Thou Shalt Spank…



To spank or not to spank?

Whenever the debate of spanking comes up, often Christians quote the “thou shalt spank” verse: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I have said it.

You may have as well…the problem is, it is not in the Bible.

It is from a Samuel Butler Poem entitled, Hudibras:

Bring me, on oath, a fair account,
And honour too, when you have done’t,
And I’ll admit you to the place
You claim as due in my good grace.
If matrimony and hanging go
By dest’ny, why not whipping too?
What med’cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.


So what does the Bible say? It certainly speaks about disciplining our children, so too the Bible we ought to look, not to a poem, for direction on how to raise our children. The closest thing in the Bible to this quote is from Proverbs 13:24:

Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.

It is close, but it is not the same. Is it?

There are other verses which speak of the rod of discipline as well:

Proverbs 22:15 says:

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”

Proverbs 23:13 says:

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.”

Often well meaning parents speak of the “rod” as a spanking.  In fact there is even a Bible translation, which erroneously translates proverbs 13:24 as:

Whoever refuses to spank his son hates him,
    but whoever loves his son disciplines him from early on.

This is wrong.

The verse does NOT say “spank.” It says, “Spares the rod.”

Many interpret these verses the way that this erroneous translation has, to mean that God is instructing parents to spank children when they misbehave.  Some take it to mean that spankings should be administered with “the rod,” or belts, or other various blunt objects. This misinterpretation is understandable, and has been made by many well meaning Christian parents of the years, but what it shows is a lack of correct Biblical exegesis, when interpreting this verse and others like it.

Perhaps you have heard of the phrase, “Scripture interprets scripture.”  What this means, simply, is that it is important to interpret verses within the greater context of the Bible. While researching this text, I came across many out of context defenses of spanking by normally biblically sound people. Be careful when exegeting!

I digress…

So considering this, what is the “rod” which we use, and how are we to use it? The word rod is the same as the one used in Psalm 23 :

“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

Take a moment and look at that.


The rod comforts…

Let me ask a question, do you think a sheep would be comforted by the rod if it was used to strike it?

Would you say that kids are comforted by a spanking, or being struck with a belt or a rod?

Imagine a dog that cowers every time master picks up the stick that is used to strike it…that dog is not comforted by the stick, but is terrified of it!

rod&staff2Here is the thing, shepherds didn’t use the rod to beat their sheep every time they strayed away. The shepherd’s rod was used to help direct the sheep by gently guiding them in the right direction, and, if needed, giving them a poke or a prod when they strayed to far. The shepherd would also use the rod to count the sheep as the passed under it. Yet the rod was also a weapon, but not for the sheep. It was used to beat off predators like wild dogs, bears and wolves.


According to one commentator,  the setting of a word often determines its meaning.

“In the case of the word, “rod”there are two preceding articles which will change the meaning from metaphorical to concrete: the rod and a rod. “The rod” is always metaphorical, as in Lamentations 3:1—“I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” On the other hand, “a rod” is always with reference to a concrete object—a straight stick that might have been used as a tool of measurement (1Sa 17:7, Rev. 21:16), a symbol of authority (Is. 14:5), or a staff used in herding sheep (Lev. 27:32)…

In every case, when the word rod is used with reference to the training or discipline of children, it is preceded by the article the, connoting that the usage is metaphorical. To understand it otherwise results in irreconcilable confusion. For example, in Exodus (21:20), The Lord specifies that if a man beats his male or female slave with a rod, and the slave dies as a direct result, the man must be punished.”

Interesting stuff.

The rod is metaphorical.  So this verse is a metaphorical rod, and a verse like  proverbs 26:3 is literal! “A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, And a rod for the back of fools.”

I heard that yawn!

Ok. Lets move on.

The point is that this verse is not saying you have to hit your kids. It is not saying, “Thou Shalt Spank!” It is saying train them, love them, discipline them raise them correctly. Now to clarify, I am not saying don’t spank your kids. I do believe that a properly administered spanking  is an effective type of “using the rod”, but it is not the only way to use the rod. I have had to spank on occasion, but let’s be honest, spanking is often done in anger or frustration, rather than in love. And when we do that, when we do it when we are angry, may be teaching our children that it is ok to hit people when they make you mad.  I can’t speak for you, but that is not the message I want to send my kids…

Spanking is easy.

It is quick.

Even my kid thinks so.

For example one time when I was disciplining my 6 year old for misbehaviour, I took away her privileges and toys for a day… she asked me for a spanking instead. She would have rather had a spank that stung for a minute, than having to endure the loss of her things for an afternoon.

So let’s admit it, spanking can be done out of sheer laziness. Often more effective methods of discipline require a lot more effort and patience. Right? And those other methods of discipline, when done in love, are in fact administering the rod as Proverbs 13:24 instructs.


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