What does the bible say about the spanking of Children, Is the Bible Against Physical Discipline of Children? find out more on this post.
A generation ago spanking was common, but people say that we have evolved as an increasingly enlightened society, and now we understand, based on sociological studies, that you simply cannot do some of the things that your parents used to do.
Interestingly, some Christians argue that the Bible (or Jesus himself) is against spanking.
But, these Christians speak more of sociological studies than of the words of Jesus or the apostles.
As Christians we have to ask the question, “Is the Bible opposed to spanking?” While this question is not of concern to the culture at large, it should be of concern to Christians seeking to live under biblical authority. So what does the Bible say?
What does the bible say about the spanking of Children
Proverbs mention the rod six times about the discipline of children:
- Proverbs 10:13: “Wisdom is found on the lips of the understanding, but the rod is for the back of the lacking understanding.”
- Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
- Proverbs 22:15: “Foolishness is bound up with the child’s heart; the rod of discipline will drive her away from him. ”
- Proverbs 23: 13-14: “Do not skimp on the discipline of the child; even if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. You will punish him with the rod, and you will free his soul from Sheol. ”
- Proverbs 26: 3: “The whip is for the horse, the bridle for the donkey, and the rod for the back of fools.”
- Proverbs 29:15: “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a spoiled child puts his mother to shame.”
What do these verses mean?
The rod was a tool used for discipline, and it was even used as a weapon by shepherds or warriors to attack their enemies (cf. Ex 21:20; Nu 24:17; 2 Sam 7:14; 2 Sam. 23:21; Ps. 2: 9; 23: 4; Is. 10:15; 11: 4; etc). The wand can be used for literal corporal punishment or war, or it can be used figuratively to speak of corporal punishment or war. For example, God uses the Assyrian empire to punish apostate Israel and refers to Assyria as “the rod of my wrath” (Isaiah 10: 5). While the rod is metaphorical here, the punishment inflicted is not.
Scholars of Proverbs fall into two groups regarding the verses that speak of the rod. Some believe that the rod is a metaphor for the wise words that drive folly from a child’s heart, but they are a minority and this perspective is relatively recent. Some of the scholars who defend the metaphor even leave open the possibility that it refers to corporal punishment.
For example, Goldsworthy, in his commentary on Proverbs, The Tree of Life, writes: “It is not clear that this refers to corporal punishment, although the text could have this meaning. The rod can be metaphorical… Discipline is the educational function of wisdom, therefore, the teaching of wisdom can be similar to a rod in the expulsion of madness ”(147).
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Many Proverbs scholars such as Murphy, Garrett, Longman, Waltke, Kidner, Puentes, Keil, and Delitzsch, and more believe that the rod refers to non-abusive corporal punishment such as spanking. Waltke asserts that foolishness is anchored in the heart of the child and that it takes more than words to unpin it (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574).
Not only is the image of corporal punishment deeply ingrained in the biblical canon, but it is also recommended in other Israelite wisdom literature such as the Wisdom of the Ecclesiasticus (30: 1-3). Other Ancient Near Eastern wisdom texts that share a strong affinity with Proverbs advocate corporal punishment (cp. Ahiqar lines 81-81, ANET p. 428). Waltke quotes various Egyptian wisdom texts that demanded corporal punishment and make statements such as “the child’s ear is on his back, he listens to whoever hits him” (Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574) and “children have ears in its back sides ”(Waltke, Proverbs 15-31, 216).
Not only is the Bible open to corporal punishment, it sees it as necessary at times. Now, with this in mind, let’s make some observations about biblical discipline:
- Proverbs are sound advice that a wise person exhorts parents to follow. Scholars dispute the nature of proverbs. Some argue that they are just general statements and not mandates or promises, but others think they are. However, scholars agree that proverbs are exhortations that the wise, inspired by the Spirit, advise following.
- Children are sinners by nature and will choose the wrong path if left alone. Therefore, discipline is necessary. Proverbs is clear that lack of discipline is destructive and damning to children because it does not teach them that there is a standard of right and wrong and that they will ultimately be held accountable for their actions (3: 11-12; 22: 15; 23: 13-14).
- The Bible does not endorse physical abuse of children but rather condemns it. Abuse is not the subject of Proverbs (cf. Eph 6, 4 and the exhortation not to provoke your children to anger). Garrett writes, “This text does not justify the brutal treatment of children” (196) and Waltke adds: “Parents who abuse their children cannot hide behind the doctrine of the rod of Proverbs” (Waltke, Proverbs 15- 31, 252). Someone should show this to Adrian Peterson.
- Discipline will change over time, so a verbal reprimand will suffice. Proverbs do not command the spanking of children in all cases of misconduct. It requires both corporal and verbal punishment. Proverbs 29:15 argues against viewing the rod merely as a metaphor because it sees both physical punishment and verbal correction as necessary. As Longman points out: “It is a sign of wisdom when reproach is sufficient instead of physical punishment (17:10)” (564).
- Heaven and hell are at stake when it comes to the discipline of our children. Waltke writes in Proverbs 22:15, “This proverb seeks to protect youth from eternal death through the relatively light sting of the father” (Waltke, Proverbs 15-31, 216).
- Proverbs advocate the transformation of the heart, not simply the modification of behavior. Solomon says that what is sought is the heart. We are not trying to produce self-righteous little Pharisees who always do the right thing under the threat of pain. Behavior modification is not long-lasting. Rather, we want to bring about a change of heart, so that when our children are alone they walk in wisdom.
There are two ways to cause real harm to children. First of all, physical abuse is harmful to children. Using a tool to mark and cut children is evil. If you can’t hit your kids without losing your temper, then you shouldn’t.
But, the second way to harm children according to Proverbs is to stop disciplining them. That is the society we live in today, unfortunately. You don’t do the right thing for your children if you don’t correct self-destructive behavior. We all know that discipline is good, even discipline that is slightly painful at the moment (for example, exercising). Yes, hitting your child with an object to the point of drawing blood is abuse, but neglecting discipline is also abuse.
Yes: the teaching of Proverbs may seem silly and out of step with contemporary culture, but we would do well to heed the words of a renowned biblical scholar, Bruce Waltke, when he says that spanking “should not be abandoned in the church as if were out of date or discarded because they are culturally conditioned… The apostate Western world’s failure to continue biblical practice has left its civilization in moral chaos… ”(Waltke, Proverbs 1-15, 574-575 ).
We want to employ a gospel-centered discipline that teaches our children not only that they are sinners, but also that there is a Savior! How is this accomplished? It is accomplished by having a quiet conversation with your children amid discipline. He asks them to confess what they did wrong. He assures them that his love for them — and most importantly, God’s love — does not depend on their performance. Confess that you understand your sinful actions because you have done them before and that you need to be forgiven by Jesus, just like they do.