Spanking and Proverbs – Part 2: Interpretations

In my last post on the topic of Proverbs and the issue of spanking, I concluded that regardless of your interpretation of the “rod” verses, spanking is not a salvation issue. Proverbs is not a book of law or of absolute promises, but is rather a book of truisms and wise sayings. Proverbs is also full of many different literary tactics – including symbolism, hyperbole, and poetry – that are intended to impart its wisdom to readers.

When interpreting a text, it is of extreme importance to understand the cultural context. This is especially important if a text is more than a few hundred years old and if a text was originally written in a different language.

Languages change very quickly and English has not been an exception. The English that was commonly used in Chaucer’s time (1300s) was vastly different than the English used in Shakespeare’s time (1500s) which is once again vastly different than the modern English that I speak and the text-speak that is becoming ever more popular in my society.

This is why I think it is so important to look at the original language, to look at other places where the words in question were used, what contexts they were used in, and what those words might have meant to the people for whom the text was originally written.

Also, as we delve into the original language and context of the “rod” verses, I will briefly discuss what the modern English translations seem to say if they are taken at face value. I am using the English Standard Version for the first quotation of each verse, but I will follow with a paraphrase that includes all the different words I can find that are used in the various English translations.

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

Anyone who spares or withholds the (or his) rod hates or is unkind to his son. He who loves his son is diligent, hastens, or is careful to discipline/correct/chastise/chasten/punish him betimes or early on.

The God’s Word translation does include the word “spank” in the first half of the verse instead of “rod,” but the word does not appear in any other translations – nor does it occur in the original Hebrew. No versions that I have found so far contain the word “spank” in the second half of the verse where the type of discipline is outlined a bit more clearly.

At face value, it’s fairly easy to see how people can take this verse to mean that they must spank their children if they love them. If one assumes that the “rod” in question is in fact a spanking implement and that “son” is referring to a small child of either gender, the meaning of the verse is clearly that a parent who loves their child will certainly spank them.

So, what does the Hebrew say?

The key words, from my perspective, are “rod,” “son,” and “discipline.”

The word “rod” is translated from the word shebet which means a scion, for example: literally a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling, etc.) or figuratively a clan. (from Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon)

The most likely definition of the word in this context is a staff (shepherding stick), scepter (ruling stick), or punishment stick. I will address the possibility of it meaning a stick to punish someone with when I look at Proverbs 23:13.

If the word means “shepherding stick” then it would seem to indicate guiding and protecting. Contrary to some teachings, shepherds do not beat their sheep. Sheep need a lot of guidance and protection for which the shepherd’s rod serves them well. The shepherd can use the stick to protect the sheep from enemies and to guide them towards their destination. I actually like this interpretation of the word “rod” in this context. It makes a very nice picture of a parent gently guiding their children to greener pastures. However, since the shepherd doesn’t punish, discipline, or chastise the sheep, I’m not sure how that would reconcile with the second half of the verse.

The definition I prefer (might as well be up front about my bias) is scepter which would also make sense when considering that Solomon probably wrote this. I believe that we are given authority over our children and a great responsibility to “bring (our children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” Someone with authority over someone else would discipline, disciple, chastise, correct, and maybe even sometimes punish those under their authority.

In fact, if you look at all the other places that the word shebet is used in the Bible, the vast majority of them are symbolizing authority of some sort, whether God’s or man’s, and the verse still makes sense if you substitute the word “authority” for “rod.”

The word translated “son” here is na’ar. This is a very interesting part to me because people tend to spank very young children and yet, the specific Hebrew words (at the bottom of the linked page) for children who were still nursing (probably under around 4 or 5 years of age) are not used. There is a specific female version of this word that is not used either. Instead, na’ar is used which means young man, servant, youth, lad, and retainer.

Certainly, one can spank older children, but the vast majority of parents stop spanking well before their children are teens or “young men.”

Moreover, this very word, na’ar or “young man” is used to refer to Joshua in Exodus 33:11. According to many commentators, Joshua would have been at least 30 or 40 years old at that point – not exactly a toddler.

Why would God have allowed this specific word to be used if He was talking about young toddlers who would have still been nursing in their culture? I believe that God is very specific with wording. Why would he not be? He’s all-powerful and all-knowing! Therefore, I reject the idea that “son” in this verse means a toddler or young child of either gender. The very end of the verse does talk about starting early on with discipline, but again, nothing about physically hitting a young child.

We come now to the word translated “discipline” which is the word muwcar. This can mean discipline, correction, or chastening.

