To Spank or Not to Spank

Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

The instruction given in Proverbs 13:24 has been studied by scholars, parents, and psychologists to determine its effectiveness and relevance to raising obedient, well-adjusted children. It is more widely accepted in the Christian community as an endorsement of corporal punishment, and often it is recommended that the instrument of correction be a paddle, spoon or a switch, rather than a parent’s hand. Psychologists and those outside the church are more likely to object to this Scripture, and completely renounce corporal punishment because of the potential for child abuse.
The Proverbs were written that we might receive God’s counsel and gain understanding (see Proverbs 1:2-5).  Scripture speaks of itself as being inspired or God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), but interpreting the meaning and applying the truths to our lives requires wisdom. The best tool for interpreting the Bible, especially difficult portions of scripture, is the Bible itself.  We must use caution that we do not take scripture out of context, and always bear in mind that it never contradicts itself.

One example is Mark 9:43-47, where Jesus instructs us to cut off a hand or foot, or pluck out an eye if it causes us to sin.  If we took these verses literally, our churches would be filled with maimed and blind men and women. Instead, Jesus is emphasizing the seriousness of sin and cautioning His disciples to guard themselves against it. He warns against allowing any part of our physical body to fall under the power of temptation, which can lead to sin.

Our loving Heavenly Father is not telling us to mutilate ourselves as an antidote for sin (Mark 9:43-47), or to pick up a rod and beat our children (Proverbs 13:24).  God knows our human weaknesses; we are prone to conditional love and easily losing patience with our children. He would never give a parent license to abuse a child that He has entrusted to them to love and train. He does, however, make a strong statement that the use of the rod, or neglecting its use, is a clear indication of a parent's love or hatred for their child.  This verse, therefore, should not be ignored or disregarded because it is controversial.

Let's examine Proverbs 13:24, compare Scripture to Scripture, and seek to understand this wise counsel from God to parents. Below are five translations of the verse, followed by analysis of key concepts: spare, rod, hate, love, and prompt discipline. Following, we have presented the Hebrew word, definition, and common usage in the King James Version of the Bible.

"He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly."  (NKJ)

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."  (NIV)

"He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently."  (NAU)

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him."  (RSV)

"If you refuse to discipline your children, it proves you don't love them; if you love your children, you will be prompt to discipline them."  (NLT)
•    Spare: withhold, or refuse.
Chasak (khaw-sak', Gk.); a primitive root; to restrain or refrain; by implication, to refuse, spare, preserve; also to observe; to withhold, to hold back, to keep in check.

King James usage - assuage, forbear, hinder, hold back, keep back, refrain, reserve, spare or withhold.
•     Rod
Shebet (shay'-bet, Gk.); from an unused root probably meaning, to branch off; a scion, i.e. (literally) a stick for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking; a measuring device; a clan or tribe.
•    A rod or staff (used of a shepherd's implement to guide the sheep and protect them against other animals).
•    A shaft (used of a spear and a dart for battle).
•    A truncheon, a scepter (a mark of authority to rule).
•    A measuring device.

King James usage - correction, dart, rod, scepter, staff or tribe.

Notes on the “rod”: It is clear that many interpretations of the rod could not be applied to spanking a child.  This reinforces the importance of taking into consideration the full application of each word as well as the full counsel of the Word of God.

Paul was beaten with a rod by his enemies (2 Corinthians 11:25).  On two occasions, an evil spirit came over King Saul, inciting him to pin David to the wall with a spear (1 Samuel 18 & 19).  It is inconceivable that God would condone such behavior as a method of training up children.

A shepherd's staff is used to gently guide - to control the sheep - as well as protect his sheep from wolves and criminals intent on harming them.

A truncheon, or scepter, was a mark of authority symbolizing the right to rule over those entrusted to your care, and could apply to parents' responsible authority over their children.

Many times in the Scriptures, the rod, branch, staff or shaft was used as a measuring device.  Ezekiel 40:3, is one such instance where a rod was designated as a portion which had been measured off.
•    Hates his son means:

Sane' (saw-nay', Gk.); to hate (personally).
King James usage - enemy, foe, hate, odious.

Because discipline is evidence of true parental love, hate is used figuratively in the sense that refusal to discipline a child is to act as his enemy, allowing the child's self-will to control his life and behavior.
•    Diligent
Shachar (shaw-khar', Gk.); to dawn; to be up early at any task with the implication of earnestness; to search for with painstaking.
King James usage - to do something speedily, enquire early, prompt, rise (seek), seek diligently, early in the morning.

•    Discipline
Muwcar (moo-sawr'); to discipline our children means to discipline early, earnestly, promptly.

King James usage: properly, chastisement, correction, rebuke, reproof, warning, instruction, or to train.

