On Spanking: When You Think You’re Following the Bible, but You’re Really Following Your Own Interpretation

by | May 23, 2022 | Parenting Young Kids | 55 comments

On Spanking and the Rod in Scripture
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It’s easy to use the “we’re just following the Bible!” trumpcard when debating something, and spanking proves an excellent example of how this can go awry.

We’ve been talking about spanking as a method of discipline for a few weeks now, and two weeks ago we did a podcast where we looked at alternative forms of discipline to spanking that are far more in line with the heart of God. On Friday, I shared a concerning Fixed it For You about spanking.

Because of that, quite the debate has erupted on social media, with many people claiming that to offer other methods of discipline is “unbiblical” and “listening to worldly wisdom” and instead they will “follow the Bible.”

They believe that in spanking their children they are “following the Bible.” When people have shown other ways of interpreting those verses, they have claimed that, again, we are using worldly wisdom and they will just listen to what the Bible says.

There’s a propensity in Christianity, and especially in evangelicalism, to assume that you are “following the Bible” while everyone else is “interpreting the Bible.”

They’re just “interpreting”, meaning that they are trying to get away from what the Bible is actually saying, while you are just following Scripture.

We see this in a number of areas–in gender roles; in how we discipline; in how we handle government mandates or even in creation/evolution debates. Some evangelicals assume that the traditional evangelical way of doing things is “following the Bible without interpretation” while everyone else is become “liberal” and “interpreting the Bible” in an attempt to get away from what the Bible actually says.

What I want to show today is that EVERYONE is interpreting the Bible, and spanking is a great example.

You may think you’re not interpreting, and you’re accurately “following”, but you are still interpreting. And so the question we need to ask is, “what is the best interpretation of this passage?”

So let’s jump in to spanking.

There are only a few verses in Scripture that can actually be used to support hitting a child and causing physical pain to discipline, and most of them are in Proverbs. All use the term “rod”, and this is the most explicit of them. I’ll use the ESV translation here, since proponents of spanking tend to like the more conservative translations (and the translators of the ESV said explicitly that it was a “complementarian” translation that deliberately and intentionally affirmed male hierarchy).

Here are the verses:

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 23:13-14, ESV

Okay, so what we read in Proverbs, if you take it completely literally, is that you should be using a rod (a stick) to hit your child to discipline him or her.

If you are going to claim that you are “following the Bible” without “interpretation”, then you should do exactly, word for word, what the passage appears to say (there are still issues with that, but let’s go with it for a minute). That means that you should be hitting your children with sticks.

Some people literally do hit their children with sticks, as this advertisement that appeared in a Christian magazine horrifying showed:

The Rod Spanking Advertisement

A reader also sent me a picture of what this rod was like–I won’t include that since she’s in it. But let’s just say it’s very long and looks extremely painful.

And they thought this was “biblical”!

Most people, looking at that advertisement, feel sick–even people who spank.

Most of us can’t imagine using a “switch” on our kids. No, most people who were arguing that spanking was biblical on my Facebook Page weren’t arguing for hitting kids with sticks. They were arguing for a regimen that looked like this:

The 4-Point Plan for “Biblical” Spanking

Here’s what spanking advocates tend to say is “biblical”:

  1. Calming yourself down (so that spanking is not done when you are angry)
  2. Hitting your child on the buttocks with your hand enough times to cause pain
  3. Have the child cry
  4. Comfort the child afterwards and tell them how much you love them

This is the “biblical” way to do spanking, as people were telling me.

So it’s a four point plan of calming yourself down; hitting your child with your hand on the buttocks; doing so until the child cries; afterwards telling them you love them.

Okay, let’s look at those verses from Proverbs again:

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
If you strike him with the rod,
you will save his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 23:13-14, ESV

Where, in those verses, do you see ANY of those four things? Where, in those verses, is it mentioned that you should hit your child with your hand across the buttocks? Where is it mentioned that you should comfort them afterwards? Where is it mentioned that you should calm yourself down first? Where is it mentioned that you should spank them hard enough so that they cry?

