When Father Doesn't Know Best, Part 2

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Sept./Oct 2011. Read Part 1.

Child discipline and the Bible

Once upon a time Father knew best, and once upon a time we allowed Him to teach us how to parent. In Deuteronomy 8:3, God acknowledges humbling Israel and allowing them even to go hungry (of course, only to a point), calling it parental discipline (Hebrew yaser, LXX Greek paideusai) in Deuteronomy 8:5. Solomon counsels his reader not to reject the Lord’s discipline (same Hebrew and Greek roots as in Deuteronomy 8) and reminds that the Lord reproves those He loves, “as a father the son in whom he delights” (Prov. 3:11-12). Solomon suggests. further, “reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23b), “whoever loves discipline loves knowledge” (Prov. 12:1), and “a wise son accepts his father’s discipline” (Prov. 13:1a).

Not only does Solomon communicate the importance of discipline, but he also relays an important method, saying, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently” (Prov. 13:24), and “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). He adds, “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat [or smite] him, he will not die” (Prov. 23:13). From these contexts it is easy to see that Solomon is not advocating cruelty and physical damage. Rather, in no uncertain terms Solomon portrays physical discipline as an expression of love for the purpose of training and fostering growth—and according to Solomon, it has to hurt.

In addition to discussing purpose and method, Solomon also expresses the urgency of parental discipline: “Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death” (Prov. 19:27); “You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Sheol” (Prov. 23:14). Solomon contends that if a parent is not disciplining forcefully (causing pain) and intentionally (with love and for growth), that parent is sentencing his child to walk a path endangered by stupidity (Prov. 12:1b), poverty and shame (Prov. 13:18a), self loathing (Prov. 15:32a), straying from knowledge (Prov. 19:27), foolishness (Prov. 22:15), and even premature death (Prov. 19:18; 23:14).

Wow. Those are strong words, indeed. Surely, we can’t take Solomon seriously right? Jesus acknowledged the great wisdom of Solomon (Matthew 12:42), and the writer of Chronicles tells us from where this wisdom came, and consequently why we must take Solomon seriously:

God said to Solomon, “Because you had this in mind, and did not ask for riches, wealth or honor, or the life of those who hate you, nor have you even asked for long life, but you have asked for yourself wisdom and knowledge that you may rule My people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge have been granted to you. And I will give you riches and wealth and honor, such as none of the kings who were before you has possessed nor those who will come after you.” (2 Chron. 1:11)

Particularly notable to me, considering the occasion of this article, is that last phrase: “…nor those who will come after you.” While this is a specific reference to forthcoming kings of Israel, nonetheless, I wonder if Jose Longoria would consider his statement to have a greater weight of wisdom than Solomon’s teachings on discipline. I must strongly commend Judge Longoria for his desire to ensure that children are protected in accordance with the law. He is probably familiar with many cases in which children have been greatly harmed by parental irresponsibility and cruelty. For example, a Texas man was recently arrested for allegedly causing the death of his two year old daughter by a spanking episode (Fox News, viewed 10/3/2011). Still, I must consider Judge Longoria to be strongly mistaken in his consideration of how such protection should be accomplished: eliminating spanking altogether. His statement certainly is incompatible with the biblical concept of discipline.

Of course, the biblical data on parental discipline is not limited to the Hebrew Bible, but is also prominent in later Scripture as well. Paul exhorts fathers, “do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). In this passage Paul employs the same Greek term, translated discipline, as is translated by the LXX of Moses’ and Solomon’s admonitions. In this context we discover that discipline is part of a three-pronged parental approach that additionally includes instruction (the non-painful aspect of teaching) and an acute sensitivity on the part of the parent to avoid the potential provocation that can so easily accompany the instructive and disciplinary processes.

The writer of Hebrews further indicates that discipline is foundational to the relationship of parent and child, that the human parent-child relationship illustrates the relationship between God and His children, and that though discipline is sorrowful, its results are joyous. The words are poignant and worth repeating here:

It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Heb. 12:7-11)

Finally, Christ proclaims, “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline” (Rev. 3:19a). Ultimately, our discipline comes from Him and serves His purposes. We understand from these passages that discipline is a correction and pruning process that usually (if not always) requires at least some degree of pain, is always to be conducted in love, and is never intended to punish but always to instruct. We also understand that God as our Father models this discipline in our own lives and we are called to be receptive and teachable, even submissive to our Heavenly Father as the Creator who best knows how we should be trained and what best causes our growth.

How should we respond?

So, how should we respond when our society concludes that Father doesn’t know best? While of course I lament the continual erosion of religious freedom in this country, knowing from history the terrible oppression that is the inevitable result, it does not seem we are called presently to revolution, rebellion, or retreat. Perhaps two simple suggestions can help us to deal biblically with these challenges.

First, I suggest that we consider and appreciate that we do indeed have a place in the public square. And as such we can be influential in the shaping of society, and that we must keep in mind that this seat at the public discourse—be it a privilege or a right—should not be viewed as our primary role. We may, as individual members of the body of Christ, heavily influence public policy from time to time and we must be grateful to be part of a society in which an aspect of submission to government is in the shaping of that very government.

We must not take these things for granted, and we should not fear giving voice in the public square. Still, we must realize that Jesus didn’t die and rise again to save society. He died and rose again to save people. The means to revitalizing society is not broad political or humanly derived theocratic agendas. These have historically given rise to their own forms of oppression (as human solutions are always tarnished with sin and imperfection). But rather the means to revitalizing society involves the person-to-person sharing of the love of Christ and individual conduct in the manner He prescribes. If society is to be biblically moral in its ideas and conduct (and we know that it will never be fully so until God Himself ushers in eternity, making an end of sin), it will be so only by the grace of God and through the collective influence of Godly men, women, and children on people.

