Spare the Rod: Don’t Hit!

I am far from an expert on the Bible, but over the past few weeks I’ve been learning quite a bit.

In Matthew 7:12 it says: “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

The question is: how is this being accomplished when we spank a child? Does anybody really want to be spanked? Yes I know, some people like to be spanked. Hey, some people like to roll around in broken glass (like Iggy Pop), but that doesn’t mean it’s a good punishment for our kids! I know I’d rather be spoken to about a problem than beaten over it.

I got to wondering, does the Bible really say that if I love my child, I need to “rod” him when he misbehaves? Does it REALLY say this?

So I did some research, and here’s what I found in the Old Testament:

“He who spares the rod hates his son. But he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” — Proverbs, Chapter 13, Verse 24

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

“Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell.” — Proverbs, Chapter 23, verse 14

“Do not withhold discipline from a child. If you beat him with a rod, he will not die.” — Proverbs, Chapter 23, verse 13

This section of the Bible could have easily been called Corporal Punishment 101.

In A.J. Jacobs fantastic book, The Year of Living Biblically, he attempts to follow the “letter of the law” in Proverbs.

Unable to convince himself to buy an actual rod or paddle to discipline his son with, the author buys a “spongy Nerf bat.” On the surface it’s a comical moment, but if you dig a little deeper it’s not funny at all.

“After dinner he (his son Jasper) grabs a handful of nickels off the dresser and chucks them across the room. So I take the Nerf bat and smack Jasper’s butt with it. I’ve never spanked him before, despite several temptations to do otherwise. When I swing my bat, even though it’s spongy and harmless, I break some sort of barrier — I have now punished my son physically.

It’s an unsettling feeling. It drives home just how lopsided the relationship is. Parents have God-like physical dominance over their kids, at least when those kids have yet to reach puberty. Jasper seems undisturbed by all this. He responds by laughing hysterically, grabbing his wiffle bat, and attempting to smack me back.

So I’m basically sanctioning violence here. The rod is a fiasco. But here’s the thing, I agree with the gist of Proverbs. I need to discipline my son more. I need to give Jasper some tough love, dispense more timeouts, or risk having him turn into a three-foot tall monster…I’ve got to get stricter…”

I agree with Jacobs. It’s not about copping out of dispensing discipline, it’s about dispensing the best kind of discipline.

Jacobs’ problem is that he’s been incapable of following through on ANY form of discipline (not good for anybody involved). This is made obvious by the way his son reacts to being “struck” by the Nerf bat.

Jasper had no fear. Why? Because he fully trusts that his father has no intention to cause him hurt or pain. That’s a good thing. On the other hand, with no effective form of discipline Jasper has no respect for his father’s word. In turn, there’s never a realistic consequence for his actions, so he does what he wants. Not good.

Now exchange the Nerf bat with an actual rod, coupled with intent to “discipline,” and suddenly fear enters the picture. In this case, Jasper will probably stop the unwanted behavior because there’s a real consequence — but what has he learned?

The truth is, kids can be reasoned with. I’ve experienced it first hand. Zig Ziglar, one of my mentors, says, “people often act as you treat them.” Treat a child like they are capable of reasoning, of understanding, and they will be — especially if you nurture that.

Nurture them to a higher place. Not to a base level of fear. Stopping an action through fear does not teach virtue or ethical lessons. It teaches kids to distrust. Is that what you want for your kids? To go through life without real trust? What kind of relationships will they have with people? Their spouse and their kids? How will they perceive themselves?

In his book, A Little Book of Parenting SkillsMark Brady, PhD., explains:
“A parent’s role fulfills a sacred trust: one intended to safely help grow the heart, mind, brain and body of a vulnerable human being. No matter what you think, or what your own parents did that made you ‘turn out alright,’ hitting children violates that sacred trust.

Modern brain imaging studies clearly show that hitting children disrupts and disorganizes the developing structures of the body and brain. The home that used to be a safe refuge, no longer is. The people who used to be the ones a child could turn to for safety, no longer are. With nowhere safe to go, and no one available to turn to for soothing and help in regulating emotional distress, the world becomes an overwhelming, confusing, unmanageable place.”

My kids are two & four. They understand plenty good when I reason with them, or speak with them about the positive and negative consequences associated with their actions. The key, and the hard part, is keeping my word and following through with whatever consequence I dish out.

In Part 2 of this series I’ll consider the possibility that, if only taken literally, the Bible may be misinterpreted because the word of God is out of context. 6000 years have passed since the Old Testament was written. The meaning of words and concepts has changed drastically over 60 centuries.

