Should Christian Parents Spank Their Children?
By Rick Creech
Should Christians spank their children? Some Christians think that a parent should spank their children because they think the Bible tells them to do so. Because Christians believe the Bible to be their instruction book on both faith and practice, it’s very important to carefully consider exactly what the Bible has to say on the subject of the parent-child relationship, especially in regards to spanking. To spank or not to spank, that is the question.
If you love your children, then one of the great desires of your heart is to see your children grow up and do the right thing and become the best that they can be. There are no guarantees, but loving parents want to make sure that they do everything that they ought to do in order to increase the odds in the favor of their children. There is a warning to parents in the New Testament to make sure that they do not do something that ends up provoking the children to wrath. The first part of Ephesians 6:4 says, "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath." What a shame it would be if a parent should start the responsibilities of parenting with the wrong idea about what is important in the upbringing of their children. In spite of how much the parent loves the child, the parent might end up influencing the child in the wrong way.
We are going to look at what the Bible has to say on the subject of disciplining children. Does the Bible instruct parents to spank their children?
Important Principles To Know To Correctly Interpret The Bible
In order to interpret the Bible correctly, we must always remember that some passages are meant to be taken literally and others are meant to be taken symbolically. If you take a particular passage of the Bible literally when it was meant to be symbolic, then you will not understand its true significance. For example, Jesus often taught by using parables. When He taught about a sower who went forth to sow seed, He was not primarily talking about real seed that a farmer plants in the ground. The seed was symbolic of the Word of God. If you do not understand the symbolism, then you do not understand what is really being taught. The Bible is accurate and reliable and literally true in all passages, but passages that have symbolism cannot be completely understood unless the symbolism is understood.
Another important thing to realize when studying the Bible is the fact that the Bible is divided up into the Old Testament and the New Testament, and some of the things of the Old Testament were done away with when the New Testament came into place. John says, "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." There is a difference between law and grace. Some of the things emphasized in the Old Testament were a part of the law, and the requirements of the law, and the strictness of the law. Many of the strict requirements of the law we no longer practice, because we now know a more complete revelation of how the Lord wants us to live: that of grace and truth that was brought by Jesus Christ. For example, the law of the Old Testament stated very clearly that if anyone committed adultery, they should be put to death. But when a woman who was taken in adultery was brought to Jesus, Jesus did not allow the men to put her to death. Instead, Jesus said to the men, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Jesus did not change the moral principal that was in the law, because He still told the woman, "Go and sin no more." But Jesus did change the way that the requirement of the law was enforced. Jesus did away with the harsh physical punishment, but He still upheld the moral standard.
Never forget that there is a difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament, and when you read something from the Old Testament you should always try to determine if what you are reading is something that has been more completely revealed in the New Testament. Is there a moral principal involved that should be applied differently now that we live in the age of grace? In the case of the woman who was taken in adultery, Jesus did not allow the people to apply the strict punishment of the Old Testament law. There are other harsh punishments instructed by the Old Testament law that we also no longer apply today. Some of these instructions have to do with the correction and discipline of children.
Jesus taught this important principle about the difference between the old and the new. Jesus taught that the old and the new should not be mixed. The new is a replacement for the old. Do not make the mistake of improperly mixing the old with the new. Jesus said in Matthew 9:16, “No man puts a piece of new cloth onto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up takes from the garment and the rent is made worse.”
In the example that Jesus gave someone needed to repair a tear in an old garment. To properly fix the garment so that the tear would not be noticed, a patch needed to be used that would blend well with the garment. A new patch on an old garment just would not do. The purpose of a new garment is to replace an old garment and not to patch it. In many ways the Old Testament and the New Testament cannot be mixed either. The new does away with the old. The new supersedes the old and gives a better, a higher, and a more complete way. It takes a certain amount of understanding and perception to determine which things in the Old Testament are tied to the parts of the law that have been fulfilled and that have been put away by the New Testament. The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
In pointing this out we want to make clear that we are in no way implying that the Old Testament is not valuable or useful as part of the Word of God. The Old Testament is just as much a part of the Word of God as the New Testament. Second Timothy says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The soul can be nourished by reading and studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament reveals many things about the wonderful nature of God. His love, His holiness, and His power are found in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. The important principle of justification by faith is found in the Old Testament, even though it is revealed in more detail in the New Testament.
