Yes, this is a hot-button topic.
Yes, it’s been blogged and debated to death.
In some ways, it’s generated more heat than light.
This post was originally published on a blog I wrote years ago. This version has been updated before republishing here. 🙂
All posts in this series can be found here.
But the Bible presents spanking as a viable, proper method of disciplining children.
THAT is the main point as far as I am concerned.
I have no interest in debating something just to debate. Nor am I swimming upstream on this issue simply to get a better workout. I don’t like workouts nearly that much. 😜
Because the Bible mentions spanking (“the rod” of discipline) in a positive light, we have to address it.And it’s my hope that with the Lord’s help, I can shed a little light and common sense on the subject.
What I’d like to do in this series of posts on biblical spanking is begin a discussion.
Not a debate, name-calling contest, or a calling-into-question of each other’s salvation. We can be mature brothers and sisters in Christ and treat each other as such. I’m confident of that.
For that reason, if you experience confusion as you read these posts, have questions, disagree, or simply want someone to hash this out with as you read these posts, I’d love to have that conversation with you.
IF you are willing to make it a conversation and not the beginnings of a character-assasination plot.
Reach out: carey(at)careygreen(dot)com
What the Bible says about discipline in general
Since spanking is portrayed in scripture as one of many forms of discipline, the passages that speak of discipline in general are an obvious place to start. We need to first be convinced that God believes discipline itself to be a good thing.
Here are a handful of passages to help us get into that frame of mind…
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
The gist of this passage is that without “the fear of the Lord” we have no hope of advancing or growing in knowledge.
Then he follows it up with this enlightening phrase… “but fools despise wisdom and discipline.“
So wisdom and discipline are somehow connected with the possession and development of the fear of the Lord. We know this because of the pejorative way Solomon refers to the person who despises them… that person is a fool.
So walk through it slowly…
✔️if you do NOT despise wisdom or discipline
✔️ then you will be open to their influence in your life.
✔️ Those things will lead you into the fear of the Lord
✔️ and THAT is where true knowledge begins.
Clearly, discipline is viewed in a POSITIVE light in this proverb.
And might I also add this…
I’m trying not to be too critical, here… but if the following shoe fits, it may be yours.
This verse makes be think of many of the non-spanking advocates I’ve encountered and/or read.
Not all of them, but many of them seem to not only despise the idea of spanking (they ARE opposed to it, so you’d expect this), but they also seem to despise correction in general. I could be misinterpreting what I’ve read, but their libertine thinking and behavior — allowing their little ones more freedom about lots of things than seems prudent — lead me to that conclusion.
They are what I think are referred to as the “free-range parents” of the world.
If you’re not familiar with that term, these are the parents who subscribe to implementing as few boundaries as necessary with their kids to encourage the exploration of the world and the expression of their personalities.
They view it as healthy and liberating for the child. They believe it requires their kids to develop decision-making skills, develops independence and confidence, and fosters responsibility.
Maybe some of those things happen on a small scale, but the cons far outweigh the pros in what I’ve observed. For example, it’s the kids of these free-rangers who manhandle the decorative items on your side table when they come to visit. They are the ones who hit your kid with a toy, and when confronted with the bloody gash running through your toddler’s eybrow, the free-range parent in question says, “I don’t think he meant to hurt anyone.”
This does NOT seem healthy or right in light of Solomon’s counsel.
It also doesn’t take seriously the teaching of scripture to consider others as more important as yourself (Philippians 2:3)… and by clear implication, to teach your kids to do the same.
It sounds like the parents somewhat despise discipline. Again, I could be wrong, but the shoe seems like a custom order to me.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
Here we are told that when the Lord disciplines us, it indicates that we are indeed His sons (daughters). It’s is a demonstration of His love for us. It indicates that we are indeed received into His family.
Notice the strong words used to describe those God does not discipline… “if you are left without discipline… then you are illegitimate children and not sons.“
Let’s put that into an everyday situation.
Have you ever wondered why the godless, immoral people of the world seem to be left alone by God? It appears they can do whatever they want with no repercussions.
It’s because they are not His sons (daughters).
God is not treating them in the loving way a Father does (through discipline) because they are not His sons and daughters.
Again, discipline is a very positive thing in this context.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.
.Solomon again… about the general idea of discipline. He reveals TWO facts about parental discipline.
1) Discipline is an act of parental love.
This means we parents have to do a motive-check when it comes to our discipline.
I have to confess there have been times when I’ve rushed into a discipline situation with one of my kids, not simply because they did wrong, but because I was personally hurt, or embarrassed, or inconvenienced, etc. My actions had more to do with how the situation impacted or reflected on me than it did with the wrong that was done. So the discipline I implemented tended to be a punitive, selfish response, not a loving one.
Be careful to know your own motives, parents…
2) Discipline and delight in your child can and should co-exist.
Contrary to popular belief, a parent can still delight in their child and be very attentive to discipline at the same time. Discipline actually flows out of our delight in our children.
We care for them so much that we are correcting their wrong, unsocial, unkind, inconsiderate behavior. We do so both for their good and the good of those they will encounter throughout life.
The Bible’s teaching on spanking as a form of discipline
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
What’s all this about a “rod?”
There’s a great debate about whether the word “rod” used here refers to an actual physical form of punishment or whether it is simply a figurative term meaning discipline in general.
In terms of literary style, the word “rod” could be used figuratively in this and the following passages. BUT, there is a very obvious reality to that assertion that has to be acknowledged.
Q: WHY would the word “rod” mean a form of discipline?
A: Because the rod actually WAS used as an instrument of discipline.
There’s really no way around that.
Every Jewish reader of the day would understand that Solomon was referring to HOW discipline was administered. It’s therefore not very likely that he intended “rod” to ONLY be taken figuratively.
