Proverbs 22:6 & Proverbs 29:17 by Robert Dean
To spank or not to spank? That is the question. Most child psychologists and social workers will tell you it is harmful and cruel. Listen to this lesson to discover that the Word of God insists that physical punishment done right and lovingly is necessary. Find out how to correctly train each child individually according to his personality to help him find a successful path for his life. Accept that parenting is hard work and principles must be taught over and over.

Wise Parenting: Correcting Foolish Children. Proverbs 22:6, 15; 29:17


When God first created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden the first statements that we have in Scripture regarding their union is that they were to glorify God together. Moses writes, (Genesis 2:24) "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh." That is the establishment of the institution of marriage.


Marriage is not something that was developed by human beings over a course of time as just some sort of convenient thing that seemed to help organize society. It was something that God created and initiated and inaugurated before there was ever sin on the planet. The question we should ask is, why did He do that? As part of His command to Adam and Eve in the garden He said that they were to be fruitful and to multiply. That was a command that was given to them in the pre-fall period. It is not a command that was related in any way to dealing with the post-fall problem of sin or living in a corrupt world. It was always God's intent that human beings in marriage would have children and would rear those children under the principles that God revealed and taught to Adam and Eve. And that is the framework for God's training and passing on truth from generation to generation.


And that hasn't changed just because of the fall. Those principles are still there and in fact they are still more important now that we live in a corrupt world with corrupt, fallen sinners and corrupt, fallen children and corrupt, fallen parents that we pass on the Word of God generationally. It is the only solution to all the problems that we have and deal with and talk about. They are all superficial. The core problem is the problem of sin and rebellion against God. And so the framework that God designed for training children and passing on the key eternal principles of His Word from generation to generation is the family, within the framework of a father and a mother and the children.


We know that we live in a fallen world and there are a lot of different reasons why there is not both a father and a mother present. Because we live in a fallen world there are frequently less than desirable circumstances. But God's grace gives us the ability to deal with those circumstances, and due to God's grace we are able to solve many problems in life that aren't what they ought to be simply because we are living in this kind of a fallen world.


Proverbs gives wise instruction to parents. So now we want to look at the topic of wise parenting. Proverbs starts off emphasizing that there is a central role for parents in training children. It is not the government's role to train your children or to educate your children. We may utilize those systems that are in place but when it is all said and done you can't blame anybody but yourself for their failures in being educated or being trained. One of the first principles we see in Proverbs is the major responsibility of parents, which is child training. If you are a parent, that is your responsibility. It is not your job to train children to be good children or to be good adolescents; it is your job to train your children to be responsible adults. 


Children should be trained to be good children, but there is a training process. And your goal as a parent is to work yourself out of a job so that you don't need to be a parent anymore, because when your child reaches the age of eighteen volitionally, legally, they are on their own. They may still live at home. You may still have rules and regulations they need to follow because you are paying the bills. To whatever degree you pay for their room and board, or for any entertainment in their life, to whatever degree you give them money you control their volition. And you are not going to get away with that when they are nineteen unless you start it when they are nineteen minutes old. The sooner you start establishing your parental authority in relation to your children the easier it will be. If you don't establish a strong disciplinary position at the very beginning it is often too late.


It is always easier to lighten up than it is to get more intense. That is the way life is, and the reason is because the child that you are dealing with is a sinner and he is going to take advantage of whatever opportunities he has to get away with whatever he can get away with. A lot of parents don't understand that when they start having kids and consequently they have problems later on.


So what we see in Scripture is that the primary responsibility of parents is to train their children to be responsible adults so that they can live successfully. Now that is a general broad principle and it applies to everybody. But if you are a Christian parent then part of your responsibility is to teach and train your children so that they can be responsible, mature Christians when they reach adulthood. At some point they are going to transition from being at home and being under your authority to being out on their own. Hopefully when they make that transition they will go through a shift when they are not just worshipping the God of their parents but that the God of their parents have become their God. Kids go through that process where they have to transition from their parents beliefs, their parents ideas, and their parents faith in God, to where it is something that they are doing completely from their own volition.