But we must not forget that the New Testament is a more recent and a more complete revelation of certain truths from God. We live in a different age than the people of the Old Testament. We live in the age of grace, and the New Testament tells us higher and nobler things than were revealed in the previous age, especially in regards to the Messiah who is Jesus Christ the Lord, and especially in regards to the faith and practice of those who believe in the Messiah and who follow the Messiah.
One more thing needs to be said about the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Even though the New Testament is a more recent and a more complete revelation of the truth from God, the Old Testament and the New Testament are intricately intertwined. In a real sense the New Testament is a commentary on the Old Testament and an explanation of the Old Testament. That’s why there are such a vast number of quotations of Old Testament passages in the New Testament.
If you have a Bible that includes in the margins all of the references to other Bible passages, then you can see this very easily. For example, Romans chapter four is a great chapter in the New Testament on the subject of justification by faith. It has references to Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and the Psalms. We could go through each book of the New Testament and find a massive number of direct quotations and references to Old Testament passages. That’s because the New Testament is directly related to the Old Testament. The New Testament clarifies Old Testament teachings. The New Testament emphasizes the things from the Old Testament that we still need to observe. Be careful. Do not try to live in the context of the Old Testament. Understand the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but also understand that the New Testament has brought a more complete way and a better way in many respects.
There is a vast amount of information in the New Testament about the husband-wife relationship and about the parent-child relationship, and not one thing is said about spanking. Surely if spanking were an important part of bringing up a child in a Christian home in the age in which we live, something would have been said about spanking in the New Testament. Surely if spanking were so important for Christians, there would be at least one New Testament passage that would tell Christian parents clearly to spank their children. In the New Testament we are told to teach our children and we are told to correct our children and we are told to love our children, but we are never told to spank them.
Old Testament Passages Used To Justify Spanking
The Bible verses that are most commonly used by some to teach that Christian parents should spank their children come entirely from the Old Testament and are:
1. Proverbs "He that spares his rod hates his son: but he that loves him chastens him sometimes."
2. Proverbs "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
3. Proverbs 23:13-14 "Withhold not correction from the child: for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shall deliver his soul from hell."
4. Proverbs 29:15 "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame."
There is an important question to ask about these verses from the Old Testament. Do they apply today in the same way that they did during the times of the Old Testament, or are these verses other examples of the harshness of the law that are no longer to be applied in the way they once were because we live in the age of grace? A good interpretation of these verses is to say that the same principle still applies, in that children still need to have the proper amount of correction, but the correction should not be applied with corporal punishment.
If we are going to take some of the verses
of the Old Testament that have to do with the punishment of children and apply
them literally, then we should take all of the verses in the Old Testament that
have to do with the punishment of children and apply them all literally.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says, "If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will
not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when
they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and
his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and
unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city,
This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a
glutton and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with
stones, that he die: so shalt
thou put evil away from among you; and all
Of course, no one teaches that we should apply this passage in Deuteronomy to our current day and age or that we should apply it when we correct our children today. We recognize that the passage from Deuteronomy in the Old Testament was for a different age and a different time. It is much too harsh for the day in which we live. We can look at the verses in Proverbs that have to do with using a "rod" on a child in the same way even if we interpret these parts of Proverbs literally. A good and valid interpretation of the Bible is to say that the above verses from Deuteronomy and the Proverbs are among the things from the Old Testament that are a part of the harshness and strictness of the law that should not be applied in our day because of the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament and because of the difference between law and grace.
We should also look at the possibility that the aforementioned verses in Proverbs should be applied symbolically. Of course, we are not trying to imply that there should be no correction or no punishment given to children, but only that it does not have to be corporal punishment. If we give a symbolic meaning to the verses in Proverbs, then the "rod of correction" would simply mean that correction is a rod. Compare Proverbs 14:3 where the word "rod" is used in another context that does not involve the correction of children, and very obviously does not involve a literal rod either. It says, "In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them." This verse means that pride is a rod. It does not mean that there is a literal rod or stick in the mouth of a foolish person. We do not have to interpret the phrase "rod of correction" as a literal rod either. It means that correction is a rod. In other words a parent must be sure to give the proper correction to a child when the child misbehaves. Some of the verses in Proverbs are not teaching a method of correction, but they are teaching the importance of the proper amount of correction. Proverbs 29:17 says, “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.” Do not make the mistake of assuming that this verse or others like it are referring to corporal punishment.