We must not forget that the disciples were called fishers of men, not fishers of societies and nations. God will deal with societies and nations. Ultimately they are accountable to Him. Ours is not to judge them or to hold them to an ethical standard under which they have never been placed. Remember, only believers are commanded to conduct themselves in godliness, while unbelievers are commanded to believe in Him for new life. Why would we expect unbelievers to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit whom they do not have? Still He calls us as His children to demonstrate His character to those around us. It seems that we should be socially active and responsible, but not obsessive. Our priorities must be in order.

Second, I suggest we consider the example of Daniel, who was above reproach (Dan. 6:5), and who had a habit of praying with windows opened and kneeling, facing Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10). When those trying to destroy him were successful in putting forth a law forbidding prayer to all but King Darius (Dan. 6:8-9), Daniel did not alter his course—he continued doing what he had done previously (Daniel 6:10). He did not incite revolution or conspire against the king nor against the officials who set out to harm Daniel. He did not rebel by becoming any more outspoken. Nor did he retreat by hiding or discontinuing his habitual prayer. Instead, he was steady in maintaining prayer and also in fulfilling his duties to the king inasmuch as was possible, in light of the king’s edict. When the two finally conflicted, Daniel unhesitatingly continued his service to God despite its freshly minted illegal status.

When consequences came, just as before, Daniel did not resort to revolution, rebellion or retreat. Instead he submitted to the king, accepting the consequence (death) for his actions (Dan. 6:7,12,17). When King Darius saw how righteously Daniel had behaved, and how God protected Daniel, Darius could do naught but glorify God and decree that men should treat Daniel’s God with requisite honor (Dan. 6:26-27).

Daniel’s goal was not to reform his society, but to obey God. Yet God used Daniel’s righteousness and obedience also in a way that had a remarkable impact on the society in which Daniel lived. When the law of the land decreed that Father didn’t know best, Daniel maintained his conviction to the contrary. Daniel had his priorities straight. What about us?

[node:bio/christopher-cone body]

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for taking up this topic. Well articulated... and there is a great need for that these days.

Cone wrote:
We understand from these passages that discipline is a correction and pruning process that usually (if not always) requires at least some degree of pain, is always to be conducted in love, and is never intended to punish but always to instruct.

That last point is especially important and I'm not sure I had seen it clearly before.

Much of the evangelical discussion on parenting approaches in the last few years has employed a grace argument... that parenting should mirror God's grace to sinners, therefore traditional methods are not appropriate, etc.
But the instructive purpose of discipline really defeats that line of argument. There is no inconsistency at all between grace and the use of pain as a way of teaching. Nor is there any inconsistency between grace and firm boundaries.

Rachel L.'s picture

The author seems to be equating painful discipline with PHYSICALLY painful discipline. Discipline can be painful without it being physically painful.

I've never NEEDED to spank my children. (I spanked the elder two a few times years ago, but in retrospect it was not necessary.) I do not spank my children, but I discipline them daily. I am being obedient to God and a loving parent with firm boundaries.

If spanking were declared illegal, I would be obeying both my heavenly Father and my civil authorities; it is not an either-or decision.

James K's picture

Rachel, it is important to pay attention to the scriptures. Discipline on the back of the fool requires physical discipline. Failure to spank equates to a failure to love. Your children have needed to be spanked, you just chose an alternate route. Obedience to God needs to reign over your cultural trappings.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Rachel L.'s picture

When did they need to be spanked? How in the world can you know that they "needed" a spanking?

nbanuchi's picture

I do not argue that the disciplining of children (as Christopher wrote) "usually (if not always) requires at least some degree of pain." I might disagree somewhat and suggest that discipline always "requires at least some degree of pain" appropriate to the offence.

However, is the primary intent of the Solomonic proverbs or of it's instruction in the epistle to the Hebrews that discipline must necessarily be physically painful? Yes, painful; but physical pain?

Just to clarify, I have used - and believe strongly - in physical discipline as sometimes necessary. For example, if my children hit each other, I spanked them. Hitting automatically deserved spanking; that was non-negotiable (as was lying). Another time, they talked disrespectfully, however, instead of spanking, I applied some soap to their mouths, which did the trick. They, at least, thought twice how to respond to me.

However, there was at least one time in one situtaion where spanking was not working and I had to cease. Looking back, I regret having used that form of discipline at that time. There were other times another form of discipline would have sufficed. We forget, at times, that discipline is required when the intent is rebellion, an outright refusal to obey.

Like many other issues, the Bible does not thoroughly provide us with all the answers to discipline (wish it did); and many important issues are left out, e.g. how to specifically apply discipline and what, if anything, should be done before or after its administration.

The Bible does afford a general principle to follow when faced with the disobedience of children. Discipline them. How and in what form that discipline should take is left up to what loving creativity God implanted in our minds through grace...as long as, I believe, some manner of pain is involved.

However, as I write this, I would question, what other kind of pain is appropriate to discipline? Emotional? Mental? Spiritual? Are these types of pain appropriate and loving acts of discipline? Or, does such pain amount to child abuse?

Maybe the writers did intend to require the necessity of the pain to be physical if only because it, when properly administered, has no lasting affect as do the other forms mentioned. And, if "soap in the mouth" can be construed as resulting in physical pain, I guess I have not stepped outside the Scriptural requirement for correcting disobedience.

A question not discussed, at least, in length is when does discipline crosses the line into abuse? I think the Bible provides some general rules to avoid child abuse when disciplining but specific instructions are left out.

Just things presently in mind as I read the article. I'd appreciate knowing what others think.

(Just for the record, my children have grown to be beautiful Christian women of whom I am proud to be called their father and in joyful eagerness say they are my daughters.)

Christopher Cone's picture

Thanx, all, for reading and for your comments. I have a few additional thoughts in light of your comments:

(1) Aaron, thank you for noting a pivotal aspect of the article - Biblical discipline is never punishment. Rather, it is shaping. That reality has significant implications for how discipline is handled, and you identified one important one.

