Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Does the Bible Really Command Parents to Spank?

All my life, I've heard people say that the Bible commands parents to spank their children. But after looking into it for myself, it appears to me that the Bible does not command this.

The five verses that people generally say command spanking are in Proverbs, which is a book of wisdom sayings and observations about life, but not of direct commandments. Here are the verses:

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. -Proverbs 13:24

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. -Proverbs 22:15

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. -Proverbs 23:13-14

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. -Proverbs 29:15

Now, if you look only at the English translation and are looking through the lens of our culture and man-made tradition, I can see how you'd think that the Bible at least recommends spanking. However, looking into the original language of any scripture is helpful for gaining a deeper understanding. A look into the original Hebrew reveals that the word that is translated to "rod" is shebet. A shebet is a rod of authority, and is used to describe a shepherd's stick, a walking stick, and a king's scepter. For reference, here is a picture of a shebet:

Additionally, it is possible that the word translated to "child," na'ar, actually refers to male teenagers and not young children.

Naturally, the question arises, "Well, are the 'rod verses' in Proverbs literal or symbolic?" Let's look at that for a moment. If they are literal, then the verses are saying it is wise to hit a child (or teenage male) with a literal shebet like the one pictured above-- NOT a hand, wooden spoon, belt, paint stirrer, glue stick, or anything else!

If the verses are symbolic, that means the rod spoken of here is not a literal rod but a symbol of parental authority. In this case, the verses are saying it is wise to use your parental authority to discipline, correct, and instruct your children. Well, yeah, of course that's wise!

Personally, I'm inclined to believe the verses are symbolic rather than literal. I'm quite sure that it is not wise to hit my child with a shebet like the one pictured above, and I don't think God wants me to do that either. I do, however, firmly believe that it is wise to use my parental authority to discipline, correct, and instruct my children, and I absolutely believe that's something God wants me to do.

This leads to a new question, then: As a Christian parent, is spanking a wise, appropriate, and Christlike method of disciplining, correcting, and instructing children?

This is a question you'll have to answer for yourself. For me, after prayerful consideration and a lot of research and studying, my answer is no. When I consider child development, research on spanking, the personal experiences of myself and others, the purpose of discipline, and other discipline methods, I conclude that spanking is not the wisest or most appropriate method of disciplining, correcting, and instructing. When I consider the fruit of the Spirit, the description of love, verses on how to treat children, how the Bible tells us to treat others (in both the Old and New Testaments), how Jesus treated people and children, and how God disciplines me, I conclude that spanking is not a very Christlike way for me to discipline either. I would love to talk more about each of these things individually, but that will have to wait for another post (or posts).

I realize that another person may consider these questions and come to a different conclusion. And I may disagree, but in the end I am not responsible for their decision. If God wants someone to make a different choice, he will have to let them know. I realize there are people who will wholeheartedly disagree that the "rod verses" are symbolic rather than literal. I also realize that I did not go very in-depth here with the word meanings; this is because there are excellent studies already written out elsewhere. I encourage you to look at the following sites for more information. They are all fantastic reads and very well worth your time.

Christian Child Discipline: Is Spanking Biblical?

The Rod or Shebet: An In-Depth Examination

Should I Spank My Child?

Spare the Rod...

History of Spanking

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