Grace Theological Journal 9.1 (1988) 3-19

         Copyright © 1988 by Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission.


                    PROVERBS 22:6a:

                TRAIN UP A CHILD?


                                 TED HILDEBRANDT


      Careful consideration of lexical and contextual factors suggests

that "train up a child in the way he should go" needs to be reexam-

ined.  The verb "to train" really refers to a bestowal of status and re-

sponsibility.  The noun translated "child" denotes the status of a

late adolescent rather than a child. "In the way he should go" is

best understood as "according to what is expected."  The original

intent then of this verse addresses a late adolescent's entrance into his

place in adult society.  This should be done with celebration and

encouragement-giving him respect, status and responsibilities com-

mensurate with his position as a young adult.  This reinterpretation

necessitates fresh application of the proverb beyond the concerns of



                                       *      *      *

“Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he

will not depart from it" (Prov 22:6).  This proverb has brought

encouragement, hope, anxiety and guilt to countless parents who have

faced the uncertainty and confusion of child-rearing.  It has provided

encouragement to those responsible parents who, after working to

balance family, relationships and careers, find reassurance that all of

their labors ultimately will not be in vain.  This verse has also pro-

vided rays of hope to those who, having reared their child in the best

way they knew, have had their hearts broken as their child rebels and

goes astray.  They agonize under the pain that God recognized to be

one of the deepest sorrows of human existence (Mt 23:37; Hos 11:1-

2; Prov 10:1).  To those parents this verse gives hope that when he is

old the prodigal will return.  Another group of young parents, sensi-

tive to daily feelings of inadequacy, experiences intense anxiety over

the possible long-term damage they see themselves doing to their

child.  If the child does go astray, this verse seems to point the finger

of guilt at them.

4                           GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL


     Assuming that Proverbs 22:6 is a proverb, and not a promise,1

the first question of interpretation must be: "What did this verse

originally mean when it was recorded in the book of Proverbs?”2


                             j`noHE: TRAIN UP OR INITIATE?

      "Train up" is an initial verbal imperative, found only five times

in the Old Testament.  The tension between how this word is used

elsewhere in Scripture and the alleged pedagogical, semantic com-

ponent found in the translation "train up" (KJV, NASB, RSV, NIV,

TEV [teach]) has been passed over by many commentators.

To Stimulate Desire

     Since there are so few uses of j`naHA in the Old Testament, many

have overemphasized etymology and ignored the cautions that Barr

has so clearly articulated.3  With the recent psychological concentra-

tion on needs,4 there has been a renewed emphasis on the alleged

etymological root of j`naHA, j`He (palate ),5 and on an Arabic cognate

(hanakun: desire).  The Arabic image is of a mother preparing date

jam which is gently rubbed on the gums of a newborn baby, thereby

enhancing the infant's appetite for and ability to digest succulent

condiments.6  Yet to suggest that the assumed etymological root de-

termines or shades the meaning of the word in Proverbs 22:6 is like

saying that when one uses the word "cute" it is shaded by its early


     1W. Mouser, Walking in Wisdom (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1983) 13-14;

J. Williams, Those Who Ponder Proverbs: Aphoristic Thinking and Biblical Literature

(Sheffield: Almond, 1981); N. Barley, "A Structural Approach to the Proverb and

Maxim with Special Reference to the Anglo-Saxon Corpus," Proverbium 20 (1972)

737-50; "'The Proverb' and Related Problems of Genre-Definition," Proverbium 23

(1974) 880-84; and the classic work on the proverbial form and nature of the proverb,

A. Taylor, The Proverb (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1931).

     2A good example of the errors of putting application before interpretation is

Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision the people perish" (KJV). How this verse has

been misused for "good causes"! Fortunately, most modern versions (NIV, TEV, LB,

RSV) have changed this incorrect understanding.

     3James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament (Oxford:

Clarendon, 1968) 266-67.

     4David Keller, "Child Discipline: A Scriptural View," The King's Business,

(December 1970) 49, and J. A. Walter, Need: the New Religion (Downers Grove: Inter-

Varsity, 1986).

     5BDB (335) and KB (320) take j`naHA as denominative from the noun j`He (palate,

gums, roof of the mouth).  Cf. Gleason Archer, R. L. Harris, B. K. Waltke, eds.,

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, vol. I (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 301.

     6Both BDB (335) and KB (315) link it to an Arabic cognate hanaka referring to

the rubbing of the palate (gums = hanakun) of a child with oil and dates before he

begins to suck, thus making the material more digestible and palatable (cf. also TDOT,

v. 19f.; Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6 [Grand Rapids: Wm. B.



Elizabethan root meaning of "bow legged."  Thus, it cannot be as-

sumed that etymology determines current meaning/usage.  One should

be doubly leery about reading in a suggested etymology [j`He (palate)

or hanakun (desire)] when none of the biblical usages has anything to

do with such sensual, cuisinal nuances.

     Another way of establishing this oral-appetitive meaning for j`noHE

is on the basis of the use of  ypi (mouth) in the idiom "mouth of his

way" (OKr;da).  This was possibly used for literary effect in Proverbs

22:6.7  Such an oral meaning fixation seems unlikely, however, in light

of the apparent absence of such inferences elsewhere (Exod 34:27;

Deut 17:10-11; etc.).

