Adult Children as Fruit of Man’s Ministry, Part Two

Here are some questions that have been suggested to me by a friend.

Prov. 22:6 is a very interesting verse but what does it mean?

I think it means exactly what it says. It is not a promise and should not be read as such. It is merely a proverb. But it is an inspired proverb. My interpretation of this proverb is not novel and can be supported by many scholars from many sources.

Does it mean that if parents do mostly what is right, then so will our children?

Of course it does not promise this. A proverb even though it is inspired is not a promise. It’s a proverb. (I think I’ve said this already). But it is a general rule and is therefore generally true. An inspired proverb, like the Law, is not useful to anyone outside of Christ because the ultimate goal is salvation and glorification. What the Law cannot do because it is made weak by the flesh (Romans 8:2), neither can the Inspired Proverb, especially because it is a proverb and not a command. It is — if I may say it this way — even weaker. But in Christ it is a reasonable general rule.

Does it mean that if parents ALWAYS do what is right, then so will our children? If I train my son to be a carpenter, then he will be a good one? He will never depart from being a carpenter. If I train him to play hockey . . . or in the case of Tiger, golf?

Of course not. No. No. And, um, no. But is it unreasonable to think that Tiger’s son may turn out to be a better golfer than my son? Would anyone be shocked that Tiger’s son loves golf because his dad loves it so much? Rather, we would all be shocked if he hates golf.

Does it mean that I can offset my child’s depravity by my righteous living?

This is a tricky question. My knee-jerk answer was a solid no. But, wait! “Offset?” To offset means to diminish the effect of something and, yes, righteous living does offset the effect of depravity. It doesn’t do miracles. It doesn’t change a heart. But if I refuse to let my daughter go out alone with her boyfriend (hypothetically speaking), my righteous commitment offsets her depravity. The Scriptures are loaded with examples of righteous living “offsetting” depravity. It does not save. It does not sanctify. The effect of salt and light in the world is to offset depravity. Offset, yes. Negate, no.

Even the Apostle of Grace was not afraid to employ a general rule/proverb. “Be not deceived. Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33). I can just hear people clamoring, “But Paul, shame on you! You know that corruption is in the heart. How can you dare say that bad company ruins good morals? You moralist!” But Paul is merely citing a general rule. He does not say it will happen every time. But it is a general rule even for Christians that their morals could be corrupted by evil company.

But this does not mean that if a child is rebellious that his parents were necessarily not living righteously. I have never said that.

It is the Gospel that bears fruit. “Of this you heard before in the word of truth, the gospel, which is bearing fruit and growing” (Col. 1:6). In Christ, training up a child (Pr. 22:6) becomes “training him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) and that means the Gospel. It is reasonable, my friends, to expect the Gospel to bear fruit where even nature works in favor of the evangelist to prepare the soil like no other place he could evangelize: his own home.

Since this is a public document, I want to go on the record right now — again — that my trembling prayer is that the Gospel will bear good fruit in my children. I hope I can see it. I’ll still hope for it if I die before I see it. And if it doesn’t happen, I’ll not be so presumptive as to assume my “bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” was without blame. But I believe that where there is a home where unbelieving children are the product, the gospel was not at work in that home like it could have been.

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11 Responses

  1. Bob, I can’t remember where I’ve encountered the discussion—maybe a CCEF publication but not sure—but there is some debate over the meaning of the Hebrew in Prov. 22:6. Here’s a paraphrase that approximates the possible alternative translation:

    “Reinforce in a child the way in which he is naturally bent to go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    IOW, if you don’t stop your child from going the way his flesh inclines him to go, by the time he’s an adult his rebellion will be irreversibly fixed.

  2. Gill:

    Ver. 6. Train up a child in the way he should go,…. As Abraham trained up his children, and those born in his house, in the way of the Lord, in the paths of justice and judgment; which are the ways in which they should go, and which will be to their profit and advantage; see
    Ge 14:14; and which is the duty of parents and masters in all ages, and under the present Gospel dispensation, even to bring such who are under their care in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, Eph 6:4; by praying with them and for them, by bringing them under the means of grace, the ministry of the word, by instructing them in the principles of religion, teaching them their duty to God and man, and setting them good examples of a holy life and conversation; and this is to be done according to their capacity, and as they are able to understand and receive the instructions given them: “according to the mouth of his way” {s}, as it may be literally rendered; as soon as he is able to speak or go, even from his infancy; or as children are fed by little bits, or a little at a time, as their mouths can receive it;

    and when he is old he will not depart from it; not easily, nor ordinarily; there are exceptions to this observation; but generally, where there is a good education, the impressions of it do not easily wear off, nor do men ordinarily forsake a good way they have been brought up in {t}; and, however, when, being come to years of maturity and understanding, their hearts are seasoned with the grace of God, they are then enabled to put that in practice which before they had only in theory, and so continue in the paths of truth and holiness.

    Thomas Constable writes:

    “In the way he should go” is literally “according to his way.” It may mean according to his personality, temperament, responses, or stage in life. On the other hand it could mean the way in which he ought to go. The Hebrew grammar permits either interpretation. However the context favors the latter view. “Way” in Proverbs usually means the path a person takes through life, not one’s personality, disposition, or stage in life. Consequently the verse is saying the parent should train up a child in the way of wisdom to live in the fear of God.

    Constable cites Ross, pp. 1061-62; Toy, p. 415; McKane, p. 564; Kidner, p. 147; and Greenstone, p. 234 in support of his paragraph.

  3. FWIW….

    I have a very close friend who is a secular Jewish Israeli (native Hebrew speaker). And she literally laughs outloud at our English translations of popular proverbs and OT words, including Proverbs 22:6. Apparantly in her context, this proverb roughly translates “apply training methods that suit the disposition of the child and you will have success in training him.”