And remember, you are not alone…

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Related Links:
Spare the Rod: Don’t Hit (Part 2)
Spare the Rod, Don’t Hit (Part 3)
Never Hit a Child
Equal Rights for Kids: Don’t Hit (Part 1)
Equal Rights for Kids: Don’t Hit (Part 2)
Equal Rights for Kids: Let Your Kids Decide

5 Replies to “Spare the Rod: Don’t Hit!”

  1. Please look at the historical significance of the ‘rod’. They were talking about teaching. As a shepherd, you used the rod to redirect, to rescue, or to stop a sheep. There was not hitting involved. Like your work. Keep it up.

    1. @ Dorothea: Very interesting. Why is this not more well known?

      Thank you, I will be sure to investigate further.



  2. I’m new to your blog, but I find it very interesting. When it comes to spanking, you make a valid point, I too would rather be talked to about a problem instead of spanked for it, but why does it have to be one or the other. I have a few rules that govern how I discipline, and keep in mind, every child is different. I have a daughter who is very sensitive, and sometimes just a stern voice is enough to correct the problem.

    1 use the lowest leve of discipline possible to correct the problem. start with being stern, then a time-out, if that doesn’t work, a spanking (done properly)
    2 when you spank your child, talk to them first. Explain what you said, and what they did that was wrong. Reinforce your house rules, explain the importance of obeying the first time with a good attitude. then have them bend over and spank them on the behind with an open palm. Never a closed fist, and I’m not an advocate for using a bat, belt, paddle etc, because you have less of an idea of the amount of force you are using when you have something else making the contact. step three, hold them. Let them cry, but let them feel your love at the same time. I don’t enjoy spanking them, but as the Bible says, it will help them in the long run to not be a snotty nosed brat who thinks they can get away with anything. the last step, forgive. Ask them to apologize, which means saying “im sorry” and asking “will you forgive me?” then forgive, and kiss and hug them, let them know that you have dealt with the problem and the relationship is restored. Talking and spanking work best.
    oh and never spank when you’re angry. If you need to, take a moment and calm down. Sometimes the lecture before the spanking helps calm you down, other times you need to walk away for a second.

    1. @ Lee: Thank you for your response. I have heard disciplinary processes from other parents that are similar to what you described. Would you mind me asking, where in the Bible does it say “it will help them in the long run to not be a snotty nosed brat who thinks they can get away with anything.” Huh?

      I have never hit my children, and they know very well that they can not get away with anything. In our house, we teach what is right and what is wrong, and we explain the reason to our children. Eventually their frontal lobes will develop enough to understand, and their sense of trust will not be damaged in the process.

      The philosophy you are condoning here is archaic, brutal and damaging to children. I am not a Christian, but I do know that Jesus was a man of peace. Do you think he would agree with an act of violence against a defenseless child? There are other ways to discipline children. All of which are LESS convenient than hitting them. They are also more beneficial to the child for the rest of their lives.

      Your children are not dogs.



  3. almost all of the verses you quote make reference to the what i called not turning into snotty nosed brats in the long run. By disciplining now, they will be saved from living their life in ‘folly(aka snotty nosed brat) from death (the end result of a rebellious and selfish lifestyle)
    look, as far as the violence issue goes, it’s not violent. I know there are a lot of images that flash through a persons mind when they here the word “spank” and most of the time, spanking is displayed as some kind of outraged mom caught wacking her kids on the head in the grocery store in a rage. That’s not spanking. that’s child abuse. so I understand that much of the media (and your blog…) helps make the word spanking to be charged with meaning. I would say, you’ve probably never seen spanking done correctly if you think it is brutal. Just like smacking a kids hand who is reaching for a hot stove, one spank to the behind after a discussion, followed by lots of love is not damaging. I agree that it is archaic in the sense that it has been around for a long time. But that doesn’t make it wrong.
    As far as Jesus’ teachings go, I think you have to take everything in context. He advocated violence as well as peace, depending on the circumstance. “the kingdom of heaven will come by force” Also he threw out the money exchangers in the temple with a whip and threw over their tables. and I think he would advocate proper discipline of a child. please keep an open mind about others who do spank and don’t assume we are all brutally beating our kids. because everyone wants to make anyone who spanks their kids look like a bad guy, but it can be done in a helpful way. My parents spanked me growing up in the same way I described, and it was not damaging to me at all. I would be the first to agree that I often needed it.

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