To Train

     Most commentators accept, without discussion, the translation

of "train up" as the meaning of the word j`noHE in Proverbs 22:6.8  By

"train up" is meant the careful nurturing, instructing and disciplining

of the child in an attempt to inculcate a wise and moral character.

Such training is frequently mentioned in Proverbs (Prov 13:24; 19:18;

22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15, 17; cf. Heb 12:5f.).  Consequently, this proverb

is cited in support of a plethora of educational and developmental

child-rearing philosophies, paradigms and programs.

      The importance of early child training cannot be over-emphasized,

particularly given the destructiveness of the absent/ preoccupied-parent


Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973] 87). The nexus with Egyptian Execration text (2000

B.C.), hnk.t, "tribute, offering," or the Neo-Punic, hnkt(?), "memorial tombstone," is doubtful,

as Dommershausen observes (cf; Albright, "The Predeuteronomic Primeval," JBL [1939] 58).

     7James Collins, "A Hermeneutical and Exegetical Examination of Proverbs 22:6"

(M.Div. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1983) 29.

     8Toy, Proverbs in ICC, 415; McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach (Philadelphia:

The Westminster Press, 1970) 564; Whybray, The Book of Proverbs, in the Cambridge

Bible Commentary (Cambridge: University Press, 1972) 124; Bridges, A Commentary

on Proverbs (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1846) 402-4; Charles Fritsch,

Proverbs in the Interpreter's Bible (NY: Abingdon, 1955) 907; W. G. Plaut, Book of

Proverbs (NY: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1961) 227-28; Edgar Jones,

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, in the Torch Bible Commentaries (London: SCM, 1961)

183-84; Julius Greenstone, Proverbs with Commentary (Philadelphia: The Jewish Pub.

Soc. of America, 1950) 234-35; T. T. Perowne, The Proverbs (Cambridge: University

Press, 1916) 142; and Otto Zockler, The Proverbs of Solomon in Lange's Commentary

(NY: Charles Scribner and Son, 1904) 192. Zockler illustrates the point with several

proverbs ("What little Johnnie does not learn, John learns never" and "Just as the twig

is bent the tree's inclined"). Similarly, modern experiments of Piaget ("The Mental

Development of the Child" in Six Psychological Studies by Piaget, ed. O. Elkind [New

York: Random, 1967]), categories of Erikson (Childhood and Society [New York:

W. W. Norton] 247-74), and the work of others highlight the importance of early

childhood training. Many affirm that 85% of the child's personality is formed by the


syndrome that plagues American home life.  However, until the origi-

nal meaning of Proverbs 22:6 is explicated, we dare not jump to

dynamic, family-focused, modern applications of the verse.

     It may be suggested that the discipline/instruction view of  j`noHE is

confirmed by a lone use in Aramaic concerning training for fasting on

the Day of Atonement.9  Modern Hebrew uses synonyms like dmalA or

English glosses like "education" and "apprentice/pupil".10  In modern

Hebrew, j`Un.yHi means "education."11  One wonders, however, if such

later developments are based on an assumed interpretation of this

verse, which has therefore affected the consequent use of this verb in

modern times.12  This verb and its noun forms do not occur elsewhere

in Scripture with this discipline/instruction meaning.  If instruction

was the point, why were the more instructional and frequently-used

wisdom verbs not employed (dmalA, rsamA, fmawA, fdayA [Hi])?  Or why

were there not more generic verbs used (NtanA, HqalA) with the usual wisdom

nouns attached (e.g., righteousness, wisdom, knowledge, discernment)?

     One further tendency should be resisted in developing the seman-

tic components of this word. Every nuance of the word should not be

imported into its use in a particular context. Reich, for example,

collects several divergent meanings of  j`noHE (dedication, discipline [train

up], desire) and develops each of them in light of early childhood

training.  Such a technique is to be avoided as a violation of valid

semantic theory.13

To Dedicate/ Initiate

     The four other occurrences of "train" (j`noHE) in the Old Testament

are in contexts of dedicating or initiating the use of buildings.  This


time he is 6 years of age. Such findings, chaining early childhood to later life, are held

to be supported by this biblical proverb (see e.g., Paul Meier, Christian Child-rearing

and Personality Development [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977]).

     9Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Tarqumim (NY: Pardis Publishing House,

1950) 483.

     10Even-Shoshan, Abraham. Yrbfh Nylymh (Jerusalem: Qiriyat Sepher) 800, R. Sivan

and E. A. Levenston, The New Bantam-Megiddo Hebrew and English Dictionary (NY:

Schoken, 1977) 91.

     11S. C. Reif, "Dedicated to jnH," VT 22 (Oct 1972) 501. Cf. Sivan & Levenston,

Megiddo Dictionary, 118.

     12This is not ignoring the fact that modern meanings may be helpful in under-

standing ancient words (vid. James Barr, Comparative Philology, 38-75, 223-37; W.

Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language [Philadelphia: 1957] 206-30). Yet, it does

make this writer a little reticent--fearing an anachronistic, semantic projection back

into the text.