I have to interject a bit here because I think that many people conflate the terms “discipline” and “punishment” – these words do not mean the same thing. You can discipline someone by punishing them, but punishing someone is not always an act of discipline and disciplining someone does not have to include punishing them.

I believe that it is of great importance to instruct my children – which often involves correcting or chastening them verbally. Those are just two of the many discipline tools I have at my disposal. I believe that discipline is very important when raising children – I just disagree that this discipline should automatically involve physical punishment. The only definition for the word muwcar that could indicate physical punishment is “chastening” which can just as easily be used to convey verbal chastening as physical.

And onward!

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

Folly/Foolishness/foolish ways fill up/are deep-seated/firmly attached/bound up/bound in the heart of a child/youngster/youth, but the rod of discipline/correction/punishment will drive, send, or remove it far from him.

Taken at face value in the English, this is not a difficult verse to understand. A child’s heart is full of folly and, if one continues to assume that “rod” means an implement for administering punishments such as spankings, this verse clearly states that spanking will remove this folly far from the child. As with the last verse, the God’s Word translation places our current cultural perspective on the verse and uses “spanking” in place of “rod of correction.”

So, what does the Hebrew say?

Once again, we have the word shebet which is more likely to be a scepter or a shepherd’s crook than a stick with which to beat someone – an issue I will address very soon! We also have the issue of muwcar which, according to the Hebrew Lexicon, does not mean “punishment” even though several English translations have chosen to translate it as such. In many other places, the word muwcar is translated as “instruction” or “teaching” in English such as in Proverbs 23:12.

In fact, it seems more logical, to me at least, that correcting, instructing, or teaching a child (or young man since the word na’ar is used in this verse as well) and guiding him in the way he should behave would drive more foolishness out of his heart than hitting him physically would. I fail to see how hitting someone would ever teach them wisdom – the opposite of foolishness.

Proverbs 23:1314
“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.”

Do not hesitate, withhold, hold back, or fail to discipline/chastise your children/a child/a youth; if you beat/punish/strike/smitest him with the rod he will not die.
Beat/punish/strike/smitest him with the rod and save/rescue/deliver his soul from death/Sheol/Hell/the underworld.

These are probably the most obvious of all the verses that seem to be in favor of corporal punishment if we are taking the English-translation of the verses at face value. Once we’ve already assumed that “rod” means a stick with which to punish someone by hitting him, the rest just falls into place nicely. Or does it? Let’s go with the punishment stick definition of shebet now.

Let’s assume that the stick is a punishment stick such as is used for the backs of fools (Proverbs 10:13 and 26:3). The main problem I see with using this definition is that, on at least one occasion in the Hebraic Law, it is mentioned that a death can occur as a direct result of using the shebet on a grown man or woman (Exodus 21:20).

The conflict with Exodus 21:20 is very clear. How can the shebet cause a death in an adult servant, something that apparently happened frequently enough so that God saw fit to include in His law, and yet be said to save a young man from death?

In an effort to not reinvent the wheel as well as to keep this article to a reasonable length, I’d like to point you to this wonderful article that explores in some depth the likely Hebrew meaning of these two verses. The woman who wrote that article is much more learned than I am about this issue and I am happy to be able to point you in the direction of someone who has studied this issue in great depth.

From the article – if you don’t wish to read it yet:

But if we understand the reference to the shebet as speaking to the father’s absolute authority to correct his children, we can see that if you continue to correct your child until you figuratively “beat it into him” you will be able to accomplish the guarantee of the next passage—saving his soul from an early grave. This type of a beating will bring a pang to his moral conscience and entice him to do what is right. He will be smited into right thinking. Unlike the Greek mind that believed if you learn something you will do it, the Hebrew mind believed when you understood something you would embrace it. Foolish choices in a child were understood to represent a lack of understanding, and constant correction would serve to bring them into right understanding, right thinking, and right action.

Thus, “beating” would be more like the beating down of the sun – a constant sort of thing – except a beating down of parental authority and wisdom. This certainly makes sense when I consider how constantly I have to be redirecting and reminding my children what they should and should not do. I’m constantly teaching them and helping them to gain greater understanding of God’s love and Word as well as the world around them. Very constant – like the beating of the sun on a hot summer day.

The other issue I see with these two verses being taken “at face value” with our current cultural assumptions leading the way, is that if spanking truly does save our children from Hell, why do they need Jesus? Why did Jesus have to die on the cross at all if beating with a literal rod of punishment could save souls? I suppose we could take this verse to mean that if we hit our children, they will find Jesus and be saved in that way, but that’s not what the verse says.