Nowhere. 

All of that is interpretation of what “the rod” means.

None of that is in Scripture. Absolutely none of it. It is, however, in a whole bunch of our books, including:

  • James Dobson’s books on parenting
  • Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp
  • To Train up a Child by the Pearls

And so many more.

We’ve been told that regimen of spanking is biblical so many times that we start to believe that it is.

Our books and pastors make the case that this is what spanking is. Some of the books even did tell you to spank with a stick, but many parents knew that was overly excessive, and so they rejected that for the hand. Nevertheless, this has been the theme in evangelical churches for generations: it is biblical to spank your children.

Except that this is an interpretation of Proverbs; it is not a plain reading of Proverbs.

If you spank your child with an open hand, while calm, and then comfort them afterwards, you are already interpreting  Scripture, not just following Scripture.

I think it’s perfectly fair to ask, then:

When interpreting Scripture, what are the things we should most look out for?

I’m not going to give my thorough interpretation of Proverbs 23:13-14; others have done a much better job, and I’d thoroughly recommend Jesus the Gentle Parent or Discipline that Connects to look at that. But I would like to point you to a few issues:

1. Look at the origin of the key words that are used

In this case, “rod” is used throughout Scripture not as a method of punishment but as a method of guidance. Even in Proverbs itself it has a different meaning that striking–as Proverbs 14:3 says (“in the mouth of the fool is the rod of pride”).

In addition, the word for “child” that is used here is more akin to an older child, like a teenager, than it is to a toddler or a child that’s 5 or 6.

So again–unless you’re using a stick to beat a teenager, you’re not following the “literal” Bible anyway. These verses do not apply to children aged 1-7, which is generally the age group that we are arguing for spanking.

2. Look at the purpose for the passage

The “rod” verses fall in what we would call “wisdom literature”, which is not a set of commands but rather a set of principles of how the world works. They are often poetic and often metaphorical or allegorical, compared to the rest of Scripture. For instance, in Proverbs 6:19-20, we’re told to tie the commands of our father “around our necks.” Anyone wore a command necklace lately?

3. Look at what the rest of the Bible says about this particular thing

The Bible doesn’t really speak to how a child is disciplined, only that he or she be disciplined.

4. Look at the character of God.

Is it God’s character to hurt and punish us for what we did in the past? Or is it God’s character to guide and train us?

A good question to ask is: “Can you picture Jesus doing this?” Jesus said, “he who has seen me has seen the Father.” One of the reasons He came in the flesh was to show us the Father. So if you can’t see Jesus doing it, then it’s not of God.

(It’s amazing how when people talk about spanking, they almost always talk about “God wants you to do this” rather than “Jesus wants you to do this.” As much as possible, use the name of Jesus and see if you still have the same interpretation!)

5. Look at the fruit of the teaching.

And finally, my favourite one: Look at the fruit. As Jesus said:

 

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 7:16-20, NIV

The wider context Jesus is speaking into here is how to recognize false prophets. Verse 15, right before this passage, says, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

So the purpose of the fruit test is to judge whether someone is speaking the truth about Scripture or not. And how do we do that? We look at the fruit. Does it have good outcomes, or bad outcomes?

And that’s where the spanking meta-analysis by Elizabeth Gershoff that I’ve been talking about is so important. She combined studies of 160,000 children and created operational definitions across the studies so that she could measure the results in the aggregate. She looked only at spanking done with an open hand on the buttocks–exactly what people argue is “biblical” spanking–and not beating a child or spanking with a rod.

And that study found that spanking was either negative or neutral, not positive.

The fruit doesn’t lie. 

 

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Here’s my plea: Sometimes we think we’re just “following the Bible” when really we’re following what we’ve been told is the Bible.

And we’ve been told it so many times that we can’t imagine it NOT being the Bible. This is true with spanking, but it’s true with so many other things, too, like:

And so much more!

But God calls us to more. We can’t just ride on the coat-tails of what other people have told us is true. We have to be like the Bereans from Acts 17, who were praised for taking everything that Paul taught them, and comparing it to Scripture and thinking for themselves.

