“Kids and Education” is the theme for this issue of Methodist Message. Perhaps the most quoted Bible verse on this theme is Proverbs 22:6, and the English translation familiar to most people is reflected in the 1984 New International Version (NIV): “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
But the 2011 NIV now renders it as: “Start children off on the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Does this Hebrew verse urge us to “train” or to “start” children off in the way they should go? Since there is evidence of the verb being used with both nuances in ancient Hebrew and Arabic, translations will continue to diverge. Happily, this allows parents and teachers to be encouraged and guided by both options. The two actions are, in any case, closely related in practice. For how does one “train” a child if not by helping them “start” on a good path in life? And surely one way to help a child start walking on a good path is to train them to walk.
This same Hebrew verb is used in 1 Kings 8:63 at the opening or start of the newly built temple. The people start or dedicate the temple to fulfil its God-given function. Similarly, one of the ways we might give children a good start in life is to dedicate them regularly in our prayers that they will find and fulfill their God-given places in life.
One more comment on the Hebrew of Proverbs 22:6 before I conclude. Although the rendering “child” is not incorrect, the Hebrew noun is often used to refer to youth and even young adults. So the encouragement and guidance of this verse should not be limited only to young children. We dedicate in prayer also teenagers and young adults to finding and fulfilling their God-given paths in life.
A popular saying amongst educators is that “values are caught, not taught”. The point is not to imply that values cannot be taught; it is to stress that the best way to teach values is to exemplify it. Or, as Dorothy Law Nolte puts it:
Children Learn What They Live With
If a child lives with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, they learn to fight.
If a child lives with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, they learn to find love in the world.
Father’s Day is just around the corner as I pen these thoughts. I thank God for my father who started and trained me in life, not so much with words or instruction, but by giving me encouragement, acceptance and love. Let us dedicate the children and young adults of our world, and ourselves also, to a life of Loving God by Loving Our Neighbours.
Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020. He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2012–2020.