Innocent Children, Really? (
Proverbs 22:15)

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 23, 2020

Innocent Children, Really? (
Proverbs 22:15)

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;

The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

(Proverbs 22:15)

The Discussion:

Many Christians wonder at what age do children become liable for their sin. This question usually arises from a genuine concern for the welfare of one’s child. However, the Scriptures stretch beyond the reach of our emotions and speak to the issue of the child’s nature.

Proverbs 22:15 stands out in its implicit statement demanding that we accommodate this teaching into our systems of thought—about God, sin, and our children’s nature. Our purpose is not to focus on children’s discipline, which I have done elsewhere, but to focus on what makes discipline so needed.

Thoughts on the Accountability of Children

Many proponents of children’s innocence assume children are neutral; they have no sin and guilt. They propose, at a certain age of accountability (usually 12), or a certain level of awareness (might differ), a child becomes accountable for their sin. They believe that the child before this time is “innocent,” or at least not guilty and under God’s judgment.

A Strong Rebellious Tendency

But we need to ask if the Holy Scriptures present children in this light. Many Scriptures comment on human beings’ nature, but I would like to meditate on this one passage and draw what truth we can gather from this verse. The bee does not profit from its bee-hopping unless it draws the nectar from each blossom upon which it lands. We might want to turn to other passages, but let us first see what this passage teaches.

The child, boy, or girl, has a heart, a will. The heart depicts one’s wants and desires, and though young in body, he learns to express his will.

Proverbs 22:15 announces that inherent foolishness, like a sticky glob, affects the inclinations of the child: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Foolishness in the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Proverbs (Proverbs 14:8,18,24; 19:3; 22:15; 27:22), is self-defined as behavior countering the truth of God. In other words, one shuns God’s truth to follow one’s heart. Behavior, contrary to God’s Word, is always counterproductive—this is why the word “foolishness” or “folly” is used. The Lord classifies each child as foolish despite how cute they are.

The bee gives hint of the importance and means of the spiritual discipline of meditation

Biblical parenting bases its teaching on the foolishness of one’s heart, insisting on correction. Those who understand a child’s foolishness recognize that chastisement is oft-needed; otherwise, the child will follow his/her ways counter to God’s guidance (bringing wisdom). The unconfined foolish heart will lead to many poor decisions bringing havoc on that person’s life. Though we are not delving into the topic of child care here, Solomon does and insists on the use of chastisement to curb this foolishness, “The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.”

Notice that there is no age or time mentioned in this verse as to when this foolishness occurs. Instead, by being “bound up,” we conclude that this is the nature of children—no matter what age of the child. Of course, an infant and toddler will display this folly different from a young boy or man, not knowing how to express oneself with one’s developing body or speech. But given time and development, the child’s inherent inclination will present itself and seek the opportunity to express its rebellious nature.

The Difficulty of Acceptance

As parents, we favor our children and even spoil them. It’s hard to accept the judgment of God upon our children, but this does not make them innocent. Due to the rise of humanism, many Christians have unknowingly embraced some teachings of the world, including our children’s good nature. They wish the best for their children and hope, magically perhaps, that this wish will become true. Proverbs 22:15 does not at all agree with this approach! Our hope begins with training our children.

Humanism has gone far beyond the neutrality of a child’s innocence and teaches natural goodness for all—despite whether they openly do evil things (evil for them are people who hold back others’ expressions). They vehemently detest people’s inherent sinful inclinations and God’s judgment, and therefore, suggest that is wrong to hinder the expression of a person’s desires. (They cannot fully carry this out as evil brings increasing harm to others.) Humanism has unfortunately paved the path for a society to slide towards greater immorality and decay.

Other Bible Passages

Although we have deliberated only on one verse, other biblical passages support both the sinful nature of human beings, the folly of mankind, the prevalence of death (proof of sin), as well as the need to chastise our children (Hebrews 12).

Without exception, we all share in sin’s guilt and remain under the judgment of God. How can a child be innocent when each person, except Christ, follows the pathway of sin? All of humanity shares in the sinful nature and remains condemned (John 3:36).

  • “All of have sinned” does not exclude children.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

  • The prevalence of sin shows itself in the broad swath of salvation, that is, all need salvation.

“And he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world” (1Jo 2:2).

  • The scriptures vividly state how humans are unequivocally shut up under sin.

“But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal 3:22).

  • The scriptures teach there is no such category of moral innocence—none righteous. Either one is righteous or not.

“10 As it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”” (Rom 3:10-12)

  • The scriptures rebuke those who deny sin’s touch on humans.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 5:8).

I understand one might have a concern about the state of one’s child or grandchild. I am a grandfather with six grandchildren. The fact is, however, that salvation is by God’s grace. Instead of presuming a child’s innocence, a parent should assume sinfulness and present Christ as a gracious Savior to one’s children.

Conclusion on Proverb’s 22:15

Instead of pretending the child’s innocence, this verse compels us to recognize every child’s tendency to counter God. As the child grows, he/she gets more sophisticated in expressing his or her selfish nature. It is wrong to say that a child will make every bad decision possible. Even adults will not always act their worse because they know better ways to gain what they wish (though oft being self-deceived). There are factors, such as the fear of God, the culture’s teachings or the rod that can modify their decisions. (Chastisement does not save a child but, if rightly done, helps the child recognize one’s sin and guilt and how to seek reconciliation.)

It is much wiser to acknowledge and observe this evil bent in young children and observe how it grows with the child right into adulthood. This is what the Apostle Paul calls the flesh or sinful nature, seeking its own profit over another (which counters God’s teaching of love). We see the selfish nature in toddlers grabbing a toy from another even though the one already had a toy. “It’s mine!” one shouts. Jeremiah admits to the deceitfulness of the heart.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As a parent of eight children, I can see this truth of “foolishness bound up in the heart” repeatedly displayed in my children. It doesn’t matter that I am a Christian or even an ordained pastor. Each child is different, and each will find his or her subtle way, early on, to express his or her foolish heart. In my books, I show how this foolishness can be seen early on even in young ones, especially when they begin to crawl. The wise parent seizes the moment to train their children early on.

So let me ask those who are resistant to the truth of Proverbs 22:15, where did the term “Terrible Twos” originate? It came from the common observation that when a toddler begins to connect his body movements with his will, the child will begin to insist on his way, countering his parent’s choice and causing great consternation.

Discussion Questions on Proverb’s 22:15

  1. What do you believe about a child’s innocence? Why?
  2. Memorize Proverbs 22:15 and state why the first phrase (on foolishness) is connected to the later (on chastisement).
  3. What does “bound up” in phrase one mean? “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”
  4. What does it mean when we speak of a child or person’s nature? Do you think this bound up describes one’s nature? Explain.
  5. Based on this verse, would you say that children have a good heart?
  6. What is the “rod of discipline”? Why does the Lord consider this so important?
  7. What will happen without the rod of discipline? Why?
  8. How is meditation likened to a bee visiting each blossom?
  9. Read through the “Other Bible Passages.” Do you agree whether they teach human beings without exception (except Christ) have a sin nature? Explain. (If there is a group, have one person examine each verse.)
  10. What does “Terrible Twos” refer to? Why so? How does this relate to Proverbs 22:15?
  11. Is it necessary to preach the Gospel to our young children? Why? What happens if we do not share the Gospel with our children?

Other Relevant References

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