There’s been a lot of harm done over the last few generations in the name of “following the Bible.” I believe Jesus is doing a mighty work right now, shaking the church, and calling people back to Himself. Don’t be afraid to question what you’ve been told is the Bible. Jesus is the Word of God. Scripture is meant to point us to Jesus–the ultimate Word. Jesus is our measuring stick. Lean into Him. Don’t be afraid. The rest will follow.

 

On Spanking and the Rod in Scripture

Why are we so quick to think we’re “following the Bible”, unlike everyone else? How can we change this? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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55 Comments

  1. Anon

    Yes!! Thank you!! I’ve been on this journey myself as a new mother raised in a very authoritarian/abusive household where even abuse was justified with scripture. I’ve felt sick to my stomach at the thought of hitting my 9 month old (and we were spanked at at least that young) so I’ve been digging into research and scripture interpretations and I’m so relieved by what I’ve found. I think spanking has held on so long because it caters to the parents sin nature – a desire for control and to have others look at us as having “good kids.” It’s not for the child so much as to get the results we want. So much relearning going on in my own heart and it’s encouraging to see you talking about it too!!

    Reply
  2. Stefanie

    So I shared your Friday “Fixed it For You” on my church’s Facebook page and it erupted with 166 comments before I turned the comments off. (I felt like it was devolving into an argument.) But anyway, one guy arguing for spanking said that if spanking has negative outcomes it’s because the parents are doing it wrong. The problem can’t be God or his Word. Spanking is God ordained. Parents are doing it wrong.

    I have a question about the study: What were the operational definitions of “negative outcomes” and “positive outcomes”?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      They looked at aggression levels; self-esteem; future relationship dynamics, and more. Just rotten all round!

      And, wow, 166 comments? That must have been exhausting. Thank you for starting the conversation! I’m sure it helped many, even if they didn’t speak up.

      Reply
      • K M

        Interesting blog post I stumbled onto on your site. Disappointed actually. The answer to the OP question on the definition of negative outcomes says it all. Did you know that there was a study done on prisoners that showed most thought pretty highly of themselves and certainly did not have a “self-esteem” problem? I wonder where you find that self esteem is a good thing in the bible. In any case, as you can guess I 100% disagree that spanking or disciplining with some idea of causing physical discomfort is not biblical. I for one would much rather my 2 or 3 year old suffer a painful bum than the heartache and pain that comes with not understanding the consequences of sin are severe. Anyone who sees negative outcomes as low self esteem does not understand the biblical message and therefore does not understand the purpose of spanking for discipline. They obviously did not include my children in this study or so many of my friends kids that were brought up this way. It amazes me you would trust one study from an obviously worldly view and discount the clear Word of God, that using some from of rod to inflict momentary pain is helpful to “yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness” Hebrews 12:11

        Reply
        • Eugene

          Thank you KM … I felt the same way as we were so grateful at the discipline that our kids had because of practicing Biblical spanking. The Hebrews text is spot on. We recommend “Growing Kids God’s Way” curriculum by the Ezzo’s. And as for fruit: We have yet to see a bad example from following this approach. On the contrary, what we are painfully familiar with is children with no discipline at all.

          I am aware that there is abuse and people who literally “beat” there children, rather than chastise in love and am certainly NOT in favor of any form of that but we cannot throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Actually, spanking has been shown to be “bathwater” not “baby”. You may think that your kids are doing well, but research says that what you taught them was blind obedience rather than character formation, and you made them compliant, and likely affected their attachment styles. They may look fine on the outside, but it’s likely they have some repair work to do.

        • S.H.H.

          I was raised with spanking, and my mother was a very good mother, but I’m still discovering how much spanking effected my view of God. Even though it was done the “right” way, it still separated me from Him. It made me afraid of Him, always waiting for the next punishment to come. I would try to follow all the rules as closely as I could to try to prevent punishment, but it just made me more miserable and scared of God. Whenever I imagined Him, I imagined Him as disappointed that I couldn’t live up to His standards.
          Now, if someone had asked me, I would’ve said I was spanked and turned out fine! I was GLAD my parents spanked me. But that was only because I, too, thought that it was the only biblical way to parent. I didn’t realize yet that a lot of the issues I have in my relationship with God were because of the spanking.
          I hope you can consider this as you think about this issue.