(2) Rachel, actually I am not suggesting that all discipline must be physically painful (remember my discussion of the three-prong approach), though I am suggesting that the Biblical model focuses inarguably on physical pain. Our Heavenly Father utilizes other kinds of pain in discipline, but we do not have His all knowing perspective, and thus I find it quite telling that He focuses so much on the physical aspect for us. Further, you focussed primarily on your experience in your comment, and we have to remember that experience doesn't set our theology - only God's word does. I will mention my experience, not to set doctrine, but rather to illustrate how Biblical discipline has worked in my home: We have found that initially we had to spank our first daughter fairly often (from our perspective), but that with consistency came learning. Now, even though our daughters are still very young, we find that we rarely have to spank them, because they now generally have submitted, teachable and godly attitudes. In short, in our experience (which is not the authority on anything - only God's word is), we have observed that the Biblical model works well for developing godly children.

(3) James, important reminder that submission to the Biblical data is critical. It is both authoritative and sufficient (2 Tim 3:16-17). Interestingly, some children may learn the important lessons of submission and respect earlier than others, and may thus need less discipline. So, while I am cautious about anyone who leans more heavily on experience than the Biblical direction, I would admit that it is (theoretically, at least) possible to have children who need very little discipline. For example, our youngest daughter learns by listening and observing, so we only have to spank her very rarely - but she knows it (spanking) is always an option. She is learning that she prefers submission to physical pain. This is the desired result, I believe, of Solomon's discipline: for a child to learn that submission and respect results in great wealth (of course, not necessarily the monetary kind) and that rebellion and disrespect generally leads to dire consequences and pain - sometimes even physical death.

(4) Nbanuchi, you raise some excellent issues. Especially your question regarding "What other kind of pain is appropriate to discipline?" As you noted, I believe physical pain (always in moderation and love, of course) is the least "damaging" of the kinds you mentioned. When we move past that we step near the realm of manipulation and the kind of exasperation Ephesians warns about. While we can't say that the Bible limits discipline to physical pain, we can say that the Bible sets a pattern that focuses on physical pain. The idea is that discipline can do its work quickly, so that the learner can understand that learning by listening is the better way (than having to be disciplined). Biblical discipline is to teach submission and respect, and to render the child ready to receive the truths that God has for him/her.

Thanx again for reading and for your comments!

cc

Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute 800.886.1415 ccone@tyndale.edu www.tyndale.edu

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

RachelL wrote:
The author seems to be equating painful discipline with PHYSICALLY painful discipline. Discipline can be painful without it being physically painful....
When did they need to be spanked? How in the world can you know that they "needed" a spanking?

Christopher has already answered this but a little different POV.
Rachel, your questions seem to assume that using physical pain is a drastic measure or even an inherently bad thing that has to be justified. You're certainly not alone in seeing it that way. But where does that idea come from?

We could as easily ask, why does the pain of discipline have to be non-physical? The Proverbs don't seem to be worried about that.

If we all look back on our experience growing up, what we find is that pain (physical and non physical, both) is one of the most powerful learning tools in life. We learn not to touch hot things. We learn to be careful with sharp things. We learn to walk slowly on ice. On it goes.
Eventually, many learn to be wiser in how they handle relationships, to be wiser with money, to finish what they start, to keep their commitments, etc.

So why the anxiety about physical pain administered by a parent? Well, we all know why. Because unloving and/or foolish parents/other adults have so often abused the trust and responsibility God has given them. But then, where is the real problem? Is it physical vs. non-physical or is it wise and loving parent vs. foolish and unloving parent? I think locating the problem in the latter best answers to all the biblical principles.

Rachel L.'s picture

Quote:

Rachel, your questions seem to assume that using physical pain is a drastic measure or even an inherently bad thing that has to be justified.

This attitude is present in the language of everyone in this conversation. The only people who do not appear to have this attitude are those parent who spank for EVERY infraction . . . and no one here seems to be advocating that. Every SI discussion involving spanking generally has several people who say that they use many forms of discipline (loss of privileges, time outs, physical restraint, etc.) and that they reserve spanking for specific acts/sins. Why would spanking be "reserved" for specific acts if it is not considered "above and beyond" to use physical pain?

Quote:
Further, you focussed primarily on your experience in your comment, and we have to remember that experience doesn't set our theology - only God's word does.

I agree. My comment focused on my experience because when I apply God's word to my parenting -- when I diligently discipline and teach my children -- then I do not need to spank them. Are you suggesting that I should spank them occasionally just in case? If my children are learning well without spanking, why would I use it? If your answer is "because it's Biblical" then you also need to tell me exactly WHEN it's Biblical to spank them instead of teaching them. The problem with that is that I do not see any specific "Spanking is the proper response to these behaviors" statements in the Bible.

Christopher Cone's picture

Rachel,

Thanx for your follow-ups and considerations...I will offer a few more observations:

(1) I am not arguing in the article or in these comments that physical discipline is the only means of discipline, only that it is the Biblical centerpiece of discipline. (Again, please recall my discussion in the article of the three-prong approach).

(2) Regarding your question "If my children are learning well without spanking, why would I use it?" I would suggest that it would be difficult to "apply God's word to parenting" without utilizing the central means of discipline prescribed in God's word. I don't doubt your commitment, nor do I doubt the effectiveness of your parenting approach, I am simply wondering if it is altogether applying God's word to parenting.

(3) Further, I wonder if you have considered that there are specific lessons intrinsic to physical discipline that might not be communicated in any other way. (Perhaps an example: If you have ever seen the rebellious spirit in a child melt away when the exertion of physical force [spanking on the bottom ] requires them to admit that he/she cannot win, and that he/she is not the authority in the situation -the resulting broken and gentle spirit is a beautiful thing to see...).

(4) In Solomon (especially), "spanking" is the proper response to foolishness. That is a broad term, but the Biblical prescription is fairly straightforward. Any specific manifestation of foolishness would be Biblical warrant for physical discipline.