Keep in mind that if something in the Old Testament contradicts the New Testament, an interpretation is probably off somewhere because God is unchanging.

So, the word translated “Hell” or “death” or “Sheol” is the word she’owl which has quite a few different meanings. I’m particularly interested in the last one:

sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit
the underworld
Sheol – the OT designation for the abode of the dead
place of no return
without praise of God
wicked sent there for punishment
righteous not abandoned to it
of the place of exile (fig)
of extreme degradation in sin

Of all the definitions, there are only a couple that I think really seem to fit without contradicting a good deal of the New Testament. By instructing your children and constantly correcting their thinking and behaviors by your authority as a parent, you can help ensure that they will not be “without praise of God” and that they will avoid “extreme degradation in sin.” They will still sin and they will still need Christ’s death to save them from destruction in the end, but they will have the knowledge and discipline they need to praise God and maybe even to avoid the more degrading types of sin.

And finally! The last of the “rod” verses:

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

The rod/rod of correction/discipline and reproof/warning/sharp words/(correction – from “rod of correction”) give, produce, or impart wisdom; but a child/youth who is left to himself/his own, gets his own way, is undisciplined, is unguided, or is let away causes/brings shame/disgrace to his mother.

Here, again, for the fourth time, if we assume that the “rod” in question is a tool for hitting someone, this verse clearly speaks highly of spanking a child lest he bring shame and disgrace to his mother. Again, the God’s Word translation makes this assumption for us and reads: “A spanking and a warning produce wisdom.”

A problem I see with this – aside from the other issues with assuming that shebet means a punishment stick – is that spankings do not, in fact, produce wisdom. Spanking as a frequently used discipline measure is very behaviorist which I find fascinating – its history, likewise, is very interesting.

Spanking doesn’t teach wisdom, but rather sets up a situation in which a child will (hopefully) be averse to doing again what they were spanked for doing. It’s all very Pavlovian and there are some issues with “training” children using behaviorist methods because children are not animals, but that’s another post.

If we go back to the verse, we see that verbal warning or chastisement is also mentioned, but after the “rod” bit which we could assume means that spanking should come first and explaining or teaching afterwards.

The last half is pretty self-explanatory when taken at face value. If you give your child whatever they want and don’t actively parent them, they will disgrace you. No permissive parenting!

So, one last time, what does the Hebrew say?

“Rod” is, of course, shebet which we’ve covered enough at this point. “Reproof” is translated from the word towkechah which means rebuke, correction, reproof, punishment, chastisement, argument, impeachment, and chiding. The only definition which would seem to indicate a spanking is “punishment” and the English translations that I know of did not see fit to use that word at all. Only the God’s Word translation made the leap to “spanking” from shebet and towkechah.

The next word is wisdom. What is wisdom? In this case, it’s chokmah which means skill (in war), wisdom (in administration), shrewdness/wisdom, wisdom/prudence (in religious affairs), and wisdom (ethical and religious). In other verses it is translated as skill(ful man), wisely, wisdom, and wits.

One thing that these types of wisdom have in common is that they all result from teaching someone something. A spanking does not make a child or young man more skillful at anything – except perhaps at resisting very specific temptations or lying in an attempt to get away with things to avoid being hurt again. Spanking does not help a child or young man become a good administrator or become shrewd – except perhaps in the artful and tricky definition of the word. Spanking also does not teach prudence (forethought and discretion) in religious affairs or ethical and religious wisdom.

Much of this is simply my opinion, of course, and I’m certain that many people will disagree with me about my conclusions. I would ask you who disagree with me to think back to your childhood days and recall what the spankings you received taught you. I can’t tell you what you were taught by your spankings, but I can certainly tell you what spankings (“properly” administered according to Dobson and Tripp) taught me:

I learned to fear my parents – especially my father, to lie whenever possible to spare myself the possibility of being hurt/spanked again, to not trust my parents, and to hide my innermost thoughts, feelings, and struggles from my parents because I feared and did not trust them. I did not seek out their wisdom and teachings at the times I needed it the most because I did not trust them to understand and not hurt me. I have friends who sought out their parents’ guidance about nearly everything in their lives during their teen and young adult years. Those were my friends who were not spanked regularly or at all as children.

I have a great relationship with my parents now – especially with my mom – but I don’t remember spanking ever teaching me anything truly beneficial past the immediate moment of, “I shouldn’t do that or get caught doing that ever again!”

