Hello! It’s been a while… I apologize for that. The last couple of months have been a bit difficult and sitting down to write just hasn’t happened. However, things are getting back to normal and here I am! Sitting down and writing out the post I promised well over a month ago. Please enjoy
In Part 1 of this series I looked at the importance of context, the literary forms of Proverbs, and the fact that the six “rod” verses in Proverbs do not present us with a command or promise from God that our children will be saved from sin by the physical act of hitting them. Most importantly, the issue of spanking is not a salvation issue for either parents who do not spank or for children who are not spanked.
Then, in part 2 I looked at the six Proverbs “rod” verses themselves. I examined Proverbs 13:24, 14:3, 22:15, 23:13-14, and 29:15. After looking at the various meanings the original Hebrew words could have and also at various English translations, I concluded that there are quite a few different ways to interpret those verses and only one of those possible interpretations involves the physical punishment of children in any way. It is perfectly reasonable to interpret the verses as having nothing to do with the physical punishment of children at all, but rather with disciplining and teaching our children constantly, like the sun beating down on a summer’s day.
So, today I plan to look at what the rest of the Bible says about spanking in the light of what the Bible – in particular, the New Testament – says about how we, as Christians, are to behave.
It is very important to look at the Bible as a whole when attempting to interpret scripture. If a particular interpretation of a passage, especially one that has several potential interpretations, contradicts other passages that are crystal clear, it’s time to reexamine the interpretation of the less-clear passage. I believe this to be the case with the Proverbs “rod” verses.
And so, let us begin!
First of all, what does the Bible say about how we should conduct ourselves as Christians? For consistency’s sake I’m quoting the ESV here, but you can follow the verse links to see what the other translations say as well.
I’m taking verses mainly from instructive letters in the New Testament that were written to various churches within the early church. I encourage you all to read the chapters surrounding the verses or even the entire letters to better understand the context of these verses within the letters as well. Context is very important, as always!
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
Other translations use “gracious attitude,” “gentle spirit,” “considerate,” “moderation,” and “forbearance” instead of “reasonableness.”
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We are to give our enemies food and water if they are hungry and thirsty – how much more should we make sure our children are fed and watered when they are behaving in a manner that seems to us to be adversarial?
In the context of discussing the way Christians should behave to various people specifically:
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Children are to obey and honor their parents, but parents are not to provoke their children to anger or wrath, exasperate them, make them bitter about life, or irritate them. Obedience is important, but we are not commanded to make our children obey at all costs. They are to obey and we are to treat them in such a way that we don’t upset them.
It’s anecdote time: I don’t know about you, but being spanked made me burn with the fire of a million suns. My anger was all-consuming, and yet my parents had no idea that spanking did that to me until I told my mom when I was 26 years old. We have no way of knowing how our children will react within themselves to the hurt and humiliation of being spanked. It would seem wise, based on this passage, to at least limit the practice of spanking to a very occasional practice, if at all.
In this next passage, James speaks of wisdom in the Christian church – the context is in addressing those who believe themselves to be wise; teachers, but the principle is one that we can all learn from.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
“Peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy, good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” That passage is absolutely beautiful!
These are just a very few passages from the letters in the New Testament that address what the fruit of a Christian life look like and how we should conduct ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. I would also, before examining how spanking fits into a Christian life, like to take a moment to look at what Jesus commands of Christians:
This next passage is of Jesus addressing the disciples because two disciplines, James and John, had requested to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand which was not a request Jesus could grant.
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them,“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Christians are not to exercise authority over each other as the gentiles do. Christians are to serve and to be a “slave of all” if we would be first. Now, children are called to obey their parents, but that doesn’t mean that it’s our job to punish them into obedience. We are to be humble peacemakers. Gentle and full of mercy!
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
We, Christians are not to hit a person back, we are to turn the other cheek in humility.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
And then Christ goes on to say that we will know a false prophet by his fruit. Going back to the first passage, the fruit of the spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As for the Old Testament, we’ve already examined the “rod” verses in some detail, but the Jews were also commanded to do a great many things in the Torah – the law that most modern Christians do not follow. Surprisingly enough, spanking is not mentioned once in the Jewish law. If spanking is so crucial to the upbringing of young children, surely it would have been mentioned in more than 5-6 verses in a book of, well, proverbs, and at least one verse commanding this type of parenting would have surely been in the actual law of God. Right? But no. If any of you can find a command in the Old Testament law to spank a child, I would love to hear from you, but I have not yet found such a thing.
And now, what exactly is “spanking” and how does that fit in with what we have learned so far in our small study? Dictionary.com has several definitions:
a blow or slap
to slap or smack
Okay. So, it’s basically hitting. Striking, slapping, and smacking someone are all forms of hitting and the phrase “coming to blows with someone” generally indicates a fight which involves hitting. I’m not going to tiptoe around this terminology, I think that would be insulting to the readers of this blog. I want to always be honest with you, even if the truth as I see it is difficult to read.
Just to be thorough, here are the dictionary.com definitions of “hit:”
to deal a blow
to come against with an impact
I find it interesting to note that neither “hit” nor “spank” are listed in the definitions of each other. It would appear that our culture does not consider spanking to be hitting even though they share many of the same definitions and, from outward appearance alone, would appear to be the exact same act.
Yes, spanking is often done with the best of intentions, but when it comes right down to it, it’s hitting. In fact, it’s hitting someone much smaller than the person doing the hitting – something which we teach our children not to do and, I assure you, the irony is not lost on them even when it may not be recognized by the parent in question.
