Is corporal punishment (as in spanking) truly Biblical; and if it is, how do we answer all its opposition?
Corporal punishment is certainly Biblical, and parents are, in fact, commanded to spank as necessary. Let’s zero in on one of a number of passages, Proverbs 29:15 and 17:
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. .. . Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.
Some translations say “the rod of correction,” but use of the word “and” here is closer to the original. The verse is saying that two components of discipline are vital in properly disciplining children: the physical and the verbal (rebuking, admonishing, instructing). Lack of one of these two elements will lessen effective discipline.
Parents who discipline Biblically know the value of both of these ingredients. Spanking is effective because some physical pain is involved, and kids remember it well. If proper verbal discipline—instructing and admonishing—is combined with spanking, the child will more easily remember the correction that the parents want to inculcate. Spanking is also effective because the correction involved is quick. Rather than prolonging correction and reconciliation, these wonderful results can take place soon. And we parents who discipline our children know how sweet it is for correction and reconciliation to take place. We’ll always remember the “I love you, Mommy” or “I love you, Daddy” after reconciling.
Corporal punishment must be administered carefully—in self-control and with reason, consistency, and the good of the child in mind, not for the parents’ own comforts or pride. Parents must learn to understand each child and what is effective with him or her. It is sad that unbelievers have been able to cite the misuse of physical discipline to further the unscriptural outlawing of corporal punishment. However, those people are wrong; we must not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” We believers still have the God-given mandate.
It is interesting how the world on one hand ignores or rejects Scriptural principles when those principles conflict with the world’s humanistic ideas; yet at the same time the world tries to interpret or explain Scripture to suit one’s views.
In late March I read a letter to the editor of a daily newspaper; the writer tried to interpret a verse to mean something quite different from what Bible-believing Christians hold. First, she said that the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” is not even in the Bible. Those exact words may not be there, but the principle is clear in various passages of Scripture. The word “Trinity” does not appear in Scripture either, but the truth is still prominent throughout and is a major doctrine of Christianity. Then the writer proceeded to explain Proverbs 13:24, which says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” She claimed that the verse alludes to sheep and that a shepherd doesn’t beat his animals but uses the crook of the rod to lift sheep out of holes, and so forth. Shepherds have used the rod in this way, but we who take a Scripture passage for what it says must object to such interpretations.
Incidentally, this writer pointed out that she is a social worker and has taught Sunday School in “two different denominations of the Christian religion,” as though this qualified her as an authority on the subject. She used the term “ignoramuses” to refer to those who, she said, “distort Scripture meaning for the purpose of preserving a sadistic practice on a defenseless child.”
Unfortunately this view has had a profound effect on our society, to the extent that we see the results of lack of discipline every day in our courts and schools. Many of us believe that the lack of discipline is contributing to our nation’s undoing and that we need a turnaround.
I recently discovered a book, No Fears written by Detective Robert Surgenor. For years he has compiled statistics that indicate that when parents eliminate corporal punishment from their discipline plan, the child grows up with an attitude of “no fear,” even when other areas of discipline are administered, such as taking away privileges and grounding. He maintains that children who are spanked in the context of loving discipline don’t become violent. In contrast, some of the most violent youth never once experienced a spanking. Surely this law enforcement officer’s findings are in keeping with the principles of Scripture.
So, the answer? Let’s do what the Bible says—the world will note children and teens who have been lovingly raised with proper discipline. The key is to start early; if we do, it’s amazing how little we even need to use corporal punishment later. Also, we must pray that we’ll continue to have the freedom to carry out our Biblical mandate.
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