I strongly believe that Proverbs 13:24 is biblical instruction indicating the necessity for parents to establish and maintain God-given authority over their children. Parents must assume the responsibility of training early in a child's life and remain consistent. Spanking should be used as a form of punishment to motivate a child only if he/she refuses the initial discipline given to them.  

Hebrews 12:6-11: “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.  If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

This scripture tells us that God disciplines and scourges those whom He loves for their good, in order for them share His holiness and live in peace.  As parents, we are to follow God's example and train up our children for the same reason.

Hebrews 12:6: “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”

The word “chastens” means to bring up a child, educate, train, discipline.  It includes both moral and mature character.

The word “scourge” means to chastise, to punish.  It entails any and all suffering which God ordains for His children, which is always designed for their good.

Notice the order in which these two words are given.  First we have chasten, or to train them.  Second, we have scourge, or to punish them.  This is a very important principle, and an order of procedure that parents must understand and follow in the training of children.

The scourging or punishment comes after chastening or disciplining/training; punishment is used when a child refuses to receive or accept the discipline/ training. Punishment is NOT to be used as the first, or the only way to train our children.  God’s Word clearly tells us what order to use for proper training.

Every child is born foolish and without character, and needs to be trained.  A parent is to do this diligently, not when it’s convenient or when they feel like doing it.  When a child breaks a rule, they are proving to themselves and their parent(s) that they are not yet mature.  If a child is unwilling to receive discipline/ training when they fail, that is when a parent needs to be willing to motivate them, by a punishment, to get them to yield to the parental authority and accept the discipline.  It is very important for parents to make this clear distinction between discipline and punishment (1 Samuel 12:15).

This excerpt is from the Ironside Commentaries on Proverbs, by H.A. Ironside:
“Family discipline should be patterned after the divine discipline of Hebrews 12. It is not love, but the lack of it, that allows a child to go undisciplined. He is allowed to develop unchecked tendencies and inclinations that will result in future sorrow. Ours is a day of great laxity in discipline. The coming generation will reap the bitter fruit of the absence of restraint and the evident aversion to discipline in the majority of homes. A sickly sentimentality, supposedly wiser and more compassionate than God Himself, has made it fashionable to denounce the use of the rod as a relic of a barbarous age. But the difference in the character of disciplined children and the well-ordered home certainly proves the truth of Scripture. It is even worse when control is ignored among Christians on the plea that grace is reigning. Grace never sets aside restraint. The two principles are not opposed. In the divine ways, grace and restraint work side by side, as they should in the home. Contrast Eli (1 Samuel 3:13-14) with Abraham (Genesis 18:19).

In Conclusion

I believe these verses make it very clear that God sanctions the use of some pain when training a child to yield to authority, but only according to a specific process and only when necessary. Most parents are not clear on the difference between corrective discipline and punishment and, therefore, are inclined to err by using punishment most often when correcting a child who has made a mistake or broken a rule. Add to that our human tendency to punish in anger, and you have the heart of the objection to using corporal punishment, or spanking, to train children. 

God's Word tells us that our children are born foolish (Proverbs 22:15), which simply means they are lacking morals and mature character. As parents, besides loving them, our job is to instill godly morals, values and mature character through training and discipline.  A child’s failures are to be seen as opportunities for corrective measures, not reactive punishment.

Proverbs 13:24, 19:18, 22:15, and 23:13-14 are verses that give parents information on how to proceed when a child does not yield to authority and accept the prescribed discipline/training, which then requires the application of further motivation (punishment). Due to lack of understanding, most parents begin with punishment, which sends the wrong message to a child.  Punishment is to be used for correction of defiance and/or rebellion - not foolishness.

The rule: Respect and honor parents by your communication to them and doing what they request.
Corrective Consequence: “For breaking the rule” Five minutes in a chair.
The punishment: “If the child refuses the corrective consequence” A spanking and then put back in the chair to finish the discipline.

The Hand or an Object?

A commonly asked question is: Should parents spank with a bare hand, or use an instrument such as a spoon or paddle?  Some believe that using the hand sends a mixed message, as the hand should only be used for love and affection. When answering this question, we must look to our Heavenly Father as the example.  First, let's look at how God used His hand to inflict punishment on His people.

Joshua 4:24:
"That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."

Ruth 1:13:
"... it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!"

1 Samuel 5:6-9:
"But the hand of the LORD was heavy on the people of Ashdod, and He ravaged them and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territory....So it was, after they had carried it away, that the hand of the LORD was against the city with a very great destruction; and He struck the men of the city, both small and great, and tumors broke out on them."

1 Samuel 12:15:
"However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers."

2 Samuel 24:17:
"Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, "Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?  Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father's house."

Scripture confirms that the hand of the Lord brought discipline and punishment upon His people; however, with that same hand He patiently guided and instructed them with abundant mercy and loving-kindness.