     13William Reich, "Responsibility of Child Training: Proverbs 22:6" (M.Div. thesis,

Grace Theological Seminary, 1971) 27, 35-41.



dedication/ initiation is usually accompanied by great celebration.

Deuteronomy 20:5 talks about the initiation of a new house as the

reason for a man's not going off to war.  The parallel references in

1 Kings 8:63 and 2 Chronicles 7:5 are both in the context of the

 celebrations surrounding the dedication of the Solomonic temple.

Reif follows Rankin when he observes that in Deuteronomy 20:5 the

word should be understood as the "initial use of" rather than a

formal dedication.  Dedication is the moving of an object from the

realm of the profane to the realm of the sacred.14  In ritual contexts,

however, both dedication and initial use aspects are closely linked.

Since the practice of dedicating houses is not found in the Old

Testament or in the later Jewish religious traditions, the dedication

interpretation seems less likely in Deuteronomy 20:5.  The idea of

initiating the use of is more consistent with the context.15

     Reif carefully discerns the cultic use of j`naHA in 1 Kings 8:63 (2 Chr

17:5).16  Here the cultic setting causes a coalescing of the idea of

dedicating the sacred building with the idea of its initial use.  While

“make holy" (wdaqA) and "anoint" (HwamA) may be more frequently and

exclusively used in dedication contexts, they may be sequentially

related to the meaning of j`naHA (cf. 1 Kgs 8:63 and 8:64 where the inner

court must be wdaqA before it can be j`naHA).  The LXX translation

e]gkaini<zw--while etymologically stressing the idea of newness and

initial use--has lexical glosses that favor the idea of dedication.17

      This cultic initiation/dedication use is affirmed through the eight

uses of the noun form hKAnuHE which occur exclusively in cult object

dedication celebrations (Num 7: 10, 11, 84, 88; 2 Chr 7:9; Neh 12:27;

Ps 30: 1 [title].  Again in Numbers 7, Reif carefully distinguishes that

the "anointing" (HwamA) and "consecrating/dedicating" (wdaqA) come be-

fore the "initial use" (j`naHA) of the Mosaic altar (cf. Num 7:1,10-11, 84,

88).18  Similarly, Psalm 30:1 is a song that celebrates the initial use of

the temple rather than focusing on the dedication of the structure

itself.  It is interesting that the word for the feast of Hanukkah is

derived from the same root and focuses on the Maccabean celebra-

tion of the initial use/rededication of the second temple after its being

profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes.


     14Reif, "Dedicated to jnH" 495-501; O. S. Rankin, The Origins of the Festival of

Hanukkah: The Jewish New-Age Festival (Edinburgh, 1930) 27-45, and Reif, "The

Festival of Hanukkah," in The Labyrinth, ed. S. H, Hooke (London, 1935) 159-209.

Also Rashi (M. Rosenbaum and A. M. Silbermann, Pentateuch . . . with Rashi's

Commentary translated into English and Annotated [London, 1929]; Genesis, 57; Sefer

 HaShorashim [Berlin, 1847] 111).

     15TDOT, vol. 5, 20. "                                                    16Reif, "Dedicated to jnH, 497.

     17BAGD, 214; LSJ, 469. Cf. Latin "dedicare."     18Reif, "Dedicated to jnH", 497ff.



     The same basic noun form is used four times in biblical Aramaic

to describe the initial use/dedication of the second temple (Ezra 6:16-

17) and of Nebuchadnezzar's 90 foot image of gold (Dan 3:2-3).

Jastrow also provides examples of the use of this word by later

Jewish sources to describe the dedication of an altar.19

     In summary, the root j`naHA is used as a verb four times other than

in Proverbs 22:6.  All four are in the context of the celebration of the

initiation or dedication of a building (temple).  The eight noun uses all

have reference to the cultic initiation of material objects (altar/tem-

ple/wall).  The four uses in biblical Aramaic parallel this usage exactly

(idol/second temple).  What is to be made of this data, which clearly does

not favor the normal pedagogical reading of Proverbs 22:6 as "train up"?

j`noHE Analysis

     The relationship between wisdom and the cult has been shown

not to be mutually exclusive.20  Nevertheless, importing cultic meaning

("to dedicate") into a proverbial setting is problematic to those who

are sensitive to wisdom as a literary genre.  Several commentators

have realized this problem yet have attempted to include the idea

of dedication in their definition of training.21  The vast majority of

writers, however, virtually ignore the above data and simply attach

the meaning "train up" to the Hebrew term j`naHA with no further

comment about the semantic bifurcation.

     Barr22 and others23 have indicated the hazards of carelessly carry-

ing over components of meaning from one context into another.  All

of the above usages of j`naHAA have inanimate objects (altars, houses,

temples, walls) as their object.  When the word has an animate object,

it should not be assumed that the meaning will necessarily be homo-

geneous.  For example, the meaning of the word "runs" will have a

different set of semantic components depending on whether it is used


     19Jastrow, Dictionary, 483f.

     20For an excellent study on the relationship of wisdom and the cult, vid. Leo

Perdue, Wisdom and the Cult (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977) 225-26.