In the idea of child training what we see in Proverbs is that the emphasis is more on correction than on the positive. And there is a reason for that. We live in a world today where a lot people say, I don't want to focus on the negative, I want to focus on the positive. But that betrays also a hidden assumption about the nature of reality. As Bible-believing Christians we believe the nature of the reality of the world in which we live is that it is a fallen, corrupt world and that people are born as sinners. And left to their own devices they are going to follow the path of least resistance, which is to give in to the sin nature and to follow the leading of the sin nature. And because as Bible-believing Christians we understand that the overall focus of the world is essentially corrupt and negative, then that has to be dealt with. It doesn't mean there aren't wonderful things and that kids cannot be wonderful and positive but left to their own devices without some sort of control their default position is always going to be in the direction of their sin nature. So one of the primary responsibilities of parents in training is going to involve correction. 


There are three key proverbs we will deal with. Proverbs 22:6 NASB "Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it." In my opinion this is one of the most misunderstood, abused and distorted passages in Scripture—especially in relation to child training. That is because it is not properly taught. This isn't a great translation. It is hard to get across in English. In the Hebrew it really doesn't say what it appears to say in the English. Proverbs 29:17 NASB "Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul." So notice, a positive parental experience with an adult child who is pleasing and a blessing is related to a previous lifestyle of correcting. Proverbs 22:15 NASB "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him."


The point based on Proverbs 22:6 is that the parents' role is motivate, stimulate and challenge the children according to each child's personality and nature. Often this passage is understood in this way: If you make your kids attend school and church regularly, and of you teach them to know and obey the Ten Commandments and the golden rule (Love your neighbor as you love yourself), to pray at meal time, bed time, whenever there is a crisis, and you give them a steady diet of Bible verses, and do this early on, then even though teenage rebellion may come, when their fling is over they'll always come back to God. And you can count on it because of this promise. The problem is, it is not true.


The first reason it is not true is that this is a proverb; it is not a promise. The difference between a proverb and a promise is that a proverb states things that are generally true, but they are not stating things that are always and inevitably true.


The second thing that we ought to note about this verse is it gives part of a picture of different things the Bible teaches about child training. It is not the one and only principle of child training in Scripture. We have to also recognize that the Bible teaches that every child has their own volition, and they may choose to reject everything that you teach them and train them. You can't put them in an environment where they are going to end up always doing what you think they should do. That isn't going to happen. That is hard for some parents to understand, and some are holding out hope that some day because they made sure that their kids went to church and made sure that they were in Bible class that they are always going to focus on the Lord, will come back to the Lord and love the Lord because that is the way they trained them. But that is not what this verse is saying. Sadly, too many people have held on to this verse as a promise.


We have to understand what it means to train up a child. This is the Hebrew verb chanak. It is not the term used in other passages that indicate discipline, correction or training for children. It is a distinct word used only eight times in Hebrew and another form of the word occurs twice in the Aramaic portions of Ezra and Daniel. It means to dedicate, to inaugurate and to initiate. The verb is the basis for the noun Hanukkah which has the idea of establishing or inaugurating a new feast as they reestablished the worship in the new temple after it was shit down under Antiochus Epiphane in the 3rd century BC. It has to do with dedication, with consecrating something, and the basic meaning of this word has to do with dedicate, inaugurate, or to initiate. It is related to an Arab cognate which refers to the practice of a midwife who would take a newborn infant and rub its gums with the juice of dates or oil. This would initiate the infant's sucking reflex so that they would begin to nurse as soon as possible. So it has to do with stimulating the gums of the infant in order to initiate the right kind of behavior. This is used as a metaphor for parental training, that it is the role of parents to initiate and inaugurate, and to stimulate their desire for something at the earliest possible age. So it is not just training, it has more to do with the idea initiating and motivating the child in their desire for something.


The next phrase is "in the way he should go." It would look on the surface that in light of the way that the writer of Proverbs talks about the way of a man, that there is the path or the way of the righteous and there is the path or the way of the foolish, that this is talking about a volitional choice in taking a certain course or path of life. That is how most people understand this—that it is to train up a child in the path or the course of life he should go. However, the word "way" is also used in a different way in Scripture. Proverbs 30:18, 19 where it has to do with individual character or the individual nature of something. 