          Reply
  3. Stefanie

    Okay, I went back and read the study from the link you provided (tried to read, eyes started crossing). The study looks legit. It seems to be trying to measure spanking “when parents do it right.” And it included “moral internalizing” as one of the outcomes it measured, which is an outcome I’m personally interested in.

    I think we need to be able to translate the important points of this study for lay people, because otherwise they’ll just discount it as “quack liberal agenda to turn us all commie.”

    Most Christian parents, including those who defend spanking, ultimately just want their kids to become Christians. I think this is a good angle to take when showing them the data.

    Reply
  4. Angie

    I’m shaken to my core. Everything I’ve been taught is coming out to be wrong. Everyone I trusted is wrong. From politics to scripture interpretation. I’ve damaged my now grown children living under these precepts, and damaged others view of God as well. It’s depressing.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Angie. I know that’s a really, really difficult path. But just be comforted to know that so many are walking it right now–and finally finding Jesus for real! And relationships with adult children can be rebuilt with authenticity and vulnerability. Something beautiful can be built now! I know it does feel like the rug is pulled out under you, but now you can follow the real Jesus, and not be afraid.

      Reply
    • Jo R

      You are not alone. Hugs to you, and all the rest of us in this same boat. ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

      Reply
    • SL

      Angie, you aren’t the only one on this 180 flip of most things that have been taught as absolute truth in Scripture. In the last month…I’ve been having breakthrough after breakthrough. It really is hard to know which interpretation is correct. Can be so overwhelming at times. But what we’ve been doing in parenting isn’t producing good fruit. So I’ve been continuing to dig and pay that I don’t have itchy ears! But the more I learn other perspectives of interpretations….the more trustworthy Jesus is to me. Blessings as you enjoy your family in a whole new way as learn!

      Reply
    • Carma Paden

      Angie, doing the best you can with the knowledge you have at the time is not a bad thing. Being able to learn better and do better is also good. Take heart that God understands your intentions and is able to use your actions for good, even if they weren’t perfect.

      Reply
    • Anon

      The humility you have to look back and realize being misled or making mistakes is beautiful to see ❤️
      If you are changing your mind about how you did things with your children, if you go and tell them so I know it will mean the world to them.

      I was abused by my mom, but the most hurtful thing is that she denies no wrongdoing to this day. I still love her, but it would be so so healing to hear her say that she regrets her choices.

      Just your recognition of it goes so far towards healing what’s broken

      Reply
      • JWren

        This resonates with me so much! I was spanked too, repetitively and with various instruments…I was a quiet introverted child and I now have awful anxiety which I can’t ever remember not feeling. I have had to forgive 7×7 times because the memories still cause me flashes of pain even 30 years later. I love mum and our relationship is OK…but she too maintains that she never did anything wrong and it would be so healing to hear her say she would do it differently.

        Reply
    • Laura

      Angie, don’t you dare feel depressed for spanking your children! You have done the right thing if you disciplined your children.

      It’s interesting that the author of this article says that no one can imagine Jesus disciplining us, and so if we ask ourselves WWJD? we would never spank our kids because we can’t imagine that Jesus would discipline His children. What a lie!

      Revelation 3:19 says, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” Check the context.. that is Christ Jesus our King speaking.

      It’s not difficult. God is the absolute authority of this world. When His children rebel against Him, He punishes them so that they will return to Him (read Lev 26! And Heb 12:3-11). If someone is not His, and doesn’t belong to Him, their punishment for rebelling against Him will come later (in hell).

      Likewise God has established in this world that parents are the authority over their own children. Since they are our children, God has commanded us to discipline them so that they may know there are painful consequences to disobedience (just as there are rewards to obedience). If you don’t discipline them now like God commands you to, then they will experience punishment from God later… (ie. NOT what you want to happen!)

