Disclaimer: This post is by no means a way for me to tell parents how to raise their children. Parents should come to the decision of spanking or not spanking through much thought, research, prayer, and dialogue.
Part One: Spanking- Is it a Biblical mandate?
Since growing up in the deep South, I was raised to believe that spanking was a Biblical mandate despite the fact that I felt uncomfortable doing so. I've always felt uncomfortable spanking children. I used to watch my neighbor's child when I was 12-15 years. She told me that I could always swat him on the butt with a flyswatter if he misbehaved. I told her that I probably would never do that because it made me uncomfortable. I never did. Moving to the desert, I thought that I would avoid this deep-set thinking on the topic. I was wrong. When I was pregnant working at a daycare, the topic of spanking came up with a co-worker. I told her that I didn't believe in spanking. With a hideous grin she said "spare the rod, spoil the child."
The quote "spare the rod, spoil the child." is a misquote of the Bible. The closest Biblical text is thus:
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently). KJV
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him. NAB
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. NIV
The passage doesn't give great context in which to work. The first part of the sentence says that a person who does not use a rod or reed of some sort hates his son. The contrasting section says that the person who loves his son will discipline or chastise him.
My thoughts are this: The first section is a metaphor. Jews used a lot of metaphors. Jesus said that a rich man couldn't get to the Kingdom of God any easier than a camel goes through the eye of a needle. Was Jesus meaning that a camel can go through an eye of a needle since I'm sure a number of generous wealthy people are in heaven? Was he referring to a rock formation called the eye of a needle? Very unlikely. This passage was a metaphor. It was meant to illustrate the difficulties of getting into the Kingdom of God if you were wealthy.
Therefore, it's not hard to say that a rod, which is an upright and sturdy instrument used to wack cattle and sheep on the behinds to get them moving, was used a metaphor is this agrarian society. Did Jews actually go around wacking their children with sticks? I really don't know.
The second segment of the sentence, "he who loves him will chastise or discipline him," gives me my clue. If the Bible intended Christians and Jews to use corporal punishment, then I believe that it would have read something like this "He who spares the rod hates his son but he who loves his son will use the rod." But the Bible doesn't say that. If you take the second segment alone all it says that a person "who loves his son will chastise (or discipline) him."
Therefore there is no Biblical mandate to actually use a rod for discipline in this passage.
Other passages are
Proverbs 19:18 Discipline your son for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to death.
Proverbs 22:15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.
Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with a rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.
Proverbs 29:15 The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.
Proverbs 19, 22, and 29 seem to also refer to the rod as a metaphor "rod of correction." Therefore would could conclude that corporal punishment is not intended as a mandatory device.
Also the context of Proverbs 23 is this:
Proverbs 23: 12-16
Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge. 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. My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right.
Basically the passage is talking about being wise and learning to do what is right. So the rod could be another way of explaining discipline in general.
One author has also looked at these passages and says that Solomon's own child turned out to be a tyrant. He concludes that perhaps these passages should be seen as instruction to how spanking is wrong.
There are also other interpretations for the word "rod." Since the passage in Proverbs 23 mentions that a rod doesn't kill children yet it can then the rod in the Bible is different somehow. Also in Exodus 21:20 a rod is mentioned to beat female and male slaves to death. So the rod mentioned in Proverbs 23 also can't be the same rod. The Hebrew word "shebet" is used in the Bible to mean rod and God's authority. Therefore one can also conclude that the word "rod" is meant to be a parent's authority. And finally, Psalm 23 says "Thy rod and thy staff comfort me." Here "rod" does not mean a physical punishment either, but rather a shepard's staff or rod that guides the sheep. So "rod" could also mean a parent's guidance of a child.
In other words, the notion that there is a Biblical mandate on corporal punishment isn't quite black and white. The United Methodist Church in 2004 mandated that corporal punishment should not be used. The Catholic Church doesn't give a mandate either way; the CCC only says that it is up to the parent's discretion how to discipline and guide our children. I believe that to spank or not to spank is not mandated in the Bible so it is up to the parents. Tomorrow, I will talk about the passages that discuss how parent's should treat children and use gentle discipline.