Being a parent is no small task. Doing it well is even more difficult. How is a parent supposed to know how to be a parent? Does the Bible offer help on how to go about it? A verse from the Bible found in Proverbs 22:6 is commonly quoted in the King James Version: Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. In this translation, the Bible instructs a parent to “train up” their child, but what does that mean exactly and how is it done?
In Other Words
The commonly quoted verse reads differently in other translations. Let’s take a look at how the others word it.
Teach a youth about the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (HCS). Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it (NIV).
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life (GN). Give instruction to a youth about his way, Even when he is old he turneth not from it (YLT).
Teach your children right from wrong, and when they are grown they will still do right (CEV). Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it (NL).
Train a child in the way appropriate for him, and when he becomes older, he will not turn from it (ISV).
Training up a child is to teach, train, direct, start, and to give instruction to them. These are to be done: In the way he should go, how they should live, about his way, differentiating right from wrong, onto the right path, and the way appropriate for him. Those are a lot of different words — so, what does it all mean?
What Does This Mean?
The elaboration of using other words is helpful, but let’s look at the original text in the Hebrew for even greater understanding. The word used for to train up the child is chanak, which means to dedicate or inaugurate. The word used for the way is derek, which means road, course of life, mode of action, journey, manner. The word used for he should go is peh, which means mouth. It’s interesting this word is applied/translated in various ways.
A clunky way of putting it is: A parent trains or teaches their child by how they devote themselves to beginning their child’s pathway through life using the mouth. In simpler terms — how a parent habitually talks to their child about the child’s life and teaches them how to speak, is what the child will believe and follow. Every parent trains up their child in some way because this works both in the positive and the negative. Verbally abusing a child will produce negative results. The Bible gives more instruction on how it’s done in the positive.
How it’s Done
The Bible talks a lot about the mouth. About what to say, where it comes from, the importance of what we say, etc. Getting deep into that would be another article. For now, let’s see what it looks like.
In Deuteronomy 6:7, God is instructing the children of Israel how to raise their families. See how the mouth (or speech) is implemented.
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up (KJV).
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (NIV).
Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up (NL).
One might see a formula in this scripture thinking that simply talking a lot about God and the commandments is what is meant. However, there are countless stories of children raised in Christian homes where the commands of God were talked about diligently, yet they walked away from God. Talking about God to our children is only one piece of the puzzle.
The Most Important Piece
The most important piece to any puzzle in our lives is what the Bible calls “a more excellent way.” This “more excellent way” is the way of love. It is more excellent because it embodies God, who is love. For applying this piece to parenting, let’s look at Ephesians 6:4.
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (KJV).
And you, fathers, do not irritate your children, but bring them up tenderly with true Christian training and advice (WN).
And the fathers! provoke not your children, but nourish them in the instruction and admonition of the Lord (YL).
The words I’ve emphasized are from the translation of the words bring up meaning bring up to maturity, nourish, nurture. Love nourishes, nurtures, and devotes itself for the good of others.
Follow God’s Example
Jesus came to earth and demonstrated how devoted true love is. Both in showing us the love of the Father for us, and His love for us as well.
God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die (John 3:16 CEV).
I have loved you the same way the Father has loved me. So live in my love (John 15:9 NIV).
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2 NIV).
Walking in love is the highest calling we can walk in. We can fall down in the words we speak, and the actions we demonstrate, but true love will prevail above them. This is for two reasons. One is 1 Peter 4:8: Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins (NIV). And the second is love never fails.
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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, speaker, and coach who helps people embrace their value and heal their soul through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn (now available in audio), Love’s Manifesto and Because You Matter. A long time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/