In the book of First Corinthians Paul was
writing to the believers in the city of
Do Not Equate Correction With Corporal Punishment
Children, just like adults, love to hear positive things said to them and about them. To not hear those things is in itself a punishment and a correction. When someone wants to do what is right, just a reminder that they have failed can be an arrow that pierces the soul. Look at the shame and the discouragement and the humiliation that came over the Apostle Peter once he realized that he had denied the Lord, and it did not even take a human voice to remind him of his error, just the crowing of a rooster.
In the New Testament Hebrews 12:6-7 says, "For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chastens not?" In these verses the chastisement that God sometimes gives to us is compared to the chastisement that a father gives to his son. But God does not beat us with a literal rod, and He does not strike us physically. We are reminded of the way in which He dealt with Peter. He simply lets us know that He is displeased with us. God’s chastisement is primarily communication whereby He lets us know that we have failed, and then we are stricken in our conscience. The correction that the parent is responsible for giving is the communication with the child whereby the child knows that he has failed, knows why he has failed, and knows that the parent is displeased with him. We humans are very sensitive creatures. It does not take much to let someone know that you are not pleased with them: a glance, a frown, a gesture. If the parent and child have a loving relationship, there will be no greater punishment for the child than to know that the parent is not pleased. The child will live and breathe just to hear these words from the parent: "Well done, my child."
Jesus warned His followers against using violence. The Bible says in Matthew 26:52, "Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." Jesus also taught that the way that you treat others is the way that they will end up treating you. He said in Luke 6:38, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that you mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” There will be negative consequences to the use of violence. Violence begets violence, and striking begets striking. When a parent strikes a child, it can be a form of violence. Often your own behavior and actions will teach your children more than your words. Do not make the mistake of teaching your children to use violence because of the example that you have given to them.
Jesus told His followers to be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as lambs. In First Timothy chapter 3 we are given the qualifications for a Christian man who might be selected as a pastor of a church. One of the qualifications is listed in verse 3 as "no striker". This means that he should not be someone who strikes other humans. There are no exceptions given. He should not strike his neighbors, he should not strike his co-workers, he should not strike his wife, and he should not strike his children. In the Bible verse that follows the one that says that a pastor should not be a striker, the Bible says that the pastor should have "his children in subjection with all gravity." If striking the children was meant to be used as one of the means to keep the children in subjection with all gravity, then this would have been an excellent occasion to give spanking as an exception to the commandment to be "no striker", but no exception is given. A pastor should not be one who strikes others, and that includes his children. If a pastor should not be a striker of humans, then it should certainly be the goal of all other Christians also.
Discipline Refers To Teaching
Do not misunderstand. The right kind of correction is very important for all human beings, and especially for children. Correction is part of the learning process. If a person makes a mistake, the mistake needs to be corrected. The result of the mistake needs to be corrected, and the reason for the mistake also must be corrected so that the same mistake will not happen again and so that a worse mistake does not happen next time.
One reason that people do the wrong thing is because of a lack of understanding or a lack of knowledge of what the right behavior should be. One value of the Holy Bible is the instruction given concerning proper human behavior. Second Timothy says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” If you know what the Bible teaches about the various situations of human life, then you know what you should do. If you do not know or if you misunderstand what the Bible teaches, then the odds decrease dramatically that you will do the right thing.
Of course, sometimes we do the wrong thing even when we know what we should do. That is why a mature Christian will do the proper amount of self-examination on a daily basis, and when necessary will confess and forsake his sins. But a child is similar in some ways to an immature Christian and has not yet developed the discipline to do this self-examination. The role of the parent is to assist the child in this matter, not with corporal punishment, but with correction, reproof, and rebuke. It is a responsibility that is similar to that of a pastor with his congregation. Paul wrote to Timothy about this responsibility in Second Timothy 4:2 where it says, “…reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” Corporal punishment is not the emphasis of the New Testament as an indispensable part of bringing up a child. As a matter of fact spanking is not mentioned or even implied in any part of the New Testament. The right kind of correction, centered around the right kind of teaching, is emphasized. More than anything else a parent should be a teacher of his or her children.