(5) Finally, if foolishness is not (any longer) present in the heart of a child, that is the point when I would cease from physical discipline. That transition takes place at different times for different kids, and I would count you blessed if your children have at a young age made that transition.

In any case, thanx so much Rachel, for the feedback and thoughtful responses...may God bless you as you continue encouraging your kids to walk in Him!

cc

Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute 800.886.1415 ccone@tyndale.edu www.tyndale.edu

skjnoble's picture

(3) Further, I wonder if you have considered that there are specific lessons intrinsic to physical discipline that might not be communicated in any other way. (Perhaps an example: If you have ever seen the rebellious spirit in a child melt away when the exertion of physical force [spanking on the bottom ] requires them to admit that he/she cannot win, and that he/she is not the authority in the situation -the resulting broken and gentle spirit is a beautiful thing to see...).

Christopher, I enjoyed your article--thank you so much! Your number 3 point really speaks to me at a very foundational level. As a mother with young children, at certain times, I find myself shying away from spanking for whatever reason (tiredness, laziness, busyness, etc.) and often resort to a different form that appears to be just as effective, forgetting that my privilege as a parent is to influence the heart and not just the behavior. I'm reminded through this that only God-breathed Words from the Creator can authoritatively speak to what influences the heart; trusting, ultimately that God is the One ultimately effecting it however He pleases. The pragmatic side of me wants to only go so far as to what seems/appears to be working making experience the trump card vs. God's Word. I Sam. 16:7 stuff.

I also wonder if the article could have addressed a part about forgiveness and reconciliation as part of the discipline process? I understand the main idea was to speak directly to physical discipline, as outlined in Scripture, but a part of me, as I was reading it, was convicted. Too often, I look to the discipline aspects of Scripture, but neglect the reconciliation process and how we have the opportunity to teach our children (throughout the entire discipline/teaching process), not just about the consequences of sin, but more importantly, the payment in full.

Just thinking out loud, really. I'm very thankful for the article!

Blessings, Kim Smile

Anne Sokol's picture

Wish you'd chime in here about the use of the Proverbs particularly. I don't agree with all of Mike's conclusions personally as I have stopped using corporal punishment in my parental relationship with my children, but he does make some very valid points about applying the rod Proverbs to equal 1) spanking 2) of children. I'll quote from his sermon here:

Mike Durning's sermon wrote:
The rod would be the absolute worst case scenario for the absolute worst case offense. And we don’t know that the rod in Proverbs is near as big and brutal as the one in Singapore.

Here’s the 2nd thing you need to know.

Most of the people who try to use the Bible to justify child abuse choose some rather unfortunate translations of these verses. Many of those who espouse things we call abuse are from the King James Version Only crowd. For example…

Look again at the verses in Proverbs [on screen ]

In each of these verses, the Hebrew word that the King James Version translates as child is a word that should almost always be translated “youth”, with reference to young folks typically from ages 16-24, roughly. There are some exceptions, like when referring to “Jewish royalty” – people like Moses, Samson – the word can be applied to infants. But generally speaking, it applies to older teens and young adults. So, the majority of the verses that refer to the rod are with reference to ages far above small children. I’m not saying that’s always the case, but it’s a pattern that’s strong enough that it should give us pause.

In fact, the Jewish rabbis of ancient times frequently admonished people not to apply any verses about the rod to children before the age of 10.

By the way, that Hebrew word that means “young adult” crops up in a variety of Bible stories in the King James Version that you’ve heard told a little off. Remember the children who got attacked by bears when they mocked the prophet Elisha? Young adults. Elisha was being accosted by an angry mob of teens and young adults. Not teased by 9 year olds.

Here’s another thing you need to know. Some of the verses that involve “the rod” have been terribly misunderstood, I suspect.

Take Proverbs 23:13-14.
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

I know of one preacher who preaches that if you are not beating your child until that child has bruises, you are not following the Bible. Never once does he put the word “child” in the Hebrew word context of a young adult. Never once does he explain that “the rod” includes the whole range of disciplinary options for the parent.

And when he preaches it, he says something like this…

“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. [read mockingly ].

“See, parents, your child may scream like you’re killing them. But they’re not going to die. Let them scream. Let them cry.

“Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

“Parents, if you don’t beat the devil out of your children, they will end up in Hell.”

What is the result of preaching like that? Well, ask two men who are now in prison for years in Texas, after beating a child almost to death to get the devil out of him. It’s the result of the preaching they grew up with.

What is Proverbs 23:13-14 talking about? Well, first, let’s hear it in another translation.

Prov. 23
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.
14 Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.

Note the change, almost certainly correct in this case, where the Hebrew word sheol is rendered “death” instead of “hell”. Read that way, he is saying if you punish your older teen or young adult with the rod, he won’t die – in fact, you’ll save his soul from death.

Here’s what I think is going on here.
In the Old Testament law, there was provision for an ultimately defiant young adult, wild, evil, drunken, violent, disrespectful. In extreme cases, the young adult might be executed.

So I’m reasonably certain that what’s in view here is quite literal: if you had a young adult who is so defiant and so wicked as to be in danger of that kind of penalty, you may have to take the matter very seriously, and provide serious punishment to correct that person before the town elders decided to execute him.

It’s important to remember it was a different culture. Many times the family patriarch was responsible for the sons well into what we would call adulthood.

Think of David’s son Amnon, who sexually assaulted his sister.
Think of David’s son Absalom, who stirred up a rebellion that cost thousands their lives.
Think of Jacob’s sons who murdered a whole village.
And not a sheriff in range for 1300 years.

Yes, the rod was appropriate in some extreme cases. And those guys still didn’t use it.

I say all that to say this: Do not let anyone tell you that the Bible says you should be beating your 9 year old.

There is a place for spanking, administered correctly, not in anger, with explanation, when necessary. Particularly, for defiance. Sure. But the Bible is not a Child Abuse manual, and Christ would not make you a child abuser.