     21Derek Kidner, Proverbs (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1964) 147; Robert

Alden, Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983)160; Reich, "Responsibility

of Child," 32-35.

     22Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford University, 1961) 144-46.

     23Moises Silva, Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

1983); John Lyons, Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977); Eugene Nida,

Exploring Semantic Structures (Leiden: Brill, 1975); G. N. Leech, Semantics (Har-

mondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1974); F. R. Palmer, Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge

University, 1981); and John Beekman and John Callow, Translating the Word of God

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 90-100.


for something animate or inanimate: "the boy runs" or "the faucet

runs".  The question becomes:  what does j`naHA mean when applied to

people?  Jastrow provides several examples in postbiblical Aramaic

where the term is used of the high priest, who is inaugurated, and

Isaac, who was initiated (j`naHA) into the covenant on the eighth day.24

In Genesis 14:14 there is a very important use of j`naHA where Abraham

rescues Lot by sending out his 318 "trained" (vykAyniHE) men.  It would be

a mistake to think of these men as novices.  Rather they seem to be

sent out as men who were strong, experienced and already initiated

into military affairs.  It is interesting that the Arabic root proposed

under "desire" also may be read "make experienced," which fits well

the sense here.25

     Similarly, in the Taanach letters (Akkadian documents dating

from just before the Amarna age [15th century BC]), Albright has

found a complaint from Amenophis of Egypt that Rewassa of

Taanach, in the context of mustering troops for war, had not sent his

"retainers" (ha-na-ku-u-ka) to greet Amenophis. Thus both in Genesis

and in the Akkadian Taanach letters the root j`naHA, when applied to

people, refers to one who is initiated and experienced, having duties

commensurate with his status as a military cadet who has completed

his training.  What makes this example even more inviting is that later

in the Genesis 14 passage these same military cadets (retainers/squires)

are called MyrifAn; (14:24).26  The connectIon of j`naHA with MyrifAn; (young

men) is significant because these are the same word roots used in

Proverbs 22:6 which are usually translated "train up" and "child".

      Thus, while the term later acquired the meaning "to train" in a

didactic sense (similar to dmalA), it is better to see this word as having

specific reference to the inauguration process with the bestowal of

status and responsibility as a consequence of having completed an

initiation process.  In short, the word j`naHA focuses not so much on the

process of training as on the resultant responsibility and status of the

one initiated.  This meaning of  j`naHA in Proverbs 22:6 moves away from

a strictly parental admonition for providing the child with good

instruction.  j`1naHA will be returned to in order to show how this new

initiation interpretation fits into Proverbs 22:6, after discussing the

Cf; term translated "child" (rfana).


     24Jastrow, Dictionary, 483f.

     25TDOT, 20; BDB, 335; and Collins, 23.

     26Albright, "A Prince of Taanach in the Fifteenth Century B.C.," BASOR 94

(April 1944) 24-25. Cf. CAD, H 6:76. Note also that Montgomery, in working on the

name Enoch (hanok), concludes that if it comes from the same root (Gen 5:24), it

means "initiated" as one who walked with God ("Some Hebrew Etymologies," JQR 25

[1934-35] 261). Similarly, Albright calls him "retainer (of God)" (Albright, "Predeu-

teronomic," 96).

10                         GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

                                                rfana:  CHILD OR CADET?

     The second lexical problem that the interpreter faces in Proverbs

22:6 is how to render the term rfana.  Who was this rfana that was to be

initiated with celebration, status and responsibility?  In this verse rfana

is generally translated "child" (KJV, NIV, NASB, RSV, TEV, NEB,

et al.) or "boy" (NAB).  MacDonald, in a study based on an analysis

of hundreds of Ugaritic and Hebrew usages, has demonstrated that

the age-focused idea of "child" is insufficient for understanding who

the rfana was.27


      Looking at the contexts in which the word rfana is employed, three

things immediately present themselves.  First, the age span is so di-

verse that age cannot be the primary focus of the word.  It is used of

infancy: for a child yet unborn (Judg .13:5-12); one just born (1 Sam

4:21); an infant still unweaned (1 Sam 1:22); or a three month old

baby (Exod 2:6).  However, Joseph at 17--already a man in that

culture--is also called a rfana (Gen 37:2). When he is 30 years old-

surely beyond childhood--he is still called a rfana (Gen 41:12, 46).

Thus, MacDonald is correct when he states that the renderings "child,

lad, young man, and servant" are "inadequate and produce a totally

false impression of the person involved.”28  Second, the rfana is fre-

quently active in strictly adult activities (war [1 Sam 17:33, 42; Judg

6:12, 8:20]; cultic priestly functions [Judg 18:3-6, 20]; special spy

missions [Josh 6:22]; personal attendance on a patriarch, prophet,

priest, king or son of a king [Gen 18:7; 2 Kgs 5:1-27; 1 Sam 1:22,

24-25; 2 Sam 9:9; 2 Sam 13:17]; or supervision of the whole Solo-

monic labor force [1 Kgs 11:28]).  The term rfana is often applied to

one who is designated as an wyxi (man) (2 Sam 1:5, 10, 13).  While he

may be a young male, the point is not his age but his societal status

and resulting responsibility.  Third, there are numerous terms that

focus on the age of a young male when age is the point (dl,y,, NBe, Ml,f,,

lleOf, qneOy, JFa).29  It is not merely with these terms that rfana finds its

semantic field.  Rather, it is equally at home with terms like db,f,

(servant) or NqezA (elder).