      If they harden their heart through never being corrected, with that hard and presumptuous heart they will reject Christ and end up in hell. Your training of them by discipline and spanking warns them and helps them to keep a tender conscience to right and wrong.

      Don’t be thrown to and fro by every argument that presents itself to you! Don’t allow yourself to get depressed when you are simply consistently doing what God has commanded you to do: disciplining your children. It is truly, truly for their good and it is YOUR responsibility to train them.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Laura, you seem to think that discipline = spanking. There are so many other ways of discipline that are far more effective! No, I cannot picture Jesus spanking a child. I can picture Jesus instituting consequences for actions, trying to figure out the root of the behaviour, and building the relationship.

        You do not need to hit someone to get them to behave a certain way–and hitting doesn’t actually teach character. It simply changes outward behaviour.

        Again, discipline does not equal spanking, and spanking does not equal discipline.

        Reply
  5. Darah

    Yes! Jesus is the Word and the standard, not scripture. I just recently shared on your Facebook page a graphic I’ve seen that equated scripture to God’s Word and we really need to stop allowing that! I’d love a ‘fixed it for you’ on that one!!

    Jesus is our standard… We compare teachings we hear to him, not the other way around.

    Reply
    • Anon

      Scripture is God’s word. Every word of it is true. You’re missing the point of OP’s post. She is not disregarding scripture, she is proving her point WITH Scripture.

      Reply
  6. Tiffany

    We don’t spank our kids. We do time outs and lose of privileges. Our kids are 5 and almost 3. Yes, it takes more work for us. We have to set the parameters, set timers, enforce time outs and remove toys/things from the child accessible areas. It requires more patience, it requires us to be more physically, mentally and emotionally present. It requires more relationship; allowing the kids (and us) to feel feelings, to talk about the feelings and help name what those feelings are and where they are felt in the body. My almost 3 year old can tell me he’s frustrated and his hands want to hit when he doesn’t get his way. My 5 year old can tell me her tummy hurts when she is nervous. It requires my husband and I to be on the same team for real. It requires us as the parents to stay humble; to apologize and ask forgiveness from our kids. It provides a model of love, forgiveness, restoration and repair. I want our kids feel safe with us.That is hard to feel if the threat of physical violence is held over your head.

    Reply
    • Kay

      What fun and HARD ages! Mine are 13, 11, 8, and 4, so I’m still in those ages too.

      If you’re open to it, I suggest that you continue looking into the attachment information Sheila has been recommending; time outs and loss of privileges (unless that privilege was directly related to the issue at hand) have also been shown to be neutral at best and harmful at worst, as they also have negative impacts on secure attachment. Timeouts are about disconnection and also don’t provide kids with help in regulating their emotions. They unintentionally learn that big emotions only lead to disconnection from the caretaker, which is distressing to them. Loss of privileges feels unfair to kids this young because they can’t understand the connection to the “crime,” which unintentionally teaches them the world is confusing and that their caretakers will take away things they love at random for actions they can’t control yet. That feels scary and unsafe at that age. Again, it comes down to the fruit. Do these things produce connection and safety? Or disconnection, escalation, and anxiety?

      I most definitely did not have realistic expectations of my older two kids when they were this age. They literally could NOT do what I was asking because what I asked was developmentally inappropriate. I was setting them up for failure when it was actually a skills gap. Just as we don’t punish a 12 month old if they can’t walk yet, so I believe it is developmentally inappropriate to punish small children for being unable to have impulse control or know how to regulate their big feelings (Aka meltdowns). They simply haven’t learned how to do that yet! And that’s okay!

      Punishments don’t work on skill gaps. They need teaching. Attachment theory demonstrates that it works much better to focus on safety and connection with your kids instead, teaching those missing skills by modeling, and grace when they haven’t learned that yet. If you’re open to learning more, I highly recommend the work of Dan Seigel (No Drama Discipline is my favorite) and Dr Ross Greene (The Explosive Child). Good luck!