That’s not to say that corporal punishment is not in your toolbox. It’s just to remind you that there are limits. Do not forget that God loves children, and promises judgment to those who do not care for them properly.

James K's picture

Anne

1. If you truly love your children, it isn't too late to adopt a biblical method of discipline for them. Failure to spank is a failure to love. Argue that point with God if you don't like it.

2. I appreciate your posts on this discussion because they so clearly contrast the explicit words of scripture. They provide a contrast that is helpful on so many levels. I have personally benefited from them.

3. Sadly for Mike's deplorable theology, he isn't limited to only one verse to wrench out of context. In fact, he is doing to Prov 23 exactly what he is telling others they shouldn't do to their children. That poor verse. Jack Bauer thinks that verse got tortured a lot by Mike.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

nbanuchi's picture

Rachel, I'm not ganging up on you (sorry for my NY phraseology) but I just thought I'd like to share some onservations

Rachel L. wrote:
Why would spanking be "reserved" for specific acts if it is not considered "above and beyond" to use physical pain?
Personally, I don't think physical spanking ought to be used as the last measure or just in drastic cases. However, I do believe the punishment ought to fit the crime. Each parent needs to determine that for themselves. In my case, if one of my children hit another, that called for automatice spanking. If they lied, automatic spanking. However, if they stole gum from the kitchen drawer when I told them not to, there would be some form of discipline but not spanking. Then, again, if it was discerned that they took the gum out of purposeful disobedience, I believe spanking is appropriate, not as an equal measure of the infraction itself as to its intent.

Rachel L. wrote:
...tell me exactly WHEN it's Biblical to spank them instead of teaching them...
Spanking is teaching. The question may not be when we ought to spank them but does the infraction call or deserve spanking? It may be Biblical to spank but, unfortunately, the Bible doesn't necessarily list how, when, and for what - except in general terms - spanking is to be administered.

However, let's not make any mistake about it: spanking is a teaching tool.

Now I am not advocating that you ought to spank your children but I am suggesting that we should not discount spanking totally as though it were anathema; but leave room for it's profitable use as a tool to teach our children God's love.

Not that I'm an expert in parenting...

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The idea that use of the rod is the worst case scenario is not apparent at all in the book of Proverbs, nor is it in Heb. 12.
Rather, we're encouraged to see pain as pain and not be afraid to use it. Personally, I think the "rod" is likely intended as a metaphor for pain in general and that Proverbs sees and makes no distinction regarding physical or nonphysical.
Speaking from my own experience: I'd prefer physical pain to emotional in most cases if I had a choice. So I think the assumption that literal use of the rod is more drastic than other kinds of pain is ... pretty questionable.

That said, there are multiple possibilities here:

  1. physical is more severe than other kinds of pain
  2. emotional and other kinds of pain are more severe than physical
  3. physical and "other" kinds of pain are roughly equal in "severity" and we need to choose what seems wisest in a particular case

    I lean toward "c," though I think it's normal for a loving parent who has any empathy at all for his kids to feel more reluctant to use physical pain than other kinds of pain. And if two options appear to be equally suitable for instruction and correction, I do choose the one that hurts me less as the parent.
    But why do we (most of us--including me) feel instinctively more drawn to use of pain that is not physical? I'm not sure I know the answer to that. It may be in part because the fact that we are causing pain is less directly evident to us (our causing of pain is more subtle). It may be that children hide their nonphysical pain more. I don't know. But nonphysical pain is real pain and we shouldn't think that it doesn't count.

    Much appreciate sjknoble's reasoning on this...

    • Only God can really shape a child's heart
    • If we do what God instructs us to do as parents, we can trust that God will do as He deems wise and good
    • God instructs us to use pain in discipline, physical pain not excepted
    • Therefore, we should parent in this way as a method of reaching a child's heart

    Kim, did I break it down accurately? The reason this resonates with me so much is that corrective/instructive pain is so often represented as behavior modification and set against reaching the heart as though we have to either go for the heart or use pain.... and not both. So the debate is often framed incorrectly from the start.

    But I really want to go back to a point I made earlier: there is no substitute for virtuous parents. Much of the thought out there these days seems to be a search to find an approach to parenting that will prevent abuse as though an approach can solve the problem of lack of wisdom, love and courage in the parents. That's a vain dream. I really believe that wise, good, loving and courageous parents will be pretty effective using just about any method because--consciously or otherwise--they will use pain carefully, judiciously.

Rachel L.'s picture

skjnoble wrote:

Christopher, I enjoyed your article--thank you so much! Your number 3 point really speaks to me at a very foundational level. As a mother with young children, at certain times, I find myself shying away from spanking for whatever reason (tiredness, laziness, busyness, etc.) and often resort to a different form that appears to be just as effective, forgetting that my privilege as a parent is to influence the heart and not just the behavior. I'm reminded through this that only God-breathed Words from the Creator can authoritatively speak to what influences the heart; trusting, ultimately that God is the One ultimately effecting it however He pleases. The pragmatic side of me wants to only go so far as to what seems/appears to be working making experience the trump card vs. God's Word. I Sam. 16:7 stuff.

I found the title to Kim's post interesting. In psychology, Behavior Modification is achieved through externally imposed pain/rewards. Most Christians I know shy away from the idea of Behavior Modification when discussing parenting because it focuses on externals (though Aaron's Rewards article yesterday did discuss the idea of it). There is the very real concern that children can/will become just BETTER AT HIDING THEIR SIN instead of showing it to us and thereby giving us the opportunity to help them address the sin in their lives. Disciplining through conversation, setting limits, making them comply with hand-over-hand help . . . all of these things do a much better job of showing us our children's hearts and allowing us to guide and direct. This is the heart of "You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up." It is teaching and leading by example in a constant, living-life manner.

