Grace Theological Journal 9.1 (1988) 3-19
Copyright © 1988 by Grace Theological Seminary; cited with permission.
TRAIN UP A CHILD?
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 ; 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`
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`
(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 (
Clarendon, 1968) 266-67.
4David Keller, "Child Discipline: A Scriptural View," The King's Business,
1970) 49, and J. A. Walter, Need: the New
5BDB (335) and KB (320) take j`
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,
19f.; Delitzsch, Commentary
on the Old Testament, vol. 6 [
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 5
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.).
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 ; ;
; -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  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 (
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)
Julius Greenstone, Proverbs with
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
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
6 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
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
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 [
9Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Tarqumim (NY: Pardis Publishing House,
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,
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.
Hebrew: The Eternal Language [
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.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 7
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
discerns the cultic use of j`
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`
court must be wdaqA before it can be j`
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`
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
of Hanukkah," in The Labyrinth, ed. S. H, Hooke (
Also Rashi (M. Rosenbaum and A. M. Silbermann, Pentateuch . . . with Rashi's
into English and Annotated [
15TDOT, vol. 5, 20. " 16Reif, "Dedicated to jnH, 497.
17BAGD, 214; LSJ, 469. Cf. Latin "dedicare." 18Reif, "Dedicated to jnH", 497ff.
8 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
The same basic noun form is used four times in biblical Aramaic
to describe the initial use/dedication of the second temple (Ezra -
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`
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"?
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
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 (
1983); John Lyons, Semantics (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977); Eugene Nida,
Exploring Semantic Structures (Leiden: Brill, 1975); G. N. Leech, Semantics (Har-
University, 1981); and John Beekman and John Callow, Translating the Word of God
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974) 90-100.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 9
for something animate or inanimate: "the boy runs" or "the faucet
The question becomes: what does j`
people? Jastrow provides several examples in postbiblical Aramaic
where the term is used of the high priest, who is inaugurated, and
who was initiated (j`
Genesis there is a
very important use of j`
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`
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; ().26 The connectIon of j`
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
In short, the word j`
process of training as on the resultant responsibility and status of the
This meaning of
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
1944) 24-25. Cf. CAD, H 6:76. Note also that
name Enoch (hanok), concludes that if it comes from the same root (Gen ), 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-
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,
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
); an infant still unweaned (1 Sam ); 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 , 42; Judg
, ]; cultic priestly functions [Judg 18:3-6, 20]; special spy
missions [Josh ]; personal attendance on a patriarch, prophet,
priest, king or son of a king [Gen 18:7; 2 Kgs 5:1-27; 1 Sam ,
24-25; 2 Sam 9:9; 2 Sam ]; or supervision of the whole Solo-
monic labor force [1 Kgs ]). 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.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 11
examples of a rfana of lowly birth.30 Thus, whether the rfana is just an
infant (like Moses [Exod 2:6], Samuel [1 Sam , 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).
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
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 ; cf. also 1 Kgs -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.
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
lected two skilled MyrifAn; (Josh ). Such an important mission would
not have been left in the hands of novices. Gideon, the fearful
"mighty man of valor" (Judg ) is told to take his trusted rfana and
go down to scout out the Midianite camp (Judg -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
31Ibid., 151, 156.
12 GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
fought and slew 20 men (1 Sam ). 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
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
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 -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
was associated with, written for, and promulgated by the king33 and
his administrators-particularly the scribes.34 The situation in
150. A. F. Rainey, "The Military Personnel of
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
Studies 16 (1965) 253-56; and
R. J. Williams, "Scribal Training in Ancient
JAOS 92 (1972) 214-21; Benno Landsberger, "Scribal Concepts of Education," in City
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A'CHILD? 13
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
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 (
123-27; A. F. Rainey "The Scribe at
Humanities Proceedings 3 (1969) 126-46; J. H. Johnson, "Avoid Hard Work, Taxes,
and Bosses: Be a Scribe!" Paper, Oriental
vorsen, "Scribes and
(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, (
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.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 15
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
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,
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`
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.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 17
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.
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`
be used almost universally with the dedication/ initiation of temples,
houses, altars, or walls. Thus to j`
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
Third, it fits the words j`
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
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.
HILDEBRANDT: PROVERBS 22:6A: TRAIN UP A CHILD? 19
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:
Grace Theological Seminary
Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: email@example.com