6Family, child training. Proper training of a child will endure throughout his life. The parallelism is formal; the second clause provides the consequence of the first. The imperative is “train” (ḥanōk, GK 2852); this verb includes the idea of “dedicate,” and so the training should be with purpose. The “child” (naʿar) presumably is in the youngest years, although the Talmud places him between sixteen and twenty-four. The NEB captures the point of early instruction: “Start a boy on the right road.”
The right road is expressed by “in the way he should go” (ʿal-pî darkô). The way the verse has been translated shows that there is a standard of life to which one should go. Of course, a person must be young enough when change for the better is still possible. The consequence is that when he is old (yazqîn), he will not depart from it. Whybray, 125, notes that the sages were confident of the character-forming quality of their teaching.
In recent years it has become popular to interpret this verse to mean that the training should be according to the child’s way. The view is not new; over a thousand years ago Saadia suggested that one should train the child in accordance with his ability and potential. The wise parent will discern the natural bent of the individual child and train it accordingly. Kidner, 147, acknowledges that the wording implies respect for the child’s individuality but not his self-will; he reminds us that the emphasis is still on the parental duty of training. Training in accordance with a child’s natural bent may be a practical and useful idea, but it is not likely what this proverb has in mind.
In the book of Proverbs there are only two “ways” a child can go: the way of the wise and the righteous, or the way of the fool and the wicked. Moreover, it is difficult to explain why a natural bent needs training. Ralbag, in fact, offered a satirical interpretation: “Train the child according to his evil inclinations (let him have his will) and he will continue in his evil way throughout life” (cited in Greenstone, 234). Toy, 415, summarizes the ways that one might take “according to his way”:
not exactly “in the path of industry and piety” (which would require in the right way), nor “according to the bodily and mental development of the child” (which does not agree with the second cl.), but “in accordance with the manner of life to which he is destined,” the implication being that the manner of life will not be morally bad.
McKane, 564, agrees that “according to his way” must mean the way he ought to go: “There is only one right way—the way of life—and the educational discipline which directs young men along this way is uniform.”
22:6 / Synthetic. The imperative in verse 6a is equivalent to a conditional clause. The Hebrew has literally, “according to his way,” which has been variously interpreted; most agree with the niv. The point is that proper training early on will have lasting results. The verse is lacking in the Greek.
22:6 The usual interpretation of this proverb is that if you train up a child properly (in the way he should go), he will go on well in later life. Of course there are exceptions, but it stands as a general rule. Henry Ward Beecher observes:
It is not hard to make a child or a tree grow right if you train them when they’re young, but to make them straighten out after you’ve allowed things to go wrong is not an easy matter.
Susannah Wesley, the mother of Charles, John, and 15 other children, followed these rules in training them: (1) Subdue self-will in a child and thus work together with God to save his soul. (2) Teach him to pray as soon as he can speak. (3) Give him nothing he cries for and only what is good for him if he asks for it politely. (4) To prevent lying, punish no fault which is freely confessed, but never allow a rebellious, sinful act to go unnoticed. (5) Commend and reward good behavior. (6) Strictly observe all promises you have made to your child.
The proverb can also be understood as encouraging parents to train their children along the lines of their natural talents, rather than forcing them into professions or trades for which they have no native inclination. Thus Kidner says that the verse teaches respect for the child’s individuality and vocation, though not for his self-will.
And the proverb may be a warning that if you train a child in the way that he himself wants to go, he will continue to be spoiled and self-centered in later life. Jay Adams writes:
The verse stands not as a promise but as a warning to parents that if they allow a child to train himself after his own wishes (permissively), they should not expect him to want to change these patterns when he matures. Children are born sinners and, when allowed to follow their own wishes, will naturally develop sinful habit responses. The basic thought is that such habit patterns become deep-seated when they have been ingrained in the child from the earliest days.
22:6. This is perhaps the best-known verse in Proverbs on child training. The other verses on child-rearing (13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13–14; 29:17) are all on discipline. The Hebrew word for train (ḥānaḵ) means to dedicate. It is used of dedicating a house (Deut. 20:5), the temple (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 7:5), and an image (Dan. 3:2). The noun ḥănukkâh speaks of the dedication of an altar (Num. 7:10; 2 Chron. 7:9) and of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 12:27). Only in Proverbs 22:6 is the verb translated “train.” Ḥānaḵ seems to include the idea of setting aside, narrowing, or hedging in. The word is sometimes used in the sense of “start.” Child-training involves “narrowing” a child’s conduct away from evil and toward godliness and starting him in the right direction. Gleason L. Archer points out that this Hebrew verb is similar to the Egyptian ḥ-n-k, which means “to give to the gods” or “to set up something for divine service.” He suggests that in verse 6 this gives “the following range of possible meanings: ‘Dedicate the child to God,’ ‘Prepare the child for his future responsibilities,’ ‘Exercise or train the child for adulthood’ ” (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982, p. 252).
In the way he should go is literally, “upon the mouth of his way.” “Upon the mouth of” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “according to” or “in accord with.” A servant would respond “upon the mouth of” or at the command of his superior. But what does “the way” mean? Scholars have interpreted this differently. Does it mean according to the way he ought to go (kjv, nasb, niv) either vocationally or morally? Or does it mean, as others have suggested, according to the demands of his personality, conduct, or stage in life? Since “way” in Proverbs does not mean personality or stage in life, it is preferable to say that “way” means proper way, the path of wise, godly living, which is emphasized frequently in Proverbs-basically the way of wisdom. It is from this proper behavior pattern or godly lifestyle that he will not turn when he is old, that is, when he is grown (attains adulthood).
Some parents, however, have sought to follow this directive but without this result. Their children have strayed from the godly training the parents gave them. This illustrates the nature of a “proverb.” A proverb is a literary device whereby a general truth is brought to bear on a specific situation. Many of the proverbs are not absolute guarantees for they express truths that are necessarily conditioned by prevailing circumstances. For example, verses 3–4, 9, 11, 16, 29 do not express promises that are always binding. Though the proverbs are generally and usually true, occasional exceptions may be noted. This may be because of the self-will or deliberate disobedience of an individual who chooses to go his own way-the way of folly instead of the way of wisdom (see v. 15 and comments there). For that he is held responsible. It is generally true, however, that most children who are brought up in Christian homes, under the influence of godly parents who teach and live God’s standards (cf. Eph. 6:4), follow that training.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 847). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.