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To Smack or Not To Smack?

By Richard Gunther


Dear War Cry,

                        I noticed an article in the October 2003 Issue which raised the question of whether parents should smack their children, and while I thoroughly approve of the alternatives to smacking which were suggested in the article, I would like to offer some thoughts on the matter in relation to the Bible verse you quoted.


   As I see it, if anyone offers suggestions about different forms of punishment, all suggestions are available as opinions, to be heard, considered, and accepted or rejected. In this regard suggestions, or what we do with them, are a matter of choice and it is nobody’s business to try to coerce or pressure anyone else into altering their views against their better judgement. We should always be free to express an opinion without being criticized or silenced.


   But another issue emerges the moment Scripture is used to justify or excuse certain behaviors, and that is the area to which I would like to respond.


   As most Christians will aver, the entire Bible is God’s Word, and as such all of it is unerring in all respects. It is for this reason that the Gospel is proclaimed. Without its inherent perfection, no promises would be received with confidence, and no teaching would be required to be obeyed. It is from this basic assumption that I begin.


   In the War Cry article it is stated that a “misguided application of Bible passages such as Proverbs 13:24, which in the King James vernacular says, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” As the language attests, this translation was first published in 1611.”


   The article goes on to say that, “this particular text has been used and abused to plant corporal punishment in a Christian context.” To show that the King James has got it wrong, the article quotes from ‘The Contemporary English Version’ which omits ‘Chastens” and inserts “corrects”.


   As we said before, what one thinks about corporal punishment is a matter of free choice, but when the Bible is used to support anti-smacking legislation, which is now part of a government initiative, we ought to be very sure that we are right. In another context, for example, if the Old Testament had been used to support slavery a few hundred years ago some Christians might easily have won the case for slavery simply by using certain carefully chosen verses! There are also some verses which seem to encourage people to drink alcohol, while others solidly warn against it (Prov.3:10, 31:6, Ecc.10:19, S of S 1:2, 5:1, Is.55:1, Hos.14:7, John 2:10 etc) The Bible can easily be twisted this way and that to support many different views, but whether these views can truly be supported by Scripture is another matter.


   Beginning therefore with the verse quoted by the War Cry, the King James says: He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Proverbs 13:24 


   The two key words in this verse are “rod” and “chasten”, and it is reasonable to think that the words are used as symbols, or metaphors for something else. The rod may be a symbol of “correction”, and “chastening” may include all sorts of forms of punishment, but this may also be our ‘modern’ view, altered to fit what we think the words might mean, so we had better be careful how we read what God actually says.



     Rod = shebet (shay’-bet); from an unused root probably meaning to branch off; a scion, i.e. (literally) a stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc.)    


   Chasten = mucaw (moo-sawr’);  properly, chastisement; figuratively, reproof, warning or instruction; also restraint: bond, check, correction, discipline, doctrine, instruction, rebuke.


   It is therefore very difficult to say one way or the other from this verse alone whether the Bible condones or condemns corporal  punishment.

   There are, however, several other verses on the same subject which throw a lot more light on the subject.


  Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”


   Again, the word “rod” or “shebet” is used, and in the 34 verses in the Old Testament where this word is used, it always means a stick, a staff, or a length of wood such as a branch.


   Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.”


   In this verse we are given two ways of disciplining a child, the rod, and reproof, so the distinction between the two rules out the thought that the rod means correction. It is additional to, or supplemental to, correction.


   But does chastening cause tears? The answer is given in Proverbs 19:18, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” In other words, parents must not be afraid to make their children cry when they discipline them. Children are quick to ‘turn on the tears’ if they think they can use crying as a means to escape punishment.


   The appropriate context for the use of the rod is given in Proverbs 23: 13,14, “Withhold not correction from the child; for if you beat him with the rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from hell.”


   From these two verses it is clear that the rod is not merely a symbol or metaphor for the word correction. It is a literal stick, used to inflict reasonable pain in measure against whatever sin has been committed. (Obviously, one cannot ‘beat a child’ with a few words of correction. If that were so, the Bible would use different language.)


   Now that we have gathered from the Bible a substantial basis on which to look at the subject of smacking, it is clear that God does not condemn the use of physical force to punish children, and in fact commands godly parents to use corporal punishment at appropriate times and for the right reasons.


The reasons are given:

  1. For willful disobedience or defiance,
  2. For the removal of folly, rebellion and disrespect.


   The goal is to teach that wrong behaviour has unpleasant consequences and may involve suffering. It also helps children avoid forming attitudes that may later bring them to ruin or death.


   Godly discipline is to be administered with love as its motivation, not anger or revenge. Good parents will administer corporal punishment with wisdom and consideration. In the context of a Christian family, it will bring happiness and peace (29:17) Christian parents who fail to obey God in the area of discipline may bring upon themselves much suffering, regret and disaster.


   As many have commented, the proposed anti-smacking legislation is motivated by a concern for preventing further abuse of children. The Bible strongly advocates this cause, but it will not help the cause at all to take from good parents their God-given place as disciplinarians in their own homes. If anything, by banning corporal punishment, the abusive parents will not change in their behaviour, and the godly parents will be robbed of one more area in which they can do a great deal of good for the children they love.

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