The last part of Proverbs 29:15 is not as straightforward as it appears to be. The word translated “let go,” “undisciplined,” and “gets his own way” is shalach which means to send away, let loose, set forth, let down, put away, dismiss, to be sent off, divorced, and to stretch out.

The word translated “shame” is buwsh which is a root that means shame and is translated as “confusion” and “confounded” a few times in the KJV.

It would seem to me that those definitions suggest that alienating her child would cause a mother shame. Keeping in mind that the word na’ar is used once more for “child” and could, in all probability, indicate a teenager, this verse would seem to speak against alienating your young adult children lest they bring you shame. I know that many of the things I did as a young adult, when I didn’t seek out my parents’ wisdom, would have brought my parents shame if they had known of them. Maybe I’m putting too much of my own situation onto this verse, but I think that it’s a possible interpretation worth considering.

In conclusion, I believe that the Bible is very clear about the need for parental authority in children’s lives. I believe that we need to be constantly watching and guiding our children’s behavior and correcting their wrong-thinking while also teaching them right-thinking. I do not believe that there is any room for permissive parenting in a Christian home since that would stem from a lack of parental authority and little active parenting. I believe that we need to build trust with our children so that when they need our guidance as young adults, they will feel free to come and seek our wisdom.

I ask all who have read this to prayerfully consider the Hebrew meanings of the words and the alternate interpretations that I have suggested to you in this post. Please also consider what you want to teach your children, not just in the moment, but long-term. Do you want your children to obey you out of fear? Do you want your children to seek out your wisdom when they hit their teen years even if they know you’ll disapprove of their question and thoughts? Do you want them to obey unquestioningly now regardless of the possible future consequences? Do you want them to learn lifelong lessons that will help them attain chokmah? What do you want for your children’s future?

Naturally, most Christian parents also want their children to someday know personally the love and grace of God the Father, the amazing sacrifice of Jesus the Son, and the constant helping presence of the Holy Spirit; but those things are not ours to give. We cannot purge our children’s souls of sin by hitting them and we cannot force them to accept Christ’s love. Only by the Grace of God will they accept His love and salvation, not by a literal rod that literally beats a small child into submission.

Thank you for reading! I welcome respectful feedback from both those who agree and those who disagree.


Part Three in this series is now posted!

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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36 Responses to Spanking and Proverbs – Part 2: Interpretations

  1. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 1: Context | Dare to Disciple

  2. Pingback: Linda V’s Arguments | Why Not Train A Child?

  3. Excellent post! Baring unforeseen circumstances, I will be linking on Monday.

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

  5. Cassi says:

    I bookmarked this and will use it in our Bible Study’s study of Proverbs.

  6. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 2: Interpretations | Why Not Train A Child?

  7. Young Mom says:

    I completely agree with the repercussions of spanking. Spanking was practically my parents only way of disciplining. I was spanked from pre-one well into my teens. I knew my parents loved me, but I too was afraid of them. I learned that my feelings and thoughts didn’t matter, I would say or do or promise anything to get out of being spanked, I learned to hide my true feelings of anger, sadness and pain because I didn’t want to be punished more.

  8. Claire in Tasmania says:

    Very thorough, B!
    Just one thought that you missed – I like to remember the story of Esther. When she went before the King without being summoned, she didn’t die – because the king stretched out his sceptre (shebet) to her – in other words, he did not spare/withhold it 🙂

  9. Claire says:

    Lovely article and a very interesting read. I’ve often wondered about those verses and now they make more sense.

    Something I discovered more recently, as an adult, is The Five Love Languages. My language is physical touch and the author mentions that to a PT child hitting is like an ultimate betrayal (my words not a quote) and that’s something I found. My granddad hit me more than anyone else and would try to cuddle me afterwards, telling me how he still loved me. I wouldn’t let him, I’d walk out as soon as he was done. To me that wasn’t anything to do with love. I know that can be said about all children but I can’t put into words what it was like as a PT child.

    • greenegem says:

      I had that same epiphany when I read the five love languages for kids. One of my primary love languages is pysical touch. It explains why at about the age of 2 I stopped letting my mother hug or cuddle me. She trold me that and I couldn’t understand why I would have done that since I have craved her affection and approval for as long as I can remember. Then I realised that she had started smacking my fingers before I was a year old, adn I finally decided that getting close to her was just too dangerous.