What about cultural differences?
That was then, this is now. Haven’t we become a bit more refined and educated about psychology and relationships? Don’t we know a bit more than they did back then that tells us that corporal punishment is bad, harmful, emotionally or psychologically scarring, etc.?
If you believe that the Bible is strictly of human origin, then I can see why you’d be willing to resign it to the archives. But if you believe God had something to do with its creation then you need to rethink those kinds of thoughts (if you’re having them).
If God put these things in the book, then they are timeless, for any day or culture, unless there is an obvious reason to take them in another way. In these situations, there’s not sufficient reason for me to say we should.
What the Bible says about using a rod
What Solomon says about NOT using the rod in discipline is amazingly strong — if you don’t physically discipline your child, it’s equivalent to hating them. Why would he say something so strong?
Clearly, parents who don’t spank their child could not be said to hate them? Could they?
Solomon says so… and the reason he (like Jesus) says it in such an inflammatory way is to point out that physical discipline is a VITAL part of the discipline process. That’s a MASSIVELY different perspective than our modern-psycho-babble assertions we hear these days.
So we should ask, WHY is it so vital…
The first reason spanking is vital is because it is effective. It teaches and demonstrates that actions have consequences and that all people (children or not) have to answer to someone higher. In this case, it’s parents the kiddos have to answer to, but don’t foget that parents are appointed by God as stewards of their children. Said another way, GOD is the one they answer to, we parents are the intermediaries who serve on His behalf.
Those lessons are simple realities of life under God’s gracious reign.
He IS Lord over all and one day every person will acknowledge the fact and bow to that truth. Receiving a spanking as a child is one of the first little baby-steps toward the realization of that truth… with many more to come.
Our kids don’t have to be foolish
What IS foolishness? It might be helpful to get good old Mr. Webster to chime in on it…
FOOLISH | /fu-lish
having or showing a lack of good sense, judgment, or discretion
It’s a natural part of being a child to be foolish, to do things without looking down the road a bit to see what the consequences might be.
It’s leaping before you look and we all did plenty of it when we were kids.
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.
Folly and foolishness are the same thing.
Part of the parent’s job is to teach their children, through various means, how to curb that foolish tendency, how to get it under control.
Why? Because it is dangerous.
Let me explain by way of an example…
Children get excited when they play. They lose awareness of what’s going on around them. If you’ve ever tried to call your son to dinner when he’s playing Nintendo, you know what I mean.
Once, when my son was very small, he was absorbed in a game of ball we were playing together in the front yard. We were having a great time.
Then I made a terrible throw and the ball went bouncing into the street. He went after it.
Despite my calls and stern voice, he kept running, an expression of sheer joy on his cute little face!
His look of joy would soon be a look of terror if he were to keep running because a car was coming down the road.
I ran out, yanked him up, and spanked him harder than I probably had to that point in his young life — all the while telling him, “NO going out in the street! NO! You will get hurt…”
Can you see that the spanking was a response to his foolishness and a loving action? I’d rather have his little bottom be sore for a bit, and for him to understand why it was, than for him to be broken and bleeding in the street and completely bewildered by it all. Were that to happen, he would learn nothing, a tragedy would occur, and his future would be in jeapordy.
Would he have learned not to run into the street via that experience (if he survivesd that is)? Of course. But instead, he learned it in a much more loving way through the spanking.
Death is on the line (at times)
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.
I have to laugh each time I read this because it so perfectly answers the concern of many opponents of spanking — and with a little twist of snarkiness to boot!
The verse is making the point that physical punishment is completely appropriate when administered properly. Kids do not die when they are spanked. It’s not even abusive when a spanking is done properly.
It’s actually instrumental in leading the child into the paths of obedience and wisdom God has for them.
If I can offer a quick word to those parents who were abused themselves as children.
I know this whole issue is difficult for you. It’s hard to even imagine what a “proper” spanking would be like, isn’t it?
It’s a strugle to even think about spanking your children after what was done to you. I get that, it makes perfect sense.
But just like there’s a world of difference between a person who uses a hammer to put nails in the wall and a person who uses a hammer to kill their next door neighbor, there’s a world of difference between what was done to you and appropriate spanking.
Don’t throw out the concept just because somebody once abused it in your life. Step back, take a deep breath, and ask God to teach you what right spanking should look like.
He will get you there in time.
The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
Again, I feel that I MUST say something about the free-range parenting philosophy.
The Bible clearly teaches that leaving your child to themselves to “figure it out” is not a wise approach. In fact, it is going to cause YOU as the parent pain in the end. I guess Solomon is saying you’ll reap what you sow if you decide to go that route.
We all want wisdom for our children (and ourselves) but they won’t get it by wandering through life making up their own rules and defining reality as they please using a 3 to 4-year-old intellect and emotional capacity. They need guidance, OUR guidance.
Solomon sais that a spanking not only drives out foolishness, it also embeds wisdom into the hearts of our children in ways they will not forget. I believe that the physical component of a spanking is part of what it is that engrains the lesson in the mind of the child.
Another personal example: It was the physical intensity of falling from a 30 ft. cliff while rock climbing one Spring that engrained the importance of using proper equipment into my head (no, I was not using any equipment when I fell – yes, foolish…). I’ll NEVER make that mistake again.
Parents who love their children cannot wait for the natural consequences to happen. If they do, they may wind up with a dead child. Granted, not every situation will have a “life and death” repercussion to it, and that’s a wonderful blessing in this way: We get to teach our kids wisdom when the stakes are much less important, when mistakes can be made and they will be OK.
Spanking, properly applied, brings wisdom, guaranteed. That’s what the Bible says.