     An upper-class role and societal status are consistently ascribed to

the rfana.  MacDonald reports that in the historical books there are no


   27John McDonald, "The Status and Role of the Na'ar in Israelite Society," JNES

35.3 (1976) 147-70. This article has been summarized briefly also as "The 'Naar' in

Israelite Society," Bible and Spade (Winter 1977) 16-22. The results of this detailed and

conclusive study have not yet been utilized for interpretive purposes.

     28McDonald "The Status and Role of the Na'ar in Israelite Society," 147.

     29Ibid., 150.



examples of a rfana of lowly birth.30  Thus, whether the rfana is just an

infant (like Moses [Exod 2:6], Samuel [1 Sam 1:22, 24-25], or Samson

[Judg 13:5]) or an adolescent (like Jacob/Esau [Gen 25:27], Joseph

[Gen 37:2], or Solomon [1 Kgs 3:7]), high status is the point--not

merely age.  Similarly, the feminine hrAfEna also means a high-born

young female, as can be seen by its usage in reference to Rebekah

(Gen 24:16), Dinah (Gen 34:3), Pharaoh's daughter (Exod 2:5), and

Queen Esther (Esth 2:4).

Personal Attendant

     MacDonald also develops two realms in which the status of the

rfana may be seen: (1) in the domestic realm; and (2) in military

if contexts.31  The rfana was frequently a special personal attendant of a

person of status.  Thus not only was Abraham's rfana called on to

prepare the special meal for the three heavenly visitors (Gen 18:7-8),

but later Abraham's trusted Myrifana  accompanied him to mount Moriah

for the sacrificing of Isaac (Gen 22:3).  Similarly, Joseph was a rfana

over Potiphar's household and later came, as a rfana  into unique

headship over Pharaoh's kingdom (Gen 41:12).  Joshua, as the per-

sonal attendant of Moses, was called a rfana (Exod 33:11).  When Saul

was searching for his father's donkeys he was accompanied by, and

listened to the advice of, his rfana (1 Sam 9:22; cf. also 1 Kgs 11:20-28;

18.41-44, 19.3, Judg 17.7, 10, 1 Sam 2.17, Ruth 2.5, 21).  The point of

the above list is to demonstrate that the role of a rfana was a personal

attendant of a person of status.  MacDonald distinguishes between the

upwardly mobile status of the rfana and the more menial db,f, (servant);

the rfana could be put in charge over the MydibAfE.

Military Cadet

     It is significant how frequently the rfana is found in military

contexts.  He is one step above the regular troops, but not yet a

mighty warrior such as Joab or Abner.  When Joshua had to send out

spies--hand-picked men to run reconnaissance on Jericho--he se-

lected two skilled MyrifAn; (Josh 6:22).  Such an important mission would

not have been left in the hands of novices.  Gideon, the fearful

"mighty man of valor" (Judg 6: 12) is told to take his trusted rfana and

go down to scout out the Midianite camp (Judg 7:10-11).  Thus the

seasoned warrior, Gideon, is accompanied by a squire, who, judging

from the importance of the mission, is extremely skillful and trust-

worthy.  Jonathan, climbing the cliffs of Wadi Suwenit, took a trusted

rfana  to face the formidable Philistine host. He and his armor-bearer

     30Ibid., 149.

     31Ibid., 151, 156.

12                         GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL

fought and slew 20 men (1 Sam 14:14).  It should be clear that the

armor-bearer was himself a warrior, though of inferior status to

Jonathan.  David, as he faced Goliath, was also designated as a rfana--

hence the impropriety of his fighting the Philistine champion from

Gath (1 Sam 17:31ff.).

      Several points may be derived from the above data.  First, it is

clear from the military contexts that inexperienced children are not

meant.  Rather the word designates soldiers with status above the

regular troops, yet clearly and sharply distinguished from the heroic

warriors like Goliath, Joab, and Abner.  The status of the rfana is also

seen in his personal attendance on a person of status. The word is

also used to describe sons of people of status.  This usage is par-

ticularly important in Proverbs, which is addressed to the royal sons.

Status, not age per se, was the focus of rfana.  While such clear societal

structuring is somewhat foreign to the more egalitarian American

culture, we dare not ignore it.  Class distinctions were clearly marked

not only in Israel, but also, as MacDonald and Rainey have shown, at

Ugarit, where the only ancient cognate for the term rfana is a term of

status used for guild members serving in the domestic sphere and as

superior military figures.32  Again, the focus is on status, not age.  Thus

when the Messianic king is called a rfana, His status and function are

being highlighted (Isa 7:14-16).

rfana in Proverbs

      How does understanding of the role of the rfana in Israelite society

affect Proverbs 22:6?  Due to various archaeological finds of the last

100 years, it is possible to verify the presence of wisdom literature in

all of the major cultures of the ancient Near East (Sumer, Meso-

potamia, Ugarit, Egypt).  In each of these cultures, wisdom literature

was associated with, written for, and promulgated by the king33 and

his administrators-particularly the scribes.34  The situation in Israel


     32Ibid., 150. A. F. Rainey, "The Military Personnel of Ugarit," JNES 24 (1965) 17-

27. Also vid. the Merneptah Inscription and a fourth century A.D. Samaritan Chronicle

that clearly distinguishes between regular soldiers and the "na'ar" (McDonald, 152).