      THis is why it is SO important to assign positive intent and to parent with Grace for childlike mistakes. You can distance your children from you before they can even speak. 😦

  10. Pingback: Spanking and Proverbs – Part 2: Interpretations (via Dare to Disciple) « Steven Bourque

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

  12. Jason D. says:

    In Proverbs 13:24 you said the Hebrew word for “son” was “na’ar” (which is part of your case against spanking). I am not sure where you got that information from but that is wrong, the Hebrew is (transliterated) “bēn” (In Hebrew: ‏בֵּן‎) Even using the website you use to look up the Hebrew you can see this:


    Hebrew Word:


    son, grandson, child, member of a group
    son, male child
    children (pl. – male and female)
    youth, young men (pl.)
    young (of animals)
    sons (as characterisation, i.e. sons of injustice [for un- righteous men] or sons of God [for angels]
    people (of a nation) (pl.)
    of lifeless things, i.e. sparks, stars, arrows (fig.)
    a member of a guild, order, class

    That is not the same word used for Joshua in Exodus as you said.

    You also have to point out that words have different meanings and their final meaning is determined in the context. So it is true “shebet” can mean what you (as you say) “think” it means but context decides. And the context seems clear does it now? It is (as you pointed out) a “stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, walking, ruling, etc.) or figuratively a clan” for correcting/discipline/punishment/reproof, etc…

    As your favorite Bible version points out in it’s study notes on Proverbs 13:24:

    “Prov. 13:24 Physical discipline is a common theme in Proverbs (see e.g., 10:13; 17:10; 22:15; 23:13–24; 29:15). It is viewed as an important part of the correction and training of a child, to teach him to avoid wrong behavior, to embrace what is right, and to build godly character. Equally important, physical discipline is an expression of love for a child, while the one who spares the rod hates his son. Taking into account all of the teaching of Proverbs, physical discipline of a child must never be severe and must always be exercised in love. Cf. Heb. 12:5–11.”

    It has a direct relationship to us (Christians) being sons of our Father God, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves”

    To not be guilty of taking Hebrews out of context, here is the whole section below… notice it is something we have to endure and it is even painful (like when we spank our children):

    Hebrews 12:5-11

    “5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
    f“My son, gdo not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
    6 For hthe Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”
    7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. iGod is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, jin which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to kthe Father of spirits land live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, mthat we may share his holiness. 11 nFor the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields othe peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

    soli Deo gloria!

    Jason D.

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Thank you for pointing out that I was in error in that one verse about the Hebrew word used! I appreciate it. This was a very extensive post to make and it was inevitable that I make at least one mistake given that I’m only human 🙂

      However, being incorrect about that word does not negate the rest of my point nor does it negate my conclusion. The Hebrew word “ben” also is translated as “young men” and is specifically a male pronoun which would seemingly exclude girl-children or young women from being physically struck if the “spanking” interpretation is the correct one. The other Proverbs verses do use the word Na’ar which is the same word used for Joshua in Exodus.

      Liking a translation does not mean that I give the same value to the commentary as I do to the Bible itself. Commentators are only human and are certainly influenced by cultural norms. Spanking, currently, is the norm in American society, and most Christians, in my experience, do not even think to question that societal norm nor the supposed Biblical justification on which it is based.

      In my response to the John Piper article I address the Hebrews passage and I repeat: God has only ever taught (disciplined) me through means other than physical punishment and so far my children have learned and been disciplined quite well through those other means as well.

      Thank you again for your comments! I know that these ideas can seem very weird at first and I applaud you for reading articles that you disagree with! At the very least, you will come out of this discussion with a stronger faith in your interpretation because you have tested your presuppositions and examined your beliefs 🙂


      • Jason D. says:

        Yes, I do hope this strengthens our faith…

        The point I am getting at is that if we go to any verse in the Bible and choose what a word can mean then we can change a whole lot of stuff. Words can have a very wide rage of meaning…

        Take for example the word trunk.

        What do I mean when I saw trunk?

        I could mean a part of an elephant… or a part of a car… or a type of luggage… how do you figure out what I mean? Simply from the context… If I tell you I am at the zoo watching the elephants and their trunk almost sprayed water on me you will know what I am talking about…

        Point being the context itself decides the meaning of the word. If we point out a word can mean 10 different things and just pick one we think fits best… well we can get rid of any doctrine we may not be conformable with… such as spanking which is definitely not the “norm in America”… it is looked down upon as ancient and abusive and there are even laws in some places against it. Try to go on any talk show in America and promote spanking and you will be laughed at… I definitely can’t see how one would think it is the norm… perhaps in the circles you run in, but not in mainstream America.

        Are there any respectable scholars that you learned this from? Are you studied in Bible interpretation and the original languages? (It does seem like you do know alot of good rules of hermeneutics so I applaud you for that). Just wondering cause I don’t know of any that hold to your view.

