Spanking and Proverbs – Part 1: Context

Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to thank again those who responded to my previous post! I appreciate greatly the respectful comments and queries since this issue has the potential to become very contentious.

Indeed, this very post is being written right now because of one of the comments I received! I encourage you to read the second comment and my response if you have not already. Debbie disagreed with my statement, “Nowhere in the Bible is anyone commanded to spank their children.” and I think it is very important to clarify why I believe my statement to be true regardless of how someone interprets the Proverbs “rod” verses. Whether you agree or disagree with me at the end, I hope this post helps you understand where at least one Christian who doesn’t spank (me!) is coming from.

Christians who come to the conclusion that spanking is not a good parenting tool might find themselves in a quandary as I found myself in. It would be so simple, I think, to be a non-Christian and decide not to spank. One would only have to look at the studies which overwhelmingly show that spanking is an ineffective tool at best and can even be damaging to children, at worst. However, as a Christian, I had to go back to the scriptures and make sure that spanking was not Biblically mandated, as I had always heard that it was.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am neither a Biblical scholar nor an expert on ancient Jewish culture. My goal is to state what I have learned in my own words and to give you resources with which you can explore these ideas further if you so wish.

To begin with, it is of paramount importance that we understand the context of what we’re reading when we read Proverbs. I believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God and that no part of the Bible is any “more” or “less” scripture than any of the other parts. I also believe that it is of utmost importance to pay attention and understand the cultural and literary contexts that are embedded in the Bible.

To learn more about literary context and the Bible I recommend that you check out this excellent article written by a PhD in English Literature about this very topic. Leland Ryken also worked as literary stylist for the English Standard Version (one of my favorite Bible translations) which I think is very cool!

The idea that “believing in the literal Bible” means that you should be able to pluck the modern English verses out of context and take them literally in the same way a 5 year old child would (an argument I have actually heard before) is erroneous in my opinion.

When reading almost anything, especially the Bible, context is everything. Anyone, even Satan, can misquote scripture (Matthew 4:5-6) for their own gain.

I once met a woman who was a professing Christian who believed that all picture ultrasounds were evil and against God because in Psalms (139:15) the womb is referred to as a secret or hidden place. Therefore we should not try to see into it. Well… okay, she can believe whatever she wants, but Psalms is poetic! When the Bible was written, ultrasounds did not exist and therefore the womb was, by default, hidden and secret. The writers were refering to the womb in poetic terms (based on the context) while praising God for His wonderful works! It’s certainly not a God-inspired indictment of peeking into the womb using ultrasound.

Truly, we can make the Bible say nearly anything we want it to if we pluck verses out of context.

The Bible is full of poetry and wisdom as well as history and law! To read the poetry in the same way one would read the law or history makes the poetry impossible to understand. I believe that the poetic books, by virtue of being included in the Bible, are inherently equal in status to the history and law books.

However, in my (modern American) culture we do not think highly of poetry. At all. We are not highly practiced at reading poetry either. How many Americans actually read poetry or poetic writings for fun? I can count the number of friends I have who read poetry for fun on one hand and most of my friends are quite prolific readers. I have actually had people say to me, “But Proverbs is just as much scripture as the historical books are – how can you say it’s just poetry?” Indeed, I think this comment speaks much more to the fact that our culture devalues poetry than to the idea that Proverbs is not poetic or wisdom literature.

Proverbs is a book of wisdom and general truisms, but Proverbs is not a book of absolute promises. Parents sometimes raise their children in the ways of the Lord and the children can still manage to fall from those ways (Proverbs 22:6). This article, written by someone who is not anti-spanking, examines more about that particular verse and Proverbs in general.

Proverbs is a book full of figurative language, metaphors, similes, and hyperbole. I do not know a single person, no matter how “literally” they read the Bible, who believes that God will make the literal paths they follow literally straight (Proverbs 3:6 – figurative). Nor do I know anyone who puts a literal knife to their throat when they are overeating (Proverbs 23:2 – hyperbole). That latter example especially could easily be read as a “command” if the book of Proverbs was a book of law. Praise the Lord, it isn’t!

Proverbs is also full of truisms such as, “Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit.” which is followed by metaphor and symbolism in the next verse: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:17-18 ESV)

However, one thing the book of proverbs is not, is a book of law or commands. The Hebraic law was set down in the first five books of the Bible – the Pentateuch.

Therefore, even if the “rod” verses in the book of Proverbs are literally saying that we should literally beat our children with a literal rod, it’s not a command. It’s simply a principle for sound living that we can choose to follow or not and certainly is not a salvation or sin issue for parents who do not spank and for children who are not spanked.

In my next post I will further examine the “rod” verses in Proverbs.

I believe that there will also be a third post in this series in which I will examine what the law and the New Testament do say about disciplining and raising children. To give you a small idea, I will just say that I believe that permissive parenting is clearly spoken against and that discipline is of the utmost importance in the Christian home.

For those who would like to prepare with me for my next post, these are the main verses I will be discussing:

Proverbs 13:24
Proverbs 14:3
Proverbs 22:15
Proverbs 23:13-14
Proverbs 29:15


“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Matthew 18:4-6

About barefootbetsy

I'm a musician, a mama, a lifelong lover of learning, a seeker of truth, and an avid barefooter.
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8 Responses to Spanking and Proverbs – Part 1: Context

  1. Lisa says:

    I don’t want to take away from anything you might say, so I’ll wait for specific comments about specific verses as you write them….so I’ll just put this out there.

    I think that if people want to take these verses literally, why are they not beating fools on the back with a rod in the marketplace? Why keep these verses “alive” only for children – if you are going to be literal, be literal. If you are going to stand “strong” – be complete in your strength…why should all of the fools suffer and not have the same opportunity to have their folly beaten out of them?

    Just sayin’…now go on and write…it’s fun for me to read your blog because on many counts it is like reading things I’ve said over the years with close friends.

  2. Hi just thought i would tell you something.. This is twice now i?ve landed on your blog in the last 3 weeks looking for completely unrelated things. Great Info! Keep up the good work.

  3. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 2: Interpretations | Dare to Disciple

  4. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 1: Context | Why Not Train A Child?

  5. Christie says:

    Thanks for writing this! I’m enjoying reading. It is nice to run into somebody with similar thoughts on this subject. 🙂
    Looking forward to your next post.

  6. Pingback: Proverbs and Spanking – Part 3: Believer’s Behavior | Dare to Disciple

  7. Pingback: Some thoughts on Proverbs 23:11 | Dare to Disciple

  8. Pingback: Spiritual Abuse | Hope Wears Heels

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