Spanking encourages the child to sneak and lie IN ORDER TO AVOID PAIN. Spanking focuses on externals. Spanking does not have some mystical ability to make what happens to children's bottoms affect their hearts. Yes, I know you will quote Proverbs to me here. The Proverbs are not talking about spanking as we use the term. The Proverbs are talking about using a LARGE STICK to beat THE BACK of a YOUNG MAN. If you quote Proverbs, do so honestly. If you aren't comfortable using a large stick, ask yourself why you are willing to ignore scripture. If you choose to beat your child's bottom instead of his back, ask yourself why you are willing to ignore scripture. If you stop using spankings for discipline at the age that the Proverbs say to beat your son, ask yourself why you are willing to ignore scripture. If the answer is, "Everyone knows you aren't supposed to hit them on the back or use a stick that will give them bruises or spank past the age of 12!" then you are adhering to cultural understanding of spanking, not Biblical application of the Proverbs.

One can choose to spank without a Biblical basis to do so. As a matter of fact, one SHOULD choose to spank without claiming the Bible MANDATES it. It does not.

James K's picture

Rachel, to claim the Bible does not mandate spanking is to ignore so much of what it says about discipline. Instead of coming up with clever ways of getting around scripture, why not simply submit to God's revelation? God knows better than you and has informed us how he wants us to train up our children. Heb 12 helps us to know God's attitude toward spanking his children.

Failure to spank is a failure to love and it communicates a relationship less than parent and full child. Who are those who aren't spanked? Talk about opting for culture...

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

James K's picture

Quote:
Spanking encourages the child to sneak and lie IN ORDER TO AVOID PAIN. Spanking focuses on externals.

1. ANY discipline could do this. Spanking doesn't have some mystical ability to teach kids to sneak and lie.

2. Spanking only focuses on externals if it is not accompanied by verbal correction.

This last point might be what is causing so much confusion for you. You aren't to just spank and not teach. Discipline involves both, not either/or. Spanking for what is wrong and teaching and encouragement to do what is right. This communicates to the child the proper method of dealing with sin. This is in fact exactly what God did in Christ and continues to do in us.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Rachel L.'s picture

James K ][quote wrote:

This last point might be what is causing so much confusion for you. You aren't to just spank and not teach. Discipline involves both, not either/or. Spanking for what is wrong and teaching and encouragement to do what is right. This communicates to the child the proper method of dealing with sin. This is in fact exactly what God did in Christ and continues to do in us.
[Bolding mine ]

But if I am able to teach without spanking (and I am), why are you insisting that I also spank? Why "must" discipline involve both?

Even in spanking families, discipline does not involve both every time; it is the very rare parent who spanks for every infraction. Why "must" spanking be involved sometimes for learning to take place?

Quote:
The idea that use of the rod is the worst case scenario is not apparent at all in the book of Proverbs, nor is it in Heb. 12.
Rather, we're encouraged to see pain as pain and not be afraid to use it. Personally, I think the "rod" is likely intended as a metaphor for pain in general and that Proverbs sees and makes no distinction regarding physical or nonphysical.
Speaking from my own experience: I'd prefer physical pain to emotional in most cases if I had a choice. So I think the assumption that literal use of the rod is more drastic than other kinds of pain is ... pretty questionable.

I don't think I've ever said that spanking is for a "worst case scenario." I'm saying, "I don't have to use it to teach my children." I have said that most families that use spanking seem to use it for SPECIFIC types of disobedience or sin. I do not know how they determine which sins are spank-worthy. I do not know if they would consider these sins more egregious than others, though certainly I hear language like "the punishment fitting the crime" which would lead one to believe that "bigger sins" result in "bigger punishments."

The behavior of most spanking parents leads me to believe that they consider spankings to be "more drastic than [non-physical ] pain." The spanking families I know will verbally correct a child who is using unacceptable language/tone. They do not spank them for the first infraction. They reserve spanking for continued disobedience or for infractions that are considered egregious based on the family's values (lying, defiance after clear instruction, etc.).

If you think that spanking should NOT be "reserved" for some specific acts, you should take that up with spanking families. It is a point that does not apply to my family.

Quote:
And if two options appear to be equally suitable for instruction and correction, I do choose the one that hurts me less as the parent.
But why do we (most of us--including me) feel instinctively more drawn to use of pain that is not physical?

I believe that this is because we are aware that:

1. Physical pain is something we as parents are IMPOSING and we are aware that our judgment is imperfect. Physical pain can also lead to abuse if we are not careful. Any action that can result in harm if care is not taken will naturally have its usage curbed rather than encouraged.

2. Emotional pain that comes from logical and natural consequences is much more productive for learning, otherwise we wouldn't transition to these methods as children reach the teen years.

3. Hurting others physically (in non-medical contexts) is considered wrong, so it is unnatural to MAKE yourself hurt someone who is small and defenseless.

nbanuchi's picture

Wow...these postings express alot of sensitivity and strong opinion on the subject. Much was said. Although, I'm rushed at the moment, I hope to gather some observations and share them.

Let me just say that to totally disregard corporeal punishment as a viable disiplinary teaching tool, irrespective if one chooses to use it or not, is throwing out the baby with the bath water (as the old addage goes).

We also ought to remember, corporeal punishment is not foolproof neither is any form of discipline a automatic guarantee that you will obtain the desired results, that is, a child who grows up to love Christ.

For an overall observation on discipline, Aaron caught it best when he says that "there is no substitute for virtuous parents."

But, more on all this later...hopefully.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Just to clarify, I was referring to the post with Mike Durning's view in it.... that was his term.
But "worst case scenario" is far better than "no case scenario."
To exclude spanking entirely, one has to make a case that the Bible excludes it. Anybody who wants to do that has a tough row to hoe and I don't envy him.

A few quick and random points...