      • barefootbetsy says:

        Well, spanking is certainly still the norm for almost everyone in the Bible Belt where I live! Most of my good friends do not spank, but that is unusual around here. I understand that on the West Coast (where I’ve lived before) it’s not common in general, but in my experience, spanking is by and large seen as necessary by Christians in America regardless of the larger social norms in their area. I have many Christian friends (in various parts of America – I’ve lived in all four corners of the US) who have been treated as sinners by other Christians simply because my friends had chosen not to spank their children.

        As far as word meanings – I agree with you wholeheartedly! That’s why, in looking at the original word meanings, I also looked at what several modern English translations had translated the words as and at the verses as a whole in addition to the various meanings of the original words. I also was very careful to discuss how the different word meanings would affect the interpretation and how those interpretations fit in with the rest of the Bible. The Proverbs “rod” verses are less clear than many of the verses I quoted from the New Testament and it only makes sense to interpret a less-clear passage based on a very clear passage if the two seem to contradict each other.

        Honestly, without the presupposition of spanking already assumed with the “rod” verses, I don’t see that meaning as being obvious when looking at the Hebrew definitions. It’s very obvious that spanking is implied when looking at the English translations and coming from a background where spanking is the norm (as it absolutely was when I, and probably you, were children), but we’re many centuries and languages removed from when the original words were written and that wasn’t necessarily the cultural assumption at the time Proverbs was written.

        Are there any respectable scholars that you learned this from? Are you studied in Bible interpretation and the original languages? (It does seem like you do know alot of good rules of hermeneutics so I applaud you for that). Just wondering cause I don’t know of any that hold to your view.

        No problem! I don’t mind answering and thank you for the compliment! I’ve not specifically studied the original languages of the Bible. I’m actually just a regular mother who is also midwifery student. My background is such that I find Biblical interpretations and the study of languages fascinating. I have a bit more experience in this area than other people because I was homeschooled by a father who is both a lawyer and a pastor and I attended Grove City College. Words and word meanings are a hobby of mine, you could say.

        Basically, I don’t claim to be more knowledgeable than others about this topic. I just think that there are many assumptions about the Proverbs “rod” verses and that it’s high time for the Christian community as a whole to look more carefully at the context and other possible meanings to challenge the prevailing interpretation of those verses and see if it holds up to scrutiny or if it is found wanting. Cultural assumptions change from culture to culture as well as from year to year in some cases and I believe that they need to be examined periodically with an open mind.

        Not that my father is a great theologian, but he respects context and preaches through the Bible verse by verse comparing scripture to scripture, and he does disagree with me about the meanings of the “rod” verses. However, he does agree with me that spanking is not Biblically mandated. He views it as a wise choice that is recommended in Proverbs and he doesn’t understand how we can raise his grandchildren without spanking, but he doesn’t consider Christians who don’t spank to be sinning or anything like that.

        I’ve never come across a major theologian who agrees with me about my interpretation of the “rod” verses. I’ve also never seen any theologian actually look at the issue within the entire context of the time period (looking beyond our current cultural assumptions), original language, and the rest of the Bible in order to examine possible other interpretations that differ from the prevailing interpretation.

        If you know of such a study, I would love to hear about it! Maybe I just haven’t come across one yet and I would appreciate reading a study like that if such a thing exists.

        Thank you again! Civil discourse is always appreciated 🙂

      • Jason D. says:

        Commentators do look at the issues and all I’ve seen and studied stick with the normal interpretation… hence my concern on your new interpretation (which you know of no others who agree)… :-/

      • barefootbetsy says:

        I’ve never seen anyone “reputable” examine the verses along with the possible alternative Hebrew meanings in light of the entire Bible. I’d love a link or book recommendation if you know of someone who has done this!

        This interpretation is far from new! Another reason I wrote these posts and did this study was to see for myself if the non-Biblical-spanking camp had a leg to stand on. I also know of several public(ish) figures who agree with me. I said, and I quote:

        I’ve never come across a major theologian who agrees with me about my interpretation of the “rod” verses.

        And I haven’t.

        However, Dr. Sears is a Christian pediatrician who, after a great deal of study, came to the conclusion that spanking is not Biblical. Crystal Lutton (an author and pastor – though certainly not well-known!) has also studied these passages at length and does not believe that spanking is Biblical. There are many others if you’d really like a list, but they aren’t well-known theologians.

        Theologians who are well-known seem to be content with toeing the party line and not challenging these cultural assumptions at the source.