     33Some helpful treatments of this topic are: Malchow, "The Roots of Israel's

Wisdom in Sacral Kingship"; Leonidas Kalugila, The Wise King; Norman W. Porteous,

"Royal Wisdom," VTSup 3 (1969) 247-61; and Humphreys, "The Motif of the Wise

Courtier in the Old Testament" (Ph.D. dissertation, Union Theological Seminary,

1970). Also vid. Humphrey's article "The Motif of the Wise Courtier in the Book of

Proverbs," in Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel

Terrien (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978) 177-90.

     34A. Leo Oppenheim, "A Note on the Scribes in Mesopotamia," Assyriological

Studies 16 (1965) 253-56; and R. J. Williams, "Scribal Training in Ancient Egypt,"

JAOS 92 (1972) 214-21; Benno Landsberger, "Scribal Concepts of Education," in City


was the same, for king Solomon (1 Kgs 4:31-32; Prov 1:1; 10:1) and

king Hezekiah (Prov 25: 1) are explicitly associated with the Israelite

wisdom tradition.  In this royal setting, terms of status such as rfana,

are to be expected.  The proverbs helped prepare young squires for

capable service at the head of the Israelite societal structure.  Thus the

suggestion that rfana was a term of status, rather than merely of

youthfulness, fits well with the original setting of proverbial wisdom

literature not only in Israel, but also throughout the ancient Near East.

     More to the point, however, is how the term rfana is actually used

in Proverbs and whether its usage there is consistent with how it is

used in other literary genres.  It is used seven times in Proverbs (1:4;

7:7; 20:11; 22:6, 15; 23:13; 29:15).  Proverbs 1:4-5 announces that it is

to the rfana and to the simple, wise, and discerning that the book of

Proverbs is addressed.  Clearly in this context there is no hint that age

is the key issue; rather, the rfana and simple are grouped together (as

are the wise and discerning) according to their relationship to wisdom.

It is obvious from the message of Proverbs 1-9 (especially chs. 5 and

7) that the rfana was not a child.  The very content of the proverbial

material (sexual advice [Prov 5:1-6, 15-21; 31:10-31]; economic

counsel [10:5; 11:1]; political instruction [25:6-7; 29:12]; social graces

[23:2]; and military advice [24:6]) indicates that the rfana was a late

adolescent or young adult.  In Proverbs 1:4, the issue of the status is

not in the foreground, but his need for wisdom.  In Proverbs 7:7 the

MyxitAP; (simple) and the rfana are again paralleled, with the rfana described

as one lacking judgment.  Proverbs 20:11 tells the rfana that his behavior

will be noticed and that it will reveal his heart.  Proverbs 22:15 speaks

of applying the rod of discipline to the rfana to drive out folly.  The

point is that in spite of his naive bent for folly, he can be molded and

instructed.  Finally, Proverbs 29:15 says that a rfana left to himself will

disgrace his mother.

     Before concluding this analysis of rfana, it is worth noting that the

rfana in 22:6a is paralleled via grammatical transformation (noun/ verb)

with growing old.  Although MacDonald argues that when the rfana

and NqezA (elder) are paralleled they are both terms of societal status, his

case is disrupted by his own examples (Ps 37:25 [cf. also Deut 28:50];


Invincible: A Symposium on Urbanization and Cultural Development in the Ancient

Near East, ed. C. Kraeling and R. M. Adams (Chicago: University of Chicago,

1960) 123-27; A. F. Rainey "The Scribe at Ugarit," Israel Academy of Science and

Humanities Proceedings 3 (1969) 126-46; J. H. Johnson, "Avoid Hard Work, Taxes,

and Bosses: Be a Scribe!" Paper, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, n.d.; Ake

W. Sjoberg, "In Praise of the Scribal Art," JCS 14.2 (1972) 126-31; and Barry Hal-

vorsen, "Scribes and Scribal Schools in the Ancient Near East: A Historical Survey"

(Th.M. thesis, Grace Theological Seminary, 1981).

14                         GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL


148:11-13; Jer 6:11). While status difference between the rfana (squire)

and the NqezA (elder) may be the point in some cases, it seems that the

age component is sometimes more prominent than he is wont to

accept.  Furthermore, because of the verbal nature of NqezA in Proverbs

26:6b, the aging process, rather than rank, seems to be in view.

     It should be clear that this verse should not be employed as

biblical support for early childhood training, since the proverbial rfana

was surely an adolescent/young adult.  He is a royal squire who is in

the process of being apprenticed in wisdom for taking on royal

responsibilities consistent with his status as a rfana.

                                    "ACCORDING TO HIS WAY"

The Moral View

     The third semantic structure (OKr;da ypi-lfa) must be addressed

before bringing the assessment of Proverbs 22:6a to a conclusion.