Proverbs 30:18 NASB "There are three things which are too wonderful for me, Four which I do not understand: [19] The way of an eagle in the sky, The way of a serpent on a rock, The way of a ship in the middle of the sea, And the way of a man with a maid." The way here is not used in terms of a course or a path in life; it is talking about the characteristic, the nature of each one of these individual things. So it has a broader use or sense in which it refers to the manner, the normal manner in which something acts according to its own nature. So what this would imply, then, is "train up a child in the way he should go" has to do with training or stimulating them in terms of their basic individual nature or personality. Children are not all the same. What may motivate and stimulate one doesn't even faze another. You have to deal with each one as an individual. As a parent, if you are going to fulfill this it is not superficial. You really have to study and get to know your children individually and develop that relationship so that you are stimulating them and motivating them according to their individual personality and life. It puts a lot of responsibility on the parent, one that you can't always do in a situation when Mom and Dad are both working 60 or 70 hours a week. This is why it is very difficult for good parenting to take place when both parents are working. 


The emphasis here is that the training that goes on has to start early. It is related to motivating, stimulating, encouraging children in the direction of truth, and it is more of a positive concept rather than a negative concept in this verse. The result is that in most cases when they are old they won't depart from that training. It doesn't say they'll come back to it, it says they won't ever depart from it. We have to understand what it says and what it doesn't say. The principle is that if this is done right then in most circumstances they are not even going to go off and sow their wild oats, they are just going to stick with the plan and stick with the Word all the way through. It is not a promise that they will return; it is just a proverb, a recognition of the fact that under these circumstances they will normally stay the course.


But they have their own volition and in many case where there are children who let their sin nature control then they are going to choose to go against you and against the way in which you have trained them.


Correction is very much a part of training, and correction has a range of options. It can be talking to them, it can be time out, removing privileges from them, but it always has to go in the direction physical, corporeal punishment. That is what the Word of God teaches and that is what Proverbs teaches. The reason is given in Proverbs 22:15, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." So the presupposition of Scripture is that your lovely little baby is nothing more than a corrupt sinner, and without training and teaching them the course that they should go, including teaching them the fact that when they make bad decisions there are harmful, hurtful consequences, they can't learn that in any other way than some sort of corporal punishment.


There are some children who are so sensitive about that that even looking at the child is though you are displeased with them they want to please you so much as a parent they straighten up right away. Others need to go through a regular period where they are spanked, and done in an appropriate manner. Physical punishment should never be done out of anger. When a child is very young and you start with a pop on the butt when you straighten them out when they are disobedient that can lead to situations when they grow older when you can sit down and talk to them. But a parent has to understand that they are not going to reason with them, use psychology, to get them going in the right direction when they are eighteen months, two years or three years old. You have to start, even with corporal punishment, when they are very young. At that age it doesn't take much—just a slight tap on the butt and that is good enough.


It is clear from Proverbs, clear from Scripture, that God not only endorses but mandates corporal punishment. If the parent is out of line and gets angry that can go to something wrong. But what is worse, corporal punishment that becomes abusive or spoiling a child so that they never learn the truth or what is right? Both are wrong. But just because you take something to the extreme doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. If you have a problem that you may not be able to handle physical punishment correctly the option is not to not do it at all, the issue is to do it correctly, to do it out of love. It is more consistent with love to correct than to not correct.


The reason for this is that we have this thing called the sin nature. The basic orientation of the sin nature is the self. We are self-absorbed. This leads to self-indulgence. That produces self-justification which leads to self-deception, and self-deception leads to self-deification—it's all about me. That is the way that the child is, and it is the role of the parent to train them and teach them so that that changes and they learn to control their self-indulgent self-orientation. 


This is the same thing that God does with us. In the New Testament we have the passage in 2 Timothy 3:16, that all Scripture is inspired or breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching. That is instruction. The same responsibility is with parents. Their job is to teach and instruct children. But that is not just an impartation of academic truth and information. The idea of teaching always has an ethical dimension to it because it is not just facts; it is imparting information with a goal towards right behavior. That is what the Scripture does. It is instruction towards right behavior and right living. As a parent you are to instruct your children toward right behavior and right living. 


Then the next two are negative. The whole idea that we want everything to be positive reflects an unrealistic view of life and reality. The instruction is going to include reproof. Reproof is the idea of presenting a case that what you are doing is wrong. Some people just hate that, and it is why you don't see them in church. They can't handle somebody telling them that something they love to do is wrong. They are so mired in self-justification that for anybody to suggest that something they are doing is wrong they just immediately think, well you are guilty of hate speech, you are picking on me. Reproof points out what is wrong; correction points out how to change it from the wrong path to the right path. That's what the Word of God does and these same words are used for parents, including the next word "for training in righteousness." The Greek word is paideia, from the root meaning a child. The whole idea of disciplined training goes back to what is done with training and rearing a child so that they can have self-discipline with regard to their own sin nature.