      • barefootbetsy says:

        Thank you for the links, Claire! My conclusions are not “new” – they are just unpopular in our current culture and unexamined (to my knowledge) by the main theologians of our time. My father – who is not a well-known theologian, but has been a lay pastor and adult Sunday School teacher (not always at the same time) for over 2 decades – agrees that spanking is not Biblically mandated (though he does believe that it’s recommended) and he’s about as conservative theologically as they come.

        I’m not even anti-spanking, per se. I’m against spanking my own children and against claiming that the practice is mandated by scripture, but I’m certainly not campaigning to outlaw the practice. All I’ve done is to present what I’ve found about the various possible interpretations of the “rod” verses and to point out the inconsistencies and contradictions that the “spanking” interpretation seems to create when I look at the Bible as a whole.

        If you, Jason, and others can live with or simply don’t see those contradictions and inconsistencies, that’s fine with me. Personally, I cannot live with them but I don’t have a problem with people who have looked at the information and made an informed decision – in fact, I’m a huge fan of informed choices even when I disagree with the choice being made 🙂

        I very much appreciate that you’ve taken the time to read what I wrote and to have this discussion – and that you’ve remained so civil. Examining long-held beliefs (even when one comes out of the examination with the same belief as before) is never an easy thing to do and I thank you for doing so with much grace!

        In Christ,

  13. Claire says:

    Samuel Martin, author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me, seems a well-versed scholar 🙂

  14. Claire in Tasmania says:

    Jason, it might help you to know that the standard conservative interpretation is not the one that the Jews have always held. Remembering that the book of Proverbs was written by a Jew, to Jews, and in their language, if the rod verses were meant to be taken literally, why does it say in the Talmud, “If you must strike a child, do so only with a shoelace”?
    Here are some websites where Jewish rabbis give the traditional Jewish view of child discipline:
    While they don’t necessarily rule out punishment altogether, even the most Orthodox don’t seem to think physical punishment is mandated by God. So Betsy’s interpretations are not so new after all 😉
    God bless

    • Choose Grace says:

      Thank you for this post Claire of Jewish wisdom! So very telling, and those links are wonderful resources I can share.

  15. Jessica says:

    Thank you dearly for this post. I am happy to have something on paper that clarifies my opinions and thoughts on the matter because I am not very well-spoken. (I’ve said this for a while: The rod was used to guide the sheep. Have you ever seen a shepherd beat the sheep with the rod?)
    I grew up in a spanking-home and it took me a while as a Christian adult and as a Christian parent to realize this is not acceptable in my own home. I want to have a heart-to-heart connection with my (4+) children, not a fear-based relationship.
    Thank you again for all your hard work in putting together this article.

  16. Hilary says:

    Thanks for these blog posts! They are so informative. I was also spanked as a child and remember being very fearful of my parents, lying to get out of being punished, and today as an adult I am really not close to them just because of all the fear (I was also spanked the “right” way). I know there are several studies showing how damaging spanking is with children, but I was wondering if there were any studies showing it is damaging when done the “right, Christian” way? That’s the one argument I hear, that the studies are only looking at spankers who are doing it in anger, thus, they get bad results. If not, it would be interesting to see how all of this Ted Tripp Shepherding a Childs Heart stuff that is so popular now is affecting our children. :/ I read a statistic that somewhere like 70-85% of young people leave the church after high school. I can only wonder if how those young people were parented (most likely punitively) has something to do with that????

    • Grace says:

      Thank you, so much, for taking the time to write about this and bring this very important issue to more people. 🙂

      Some of the books describing “the right way” are child abuse in my opinion–such as The Pearls book. You might find this post/comments interesting:

      I was spanked in a controlled, calm way (not abusive) and it was usually lovingly explained to me why. I also wasn’t spanked often, but later in life, when looking back, I realized how backwards those few spankings were, how confused and angry they made me feel, and yes, how they also made me fear my own parents, even though I knew they loved me. It was also horrible hearing my siblings get spanked. I think even as a child, I knew it wasn’t right–that is wasn’t civil. It was very confusing for a number of reasons and as an adult, it’s just a concept I can’t wrap my head around, and sometimes I get really down about it, knowing how many Christians are spanking their kids and that my parents fell into that as well, but fighting against it always helps! By speaking up, we are making a difference. We are no longer a victim and now have power. I know my parents had good intentions. They really did what they felt was right, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t caused problems between me and them (even though they really don’t realize it). The hurt is still there.