    I know this is entirely anecdotal and not rooted in my first hand understanding of Hebrew or ancient context. But it made sense to me and seemed to clear up a lot of the (unnecessary) debate surrounding the “meaning” of this verse. And it would also answer some of the questions about whether spanking is the only legitimate method of discipline.

    In respect to the specific discussion here, taking this definition would also mean that if a parent wants to pass along truth to his child the most successful way to do that is in a manner that is suited to the child’s temperment. And imho, that’s not something you see happening a lot in fundamental circles.

  4. I have read the same possible translation of that Proverb as Ben has, except I heard it applied differently, specifically, that we must train our children in light of their personal uniqueness, and not try to fit them into some ideal mold of our personal making.

    God made them who they are and that’s who they’re going to be. Some kids are not going to be married preachers with nine kids no matter how hard we try and steer them that way if God made them as someone who is best suited to be a celibate accountant.

  5. Hannah, that is a legitimate translation, but I am not sure it is a legitimate interpretation. There is definitely some value in considering that…..On your Hebrew friend that laughs at our English/Christian interpretations, I must say that the Pharisees (who were Hebrews of the Hebrews) laughed out loud at Jesus’ interpretation and use of the Hebrew text so I’m not sure if that means anything! (And I’m not being snarky. Trying to be gently wry while making a point!) The fact of the matter is that Jesus made it plain that Jews who did not accept Him could not interpret the OT correctly at all. And, as I shall state in another comment, the age-old hermeneutical principle of analogy of faith is something that they would totally repudiate. A secular Jew doesn’t see Jesus anywhere in the OT and literally laughs out loud.

    That said, the translation that you suggested is indeed possible. I’m not sure it’s the best one though.

    • I’ll be the first to recognize that my friend’s view of the OT is Christ-less. As is the rest of her life. But it seems a bit of playful semantics to group her commonly held understanding of a cultural proverbs or “mistranslations” in the same category as the spiritual attack the religious leaders were leveling against Christ. (Another basic example we have discussed is transliterating “pisgah” as a proper name instead of the noun meaning, summit.) It’s funny to her because it’s funny to her Hebrew ear to hear “Mount Summit.”

      I as well am not trying to be snarky. But wryly suggest that you wouldn’t consistently apply these same hermeneutical principles to something like Proverbs 27:14 which on the face seems a very straightforward proverb about how life works. (In essence, don’t even say good things loudly in the morning or you’ll get cursed.) I mean why don’t we link this “curse” back to Mosiac blessings and curses and the curse of Christ hanging on a tree, etc. etc. in order to correctly interpret it. We don’t because we don’t need to; the meaning of the proverb is clear.

      And likewise, I’m simply suggesting that a more straightfoward translation of Proverbs 22:6 eliminates the need to even debate its meaning.

      • P.S. I enthusiastically agree with your overarching premise about parenting and fruit. Just not that this proverb applies to the discussion in the ways commonly debated.

  6. Yesterday a friend shared the link to a little book called “The Training of Children,” written by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. If what I am told is true, Booth and his wife raised eight children, all of whom went on to serve the Lord in their adult lives. I only have a cursory familiarity with this document and hope to read it soon in full. It is a free online read. Here’s the link:

  7. Ben, et. al.

    I am familiar with that interpretation, but I think it takes more imagination than the plain reading of how the best English translations consistently translate the verse.

    I’m inclined to think that the time-tested practice of the “analogy of faith” hermeneutical principle would support the traditional interpretation of the proverb (mine) than the more imaginative interpretation. The whole of the Bible emphasizes children as fruit, disciple-making, etc. Interpreting the proverb as a general rule is hardly a stretch of one’s imagination.

    However, supposing the other interpretation is correct. What does that do to the basic proposition that children who grew up in a man’s home should be regarded as fruit? Nothing.

    In my mind, the interpretation that we are supposed to figure out that psychological bent of a child and train him up accordingly is almost pointless. It is good advice, but it has no Gospel incentive. Thus, one would have to interpret it negatively: if you let the child go according to his bent then he will not depart from it, his bent being foolish. I can buy that actually, but that automatically implies the positive side as a general rule which brings us right back to my original proposition.

  8. I don’t think anyone has proposed accomodation of the flesh is the point of the “more imaginative” translation, so in now way does it negate the Gospel. Indeed, there are plenty of Gospel-powered ways to respond to it.

    That version of the verse doesn’t do anything to your proposition, except maybe support it less explicitly than the other version. But I’m not here to knock the underpinnings out of anything, just discuss.

    FWIW, I agree with your basic proposition.

  9. Bruce Waltke in his dealing with this says that no proverb would have a youth reaching old age in his folly. It is the wise, not the fools that are crowned with the gray hair of age (20:29). He says that the moral initiation of a youth should be oriented counteract his foolish way. With that strong spiritual initiative, the dedicated youth will never depart from the original initiative.

    He concludes his comments on this verse, saying: “In sum, the proverb promises the educator that his original, and early, moral initiative has a permanent effect on a person for good. But that is not the whole truth about religious education.” (p. 206 in his Proverbs 15-31 commentary, NICOT).

    Waltke’s interp fits with the word “train,” where the other three forms of that lemma are used in “dedication” context. The boy is to be consecrated. There are two Hebrew words in construct that translate “up in” That exact Hebrew construct is translated “at the mouth” a few times in the OT. It is translated “according to the word” several times. “Mouth” can have the understanding of “entrance” or “beginning,” like the mouth of a cave, or something related to “word.”

    It certainly could be something like this—Consecrate a boy at the beginning of his way, (and when he is old he will not depart from it.)

    I think Waltke makes a good exegetical point when he says that fools or those going their own way don’t get to be old men in Proverbs.

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