2 Samuel 24:14:
"And David said to Gad, "I am in great distress.  Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man."

1 Kings 18:46:
"Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel."

Psalm 45:4:
"And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things."

Psalm 48:10:
"According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is full of righteousness."

Psalm 118:16:
"The right hand of the LORD is exalted; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly."

The same hand that punished also lovingly embraced, bringing no confusion or contradiction.  We can only site two occasions in Scripture when Jesus used an instrument to either punish or bring judgment, neither of which were directed to God's children.  In one case He drove the money-changers out of His Father's house with a whip (John 2:15), and the other will occur when He returns in His Second Coming to bring divine judgment upon the unbelieving world (Revelation 14:14).

Like our Heavenly Father, our hand should be the instrument of both love and training to our children.  The same hand that soothes and comforts, feeds, holds, caresses, tickles, rubs a child's head or holds their hand is the same hand that also brings forth punishment when that child refuses to accept the parent's authority and discipline.

Using the hand, rather than an instrument, also assures that the parent will have more control both in where their hand will land as well as the amount of pain they will inflict.  Because this control is lacking when using an instrument, there is a greater potential for abuse.

The use of spanking as punishment when a child refuses the parent's authority and discipline is Biblical, and should be used according to the following Biblical guidelines.
•    Spanking should be done promptly when a child is defying your authority and not accepting the discipline before sinful patterns are developed - Proverbs 13:24.
•    Parents should clearly explain to the child the offense for which the child is being punished - Proverbs 4:4, 11.
•    Parents should express grief for the child's act of defiance - Proverbs 17:25.
•    Parents should always avoid unnecessary severity - Ephesians 6:4 (see notes in Session 8 - Principles for the Use of Spanking -  Parenting is a Ministry course, page 63).

We have seen in Proverbs 13:24 and Hebrews 12:6-11 that discipline is an expression of love.  A parent who disciplines a child promptly and consistently is loving them, and the parent who refuses to discipline a child is behaving toward that child like an enemy.  Proverbs also gives additional benefits of discipline, which may include the use of spanking.
•    Gives hope for a child's future, rather than destruction by his own willfulness - Proverbs 19:18.
•    Cleanses and purifies a child's heart - Proverbs 20:30.
•    Drives foolishness out of a child's heart - Proverbs 22:15.
•    To break the rebellious heart and deliver a child from eternal punishment - Proverbs 23:13,14.
•    To teach wisdom and understanding - Proverbs 10:13, 29:15.
Brings peace to a home and comforts a parent's heart - Proverbs 29:17.
Let me give you a couple of examples to clearly see how this plays out, a biblical example for training your children.
1)    Writing out your Rules  (Deut. 4:13-14)
God gave us the best example to write out our rules-the 10 commandments.
The Benefits are:
•    Unity between parents
•    Less confusion to children
•    Help parents to be consistent
•    Creates fairness between children
•    It’s a biblical model
2)    Predetermined Corrective Consequence (Deut. 11:26-28; Heb. 12:5-6)
To every rule, have a predetermined corrective consequence if it is broken.
The benefits are:
•    God commands it - Proverbs 23:13-14; 22:6.
•    It demonstrates love - Hebrews 12:6.
•    It is the way to instill mature character - Psalm 32:9.
•    Helps establish peace in the home - Hebrews 12:11.
•    Again, helps maintain unity between parents.
•    Creates fairness between children.
3)    Defined Punishment
A defined punishment is issued if the child refuses to accept the corrective consequence. In other words rebels against your authority by not yielding to your training plan.
The word punishment means a measured amount of pain to motivate.
For children 2 years to 7 years old the proper use of spanking can work. As children get older using “Shut Down” which means room restriction with no toys, friends, electronics, cell phones…, until they accept the corrective consequence.
4)    Be Consistent   
Don’t let your laziness or human sentiments hinder you from following through and to accept the truth that consistent discipline is loving your children. (Prov 13:24; Heb. 12:5-6)
    Example: 1
Rule: No hitting or fighting
Corrective Consequence: 5 minutes in a chair and apologize to sibling
Punishment: If the child refuses to accept and do the corrective consequence, then they are asking for the punishment – spanking and or “shut down.”
Note: The punishment does not take the place of the corrective consequence, it is the motivator to get them to receive the consequence.
    Example: 2
Rule: No cell phone use after 8 pm
Corrective Consequence: Loose cell phone for 3 days.
Punishment: If the child locates the phone and uses it again during that 3 days the punishment is 30 days no cell phone.

    Example: 3
Rule: Pick up after yourself; don’t leave messes for mom to clean up.
Corrective Consequence: Clean up mess and do a chore off the consequence chore list.
Punishment: If they refuse they have “shut down” until they accept and complete the corrective consequence correctly.
I hope this has helped you as a parent, pastor or counselor in how you perceive a biblical model of training up children.

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