      I recently read that a study (I didn’t see it) showed spankings weren’t harmful if done correctly and with love in a loving home but also before the age of 6. I disagree and the study is probably flawed. How can they really know this? Children are resilient and might even act “more” loving to a parent who spanks for fear that they’ll lose their parents care, as parents are a child’s sole care-giver! Any young child I would think is going to be confused as to why the person who is supposed to “love” and “protect” him is hitting him. It’s common for spanked children to “spank” their dolls, toys, etc. I believe this is their way of trying to make sense of what they don’t understand and to let out anger and the injustice they feel in being subjected to the disrespectful and undignified act of spanking.

      There are more and more Christians realizing that the there are better ways, and thank goodness for that, because I also believe, like you, that such punitive ways of parenting “in the name of Christianity” is absolutely turning people away.

      I hope you’ll be able to forgive and enjoy a close relationship with your parents. With abuse (and to us, spanking was, even though not considered to be), people can get over it but then relapse. You might find yourself having to forgive your parents more than once. For me, it can be hard, because though my mom now sees how children should be given grace, she still can be hard-nosed about kids needing spankings, and knowing the damage/confusion they caused me, it’s a hard thing to hear.

  17. classicalgirl says:

    As far as I’ve read Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and Dwight L. Moody did not endorse spanking either. I know many Christians look up to them as well 🙂

  18. As I mentioned in another comment – I love your blog!! God has led me to not spank my children or yell at them. For years I have wondered if I heard wrong, and even worse, do I hear God. I questioned God on this as I know what He speaks to me must line up with His written word. I asked others, including a leader of many Churches and their response was that it was fine that I heard that from God for me, but that it would be just for me or my family. My problem with that is this. I am a very questioning person, so I had questioned God on that as well, sort of why me and not others, and I believe He showed me that many have misunderstood these passages for a long time. This caused me then to research the word of God and see was I hearing right, could these verses be interpreted different. Test everything by the word of God, right? My result was an understanding that we should of course discipline our children, but the word discipline comes from the same word that means to disciple. I interpreted rod to mean shepherd’s staff. After much research, I concluded that the verses could just as easily be interpreted to read that we should shepherd and disciple our children, which seems fitting with the New Testament. In other words, yes these verses could be misunderstood. I have not been able to do all the research that I want to do, so I am so happy to read what you all write and go to the links that you provide. I love what you all write about the authority as I had not considered that.

    I am so thankful that God led me to your blog. Someone argued with me about this just a few days ago and as I am gentle and do not have my research books anymore, I felt anxiety for 2 days on the issue. Your blog has helped to strengthen me and also is the first confirmation on this matter. God has spoken to me about many things over the years and through time has confirmed many things. This was maybe the last big thing that needed confirming, It has been many years of walking alone in this. Thank you!! May God bless you all as you continue to follow Him and to educate others in His ways. I am now happily following your blog 🙂

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement! I’m so glad that you have been blessed by reading my posts and I pray that you will continue to be blessed through God by the words of everyone who contributes here ❤


  19. Hi,

    Thanks for this article. One link above does mention my website which has been down for some time.

    However, note the following:

    1. My free ebook can be downloaded here –

    2. Several of the commenters above note that there are no major scholars holding the view of the author of this article. This is not true and represents a narrow study of this matter. I have quite a lot about this on my blog –

    3. Christian and Jewish scholars who hold a view against corporal punishment of children are to name a few:

    Professor Dawn Devries
    The late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    The late Rev. Dwight Moody
    Emeritus Professor I Howard Marshall – One of the world’s leading evangelical scholars
    Professor William Webb – Author of the book Corporal Punishment in the Bible (above scholar [Professor Marshall] wrote the foreword to Professor Webb’s book)
    Dr. Karl Barth
    The late Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
    Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen
    Dr. Randall Heskett

    Look forward to read more of your thoughts.

    Samuel Martin
    Author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy
    Project Coordinator
    New Foundation for Biblical Research
    Jerusalem Israel

    • barefootbetsy says:

      Thank you very much for your comment! I appreciate the new links and information about majors scholars who hold to this view.

    • Grace says:

      Have you considered writing an ebook on this through Amazon? You can easily self-publish through them. I feel your book would get a lot of exposure on Amazon and be seen by so many, as Amazon reaches such a wide audience. When people search for keywords like spank, Christian, bible, your book would most likely pop up or be suggested. I have thought about writing an ebook on this subject through Amazon and selling it for a low price in hopes of spreading this message. Is this something you might consider?

  20. Pingback: Physical “Discipline” Is NOT Biblical Nor A Part Of The “Rod” Verses – Disciplining With Gentle Firmness

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