  • The argument that we should not use physical pain because it trains kids to hide sin better fails because that also describes non-physical pain--indeed any kind of discipline. (Just realized James already made this pt.)
  • Consequences: when it's your policy in your home to handle certain kinds of offenses with spanking, the spanking is a consequence.
  • If it is discipline in any meaningful sense, the non-physical kinds of pain are just as parent inflicted as physical pain. Unless we're talking about parents sitting back and just allowing whatever consequence naturally happens, the pain is an intentional result of what a parent does.
  • Hebrews 12 and all the rod passages of Prov. cannot really make sense unless there is intentional use of unpleasant consequences by parents.

The argument of Heb. 12 is that parents do this and we respect it, how much more should we welcome the painful discipline of our Father--and it's life-giving results?

Getting the actual Scripture in front of us can really help cut through the fog that sometimes descends in these kinds of discussions.

Quote:
Heb 12:7–11 NKJV 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? 8 But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 11 Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

It's gotta be pretty hard to read that in a way that doesn't see a "painful discipline is what loving parents do" line of reasoning there.

Matthew J's picture

Why do many non-spankers assume physical pain is worse than emotional pain?

I believe that parenting and discipline is the responsibility of each individual family and that we must apply the Scripture according to our firm persuasion in our minds, But the argument that spanking leads more quickly to abuse doesn't sit right with me (maybe I am not getting it). As a pastor I have seen young adults whose lives are messed up because their parents abused them emotionally and mentally, but never laid a hand on them.

My personal anecdote, when I was a child I would have rather received a spanking than any other form of discipline. I felt a closeness to my Father when I saw the tears in his eyes as he spanked me. When he wept with me after the spanking while we hugged and how that after the spanking, it was over; I felt our relationship was restored. But sometimes he didn't spank me and he glared at me, he gave me the silent treatment, he wouldn't speak to me. (I admit that was very rare and I don't regret how he raised me, no parent is perfect). The first with the physical pain had a beginning and an end and a restored relationship. The latter made him seem petty and angry at me. I interpreted anger more with emotional discipline than I did with physical discipline. Just my experience...maybe only useful to me.

Anne Sokol's picture

and here I am. . .

Just a couple points: If anyone is really, honestly interested in thinking about something from various perspectives, you could skim through this webpage--it's an overview of punitive (punishment-focused) parenting and permissive parenting.

http://joanneaz_2.tripod.com/positivedisciplineresourcecenter/id25.html

The issue of spanking itself is simply the Christian crux of the punitive paradigm. That is why it often becomes the central focus in these types of discussions. But really, it is reflective of a mindset.

Building a spanking theology and ritual from Proverbs and Heb 12 is simply very bad hermaneutics. Spanking as we are discussing it here is an a-biblical or extra-biblical topic. It is not a holy or God-sanctioned activity. The Bible does not directly address it. This is very hard for many in our circles to even consider because it is so ingrained in our theology and even our in our view of God.

I think, personally, Christian parents are free in the Lord to spank or not. The Bible does not say directly one way or the other. It should not be spiritualized. This is when it creates problems for families.

Putting the rotten tomato guard back up now . . .

Christopher Cone's picture

Anne,

I think this will be my final post in this discussion, just due to time restraints, but I want to make three quick mentions:

(1) Please recall that my article expressly describes discipline (including spanking) as non-punitive. That is critical. Until parents realize they are never to punish their children, but rather are to instruct and discipline, this issue will remain muddy.

(2) Thanx for your observations. Always good to see someone who is concerned with hermeneutic matters, as methodology in interpreting the text as absolutely foundational. I have written a hermeneutics textbook [Prolegomena: Introductory Notes on Bible Study and Theological Method ], that (among other things) stresses the importance of literal grammatical-historical hermeneutics and the study in the original languages. I apply those principles in deriving the assertions regarding physical discipline that I discuss here. But then again, of course, you shouldn't take my word for it - you should hold me accountable to the text itself. I appreciate your attitude and courage in that, even if I disagree with your conclusions...

(3) Perhaps in the very near future I will write an article for this website (if the Editor is interested in such an article) on a Biblical Theology of Discipline, which will show the exegetical work (in Hebrew and Greek) leading to the conclusions that physical discipline is indeed mandated in the Bible, thus providing the simple answer to the question: "Why should I spank my kids?" I will propose the idea to the Editor, and if he has interest I will write the article. Then you can review it and consider whether or not it is an accurate handling of the text.

Thanx again, all for reading and commenting. I hope and pray the article was helpful, feel free to contact me anytime at ccone@tyndale.edu.

Thanx again, also, to the Editor for giving me the opportunity to fellowship with you all in this context...

cc

Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute 800.886.1415 ccone@tyndale.edu www.tyndale.edu

Anne Sokol's picture

and before you write, I would suggest you read the works of Clay Clarkson (Heartfelt Discipline, chapter on Rethinking the Rod) and ask Mike Durning (member here) for his research notes. Actually, I can mail you the Clarkson book, if you want, to look over.

I know Tedd Tripp does some gymnastics to redefine "punitive" and why spanking is not punitive, but his particular approach is not logical. He basically just says, because it's Biblical, it can't be punitive. . . .

I have foudn that this issue goes very deeply into the heart of major theological doctrines, like the depravity of man and stuff like that. I may elaborate later, but this is probably not the time.

Look forward to your article and further discussion. I'm pretty sure they will want to publish it.

skjnoble's picture

Kim, did I break it down accurately? The reason this resonates with me so much is that corrective/instructive pain is so often represented as behavior modification and set against reaching the heart as though we have to either go for the heart or use pain.... and not both. So the debate is often framed incorrectly from the start.

Yes, Aaron. That, I believe, is the framework for a good booklet for young mothers. The right, biblical philosophy on how to teach and discipline their children. IMO, this is not only the Scriptural thought process, but also helps relieve some of the burden and guilt young mothers can feel, at times. Often times, we get mixed signals, many from well-meaning people. We're told we're supposed to be teaching and disciplining according to the bible's guidelines in order to influence the heart, but are sometimes admonished for behavior modification along the way. That's a tough pickle to be in. How does one live that out in daily life? Is it possible to influence the heart without behaviorally modifiying? Of course, none of us doing this perfectly, but having a correct biblical philosophy surely helps.

