spare the rod spoil the child biblical meaning and explanation. Proverbs 13:24
There is often confusion between this phrase and a biblical proverb regarding “saving the rod.” This phrase was coined by a 17th-century poet and satirist named Samuel Butler in his poem “Hudibras.”
The main characters in the poems, Hudibras and the widow he longs for, plan to start a love story, but before the widow gets engaged, she asks Hudibras to show his love for her by engaging in devious acts. The widow then declares:
If marriage and hanging go
By destiny, why not spank as well?
What other medicine can cure seizures?
Of lovers when they lose their minds?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the stick and pamper the child.
This is day and night compared to the biblical verse that contains the phrase “the rod is left over.” The term “spoil the child” is not really in the Bible.
What “the stick is left spoils the child” really means in reference to biblical guidance is to guide our children in the path they should follow. Let’s explore this phrase further in the Bible.
Where is the “stick to spare, spoil the child” mentioned in the Bible?
This phrase is most closely associated with Proverbs 13:24. We begin to understand the context more as we read through various translations. The King James translation reads “He who saves his rod hates his son: but he who loves him punishes him from time to time.” Whereas the New Living Translation says “Those who save the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them. ” In any translation, the intention is to discipline our children in the sense of guiding them on the path they should follow. In short, it is instilling in our children what is right from what is wrong.
At the time the scriptures were written, and still today, shepherds used various tools to guide their sheep. They use a cane, or a swindler, and a stick. The crook is the curved stick that you see in drawings of shepherds. When sheep fall into a well or lose sight of their flock, they look down.
The curved end of the crook is used to lift the sheep’s head and guide it where it should go.
In the same way, the bar is used to guide the sheep that begin to splinter away from the flock again.
It can also be used defensively to keep sheep safe from predators.
This proverb, like many proverbs and teachings of Jesus, teaches how to use a parable. It does not intend for children to be physically punished as the only means of correction.
It refers to teaching them through proper discipline and guidance. Discipline, according to this PMC article, is about positively influencing children’s behavior, not punishing them.
It says, “Discipline enables children to develop self-discipline and helps them become emotionally and socially mature and secure adults.” He goes on to explain that effective discipline is what improves the child.
Leading children to self-discipline is consistent with Proverbs 22: 6, which says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not stray from it.”
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How can Proverbs 13:24 be misinterpreted?
The most common misinterpretation of this scripture relates to “the rod of discipline.” Many see this as a direction to physically punish children as the best or only form of discipline. “The rod” is the inspiration for other disciplinary tools like breakers or belts.
According to the psychologist and author Parenting by The Book John Rosemond, “This misinterpretation is understandable, but it reflects a misapplication of the principles of biblical interpretation.”
This verse is often debated along with two others, but notice that the trend in all of these is not a bar, but the bar :
Proverbs 13:24 – “Those who forgive the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”
Proverbs 22:15 – “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it away from him.”
Proverbs 23:13 – “Do not deny discipline to a child; if you punish him with the stick, he will not die. ”
According to this resource from Rosemond, there is a big difference between a bar, a physical object, and the bar, which is used metaphorically.
In every writing that describes a child’s discipline, the bar is used, not a bar.
He goes on to present the importance of understanding the different usage in Exodus 21:20, which says: “If a man strikes his slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished.” Although the severity is obviously different in this example, it points to the variable context.
Without seeing the subtle difference in the use of the rod here, we miss the purpose of these scriptures.
How should parents apply the verse today?
With advances in research surrounding the importance of family ties and emotional development, a current application of this verse might focus more on development than discipline alone. Consequences are necessary, but understanding why there are consequences is what links it to development. Development encompasses more than just correcting bad behavior. It includes that, but the developmental mindset would incorporate other important factors, such as how our children learn and what is in them to cultivate.
The World Economic Forum states that emotional intelligence will be one of the top 10 skills needed to advance your career by 2020. Using “the stick” right now is cultivating awareness in our children.
Awareness of your own feelings, as well as what could happen to others in certain situations. You may be thinking that this is such a “soft” thing to say, or that kids these days need a “backbone.” While I don’t disagree with that, consider that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of gentleness and kindness, but also of openness and purpose.
The goal here is not to guide our children to “softness” but to a sacred, spirit-driven awareness, a greater awareness of themselves and others.
Our home is the place where empathy can be fostered, and empathy is a huge component of developing awareness.
It is the key that makes us consider how actions, whether ours or those we witness, impact those around us.
The skills in empathy and emotional intelligence not only help us in our careers but, more importantly, they help us in our purpose of loving God and loving others with whom Jesus entrusted us, in Matthew 22: 36- 40.
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Is there a “right” way to discipline your child?
Discipline is fine. I think it is important to start by saying that. Sometimes as people we tend to commit 100% in one direction or another if we don’t have our own understanding of something. The goal is not to avoid discipline entirely.
What we do want to avoid is ineffective discipline. According to the PMC article mentioned above, the purpose of effective discipline is “to help children organize, internalize rules, and acquire appropriate behavior patterns.” Biblically, this agrees with Proverbs 22: 6 that we should “raise a child the way they should go.” The key to this effective discipline must be perceived as “fair” to the child and be self-fulfilling.
You may also consider other proven alternatives to spanking, depending on the age of the child. Some of these alternatives include redirection (infants, toddlers), wait time (toddlers, kindergarten to school age), withdrawal of privileges, or reasoning (school age to teens). While I understand that the above may be a bit vague, the “right way” to discipline your child is no better than the parents.
The key is to have the right intention and motivation as described in this section and the referenced article.
In short, “spare the rod, spoil the child” is supported biblically through means of effective discipline, but is not directly quoted in Scripture. Although the phrase is actually found in a satirical article, there are scriptures that support that discipline is an exercise in love.
Discipline is a vital piece of our emotional and social development, and when used with the proper intention, it helps children thrive in life. Effective discipline is the result of a healthy home environment where children feel safe and share mutual respect.
Effective discipline begins with ourselves being healthy. If you had a difficult childhood with questionable punishments, you have the power to change your children’s environment. You are in charge of their having a different future.
To be healthy, we must be connected to the vine as Jesus describes in John 15: 5. He says: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. ” Our purpose, direction, and emotional health come from spiritual principles and the good news are that even if you were not provided with a healthy environment to grow, you have the same access to the vine. You can get healthy now.
This health translates into healthy parenting and healthy relationships for everyone you meet.