Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.1

The NASB uses the word “train,” and the CSB uses the word “start.” As we will see later, the terms mean the same thing.

This well-known Proverb is frequently misunderstood to mean that if parents do everything “right,” the child will turn out “right.” In some Christian circles, the child is guaranteed to follow the Lord later in life if the parents take the proper steps.

It is wonderful to see parents take the proverb seriously and invest in their children. There is a connection to the New Testament command for fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). Both passages mean to have dads disciple their children (with mom’s help).

Dads and moms should not assume a guaranteed outcome. Proverbs are not iron-clad promises. They are observations that say something about probable results and consequences, not guaranteed results. 

Let’s see what the Christian Study Bible and the John MacArthur Study Bibles say about the passage.

22:6 Start is literally to “dedicate” something, such as a building—to have a celebration commemorating the first time it is put to its intended use (Dt 20:5; 1Kg 8:63). Here, the youth is consecrated to a life of godly wisdom (4:11). Youth typically refers to preteen to late-teen years. The Hebrew words translated on his way speak of orienting the initiation to fit the challenges of young people. Youth are known for foolishness and lack of discretion or sense (v. 15; 1:4; 7:7); left to themselves, they fall into disgrace (29:15, 21). Thus, if a youth is initiated in a manner that is appropriate to his age (1:4; 23:13), it is likely to stick with him. However, this is not a promise, and it does not make the teacher responsible for the student (Ezk 18:20).2

22:6 way he should go. There is only one right way, God’s way, the way of life. That way is specified in great detail in Proverbs. Since it is axiomatic that early training secures lifelong habits, parents must insist upon this way, teaching God’s Word and enforcing it with loving discipline consistently throughout the child’s upbringing. See note on 13:24. Cf. Dt 4:9; 6:6–8; 11:18–21; Jos 24:15; Eph 6:4.3

There is a wealth of good counsel within those two quotes from the Study Bibles. I will summarize here.

In Proverbs 22:6, “in the way” means the correct moral orientation. It points to the kinds of conduct that please or displease the Lord, such as the commandment for children to obey their parents. The training would include love, instruction, and the rod of discipline (Pro. 22:15).

The main takeaway for a New Testament Christian is to teach a child self-control and discipline, pointing to the way, which in a New Testament context means pointing to Jesus as a child learns and understands the orientation of their heart.

My grandson is about to turn four years old (in 2014). His parents have diligently taught him self-control since he was six months old. They are now doing likewise with a one-year-old daughter.

At first, it was simple stuff using simple means that meant teaching him not to throw his food, scream for no apparent reason, or whine when unhappy. As he has grown older, he has learned more and more as his understanding has increased. No, he is not perfect, and they still have to be diligent, but the result of their diligence is often apparent. I recall taking our grandson to MacDonald’s, and he and I observed a boy of similar age misbehaving. My grandson (age three at the time) remarked, “That little boy needs discipline.” Yes, he did!

It’s hard work and means that parents must be diligent in taking care of everything now as it happens, regardless of where you are. In other words, do not ignore misbehavior; deal with it directly, even in the middle of Target if you have to. We’re all familiar with the screaming kid at Toys-R-Us insisting on a toy while mom tried to bribe him. Don’t be that parent!

A child who learns self-control at age 2 is more apt to learn about Jesus at age four than one without training. My grandson, for example, has an increasing awareness of God. He prays and learns verses in his Sunday School class and at home. Does he grasp everything he needs to receive Christ? No, but the ground for understanding has been prepared well.

Self-control can be taught at a very young age if the parents are willing to invest the time and energy to teach it.

Parents who take Proverbs 22:6 seriously (and in context) are often blessed with the results: obedient children who have been prepared for the necessary heart change and reception of the gospel when they are old enough to understand it.

Book Recommendation: Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp

Pastor Bruce Roeder

Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor

Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife Elizabeth of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great grandkids. 

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  1.  New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Pr 22:6. ↩︎
  2.  David K. Stabnow, “Proverbs,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 987. ↩︎
  3.  John F. MacArthur Jr., The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006), Pr 22:6. ↩︎