I know this is a hot-button topic.
I also know it’s been blogged/written/discussed to death.
But even more than those, I know that it’s Biblical (I might as well get that out right off the bat…) and therefore is applicable to parenting, no matter the era. So today I’m going to tackle the passages that indicate spanking is a viable resource in the parenting toolbox…
What I’d like to do is begin a discussion. This will undoubtedly be part 1 in a series of posts over the next few weeks. In future posts, I’ll cover issues like these… (if you are reading this after the fact, you’ll most likely be able to click on the titles below for links to those posts… if not, sorry – I don’t do time-travel…. yet…)
- How should a spanking be administered?
- What’s a “spankable” offense?
- Can you be angry and spank at the same time?
- Is there an age where spanking is not appropriate (infants or teens for instance)?
For now, let’s delve into the scriptures… (I’ll try not to make this too long and laborious…)
I’m going to start out with a few that refer to discipline/correction in general because I think they set the context for appropriate physical discipline/correction….
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Without being too critical, I have to say right off that this verse makes be think of the non-spanking advocates – at least the ones who are the most loudly outspoken. They seem to not only despise the idea of spanking, but of correction in general. I could be misinterpreting what I’ve read, but they seem very much to be libertine in their thinking.
Now, on to the actual passage – it begins highlighting the importance of healthy fear as it relates to God and the discipline process. Fear of punishment/consequences is a very important part of what prohibits wrong behavior. We can’t really hope to discipline properly if we, the parents, don’t have a proper fear of the Lord and if we are not helping our children to gain the beginnings of that fear also. I wrote at length about this a few days ago and it may be helpful if you read my take on how this relates to parenting.
Proverbs 3:11-12 – 11 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Some very pertinent points here…
- Discipline is meant to be an act of love – when it comes from God or from a parent. Parents have to be very careful here in determining their own motives. 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/embarrased/inconvenienced, etc. It had more to do with what the outcome was on me (a punitive, selfish response) than it did with the wrong that was done. Be careful to know your own motives, parents…
- Contrary to popular belief, a parent can still delight in their child and be very attentive to discipline too. 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. For their good and the good of those they will encounter throughout life.
Now come the passages that actually speak of the “rod” or spanking…
Proverbs 13:24 – He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
There’s a great debate about whether “rod” refers to an actual physical form of punishment or whether it is simply a figurative term meaning discipline. I have to honestly say that in terms of literary style, it could be used figuratively in this and the following passages. HOWEVER – Hebrew literature is typically much more clearly figurative when it employs that device.
For instance – Proverbs chapter 5 lays out the perils of seeking after an “adulterous woman.” It uses the following terms to make the point of the danger that is involved: “her lips drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil,” “her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.” These are clearly illustrative or figurative because honey, oil, death, the grave, etc. typically have nothing to do with relationships, sexual or otherwise. They are thrown in for dramatic effect and illustrative purposes – it’s obvious.
Another example of this is in verse 15 – where speaking of the same issue it says, “Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, or your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers.” In the context, is Solomon really talking about water? Not at all – he’s (very creatively, I might say) referring to a person’s own spouse as the well or cistern. Bluntly, he’s saying to make sure you are sexually satisfied through the God-ordained relationship you already have (if you’re married) – not taking your “spring” out into the streets to a stranger (you get what he’s referring to, I’m sure).
So, regarding the passages that refer to the “rod” – you be the judge. Did Jewish people of that day, in any way understand that a “rod” had something to do with discipline? Are pigs dirty? Said another way, Is the word “rod” something outside of the normal context of disciplining a child that the author used to make a point? Not at all – every Jewish reader of the day would understand that Solomon was referring to common knowledge about how discipline was administered. It’s therefore not very likely that he intended “rod” to 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? 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 compliation – then you need to rethink that thought. If God put these things in there – then they are timeless, for any day or culture.
So what does Solomon say about the use of the rod? It’s 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? The point he’s trying to make is that physical discipline is THAT important. It’s a very VITAL part of the discipline process. It’s vital because it is effective – it teaches that actions have consequences and that all people (children or not) have to answer to someone higher… and if they refuse to, they will eventually be made to. If you don’t believe it – just try not paying your taxes and see what happens.
None of this is said as a harsh, tyrannical statement – it’s just the reality of life, and more importantly the reality of life under God’s gracious reign. He IS Lord over all and one day every person will see it 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.
Proverbs 22:15 – Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.
What is folly? Some translations call it “foolishness.” 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. 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 – because it is very dangerous. Part of the way we parents are to do that is through the use of a spanking. Let me explain by way of an example…
Children get excited when they play. They lose all track 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” in the front yard. We were having a great time. Then the ball went bouncing into the street. He went after it. Despite my calls and stern voice, he kept running – a look of joy on his cute little face! FOOLISHNESS! 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 – all the while telling him, “NO going out in the street! NO! You will get hurt…” Can you see that my application of a spanking was actually 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 be completely bewildered by it all. In that case, he learned nothing, a tragedy was allowed, and his future was put in danger. Would he have learned not to run into the street via that experience (if he survives, that is)? Of course – but he could have learned it in a much more loving way through the spanking.
Proverbs 23:13-14 – 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 sarcasm, no less! The verse is making the point that physical punishment is completely appropriate when administered properly. Kids do not die or even receive abuse when spanking is done properly. This kind of punishment is actually very instrumental in leading the child into the right paths.
Just a quick word for 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? I understand the struggle it is for you to even think about spanking your children after what was done to you – it only makes 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’ll get you there in time.
Proverbs 29:15 – The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
Wisdom is the opposite of foolishness – and we see it stated here that not only does it drive out foolishness when we properly spank, it also embeds wisdom into the hearts of our children in ways they will not forget. The physical intensity of a spanking is part of what it is that engrains the lesson in the mind of the child. It was the physical intensity of falling from a 30 ft. cliff when 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. And parents who love their children cannot wait for the natural consequences to happen – if they do, they will have a dead child (remember the car coming down the street)? Spanking, properly applied, does bring wisdom – guaranteed…