Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What does the Bible say on Discipline?- Part 1

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:

Proverbs 13:24
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.


  1. This was awesome and I am excited to read your next ones. Spanking has always made me uncomfortable too and I still have bad memories of watching my friends be disciplined this way. My parents also thought it was an ok tool on rare occasions and I can attest that it was in fact damaging, not effective.

    my older Christian friends who have kids always argue this way is the best...I am just not convinced. If we are going to teach our kids NOT to hit others for any reason, how can we condone hitting them?

  2. Good post. Two things that come to mind here:

    1. The camel thing may be a mistranslation. Something to keep in mind lol. The same word also means course thread... which would be possible to fit through a needle, if difficult.

    2. My thoughts on this are changing. I used to be a firm believer in spankings. I'm quickly reversing this... We've tried it and it doesn't work for us. I do still (somewhat) believe that w/ some kids its all that works, and that every kid is different... but its starting to bother me personally. Note: I'm just talking hand ones, "rods" (lol) or belts, flyswatters, etc are a def no with me. I ruled that out way before Kalila was born. I had them to me and don't think I was abused, but I've seen people that were w/ them and no. Def not black and white subject :-/

  3. Charisms: When I set out to write this post, I wanted it clear what my position was. At the same time, I didn't want to tell people who do spank that they were "wrong." My point in writing it was that I had heard that spanking was a must because "the Bible says so." I find it funny, in retrospect, that the very same people who use that line "the Bible says so" 1) don't know the "spare the rod spoil the child" isn't even in the Bible and 2) don't realize that the Bible also mandates that women were dresses/skirts, can't braid their hair or cut it short, have to cover their heads while praying, and must purify themselves a week after menses before being touched by anyone. If a person believes that the Bible is infallible and completely factual especially when it comes to spanking, why not live out the other mandates? But I suppose that's another post for another day.

  4. Oh, and yes. I think it's ironic that we teach our children to not hit others by popping them on the behind.

  5. MK: Thanks about the tip on the camel. I wasn't aware.

    My own parents used belts and hands and once a kid's plastic ruler. I hit my brother with the ruler and my mom broke it on my behind. It was a really flimsy thing. I remember laughing about the incident. But other spankings I don't even remember why I was being spanked only that my mom got really angry, dragged me over to the couch often pinching my arm, and took my father's belt folded in half to spank me three times.

    My husband reminds me often that not every parent in a fit of anger is that rough on a child during a spanking. He says most are very calm and only spank after the child has been sent to their room for a period of reflection. I know this which is why I don't get onto people for it.

    My problem is where do I as a parent draw the line. I honestly can't. I know that I loose my temper. As a child, I didn't learn anything accept sometimes spankings were funny and other times they were scary. I still hit my brother and teased him. I think when I was older if my mom sat me down and seriously talked to me about how I was hurting my brother I would have stopped. I told my brother once that I was going to murder him in his sleep (the things kids say). I scared him so bad, but mom talked to me about it and I realized that that was over the line. I never talked that way to him again.

    Another incident I was wrestling with my brother and covered his face with a pillow. My dad walked in and immediately pulled me off my brother. He told me that I could have suffocated him (I didn't know) and that it would have killed him. I never got spanked and I remember to this day that pillows and blankets over kids faces is not a good thing.

    That's what I want HB to do. Make mistakes and be told why they are mistakes. Because I'm human and still make them, but no one hits me for it.

  6. You've hit two points that have been in my mind here. Two big points on why this is bothering me.

    It does send mixed messages. We didn't spank Kalila until she was a certain age (I forget when) and only in certain situations, light/controlled etc. Not only didn't it help discipline, but she's started hitting and I'm pretty sure that's when it started or got worse.

    And I do have a temper (so does Jas). I really try to watch it with her, and I think I do a pretty good job of that. But the spanking thing scares me with it because its all too tempting when she's majorly acting up.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!