The goal of the parent is to assist the child in having the best behaviors possible. In order to accomplish this goal it is important to know why people do what they do. Why do humans do what they do? If you know the answer to that question, then you will also know why your children do what they do, and you will know the best way of influencing their behavior. One of the reasons that human beings do what they do is because it’s what they want to do. All humans make choices. You cannot force anyone to do anything, if they choose to resist at all cost. We have put too much emphasis in our society on the power of the parent to control the children. In the Ten Commandments there is one commandment that addresses the parent-child relationship, and it puts the responsibility on the child. It reminds the child of his responsibility to do what he ought to do. It says, "Honor your father and mother" in Exodus . The New Testament says something very similar in Ephesians 6:1: "Children, obey your parents."
Both the Old Testament and New Testament put major responsibility on the children. It’s the children, the attitude of the children, and the choices of the children that will determine if the child is good and obedient or not. Spanking is not the factor that will determine the issue. One reason is because violence begets violence and anger begets anger. Right after admonishing the children to obey the parents, the writer of Ephesians turns to the fathers and gives them a warning about their own behavior and how they react to the children. The first part of Ephesians 6:4 says, "And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath."
Anger and violence are to be avoided in the correction of children. What is the principle responsibility of the parent in regards to the children? If the children are going to eventually make their own choices and their own decisions in life, just like all human beings, then where do the parents fit in? The second part of Ephesians 6:4 gives the answer. It says, "...bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." "Nurture and admonition" refers to what you say to a child: what you teach them. The responsibility of a parent is to teach a child what is true and good about the various situations of life, and then the child will have all the information that is necessary to make the best decisions.
But there are no guarantees. A child can be taught what is wise and good about a certain situation, but still reject the wisdom that was given. You will not be the only one teaching things to your children. The world will also be teaching them. Your children will hear other ideas about life, as well as the things that you tell them. Every child will be tempted because every human being is tempted. They will hear some good and some bad, and then they will make choices. The parents’ responsibility is to ensure that the children will at least have one source from which they will hear what is good. When Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, he began it as a parent speaking to a son and pleading with the son to make the right decisions and to not go the wrong way. That’s the best that a parent can do. Ultimately, the child makes his or her own decisions and then must live with the consequences like every other person on the earth.
Solomon wrote in Proverbs chapter one and verses 8-15, "My son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto your head, and chains about your neck. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in your lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain your foot from their path."
The primary responsibility of the parent is to teach the children and to clarify the issues. But for someone to be taught something, there must be a teacher who teaches and a student who listens. The teacher must have the right attitude and the right approach of a teacher in order to be a good teacher, and the student must have the right attitude and the right response of a student in order to be a good student. Proverbs 4:1-2 says, “Hear, you children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake you not my law.” The objective is that learning would take place, but certain kinds of failures on the part of the parent or on the part of the child will be an obstacle to the learning process. If the parent is too punitive or critical, then the child may be provoked to wrath and learning will not take place. On the other hand if the child is too rebellious and stubborn, then the child will not listen to the parent and learning will not take place. Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Rich rewards are promised when the child is properly trained by the parent, but the training will only take place if two things happen. First, the parent must give the proper information in the proper way. Second, the child must welcome and receive and apply the information that is given to him from the parent. If either of the two things fail to happen, then the child will not be trained up in the way that he should go.
There are no guarantees. If someone is given good and wise teachings about life and about what to do in various situations, and then rejects the teachings, where does that leave that person? Adam and Eve had two sons. Undoubtedly, both sons heard the same information from their parents. One of the sons evidently rejected the teachings and became a murderer. It was not the fault of the parents. It was the fault of the son, Cain. The same kind of thing can happen to any parent. A parent might give the right information in the right way to the child, but the child may choose to not follow the instruction that was given to him or her. That’s the fault of the child, not the parent.
Life Is A Teacher
When a child does make the wrong choice, then he will suffer the consequences. That’s one of the ways in which we are all punished. Life punishes us and teaches us when we make wrong choices, and that’s why older usually means wiser. You will either learn from your parents, or you will learn from life. The quicker and the safer way is to learn from the parents. Life can be dangerous, and a foolish decision can result in a shortened life. Ephesians 6:2-3 says, "Honor your father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth."
Because life is such a good teacher and punisher, parents must be careful to not be too over-protective. The goal is to protect the children from the dangers of life, but not to keep them from learning the lessons of life. A good example of this is the child who habitually forgets to take his lunch to school. On hearing that the child is at school again without his lunch, the over-protective parent interrupts a busy schedule and rushes off to school to make sure that the child does not go without lunch. In such a case the child learns nothing and is apt to be just as disorganized the next day when getting things together for school. In a case like this spanking would not be appropriate either. Why not allow life to correct and instruct the child? Hunger caused by the forgetfulness of the child would be a great motivator the next morning when the child prepares for school.