There are four views that have been suggested for understanding the

meaning of "his way" (OKr;da).  McKane holds what can be called the

narrow "Moral View".35  He maintains that in wisdom there is one

right way, the way of life, and it is to this way that the young man is

directed.  It is this way upon which he should go.  The juxtaposing of

j`r,D, with a moral qualifier, whether positive--way of Myy.iHa (life) [6:23];

hnAyBi (understanding) [9:6]; bOF (good) [2:20]; hqAdAc; (righteousness)

[16:31]--or negative-way of  fra (evil) [2:12]; MyfiwAr; (wicked) [4:19]--

is quite common in Proverbs, as McKane observes.  However, in these

cases j`r,D, is explicitly accompanied by a character qualifier.  A quali-

fier is given in Proverbs 22:6, but it is not a moralistic one.  A similar

view, although broader in understanding, is the view held by many

that j`r,D,  refers to the broad parental shaping of the child in the j`r,D,--

meaning the general direction of righteousness, wisdom, and life--

upon which that child should travel as he grows older.36 Again the

absence of moral or wisdom qualifiers (wise, righteous, upright, fool-

ish, wicked, etc.) leaves this approach without decisive support.

The Vocational View

     This view suggests that the training and the j`r,D, being described

are vocationally oriented.37  However, j`r,D, is not usually found in a

vocational setting.  Indeed the modern anxiety over vocational selec-


     35McKane, Proverbs: A New Approach, 564; cf. also Deane, et al., Proverbs The

Pulpit Commentary, (Chicago: Wilcox and Follet, n.d.) 422; Collins, "A Hermeneutical

and Exegetical Examination of Proverbs 22:6," 30-32; and Alden, 160.

     36Zockler, The Proverbs of Solomon, 192.

     37Deane, et al., Proverbs 422; and Jones, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, 183f.



tion and training was not of great concern in the ancient Near East,

in that the son often was trained in the same craft as the father.38

Furthermore, vocational selection is not really an issue in Proverbs.

Rather, diligence, righteousness, uprightness, and shrewdness are en-

couraged regardless of vocation.


The Personal Aptitude View

     Many recent commentators have opted for the personal aptitude

view.39  Such an interpretation wisely advises that the parent must be

keenly aware of the child's developing capacities, interests, and in-

clinations and must tailor the training process to enhance his unique

abilities.  Toy and Oesterley suggest that there is more of an element

of fate or destiny.  For them, the child should be trained according to

the manner of life for which he is destined.40  Delitzsch is correct in

observing that "the way of the Egyptians" is the manner of acting

which was characteristic of the Egyptians (Isa 10:24).  The "way of the

eagle" (Prov 30:19) is the manner of movement characteristic to the

eagle.  But the conclusion drawn from that data is incorrect because

rfana is read as "child".  It is concluded that "his way" means the unique

way for that child.41  A suggestion more consistent with the term rfana

will be offered below.  Delitzsch is correct, however, in using rfana to

specify more clearly what is meant by j`r,D,.


The Personal Demands View

     A small minority of writers have taken "according to his way" in

an ironic sense.  They suggest that the verse is saying that if you rear a

child by acquiescing to his desires and demands, when he is old you

will never break him of it.  Thus the child, left to himself, will become

irretrievably recalcitrant--spoiled, continually demanding his own

way.42  But such a giving up on the rfana is opposed to the optimistic

outlook that Proverbs has on the teachability of the rfana (Prov 1:4).

To the ruggedly individualistic and developmentally sensitive modern

mind,43 the personal aptitude and personal demands views surely are


      38Collins, "A Hermeneutical and Exegetical Examination of Proverbs 22:6," 31.

      39Kidner, Proverbs, 147; Delitzsch, Commentary, 86; Oesterley, The Book of

 Proverbs (London: Methuen) 185; and Toy, Proverbs, 415-16. McKane also mentions

Ringgren as holding this view (Proverbs: A New Approach, 564), as well as Perowne,

(The Proverbs, 142). Much earlier it was held by the Jewish writer Saadia (Plaut, Book

of Proverbs, 228).

      400esterley, The Book of Proverbs with Introduction and Notes, 185; and Toy,

Proverbs, 415-16.

     41Delitzsch, Commentary, 86f.

     42Ralbag as recorded in Greenstone, Proverbs with Commentary, 234.

     43E. H. Erikson, Childhood and Society (NY: Norton, 1963) 247-77.

16                         GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL


attractive. However, they do not reflect the ancient proverbial weltan-



The Status View

     Delitzsch is correct that the meaning of "the way" must be

determined by the noun that is the antecedent of the 3ms suffix (his).

