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Biblical Perspectives on Spanking

By Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman


Recently we wrote an article entitled “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.” for our responsible parenting newsletter. We challenged the readers to examine a widely accepted view on spanking from a different perspective. We challenged the conventional wisdom and asked parents to consider the effects of spanking on their relationship with their children and how hitting children as a form of discipline may actually be hurting you in ways you were previously unaware.

Following this article we received several e-mail comments from readers who feel that the Bible strongly supports spanking and the use of corporal punishment as a necessary part of raising children. We greatly appreciate your willingness to share these comments with us as you examine your own parenting style and are challenged by different views on raising responsible, caring, confident children. It is not our desire to tell you how to parent your children but rather to provide you with techniques and strategies for raising children with grace, integrity, and love.

As an ordained minister I spent 8 years learning the Hebrew and Greek language so as to study the Bible in its original language. Since that time, almost 20 years ago, I have spent many laboring hours preparing sermons and writing Bible studies on topics of marriage, love, money, miracles, gifts of the Spirit, parenting, and most importantly the Grace of God as seen through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was with great respect for the scriptures that we undertook our call to raise the consciousness of parenting. It is with this same respect and conviction that we offer a look at a Biblical perspective on spanking.

Christian parents frequently seek the Bible in their effort to raise godly children. They believe that there is a biblical mandate to spank and they fear that if they don't spank, they will commit the sin of losing control of their child. They believe that Gad has commended them to spank and they take “spare the rod and spoil the child” literally, but in doing so they misunderstand the concept of the rod. The following are the biblical verses which have caused the greatest confusion:

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. But the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)

“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

At  first glance these verses seem to be in strong support of the use of corporal punishment, but do they really? Through a closer examination of the Hebrew word for “rod” (shebet) one can see that in the Hebrew dictionary it has various meanings, a stick for walking, writing, fighting, ruling, and punishment. The word “shebet” is most frequently used when referring to shepherds who are tending their flocks. The Shepherds used the stick to fight off prey and to gently guide wandering sheep, not to beat them.

Please remember that these verses come from a book of poetry. Writers of poetry use familiar words of the day to represent concepts that the people to whom they are writing can create an image of what they are writing about. The image that we are to extract from these verses in Proverbs is one of creating a culture of accountability. The point that God is making is that we as parents are to hold our children accountable for their choices and actions. There are many ways to hold a child accountable and corporal punishment (spanking) never has to be one of them.

Reread the passages above and replace the references to punishment and the use of the rod with the word “accountability” and the meaning stays the same.

For example:
Proverbs 13:24 would read, “He who spares accountability hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

Proverbs 22:15 would read, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. But holding him accountable will drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 23:13-14 would read, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you create a culture of accountability he will not die. Create accountability and save his soul from death.”

Proverbs 29:15 would read, “The culture of accountability imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.”

Christians believe that the bible is the inspired word of God and yet while holding fast to interpreting the “rod” in the Proverbs passages above as a mandate to spank, they dismiss other passages that seem too harsh by today’s standards, such as, “Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death.” (Exodus 21:15) or “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.” (Leviticus 20:9) Almost every parent would admit that their child has at one time said, “I hate you.” or “You’re not the boss of me.” or maybe, “F--- YOU.” But no one would say that their child should be put to death. And we would all agree that that child needs to held accountable for their choice in behavior. The Bible simply does not support spanking, it supports holding children accountable. It supports “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) “Training” does not mean spanking, hitting, or any other form of corporal punishment.

We believe that creating a culture of accountability is the most loving thing you can do for your children.  We believe in holding children accountable in a model that Jesus gave us.  In the New Testament Jesus modified the Old Testament by providing us with a model of gentleness and love. He changed the eye for an eye approached and called for turning the other cheek and forgiving seven times seventy.
Consider these inspired words of God in your parenting, “Fathers do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4), or “Fathers do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21), or “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love with a gentle spirit?” (1 Corinthians 4:21).

Become an enlightened parent, a parent who is moved and inspired by the word of God that calls for grace, gentleness, forgiveness, and love in all that you do. Challenge yourself to create a Christ-like approach to parenting. Seek strategies and techniques that enable you to parent to the soul of your child. Stop using the Bible as an excuse to spank, instead use the Bible to help you create a higher vision of yourself as a parent. Become the parent you always wanted to be.


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