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I've read that the translation, which implies a promise to "right parenting" of

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

is not accurate as the original Hebrew does not have an indication of "should." I've also read that the any indication of "right way" is also incorrect and that the original Hebrew is closer to

Train up a child in (his) way; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

almost to indicate that a child left to his/her own self-indulgent way will stick to their self-indulgent way (echoing other proverbs that talk about the foolishness of children). That is a very different conclusion from what the verse is popularly attributed to say. So my question is what is the right translation?

  • 1
    Good question! You may already be familiar with Gorden Hugenberger's proposal along these lines in an intro Hebrew textbook (starting at the bottom of that page), but to my knowledge he has not published this argument elsewhere, so perhaps it's not unexpected that it hasn't made an impression on the commentators. Hildebrandt provides a broader survey of possibilities. – Susan Feb 29 '16 at 17:36
  • I removed the portion of this question asking for additional questions. Questions that are "searching for a text" are off topic here. Otherwise excellent question. – Dan Mar 6 '16 at 22:47
  • Am I correct that the verse is absent from the LXX? I can't locate it in either Brenton or Lexham English Septuagint. They both completely omit a verse 6 and go from 5 to 7. – Ruminator Nov 6 '17 at 9:12
  • My edition of LXX (Rahlfs) also omits Prov 22:6. – user25930 Jan 21 at 20:17
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The Idea in Brief

The Masoretic Text for this passage contains marginalia written in Palestinian Aramaic which will cue the reader to understand the verse according to how the Masoretic scholars understood the text. Based on this marginalia, the following translation is how the Masoretic scholars understood this verse.

Proverbs 22:6
6 [The example of] Enoch for a child according to his way [i.e., the way of Enoch]; even when he is old (like Methuselah) he will not depart from it.

These marginalia comments imply that (1) “the way of Enoch” is the holy walk of Enoch with God first mentioned in Gen 5:24, and (2) the example here is Methuselah, the child of Enoch, who was righteous and therefore had lived very long.

The idea then would be to bring the child to walk and meet the Lord in personal experience (“the way of Enoch”) in order that the child will mature and persevere in righteousness.

Discussion

The personal noun “Enoch” appears sixteen times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. In all but one instance, the word appears with the Hebrew holem waw, which is a vowel helper, or mater lectionis. That is, in Gen 25:4 the personal noun “Enoch” appears without the mater lectionis, and there is a note in the margin of the Masoretic Text that indicates three instances in the Hebrew Bible where the word appears without the holem waw: Gen 25:4; Nu 26:5; and Prov 22:6. The margin note appears to the left of the verse containing the word in question. At the foot of the leaf in the Codex appears the corresponding footnote. This footnote references the three verses. In other words, the Masoretic scholars are making the conclusion that in each of these three verses the references are made to either the personal noun “Enoch” or to the "Hanochites" ("Enoch" in Nu 26:5 contains the holem waw but "Hanochites" in the same verse does not). We know that because in the footnote is the phrase in Aramaic (חנך ג̇ חס̇ בליש), which means the word חנך appears three times defectively in this usage.

Most, if not all, Bible scholars believe that the fist word in Prov 22:6 is the Qal imperative second personal singular of the Hebrew verb חָנַךְ, and therefore has nothing to do with “Enoch.” However, according to Gesenius, within the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew infinitives, imperatives, and imperfects in the Qal are written defectively (without the vowel helper) with rare exceptions. In other words, the Masoretic scholars did not see the first word in this verse as the defective spelling of the qal imperative of the verb חָנַךְ, which would be a superfluous observation, but the defective spelling of the personal noun “Enoch,” which lacks the holem waw. The Masoretic scholars reinforce their approach with more examples.

For example, in Prov 22:6, there is the following comment in the margin of the Masoretic Text with regard to the first word of the verse, חֲנֹךְ. In this regard, the comment in the margin states: “ב̇ ראש פסוק מתושלח,” which means, “In two instances the word begins a verse, Methuselah. Please see the ACTUAL screenshot below from Page 838 of the PDF version of the Codex Leningrad online.

enter image description here

In other words, the Masoretic scholars (who lived, breathed, memorized, and recited the Hebrew Bible) saw the father of Methuselah in this verse. When we use Bible software to search for the other place that “Enoch” begins a verse in the Bible, we discover that the other place where the word begins a verse is 1 Chr 1:3, which is in reference to the “Enoch” from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 5. The margin notes for that verse make no mention of “Methuselah” because the verse already states in the verse that “Enoch” is the father of “Methuselah.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Masoretic scholars used their margin notes for several purposes, and in some instances (as this discussion explained) there are small nuggets of gold. According to the late Bible scholar Israel Yeivin (1980), the Masoretic editors did not use their margin notes for superfluous purposes, nor did they mix and match the variant spellings of verbs and nouns, but only those variants unique to one particular word or words. Thus the observation of the various comments of the Masoretic scholars through their marginalia notes are not the mixing and matching of the word “Enoch” with Hebrew verbs that are spelled with the same letters with or without the holem waw. (They were not annotating variants of the holem waw in the Qal imperative, which was superfluous in the Hebrew Bible according to Gesenius.) Instead the Masoretic scholars were focused on the personal noun “Enoch” (father of Methuselah) in Prov 22:6, for which they were indicating specific variants of the same specific personal noun within the Hebrew Bible.

