I have frequently heard Proverbs 22:6 referenced as a promise that godly parenting always leads to godly children. One of my children has rejected God. Is this my fault?

Certainly children, the older they grow, have tremendous power to hurt their parents. (I don’t every recall hearing this in a Christian parenting lesson!) In our own family we know both the joy of seeing our children become Christians and the bitterness of estrangement. Like all with whom we share the good news, our children have their own will. It’s their choice. They may accept Jesus as their Lord, or they may refuse. Even after following him for many years, they can still walk away from the truth. So why is Proverbs 22:6 so misunderstood?

For starters, we desire certainty. We prefer absolute promises more than principles whose application may not be so black and white. Next, we tend to mine the Bible for encouraging or interesting passages—like stand-alone gems. Many verses are most easily understood when read in the light of other biblical passages, and this is especially true of Proverbs, where a passage may present one facet of a compound truth. (Pardon the frivolity—but what kind of parent was the Lord if his first two children fell from grace? Does this mean he must “step down” from ruling the universe until someone more qualified shows up?)

Further, a single biblical passage may not contain the comprehensive truth on a subject, and this principle definitely applies to Proverbs. The majority are life generalizations—observations about how things usually go. They do not tell us everything we might like to know.

Proverbs 22:6 highlights the correlation between godly instruction and how our children turn out. Yet this is a generalization, not an ironclad promise. Some excellent parents have rebellious children, just as some children grow up to be outstanding persons despite atrocious parenting. It’s not that Proverbs 22:6 isn’t true, but it’s only part of the truth. To see the entire diamond, we need to step back and appreciate all its facets—not just one.

As one Old Testament scholar commenting on Proverbs 22:6 put it, "Many are the reminders... that even the best training cannot instill wisdom, but only encourage the choice to seek it (e.g. 2:1ff). A son may be too opinionated to learn (13:1; cf. 17:21). A good home may produce an idler (10:5) or a profligate (29:3): he may rebel enough to despite (15:20), mock (30:17) or curse (30:11; 20:20) his parents; heartless enough to run through their money (28:24), and even to turn a widowed mother out of doors (19:26). While there are parents who have only themselves to thank for their shame (29:15), it is ultimately the man himself who must bear his own blame, for it is his attitude to wisdom (29:3a; 2:2ff), his consent given or withheld (1:10) in face of temptation which sets his course." — Tyndale OT Commentaries, Proverbs, 52-53).

For further clarification, please see Douglas and Victoria Jacoby, Principle-Centered Parenting: Christian Parenting in a Non-Christian World (Spring, Texas: Illumination Publishers, 2017). This is the updated version of our original The Quiver: Christian Parenting in a Non-Christian World (Spring, Texas: Illumination Publishers, 2005, 2007). The material on children and the interpretation of Proverbs 22:6 is the same in all three editions.