Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.Pro 22:6
There are two major ways to translate the Hebrew of this verse. And most translations favour one of them.
The Amplified Bible – the version chosen here – highlights both of them. The two translations represent the fight between two major worldviews, as they fire certain associations in our minds.
Let’s look at the traditional translation: Train up a child in the way he should go.
Certainly, most people think about values and morals immediately. Next, we are reminded to not spare the rod. We can spell the implications and content of such a training easily:
Obey your parents, and you will have a long life. No sex before marriage. Submit yourself to authority. I am sure you can prolong the list ad infinitum.
All of the rules, values, regulations, does and don’ts have one thing in common: they apply to – everybody.
The other translation possibility, hinted at by the Amplified Bible, worked out by the German Elberfelder Bible, is:
Train a boy (sorry, no political correctness yet in biblical times) according to his own nature and personality, and he will not depart from it when he gets old.
A totally different spotlight!
Here, individuality is in the focus.
Before the reformation, it was impossible to get this meaning of the text, as there was no notion of the individual. But does that mean that the author of this verse did not imply this?
Well, Solomon probably did not. It was not part of his worldview. Rules, regulations, hierarchy, the law shaped his world. Morality, subordination were key words.
But the bible was written for all times. Not one word shall perish, and it will speak into every age and project us forward.
Today, humanity has progressed substantially. We believe that every individual, within certain boundaries, can grow and has its own calling.
Paul hinted at this when talking about the body of Christ having different joints and organs. Yet the church has not caught this for many more centuries. It took the reformation and the outpouring of the Spirit for those topics to become – partially – accepted by the church.
I think it is time to reread and re-interpret many bible verses just like the one above.
Why do bible translators favour the traditional reading? They point to other verses in proverbs and show that the word used for “way”, Hebrew derek, in all those verses has been used to show moral lifestyle. And they translate it that way in other verses, because – you guessed it – it has been translated that way in all the other verses.
If they were honest to themselves, they would confess that they translate it that way because it fits their worldview.
We are uniquely and wonderfully made. We are individuals. It is imperative that we treat each human being, from the get-go, according to its personality.
Imagine the freedom a child would, well, never lose that way. Imagine an introverted child being valued and not pressured into an extraverted mold. Imagine an intuitive thinker not having to stick to only what can be experienced with one’s senses. Imagine a math geek and a language genius and an artist working together, complementing each other, without having to be the other.
And that only scratches the surface.
What if Christianity is not about morals, rules, hierarchies, what’s right or wrong, but about individuals, gifts, relationships?
About meeting everybody where he or she is at and what he or she is made to be?
Let’s rethink Christianity.