Is spanking biblical?
Many Christians believe that it is biblical to spank their children because there are 6 verses in Proverbs that tell us that using a rod to discipline a child is an important part of raising children. Should spanking be regarded as an important part of biblical parenting? Personally I don’t think so. In my understanding of the Bible, discipline has the same root word as disciple. In other words, disciplining my child is not about what I do to my child but what I do for my child. Discipline is what I do to train up my child in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).
The Bible tells us that if a child is rebellious, we are to stone that child to death (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21). Yet Christians see this as something we don’t practice today. However, because of the 6 verses in Proverbs that tell us to hit our children with a rod, we accept that as a biblical principle. It’s interesting to read around these two issues of beating and stoning in the Bible. We beat someone when we treat someone as an object or a possession. In Exodus 21: 20-21, a slave owner has every right to beat his slave because the slave is his property. The slave owner is to be punished only if the slave dies. Stoning in the Bible speaks of disowning that person. So if a parent stones a child or if a community stones a person because of sin, it is a sign of disowning that person and removing that person from the family or community. Beating and stoning were not seen as acts of discipline but a way of life of a community during that period of time. Islam continues these Old Testament practices but the church stopped those practices. Children, slaves and law breakers were to be treated differently.
When we look at the verses in proverbs that talks about disciplining children with a rod, it is interesting to note the age of the children. The Hebrew language uses different words for children depending on their age. So there are words used to refer to a baby in a womb, a new-born baby, a baby that is in a mother’s arms and is being weaned; one that has been weaned, and so on. The word used for ‘child’ in these 6 verses in Proverbs refer to a child who is in their mid to late teens. It is not referring to what we would call a child.
Also the word used for rod in these 6 verses are translated elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to authority. Could the word ‘rod’ be a symbol for ‘authority’? Parents must remember who is in charge. They have been given a God- given authority to raise up their children through teaching and training so that they are transformed to succeed in life. It does not have to refer to corporal punishment but making sure you take your authority seriously. I find the 6 verses in Proverbs make greater sense when I use the word ‘rod’ to symbolize authority rather than corporal punishment.
As a kid I grew up being spanked many times by my parents and by my school. I accept that spanking used to be a legitimate form of discipline and I don’t believe it scars a child for life. However in many countries, using excessive force to spank a child is illegal and as Christians we need to respect that law. I have been told many times that the law criminalizes good parents. Unfortunately that is the same for any law. In New Zealand, the speed limit in many parts of the city is 50 Km. This law criminalizes good and safe drivers who drive at 55 km. It doesn’t stop bad drivers from speeding. But it empowers the police to do their job in reducing accidents on the road.
Parents need to see discipline as discipling their children rather than spanking their children. To me it makes more sense for us as biblical parents.