Quite a few years ago an outsider visited a
tribe of Sioux Indians in
One day I was talking to a beautician in
When I made this point, she recounted to me the following story concerning a problem that she once had with her young son playing in the street. She had tried everything that she could think of to get him to stop playing in the street. Nothing worked: not spanking, nor threats, nor explanations. Finally, an idea dawned on the young mother. She took her child down the road and found an animal that had been killed and then run over several times. The mother showed the carcass to the child and made it clear that this is what happens from playing in the street. Her son never played in the street again. The lessons of life, what really happens as a consequence of certain behaviors, are the best teachers of all.
Jesus taught a parable in Luke 15:11-32 that is called the parable of the lost son. We will quote Jesus from Luke 15:11-24 where He said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that fall to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to the servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.”
Of course, Jesus taught this parable to show some important things about salvation. Jesus taught this parable to show how much God loves lost souls because the father is symbolic of God. Jesus taught this parable to show that no matter how great are your sins, God will always forgive you and receive you if you turn from your wicked ways and turn to Him. When Jesus created this parable from His infinite mind, it was not by accident that He used the relationship of a father and his sons. Therefore, it is important for us to notice about this parable the fact that the father did not punish the son in this incident. The son was definitely punished, but not by the father. The son was punished by life, and the son was punished by suffering the consequences of his own actions and his own decisions. The father is pictured by Jesus as being compassionate, gentle, and merciful. May God have mercy on our souls if our children grow up and do not view us as having characteristics similar to this father. If we are not compassionate, gentle, and merciful to our children, then what have we done to them?
Why Do People Do What They Do?
People do what they do because they think that is how they will obtain the desired results. In other words most actions are done for positive reasons: in order to obtain that which is desired. A comparatively smaller number of actions are done for negative reasons: in order to avoid undesirable results. Punishment may be necessary at times, but the fear of punishment will influence actions in a relatively small way because punishment is a negative way of influencing behavior. The best way to help motivate your children is to give them positive reasons to do what you would like them to do. Praise and reward for the proper behaviors have a much greater possibility of success than condemnation and punishment for the undesired behaviors. The Apostle Paul did not make great efforts in evangelizing the world out of fear of punishment from God. One of the reasons that Paul did what he did was because he looked forward to receiving rewards from God for his efforts. Paul wrote in Second Timothy 4:8, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” Paul also wrote to the Corinthians about having the proper motivation to live the Christian life. According to Paul, this motivation includes the desire to win prizes and rewards from God. Paul wrote in First Corinthians 9:24-25, “Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”
Sometimes the results that people seek are good, but in order to obtain those results, actions are chosen that fail to give what was wanted. One of the challenges of life is not only to have the proper goals, but to know which actions will result in the fulfilling of those goals. Someone who really understands how life works will know which actions to take in order to accomplish the desired results. Loving parents will want to reinforce the best actions in their children. Honesty and integrity and dependability and other traits of a good character are the things that a parent will want to reinforce in their children. Such things will be best reinforced by the positive effect of praise and reward. Constantly look for ways to influence your child’s behavior through praise and reward.
My wife and I have three sons. For a period of a couple of years I often tried to get my oldest son to mow the lawn. For some reason this became a source of contention between the two of us. It seemed that he always wanted to do something other than mow the lawn. Threats and other punishments made little impact. One day my second oldest son came to me and asked me if he could mow the lawn. I gladly granted his request, and when he was finished, I praised the job that he did and gave him a reward of several dollars. For many years afterward most of the lawn mowing was done by the second son, something that he did willingly and happily, and of course he was always rewarded for it. Notice the difference between negative reinforcement and positive reinforcement. Which method had the best effect on obtaining the desired behavior? Parents need to look for more opportunities to use praise and reward to get the desired behaviors instead of using threats and punishments.
Spanking Is Negative
Punishment is necessary at times, but corporal punishment is never necessary, and it definitely is not a requirement of the Bible. Spanking is not wrong of itself, but it can be easily abused, and it certainly is not commanded in the New Testament that Christians spank their children. As previously noted, there are other ways of looking at the verses of the Old Testament that some people use to justify spanking. For those who think that spanking is important in the upbringing of children, they should be aware of the fact that spanking can be easily abused. If you think that a child deserves a small spanking for something that he has done, then what does he deserve when something really bad has been done? When does a person cross the line from giving a spanking to giving a beating and then to committing abuse? How do you define that line to a parent, and how do you teach a parent to not cross that line? If people would use other means of correcting their children rather than corporal punishment, no one would harm a child by having crossed the line.