Jesus is very clear in Matthew 7 that when we ask for help, God gives it to us. When our children ask for help, should we not give them help as well? If they are too young to understand that they need sleep or to eat regularly, should we not help them and give them what they need? Wouldn’t we want the same done for us? Or would it truly help us to be hit by someone with a “rod of discipline” when we lost our tempers or became frustrated with our lot in life? Or would that not make us more frustrated and more likely to lose our tempers?
The Fruit of the Spirit
I’d like to also look once more in some depth at the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” I’ve heard it argued that one can spank in love and honestly, I just don’t see it. I can understand being well-meaning and spanking because you both believe it to be necessary and because you love your children, but that’s as far as I can see it going.
We have an excellent description of love in the middle of a section about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 13
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is patient and kind. We teach our children that hitting others is not a kind thing to do, nor is it. I’ve heard far too many people say that a spanking has to hurt in order to “work.” Well… hitting someone hard enough for it to hurt is not a kind thing to do, even if you are that person’s parent.
Love is not arrogant or proud and love does not insist upon having its own way. When making a request or demand of your children, do make sure that you are not self-seeking or looking to have your own way. This is not the way of love. Expecting instant obedience to every parental whim and punishing harshly when it doesn’t happen is not a loving thing to do according to this definition.
The next fruit of the spirit is joy. I have yet to hear of anyone claiming to hit their children in joy. Most parents I know who spank, dread the spankings almost as much as their children do. I know that my own father would tell me before hitting me that what he was about to do would hurt him more than it would hurt me. Not joyful. Not at all.
Peace is next. Spanking me never created peace in my heart or between my parents and myself. Spanking instead drove a wedge between me and my parents. I walked on eggshells much of the time because, even though my parents’ rules were reasonable and clearly spelled out, I was a small child, prone to forgetting things and not yet full of the Holy Spirit to help with my limited human self-control.
Patience. Very interesting, given that most of the spankings I endured or witnessed came as a direct result of the parent in question losing patience and deciding to do something about it! Not to say that one couldn’t be patient and still decide to spank, but that has not been my experience.
Goodness and faithfulness are next. The person striking a Christian’s cheek is referred to as evil in Matthew 5:39 which seems to indicate that hitting someone is not, in fact, a good thing to do. Faithfulness is also translated as faith, fidelity, and longanimity. Now, I will again speak frankly to you. Christianity is a religion of faith, not of works. Nothing that we can do will reconcile us with God – we come to God through Christ’s death on the cross. What does it say of our faith in Christ’s death if we also believe that in order for our children to be saved (as many Christian parenting gurus teach) we must hit them? Isn’t Christ alone sufficient? If not… Christianity makes no sense.
This is very important: the doctrine of necessary spanking contradicts the doctrine of Christ crucified. If Christ’s death truly does cover all sin, then how can anyone say that hitting our children is necessary to “save” them from sin? If it is not necessary from a Christian perspective, then it is simply one more tool in the parenting toolbox that should be looked at and evaluated in much the same way the other parenting tools are.
We’re almost finished with the fruit of the spirit with gentleness being next. This one is fairly self-explanatory really… hitting someone is not at all being gentle. “Gently hitting” is not a phrase that makes sense, in my opinion.
The last is self-control. Honestly, I find the idea of controlled spanking to be more abhorrent than the idea of a parent losing it and swatting their child a few times in the heat of a moment. The thought of coldly, calculatingly, and systematically hitting a small child just gives me the shivers. When I’m under control, I can always think of something else to do other than yell at or hit my children. It’s only when I lose perspective or control that either of those thoughts cross my mind.
The other thing that jumps out at me is that self-control is a fruit of the spirit. This is something that parents expect their children to have and that parents hit their children for not having, and yet… it’s not something that comes naturally for humans. It’s something that we can only do in God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My conclusion probably seems obvious at this point. Hitting someone else (without their consent – I’m not here to comment on anything consensual), whether for punishment or otherwise, really doesn’t fit in with the fruit of the spirit or with other clear directives about how we are to lead a Christian life. Christ is our example and, though He was never a human parent, His interactions with children can teach us a lot. Christ blessed the children and welcomed them into His presence. Jesus did not hit the little children, nor did he entreat the parents to do so.
I do not believe that spanking is Biblical. I do not believe that spanking lines up with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. I believe that if one takes the Proverbs “rod” verses separately from the rest of the Bible, the spanking interpretation is a valid one. However, when taken with the Bible as a whole and the New Testament teachings specifically, I do not believe that we can interpret the shebet in Proverbs as meaning a punishment stick.
Please, do take the wisdom of Proverbs to heart – raise your children up in the wisdom and teachings of the Lord! Be diligent to discipline and disciple them! Do not withhold your parental authority from your children! Be wary of parenting methods such as Consensual Living and Taking Children Seriously that advocate giving children the final say in most or all areas of their lives. Do not leave your children to fend for themselves and definitely take your parental responsibilities seriously.
But be wary also of parenting methods and gurus who go too far in the other direction. Too much permissiveness is not beneficial to children, but neither is treating them as adversaries. Dr. Dobson, Ted Tripp, and Michael Pearl – among others – advocate treating your children almost as foes. It’s a battle of wills with your will and God’s against theirs. This is, I believe, incorrect.
Our children are not our adversaries, they are our children. They are equal to us in the sight of God, because there are no distinctions made at the foot of the cross. Our children are equal to us in worth, their feelings and needs are just as valid as an adults’. Where they are not equal is in the areas of knowledge, maturity, and responsibility. It is our job as parents to help them bridge that gap – to help them attain knowledge by facilitating their education from the beginning, to allow them the time needed to gain maturity, and to give them increasing amounts of responsibility as they are ready.
God will take care of our children’s hearts, Christ will take care of their salvation, The Holy Spirit will help them lead good lives full of fruit. We just need to have faith that God can do His part despite our best efforts.