In summary, while the plain and normal reading of Prov 22:6 will suggest to most modern readers of Biblical Hebrew the qal imperative form of the Hebrew verb חָנַךְ would be in view, the Masoretic scholars chose instead to understand the first word of this verse to be in reference to the personal pronoun Enoch, the father of Methuselah. To ensure no misunderstandings, the Masoretic scholars included the actual word “Methuselah” in the margin notes (the so-called Masorah Parva) in order to ensure that the readers understood the Masoretic understanding of the passage. That is, the main thrust of the idea would be to bring the child to have personal first-hand experience walking with the Lord (that is, “the way of Enoch”) in order that the child will mature and persevere in righteousness as he gets older (for which we have the example of the long-lived and righteous Methuselah, the son of Enoch, from the Book of Genesis).


Reference:
Yeivin, Israel (1980). Introduction to the Tiberian Masorah (trans. by E.J. Revell). Stuttgart: Society of Biblical Literature, passim.

  • The blue link in your answer, "This footnote references the three verses" takes me to an image with some added block Hebrew and English translation. Is this your translation of the Hebrew? If not, can you comment back with a reference. Thanks – Joseph O. Sep 26 '17 at 23:35
  • @JosephO. - When you look at the page of the Codex, at the very bottom the rabbinic editors wrote the corresponding verse references. So instead of writing "Gen 25:4" (the way we do it today) they wrote the first three or four verses of Gen 25:4 in order to reference Gen 25:4. This form of references (by citing only the first few words of any given verse) indicates how knowledgeable the medieval rabbis were of Scripture. – Joseph Sep 27 '17 at 11:45
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    I had completely misunderstood how the editors were referencing the text. Appreciate the clarification. – Joseph O. Sep 27 '17 at 20:08
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I heard a slightly different version of that scripture from a well known apologist. His understanding from the Hebrew was "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he gets older "it" will not depart from "him."

Has anyone heard that rendering from the Hebrew before and can you send me a link to any explanation that would support that? Thank you.

  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. You should only submit an answer if you have something to contribute that addresses some aspect of the question. If you could provide the essence of the apologist's support for the claim, and a link to where one might find it, that would be useful. – enegue Nov 6 '17 at 10:21
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The passage does not occur in the LXX. Na'ar is more of an apprentice than a son/daughter. "Boy" as in "Garcon!" when you call for a French waiter. Most boys and girls grew up in training to do what their parents were doing. Farmer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. What I am getting from the text is "Narrow the path an apprentice takes and when s/he is old s/he will not have departed from it." In other words, start out simple and narrow and then let go of control over time. Don't start out lenient with your new employees and try to impose order later...

But the "according to mouth" part (al pi) is just very strange and we don't have the LXX to help us interpret it well. What have you found on this passage?

  • This is a good idea, but can you support your understanding of the words and the sentences better, especially as opposed to the other possible meaning the OP mentions? Regarding your last paragraph, you can ask it as another question if you find it unclear – b a Jan 26 at 20:51
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The phrase is translated correct.

Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.

There is nothing in the text indicating a vocation by which a child is to be trained or dedicated except in the way "he should go." The Scriptures are consistent that "the way" is the way that is right before God (Psa. 119:133; Prov. 16:9; Jer. 10:23; Deut. 6:7; Eph. 6:4; etc.)

When a child is trained in the way, generally speaking, he will not depart. The statements in Proverbs are to be understood as generally true. Compare Proverbs 22:29

Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.

Could there be an exception? Yes, there are those who excel at work who are not noticed by kings. But the point is that if you do your work well, you will be noticed for it.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. This doesn't show its work, which is a requirement on this site. Don't just tell us what you know, tell us how you know it, which means clearly connecting the dots starting from the text. – Paul Vargas Apr 11 '16 at 4:35
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The al pi = (according to mouth {taste}) is in keeping with the Bible vs that says "taste and see that the Lord is good". (Psm 34:8)

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child and the rod of correction (the shepherd's rod of discipline) will drive it far from him.” therefore:-

Train up a child (child = na'ar in hebrew, includes infancy to adolescence) /allow the child to taste of the goodness of God, when he is old he will not depart from that path. Have a look and to see how the Hebrew culture teach their children the Torah.

When you think about it, the fall of man was through eating, we remember Christ and the work/gift of the cross through eating, and in Revelations we have the marriage feast.

There are countless mentions of mouth, eating and tasting in the Bible.

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