way he should go; Even when he is old he will not depart from it”

What a seemingly simple, but overwhelmingly complicated verse! It’s one of the most quoted – and often misquoted – verses in the Bible (Proverbs 22:6).

People often use this verse as a guarantee that if you raise your children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they’ll always stay on the right path. That interpretation can be problematic, particularly for the “good parents” I know who have seen their older children stray from the faith. We all know that we can try our best, and sometimes the results are different than we would have hoped. God has given us free will to make our own choices, after all.

Another view of Proverbs 22:6 is that the writer was saying the exact opposite. It’s not a guarantee for parents, but rather a warning. Dr. Douglas Stuart from Gordon Theological Seminary holds this view citing many notable scholars. According to Stuart, the difference comes from the addition of the word “should” in the English translations, something that’s not supported in the original Hebrew. Without the “should” the nature of the verse changes. It’s more about allowing your children to go their own way, not the way they “should” go. In this view, the reading would be more like “Train up a child in his own way, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That certainly changes things, doesn’t it?