      I so wish I had known all of this sooner. I didn’t for the first 10 years. But this perspective has completely transformed my relationship with my kids and for the first time I actually enjoy motherhood!

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Your story is the same as mine! I literally didn’t realize that I was asking Rebecca to do something she wasn’t developmentally able to do (calm herself down). She needed to be taught emotional regulation, and I wish I had done a better job of that now. But we’re able to talk about it and it’s all okay now! When you know better you do better, and it’s so neat to watch her little 2 1/2 year old little boy, who is built to have the same emotional regulation problems that Rebecca had, get over that quite well because they’re teaching him differently.

        Reply
    • Janice Mitchell

      How do you protect the children and other people’s belongings when not at home?

      Reply
  7. Wild Honey

    Former spanker, here. Stopped when my oldest was 3.5, for a variety of reasons. The reason most pertinent to this discussion being: I stopped to think what it would look like if my husband waited until he was calm, whapped me on the tush until I cried, then comforted me and told me he was doing it for my own good and because he loved me.

    In a marriage, I’d call that abuse.

    And I realize the dynamics are different with a parent and a small child with maturity levels and learned experience, compared to a marriage of two equals. But, still. It got me to thinking.

    The other reasons I stopped were that I realized it wasn’t working, but only escalated the situation;

    I realized I only felt the need to spank when I was mad, once I’d calmed down the felt need to spank was more constrained, and I realized this dynamic certainly couldn’t be healthy;

    one day when I was spanking my oldest and telling her to stop crying (I know, looking back I realize how ridiculous this is, what adult can pull it together when being hit, let alone a preschooler), she was able to verbalize through the tears, “I want to but I don’t know how,” and my heart broke;

    my 1.5 year old literally chewed a hole in her hand where I’d flick her as punishment for hitting her sister (the church we were in at the time encouraged flicking on the hand for infants in place of spanking), and I realized THIS certainly couldn’t be healthy, either.

    Rotten fruit, all around.

    I have since also made the connection that authoritarian parenting styles in churches are also reflective of authoritarian leanings in general. So, buyer beware, I guess.

    I would add, though, as a former spanker, it can be REALLY scary to stop spanking. I deeply love my children, as do all the other spankers I personally know (though I realize there are also parents who don’t). When you were brought up being spanked and turned out “ok,” when you’re in a church that encourages spanking “because clearly the only alternative is anarchy and chaos,” and when any time you try to enter a discussion with non-spankers they are openly judgmental and self-righteous (which is not how TLHV handles this discussion, thank you [and I just realized you’re going to have to come up with a different acronym for Bare Marriage]), as a parent you are stepping into a giant unknown when you decide to stop spanking. So it is super helpful and productive when discussions of spanking include not just why it’s wrong, but a nuanced discussion of alternatives (because traditional time-outs frankly don’t work for my kids, either, it’s been an exhausting four years of trial-and-error and research).

    So, thank you for taking on this discussion and the way you handle it tactfully.

    Reply
    • Kay

      YES!! I also changed my mind and stopped spanking for the same reason: if it is abuse to treat your spouse this way, how much more it is not okay to treat a small, frightened child this way, especially when they don’t always have the maturity or impulse control to do what you’re asking. I just cannot bring myself to punish a child because they lack the skill to do differently yet. But it sure is hard to switch to connection and teaching after being used to punishment and control. Big learning curve. But all around I am a much happier parent as a result!

      Reply
  8. Cynthia

    Just read the entire chapter 23 of Proverbs. It starts off by saying that if you are really hungry when eating with a ruler, you should stab yourself in the throat. Obviously, this is not meant to be taken literally! It is language used for emphasis.

    We also know that loving your neighbor as yourself and treating g others as we would like to be treated are primary commandments. This applies to our children too! If there is a choice between 2 methods of discipline that will both stop harmful behavior, we have an obligation to choose the one which will show the most love and be how we would want to be treated.