If rfana is understood as a high-born squire, then it may be suggested

that "according to his way" means according to the office that he will

occupy.  He is to be "broken-in" (j`naHA) as a rfana.  Thus, "his way" should

be the way befitting the dignity of a rfana.  "His way" should also reflect

an awareness of his developmental limitations and need for instruc-

tion.  This solution fits the Proverbial ethos and is consistent with the

above-stated view of who the rfana was in the structure of Israelite



A Standard of Comparison

The initial part of the prepositional phrase, "according to his

way," should be read "according to the measure of his way".44  It is

used quite frequently with reference to the measure or standard of the

words of Pharaoh (Gen 45:21), Yahweh (Exod 17:1; Num 3:16, 39),

Moses (Exod 38:21), and Pharaoh Necho (2 Kgs 23:35).  In a more

abstract sense, it is used when one is measured against a standard,

whether it be words (Exod 34:27), what the vower is able to pay (Lev

27:8), or the Law (Dt 17:11).  Thus it fits very well with initiating a rfana

in accordance with the standard of who he is and what he is to

become as a rfana.




      A graph of the options presented in this paper provides a three-

dimensional perspective on the choices.  The more probable choices

are given higher positions on the axes (see Table I).

      What was the original intent of the verse?  Several negative fea-

tures must set the stage.  Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise; it is a

proverb and as such it does not describe truth comprehensively.

Rather, it gives a single component of truth that must be fit together

with other elements of truth in order to approximate the more com-

prehensive, confused patterns of real life.  Second, this verse should

not be seen as a paradigm for a comprehensive parental or educa-


      44BDB, 805; and Collins "A Hermeneutical and Exegetical Examination of Prov-

erbs 22:6," 33f.





tional process of instruction into which a particular theory of instruc-

tion or child rearing may be read.  Third, this verse should not be

employed as direct biblical support for early childhood training since

the proverbIal rfana was not an infant.  Fourth, the phrase "according to

his way" should not be understood as addressing developmental or

personal aptitude issues, although obviously in child-rearing such

parental sensitivities are crucial.


Suggested Interpretation

     It is apparent that the usual translation of "child" for rfana is

inadequate.  The primary focus of rfana was his high-born status as a

squire.  In Proverbs the rfana is 'a late adolescent/young adult.  Fur-

thermore, the word usually translated "train up" (j`naHA) was shown to

be used almost universally with the dedication/ initiation of temples,

houses, altars, or walls.  Thus to j`naHA a young squire would be to

recognize his status as a rfana and initiate him into his official

18                         GRACE  THEOLOGICAL  JOURNAL


capacities/responsibilities with the respect and excitement fitting his

status.  "According to his way" meant according to the standard and

status of what would be demanded of the rfana in that culture.  Thus the

squire's status is to be recognized and his experience, training, and

subsequent responsibilities are to reflect that high stature.  Finally,

this interpretation fits well in the context (Prov 22:1-9) which talks

about societal relationships and responsibilities, particularly of the


     What are the advantages of this interpretation?  First, it makes

sense of several difficult lexical problems that have formerly been

ignored.  Second, it fits the ethos of the Proverbial and wisdom

materials.  Third, it fits the words j`naHA, rfana, and j`r,d, into a coherent


Dynamic Modern Potentialities

     Does the above interpretation of original intent destroy all mod-

ern application?  The child-rearing interpretation has been so con-

venient and potent in addressing a major concern of many parents.

Can this verse, with this proposed interpretation, provide for our

world the dynamic interpersonal power that it must have originally

evoked?  First, the rfana was the one being initiated and being given the

recognition of the status which his title bestowed on him.  Does this

not teach that in initiating an adolescent into a position, the young

person should be given the respect and dignity due the title under

which he is being trained?  If given that type of recognition, he will

willingly continue his services when he gets older because he has

gained in that position the dignity, respect and responsibility which

provide him a healthy level of satisfaction.

     This idea of initiating someone with an appropriate level of

dignity, respect and responsibility also fits well in a familial setting.

The late adolescent (rfana ) should be treated with dignity and respect in

view of creation (Gen 2) and redemption (Rev 20, etc.).  Thus he

should be given experience, training, status, and responsibilities cor-

respondent to his role in the kingdom of God.  An adolescent should

be initiated into the adult world with celebrations.  His status as a

redeemed image bearer should demand parental involvement in terms

of opening horizons, patient instruction, and loving discipline.  It is

his dominion destiny and status that the parent must keep in mind.

The parent must not violate the adolescent's personhood by authori-

tarian domination, permissive allowance of immaturity, or overpro-

tection from the consequences of his actions.


     45Roland Murphy cogently shows how Prov 22:1-9 centers around the theme of

riches, "Proverbs 22:1-9," Int 41:4 (1987) 398-402.



      This verse also teaches that when someone engages in an activity

for the first time, a celebration of the event would encourage him in

the correct path (e.g., Jewish Bar-Mitzvah celebrations).  Thus, a

word or deed of encouragement (recognition and celebration) that

bestows respect and responsibility commensurate with status is one of

the most powerful aspects of parental involvement In the life of an

adolescent.  It is also effective for employer/employee relationships.46

     These initial attempts at dynamically understanding this verse in

light of modern relational structures suggest that a reinterpretation of

a verse in its original setting need not eliminate dynamic applications.

Both careful interpretation and application are critical if God's word

is to be unleashed in a world that is in desperate need of a word of

wisdom from the Sovereign of the Universe.


     46Rudolf Dreikurs, Children: The Challenge (New York: Hawthorn/ Dutton, 1964),

36-56. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender, Encouragment: The Key to Caring (Grand

Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

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            Winona Lake,  IN   46590   


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