Vol.XV No.VII Pg.7
September 1978

?You Know What?

Robert F. Turner

Bro. Turner:

Do you understand Prov. 22:6 to say if a child ever becomes unfaithful it proves the parents were remiss? N.B.


Prov. 22:6 reads, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it." I was once asked if I believed this was true. I answered, "It is a true proverb." A proper understanding of its message hinges on our understanding the nature of proverbs.

A proverb is a brief epigrammatic saying that is a popular byword; an adage or maxim, sometimes couched obscurely. It is poetic in nature, with poetic license. It may contain irony, satire, wit, etc. If this, with your dictionary, is still inadequate as an explanation, let's try a non-biblical example. Surely you have heard: "A stitch in time saves nine!" This is true — i.e., generally speaking, when we 'put off' making a repair, the damage grows worse, so that later we have a much larger repair job to do.

Saves "nine" (stitches)? Why not "eleven" or "fifteen"? Because these numbers do not rhyme with "time." The truth (early repair saves us from having to make greater repair later) is simply stated in poetic, epigrammatic fashion. The person who uses this old "saying" is not trying to tell us the ratio of saving is one to nine, or any other such detail.

Proverbs 22:6 tells us a truth, viz., generally speaking, early training establishes the character of an individual, that will stay with him through life. It does not say early training guarantees proper manhood or womanhood. We are deeply affected by early training, but it does not destroy our free agency. It does not make our salvation wholly dependent upon our parents rather than upon our own response to God's word. It does not establish the impossibility of apostasy. It does not say a poorly brought up child could not overcome this great handicap, and obey the Lord in spite of earlier training.

Proverbs must be read as proverbs! Prov. 19:4 says, "Wealth addeth many friends; but the poor is separated from his friend." ALWAYS? No! It is possible that a wealthy man have no friends; or that a poor man have many friends. But this general observation is true to the facts of life. It says people gravitate toward money, and "friendship" may cover a base motive.

Prov. 19:24 reads, "The sluggard burieth his hand in the dish, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again." Some sluggards today have never in their life eaten from a common bowl; but the proverb says, with poetic license, "Some people are too lazy to eat."

Finally, the very best way to understand any proverb is to read many proverbs, over and over again. As one becomes familiar with proverbs their nature and character will become more and more apparent. Their purpose is clearly stated (Prov. 1:1-6), and we would do well to exercise our mind on their "riddles" (v.6, "dark sayings," see AS footnote.) They give marvelous insight into the problems of life.