    Reply
  9. Guest2

    I’m not sure I understand your interpretation. It feels like you are leaning more on a study then on an interpretation of the Bible as I don’t feel like the passages were explained well and there were many passages not addressed like the one in Hebrews that talks about God chastening and scourging us. The issue isn’t really about whether someone is following vs. interpreting the Bible, as you well said that everyone is interpreting the Bible. The issue is what is the Bible teaching. I don’t really care what people’s opinions are whether legalistic or liberal. I just want to do what God says is best – Not based on my emotions or experiences, but based on His wisdom. So, how do you explain the verses that talk about God’s discipline that can seem harsh to us and yet God says is for our good and because He loves us. I know many who were spanked growing up and report it as positive in their life so I don’t put much stock in a study which can be interpreted however the researcher wants it. Again, what does the Bible say? The explanation felt ambiguous to me and I’m curious how you interpret the passages. Sorry if I missed something in my reading as I struggle with reading due to health problems. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I believe that it means that we discipline our kids with consequences.

      As for scourge, you surely don’t think it means that we should scourge (like whip our kids repeatedly so that they bleed?). Like we know it doesn’t mean that. So what is God saying? He’s saying that we discipline with proper consequences, and we talked in the podcast quite a bit last week about what that would look like!

      My point about interpretation is that it’s okay to look at the fruit. When it’s obviously NOT saying we should scourge, or whip, our children, then it’s okay to ask, “what is the principle here since it’s obviously not literal”?

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    • Janice Mitchell

      I feel the same as Guest2. I don’t understand what you do with all the passages in God’s Word that show us the discipline God uses on His own children. Since Jesus IS God, stating that we should only pay any heed to what Jesus would say or do, doesn’t really jive. God does not make mistakes or change His mind. So, have some strong issues with your interpretations.

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      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Here’s why I say picture Jesus: Because Jesus IS God. Jesus shows us what God is like. So if we can’t picture Jesus doing it, then likely we’re off track! How did Jesus teach? How did Jesus treat people? We should do the same.

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        • ReadTheBible

          Jesus is God… God is Jesus. Therefore old testament God IS Jesus as well. You are essentially discounting the scripture, which God said is the bread of life. I question how often you actually read the word as it is, instead of constantly giving your own interpretations. You seem to take what you like and run with it and ignore the rest. I.E. sex during menstruation was forbidden as well as a man spilling his seed upon the ground. In many places you talk very contrary to the word of God. I would be careful not to feel to righteous in your interpretations, as you are not a prophet, and you don’t speak for God. You are actually doing what God has forbidden. Women are not to be teachers of God’s word. Maybe this is why….

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          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Shoot. Did anyone tell that to Deborah? To Huldah? To Priscilla? To Mary? Shoot. We better recall the Bible then, because it’s full of women teaching!

            (And by the way, no one is debating whether or not Jesus is God. But Jesus said that when we see Him, we see the Father. He came in part to show us what God is really like. So we interpret Scripture through Jesus, because HE is the Word of God. This is just basic stuff. And if you think we shouldn’t have sex during our period because the Old testament says so, then have you ever ate lobster? Bacon? Have you ever had a shirt with two different fibres in it? It seems like you’re the one who isn’t following Jesus, not me. You’re cherry-picking, whereas I’m saying, “look at Jesus and be consistent.”

            You know, I’m actually really glad you commented, because so many people are reading this post on the fence, trying to figure out if they should spank or not. When spanking advocates sound like you, it’s pretty clear who they DON’T want to be.

  10. exwifeofasexaddict

    To add to point number 2, proverbs are not commands. They’re proverbs. They are pithy statements of things that are generally true. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime” is not a command to stop giving to the poor and teach everyone to fish. It’s a general aphorism that teaching someone how to do for themselves is more useful long term and than doing for them. And that’s all. It’s no guarantee that the person you teach will be good at it, will never be lazy, will never decide they would rather eat vegetables, etc… To take anything in Proverbs as a command is to misunderstand the Bible already.

