Bible Q&A: Does the Bible Promote Corporal Punishment for Children?

Is there an example of a child being disciplined physically in the Bible? If not, how have we deduced that “Spare the rod…” implies spanking?

The sentence “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is actually not in the Bible.  The phrase comes from a poem written in the 1600’s that has nothing to do with disciplining a child, a poem about fornication titled “Hudibras,” by Samuel Butler.

Yet the concept of corporal punishment of children is found in Scripture.  I was unable to find any examples where one reads about an episode in which a parent spanked a child in the Bible.  However, there are a lot of biblical principles connected with spanking.  The New Testament rhetorically asks, “For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?…Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them” (Heb. 12:7, 9).  Christian fathers are commanded, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).  At the time Ephesians was written, the only guidance one had as to what “the discipline of the Lord” consisted of was found in the Old Testament.  With that in mind, consider the following passages from Proverbs:

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

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

“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.” (Prov. 23:13-14)

“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother…Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Prov. 29:15, 17)

Spanking a child can be done in the wrong way, and the Scriptures imply this.  For example, disciplining a child through corporal punishment in an unfair, tyrannical way, while showing no love or kindness to the child when they are good and bad, is exactly what will “provoke them to anger” (Eph. 6:4), exactly what God told us not to do.  Obviously, one can also kill someone by “striking them with a rod”; the fact that God while talking of disciplining children says, “If you strike him with a rod, he will not die,” indicates that God does not want corporal punishment of a child to damage the child in any way. 

Instead, what we gather from the above verses is that the sting of spanking, combined both with other kinds of disciplinary action that fit the occasion and especially with the showing of love, kindness, empathy, and fun to the child when they are being good, will produce in the child wisdom instead of foolishness, a motivation and a desire to do what is right and respect authority instead of what is wrong.  These characteristics, taught and reinforced in children early and throughout their childhood, will result in good lives for them as adults and happiness, pride, and peace for you as parents.

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