This is the same idea that we have in Proverbs. Proverbs 3:11, 12 (also in Hebrews 12:7) NASB "My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD Or loathe His reproof, For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father {corrects} the son in whom he delights." We see a key word here, the word having to do with correction. It is the Hebrew word yasar, sometimes related to the noun mussar which relates to instruction. But it is a certain kind of instruction, an instruction that includes correction and the training of discipline so that something is learned. We see this repeated again and again in Scripture.


So this word emphasizes at its most basic level that the learning of these lessons is what is important and necessary for successful living. And that is the goal of the parent. If you want your child at the age of 18, 19, or 20 on to make wise decisions and to be successful at life then in order to do that then your job from the very beginning in parenting is not to be their friend but their trainer. You are the one to teach them values, to teach them self-discipline, to teach them how to control the instincts of their sin nature so that they do not follow the inclinations of their sin nature but learn to control them.


Why do we do this? Proverbs 19:18 NASB "Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death." This implies that you need to start this early—"while there is hope." If you wait beyond a certain point it is too late to start trying to teach your children because the bad habits of yielding to their sin nature have already been ingrained. If you don't train them while there is still hope then the result is that they are going to make bad decisions which are going to lead down that path of death—not necessarily physical death but the death of a miserable existence on earth because of the bad decisions they make from the position of an undisciplined and undirected life.


In the context of the Old Testament that also implies a physical death. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 under the Mosaic Law if a child was rebellious—incorrigible, a juvenile delinquent who continually manifests the unwillingness to respond to authority—the parents were to bring them out into the public square, take them before the elders of the village, and that child was to be stoned to death.


Some people say, "Oh that is so horrible. There's that nasty God of the Old Testament again." We have to understand this in context. The context was that if you raised a juvenile delinquent you had introduced a cancer into society. If that cancer cell metastasized then it would affect other cells. So what do you do with cancer? You surgically remove it so that it can't destroy all of the healthy cells in the body. This is an extreme position because it is extreme behavior, but you have to protect the culture from the self-indulgent, self-absorbed narcissists that are raised by parents that don't understand the value of wisdom or the value of discipline. If you don't do it then it leads to a breakdown and a failure of the society and culture. The interesting thing is that we don't have any examples of the Israelites in the Old Testament ever fulfilling that command. And so what happened is again and again they slipped into idolatry and moral relativism and rebellion against God because they refused to truly implement the principles in the Mosaic Law for parental training of the next generation.


Scripture makes it very clear about the value of corporal punishment. Proverbs 13:24 NASB "He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently."


The divine viewpoint of love is that you are to take the time and the energy to properly and correctly discipline your children, which will include in extreme cases physical corporal punishment. He who doesn't do that hates his child. The discipline has to be immediate, negative consequences. Two hours later when they are young they have no memory of it.


Proverbs 19:18 NASB "Discipline your son while there is hope, And do not desire his death."


Proverbs 23:13 NASB "Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die." This is talking about applying the rod of correction to his rear end. [14] "You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol." The point being made here is that an undisciplined child grows into an undisciplined adult. Some one who is undisciplined is not going to be very successful in living the spiritual life. What you have to train your child to respect is authority. You can't make it anywhere in life without a respect for authority, and you are never going get anywhere in your spiritual life if you don't respect the authority of God.


Proverbs 29:15 NASB "The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother." If you just leave a child to himself then all of that selfishness gets endorsed and enmeshed in their soul, and these negative habit patterns—negative ways of thinking and negative ways of acting—leads to an adulthood where they are an embarrassment and a shame to their parents.


Proverbs 29:17 NASB "Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul."


Discipline has to be modified with love. Ephesians 6:4 NASB "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger …" Don't do it in an abusive way because this results in a hostile reaction. "… but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." Notice it is directed to the fathers, not the mothers. Fathers are the primary leader in the home. Too many fathers in our culture delegate responsibility to the wife. The father is to train and produce discipline in the life of the child. That doesn't exclude the mother but the children need to understand that this is something that is just as important to the father as to the mother. Men, if you want to teach your children wrong values then you become a passive back-set driver in terms of the spiritual leadership in the home.


This is also seen in Proverbs 4:3, 4 NASB "When I was a son to my father, Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me, 'Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live.'" It was the father whose emphasis was on teaching and training.