Spanking - The Biblical View



The Biblical View on Spanking


What had been the norm for disciplining children for the first 350 years of this country, has lately become a taboo among the “politically correct.” Of course I am talking about using corporeal discipline more commonly known as spanking. This form of discipline was not only the norm for the home, but it was practiced openly in the public schools and even at times in the setting of the church. However, with the rise of Dr. Spock and his book on how to raise a child, spanking began to be attacked from the liberal, non-Christian segment of our society. So pervasive has this change been that in some states parents are afraid to spank their children for fear that the state will arrest them and take away their children. If you think that is impossible in America, let me say that I have recently witnessed it happening to a couple in my congregation.

I think, therefore, that it would be good to review what the Bible says on this subject. Let me be clear up front that when I speak of spanking, I am not endorsing the abuse of children whether physically, emotionally, or mentally. Too often I have witnessed the results of such abuse as it spills over into the child’s adult life and it is not a pretty sight!

Those who oppose spanking frequently argue that spanking is not taught in the Bible. That we Christians have had a false understanding of the Bible for the last 2 thousand years. Let me quote from a document given out by the Department of Child Services in Indiana to a couple who spanked their children.

“I hit my children because it is the Bible.” LOOK AGAIN! “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is the single most misquoted and misunderstood phrase in religious literature. The actual verse that appears in the Bible is Proverbs 13:24: “He that spareth his rod, hateth his son; but he who loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” The Hebrew translation of the Proverbs offers several interpretations for the word “rod”. “Rod” was, at times, interpreted as a scepter, which is a symbol of power not of violence. Rod also meant “staff”, a stick with a curved top used by shepherds to guide and lead their sheep. Some translated “rod” as an actual stick, while others interpreted “rod” as a symbol of guidance. Many members of the clergy, advocate guidance as a modern day interpretation, believing that children need guidance not violence.”

I do not know who wrote this, but one thing I can say for certain, they are as far away from an correct understanding of this passage as a person can get. To begin with, this is not the most misquoted or misinterpreted passage in all of Scripture. I can site a few others that are misquoted more often then this and yet with the number rising who oppose spanking, maybe it has become the most misinterpreted passage! 

Secondly, the word for “rod” is used primarily to refer either an object that was rod like. An object that shaped like a rod such a stick, a specter, the shaft of a spear, or the shepherds staff. If it is not used in this sense it is used as a reference to the tribes of Israel and of course this meaning would make no sense in the context of this statement. The word never means “guidance” as indicated above but always a solid narrow object made of a number different materials. The context, therefore, is the only thing that gives any indication of how the object is to be understood. 

What is in the mind of the writer of Proverbs 13:24 can only be determined by the context of Proverbs. How does the writer of Proverbs use the term “rod” in the writing of this OT book. Those who wrote this quoted paragraph have “conveniently” left out the other passages in Proverbs that clearly testify what the author had in mind when he wrote proverbs 13:24. Note the following.

Prov 3:12, “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” (NKJV) – please note the understanding of this passage by the writer of Hebrews in 12:6 when he quotes this verse, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” - the term “scourges” does not imply “guidance” but rather physical punishment.

Prov 10:13, “Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding, But a rod is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding.” NKJV – “a rod for the back makes sense” but a “guidance” for the back does not!

Prov 22:15, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him.” (NKJV) - in this case if “guidance” is in mind than we have a translation of “the guidance of correction” which misses the who idea of the context

Prov 23:13, “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.” (NKJV) – how does one
“beat or smite” a child with “guidance”?

Prov 23:14, “You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell.” (NKJV) - again how does one “beat or smite” a child with “guidance”?

Prov 26:3. “A whip for the horse, A bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the fool's back.” (NKJV)

It is clear that the writer of Proverbs was speaking of a rod or stick when talking of discipline and that he was advising the use of corporeal discipline (physical spanking). In other words, spanking is endorsed both in the Old and New Testaments alike and is the only correct understanding of Prov. 13:24.

With clearly having shown that spanking was ordained of God for disciplining children, let us note some guide lines to spanking and other methods of disciplining children.

First of all, spanking is necessary because foolishness is bound up in the heart of the child (Prov. 23:13). Until the child reaches an age where he can be reasoned with, the only way one can communicate to the child what is right or wrong is with spanking. For example, a 2 year old should not put a metal object into an electrical outlet however it is not possible to communicate the full threat of the danger at such an age. So the parent tells the child not to do it but if he sees the child trying it anyway, a spanking drive homes to the child that this is not approved behavior. In other words it is designed to serve and protect the child while he is still in the “foolishness” stage of childhood. With this said the day will come when spanking will no longer be appropriate and other means may be more effective.

Secondly, spanking should always be driven by a parents love for the child (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6). It is the desire of the parent that child grow up wise, productive, and happy and God indicates for that to take place the child must undergo discipline as needed. It is not to be done to sooth the anger of the parent nor is it done to toughen the child nor is it done to punish the child. Chastisement means an act of love which administers the appropriate amount of discipline in order to direct the child to follow the right path. To take this one step further, the writer of Proverbs indicates that if we do not discipline our child, we neglect our God given responsibility as parents, in essence we are indicating to our child that we hate him (Prov. 13:24)

Thirdly, all forms of discipline including spanking should be consistent. If a child gets a spanking for hitting his brother, than the next time he hits his brother the parents do nothing this leaves the child confused as to what is right and what is wrong. That is the message of Eph. 6:4 where calls upon father’s not to provoke their children to wrath. When parents are inconsistent in their discipline this causes mixed signals to the child and this causes the child frustration and anger. We need to be consistent not only in the discipline that we apply but also in the examples we set in the way we live.

Many research studies can be quoted on how spanking does not work and is ineffective. The publication that I quoted earlier goes on to say that spanking is one the main causes of violence exhibited by children and carries over even into their adult lives. My response to that is THEY ARE WRONG! First of all God tells us it is effective and indicates if we love our children we will spank them! Secondly, when scientists have debated the truthfulness of the Word of God in the past, they have always eventually been proven wrong. Where does fallible finite get off questioning the infinite and all knowing Creator of all things? Thirdly, violence in all aspects of society is on the rise and yet spanking is on the decline. That should tells us about the effectiveness of spanking. Back when spanking was the norm, we did not have children going to school to shoot children or into a church to shoot church members. These things were unheard of. Spanking clearly did not cause a rise in violence in the past and produced better, more productive and happy individuals than the present system. I have yet to find any adult who was spanked as a child in a biblical manner, who hated his parents or was angry over his spanking. In fact I find these individual’s grateful to their parents and full of love and respect for them. I wish I could say the same for children who have been deprived of biblical discipline!