Sign-up to receive Kathy's FREE E-Newsletter or Weekly Blog Posts

Proverbs 22:6 is NOT a Promise

Proverbs 22:6Once in a ladies’ Bible study group, a young mother of three small boys made a bold declaration. “If you raise your kids correctly and to follow God, they will never rebel.”

Her words hit the room like a wrecking ball. Most of us knew that two godly mothers in the group were dealing with rebellious teenagers. You could see the anguish on their faces. And the empathy on the faces of most of the rest of the group. “Young mother of three small boys” was clueless.

As the leader, I knew I had to do something. As graciously and kindly as possibly I attempted to minimize the damage she had done.

I have no doubt this young woman meant well, but she should never have made this statement. She was claiming something to be fact, but was not speaking from a place of knowledge or experience. Her boys were all five and under. I mean, seriously, what did she know about rebellious kids?

So if her statement didn’t come from knowledge or experience, where did she get the idea that if you raise your children “correctly” they won’t ever stray? More than likely, she got it from the Bible book of Proverbs. You may be familiar with the verse too:

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Yes, the verse – like all the others in Scripture – is the inspired, authoritative Word of God. But “young mother of three small boys,” and many of us too, have wrongly claimed this verse as a blanket promise from God. We may have even been taught that this is a promise from God.

Over the last couple of Thursdays, I’ve posted about verses that are often misunderstood because they are taken out of context. (See also, “Do you misuse Philippians 4:13” and “What’s the Good of Romans 8:28.”) Proverbs 22:6 is often misunderstood because we fail to consider the literature genre.

The book of Proverbs is classified as wisdom literature. “The Introduction to Biblical Interpretation” by Dr. William Klein and Dr. Craig Blomberg define a proverb like this:

“By nature proverbs are not absolute promises from God that guarantee the promised outcome if one follows them. Rather, they point out patterns of conduct that, if followed, give one the best chance of success. In other words, they offer general principles for successful living rather than a comprehensive “legal code for life'” (page 315).

Considering the nature of a proverb then, God does not promise us that if we diligently teach our children about God and His ways, and raise them to love Him they will grow into godly, responsible adults. Though it is far more likely to turn out that way if we do, then if we don’t.

The grief of many godly parents has been multiplied because they misunderstood Proverbs 22:6. Jen Wilken comments on this in her book “Women of the Word:”

“Reading a proverb as a promise can lead to heartache and doubt. Understanding it as a general rule for life can point us toward wise decision-making.”

Many godly parents have taken this verse as a promise. But then their teenager rebelled or their young adult walked away from the faith. The parents were shaken to the core. Where did we go wrong? Why did God allow this to happen? Why wasn’t God faithful?

So, what do we do with Proverbs 22:6? And all the other proverbs? We accept them as God’s inspired Word. We read and study them. We embrace them as the best principles to live lives that please and honor God. And we entrust our children to God who is indeed faithful!

Have you ever misunderstood Proverbs 22:6 as a promise? Have you been “disappointed” by Proverbs 22:6? How can we find comfort in the truth that this verse is not a promise?

Share This:

, ,

4 Responses to Proverbs 22:6 is NOT a Promise

  1. Toni August 13, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Soooo true Kathy. Wonderful words of wisdom. Wish someone would have told me this when my kids were young. I found out the hard way and yes, I was disappointed and discouraged.

  2. Kathy Heller August 13, 2015 at 8:50 pm #

    Ok, having not studied as much as you have, this is more thoughts than statements.

    1st: If proverbs are simply guidelines than promises where does that leave us when it comes to Proverbs 3:5-10?

    2nd: Proverbs 22:6 does not ever say that your children will not rebel, walk away from the faith, or always follow God. The “promise” is that “when he is OLD he will not depart from it”
    Basically, we have to lay the foundation and pray and trust God that He will complete the work that He and we as parents started.

    I look forward to your response!

    • Kathy August 14, 2015 at 8:20 am #

      Hi Kathy, thanks for commenting. Good questions! I will do my best to answer thoughtfully and prayerfully. Proverbs 22:6 involves two human elements – the parents and the children. Yes, God is working, but the children have free will in the way they respond to godly parenting. I have seen families where siblings all have the same parents but one child chooses to go their own way and never returns to the faith. But the principle is still true: It is more likely that children will follow Christ when faith is modeled by their parents.

      The glorious thing about Proverbs 3:5-10 is that the outcome is based on the faithfulness and wisdom of God. Not another flawed human. And even then, the result is more heavily spiritual than physical. We must interpret Scripture with Scripture. For instance, Proverbs 3:7-8 says that those who seek the Lord’s wisdom, fear Him, and shun evil will have “health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” Yet, how many godly people have you known that have had cancer or some other illness? When we consider this passage in light of its genre and the whole of Scripture, we know that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus said we would have trouble in this world, but that God walks with us through it. He gives us strength and comfort in the midst of trouble and uses it in our lives to bring about His purposes and to make us more like Jesus.

      I hope that helps. I do not have all the answers. But I do know that we can trust God and rely on His faithfulness no matter what our physical circumstances look like!

  3. Toni August 13, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

    Wonderful wirds of wisdom. Wish someone had shared this wisdom with me when my kids were young. I learned the hard way.

Leave a Reply