For our household, my husband and I see both in Scripture. As you said, Aaron, they are not set in conflict with one another, but work together. Isn't that what a "new self" and "transformed life" and "bearing good fruit" etc. are all about, a supernaturally, behaviorally modified life? And isn't that the real mark of genuine believe: a changed, sanctified(ying) life? So, while our children are unbelievers and we can't actually change the heart, we believe that the tools and resources God has given to us (read: commands us to do) work in harmony to achieve both ends, all the while trusting in a sovereign Lord.

I think the pitfall is when behavior modification is an end: a well-trained, well-rounded individual which is the world's goal for their greater good. But, of course, why would we think the world could speak to either?

Appreciate your thoughtful breakdown.

Blessings, Kim Smile

James K's picture

Anne, Chris is talking about doing a complete exegetical research work in the original languages throughout the Bible. You are pushing a book. Think about it.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

Anne Sokol's picture

Oh, James, dare I speak to you? Clarkson's book is also an exegetical/hermeneutical treatment of the Bible. If Chris wants to write about this, he should be aware of other treatments.

I hope my friend *tulipgirl* doesn't mind me posting some of her thoughts, but she does such a good job at putting into words what people mean by "grace" parenting. http://www.tulipgirl.com/index.php/2011/10/on-the-pearls-and-parenting-o... This post has some good insights.

Like, this is what I mean when I say it is a paradigm shift, not just about spanking:

Quote:
Our children are part of the Covenant, and I believe Christ has already suffered the punishment for their sin on the Cross. I do not need to “punish” them when they do wrong. I do need to discipline them, disciple them, help them see their sin and repent, as well as help them learn the “rules” of living in polite society. . . . Nor do I see any command in the Bible for parents to punish children for their sin–I do see many commands to disciple, discipline, teach, love, train and chastise.

I don't get into a lot of covenant theology personally, but I do want to treat my kids in accordance to God's grace to us.

Quote:
I no longer punish my children. Christ has borne the punishment for their sins on the Cross. I do enforce boundaries and discipline my children.

Quote:
Whether or not it [a particular parenting method ] “works” is in large part determined by how you define “works.” My goal is to help my children become the people God has created them to be, with an emphasis on them relying upon God’s grace for their daily living. I want to help them learn to recognize their sin and turn to God in repentance. I want to model for them what it looks like to lean into God when we are struggling.

Anyway, those are some of the deep theological shifts I have gone through in how I view childrearing, and there are many, many more changes. Like, for example, realizing that the days I read my bible, pray, don't get mad at anyone, and cook a nice dinner, I'm just as much living by and dependent on God's undeserved goodwill towards me as on the days when I dont read my Bible, yell at my kids, and don't get dinner fixed. . . .

Wink

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think playing word games muddies waters that are already murky enough. Is there really a difference between "enforcing boundaries" and "punishment" and "consequences"? No - there isn't. Try telling some guy in jail that he isn't being punished- society is just "enforcing boundaries". Ditto a child being sent to their room for a 'time out'. All of those terms describe what is happening - they are not mutually exclusive nor do they cancel each other out. Children need to understand that, and Scripture gives us a variety of ways to teach this principle to our children, one of which is the literal, physical rod.

Any form of discipline can become abusive when taken to extremes. Spanking can become a brutal beating. 'Time outs' can become a cruel banishment. Words can wound and even cripple. Even something as insidious as a withdrawal of affection violates Scripture and damages a child. Acting as if spanking is the only action that could ever lead to abuse is dishonest.

Certain terms and beliefs can affect how we teach/train/disciple unregenerate and regenerate children. Christ's atonement doesn't negate an eternity in Hell for youngsters old enough to understand the Gospel and reject Him, and we need to be careful that we do not inadvertently lead a child to believe they are saved, when in fact they have NOT received God's grace through faith in Him. We should not allow children to think that God's wrath and vengeance towards unrighteousness is negated by His grace, or vice/versa.

Wickedness is not an entity, or some misty floaty thing separated from humanity- by one man sin came into the world, and death, both physical and eternal, was the result of that sin for all mankind thereafter. I understand what we are trying to convey when we say that we 'hate the sin and love the sinner', but the two are spiritually intertwined until God performs a spiritual circumcision... also a God-ordained physically painful process perpetuated on babies in order to do nothing else but prove a point.

I agree with the author's advice about how to respond in the public arena and keeping our priorities straight. There's quite a bit said from some of today's IFB pulpits about prayer and Bibles being taken out of public schools, media attacks on family and fatherhood- but that's just a Godless society being Godless. Preaching and teaching should expound Scripture and address what is going on in the church, in the lives of the individuals in the pews- blasting society gets lots of response from the 'Amen' corner, but what does that do to equip the saints? IOW, if you are getting meat and potatoes from the pulpit, and chewing on it daily at home, you aren't going to be so tempted to dumpster-dive the world's Chicken McNuggets. The church's appetite, generally speaking, is far too accustomed to and satisfied with junk food.

James K's picture

Anne,

1. Children are NOT part of the covenant until they are saved.

2. Christ vicarious bore the wrath of God upon Himself. No Christian is under the threat of condemnation (Rom 8:1). This does not rule out God's "mastigoo" (punish, scourging, flogging). God's dealing with us in grace includes necessary correction of wrong, not simply encouragement to do what is right.

2 Tim 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All of these elements are necessary to equip to do what is right.

So the "grace" method you are advocating is actually not grace. It is a perversion at worst and misunderstanding at best.

If you wanted to deal with your children the way God would, then you will love your children enough to spank them. Your paradigm shift is obvious. Just let the scriptures inform you rather than culture or yet another person trying to be more clever than God.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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