If parents spank their children, they may be giving the message that it’s good to strike another human if you are bigger and stronger and if you do not like what that person has done. Sometimes young children learn behavior by copying their parents’ behavior. Some children learn to hit other children because they themselves were hit by their parents. To strike someone in any context is an act of aggression and violence. We often ask why we have such a violent society. One reason may be because of the violence that some children learned through the spankings they received from their parents.
The goal of the parent should be to become a teacher and a trusted advisor to the child. Discipline is important, but do not forget the primary meaning of the word discipline. The American Heritage Dictionary gives the primary meaning as: “Training that is expected to produce a specified character or pattern of behavior, especially that which is expected to produce moral or mental improvement.” To discipline does not mean to spank; it means to train and to teach. The followers of Jesus were called disciples, not because of punishment that they received from Jesus, but because of the teaching that they received from Him.
Parents who spank their children may forget just how much bigger they are than their children. Violence puts a wedge and a barrier between parent and child. There are children who grow up spending the rest of their lives fearing the voice of their father or remembering with terror hearing his footsteps coming up the stairs. Such tales of tormented souls and divided families would have never happened if more people had taken the time to teach and instruct their children, instead of the quick way out that spanking appeared to give them.
Even those who teach that you should spank your children would admit that there is an age at which the child is too young to spank and there is an age at which the child is too old to spank. Obviously no one would spank a new-born. They would too easily be hurt, and they would not understand what was being done or why any way. How do you define exactly when a child is old enough or big enough to spank? No one can define that, and the Bible does not define it either. For this reason alone it is better not to spank. Do you want to harm a child physically or emotionally? If not, then do not use corporal punishment.
Other Cultures Did Not Spank: With Good Results
Spanking can easily be counter-productive. There are examples of peoples who used little or no spanking, and yet who had very good results in seeing their children become responsible and well-adjusted members of their society. Corporal punishment has the possibility of driving a wedge between parent and child. Anything that injures the trust between parent and child can only be negative and harmful to the child-rearing process. It is critical that the child views himself as being loved and being accepted as a part of the family unit. As the child matures this confident sense of belonging will naturally be transferred by the child to other relationships in the community and in his world.
Spanking and the violence associated with spanking can drive this sense of belonging out of a child. In a study of the Iroquois Indians made by B. H. Quain in the book entitled Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples it was noted, “Corporal punishment was not used… Thus the parents’ reputation for benevolence was kept intact: there was nothing in the child’s life to alienate him from the kin group.” The author noted the following major characteristics of the Iroquois society: “Insistence upon social virtues which are defined as bravery and initiative on the one hand and support of the established order on the other,” and the Iroquois society was described as having a “well-organized cohesive kin group.” We must emphasize once again that these things were accomplished without the corporal punishment of their children.
The loving parent will want to see his child grow up with a healthy view of self and with the right kind of self-esteem and self-confidence. There is a logical connection between the wrong kind of corporal punishment and harm to a child’s self-esteem. Is there any evidence from a study of human beings that a lack of corporal punishment can be related to high self-esteem? In a study of the Dakota Sioux Indians written by Jeannette Mirsky in the book Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples she noted that in the upbringing of their children that “there is very little corporal punishment.” Then in describing these people it was noted that they were characterized by “marked ego development,” and that the Dakota had “relatively high security” and a “strong kin group.”
Those who think that corporal punishment and spanking are important elements in the upbringing of a child run the risk of harming a child’s self-esteem and view of self. They also run the risk of being on the wrong side of a serious warning given by Christ when He said in Matthew 18:6, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” To offend in the Greek language means to cause to stumble. Every child has such a great potential. Only the proper training can bring that potential to fruition. The wrong kind of correction can be a stumbling-block to the healthy development of the child.
Corporal punishment is not the answer. Strictness and harshness are not the answer. As in most things in life, the answer can be found in the example that Jesus gave us. Surely anyone who reads the gospels does not get a picture of Jesus striking a child for any reason. Jesus gave us an example of kindness and gentleness towards children. Jesus said in Mark , "Permit the children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of heaven."
Copyright; 1999 by Charles F. (Rick) Creech
All Rights Reserved