    I would also like to add, my children are adult and early teen, so spanking isn’t something I would be doing under any circumstances. But following this discussion loosely has helped me understand my upbringing. I have been struggling to understand why I feel so distant and judged by my parents. I wasn’t abused in the obvious, classical sense. I was spanked, but not what I would have called “beaten”. But as I read the comments on Facebook, I think I would have to say that they did abuse me. They were far harsher with me than I needed. I was a sensitive, empathic child (and adult) and I didn’t need such harsh punishment. Sometimes for things that weren’t even “sins” or disobedience. And it harmed my relationship with them. And with my children. (Not because I have kept my children from them, but because my children have had the same experience of being judged and seen it for what it is.) I think I have to put myself in the “negative outcome” category. And that hurts. Because I do think my parents love and thought they were doing the right thing for me. This is hard to come to terms with.

    Commenting this here, rather than Facebook, so I can use a pseudonym. I don’t want to hurt my parents by publicly shaming them, when I think their intent was good. But the outcome wasn’t. However, I am happy to have this added to the discussion there, anonymously, if someone wants to.

    Reply
  11. Annie

    I’ve read the Pro-Spank books and each of them starts with the caveat that if you were abused as a child, you should not spank….which begs the question, if there are valid alternatives for THOSE parents, then there are valid alternatives for all of us. I regret spanking my kids as much as I did when they were younger. I want my kids to trust and respect me so that I can trust and respect them.

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  12. C

    I appreciate your take on this. When I fell pregnant with my eldest, well-meaning family members gave us two of the books you mention above. Their philosophy shocked me, and I was never comfortable with it. We used to spank—It’s how we started out because it was how hubby and I were both raised. I never liked it, and I always struggled to be consistent with it. We stopped spanking a couple years ago because it was not working, and it brought more peace and connection with our children (Not to mention, we as parents are happier). The more I follow Jesus, the more I realise it’s not how Jesus sees us. “He gently leads those who have young,” as it says in Isaiah, and if God leads us gently, why are we being taught to be harsh with our children?

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  13. Tim

    This is an interesting conversation to me. I was spanked as a child as were my siblings. My parents were and still are great, loving, and caring. I never felt abused as a child nor do I see it as such now. If my child is about to run in front of a car I will grab their arm and yank them back, even if it means I hurt them in the process. I will do so out of love for them to spare them from something far more serious. I believe that spanking can be an effective discipline but do not believe that this is the only way to discipline a child or that you must spank your child. I also believe that spanking can be sinful just as putting your child in a timeout can be sinful if my heart is not in the right place. A swat on the butt that stings to remind a child not to do something that might actually harm them does not seem harsh to me. Just my thoughts.

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    • Tori

      My parents spanked me as well (though they eventually stopped with my younger siblings) and no, I don’t feel as if I was abused as a child. They were loving parents just trying to figure things out. But when it comes to actually teaching our children, using pain or shame (which are, essentially, the root of spanking—honestly, think how would you feel if someone bigger than you swatted you on the butt to get you to comply?) is incredibly ineffective in the long-term. It just teaches kids to be more defiant, more passive, or more aggressive. Focusing on instruction, connection, and understanding (for example, I’ve worked with each of my kids in understanding that they need to stay on the sidewalk, look for cars, and hold my hand when crossing the street—if I needed to grab them and yank them back, I would, but that’s very different than deliberately using pain, shame, or isolation—such as time outs—to get them to blindly comply) is far more effective in the long-run for raising confident, thoughtful, compassionate humans.

      Reply
  14. Hannah

    I’m really glad you’re covering this. I was holding my six-month-old niece awhile back, and she reached for my earrings, as babies of that age do. I gently removed her hand, and told her earrings aren’t for grabbing. Not that she’s going to understand for some time, but gotta lay that foundation. But my BIL spoke up and told me I should smack her hand. I was so horrified. No, I’m not going to smack a baby for doing completely age-appropriate things. Now I have a 4.5 month old myself, and she’s just entering the reaching/grabbing stage. I absolutely cannot imagine smacking her hand for doing that.

    I’m a teacher and used to be a nanny, and never have I needed to spank anyone to get them to do what I needed to do. Once or twice I’ve had to do the equivalent of sending them to the principal’s office (I don’t work in K12 but in extracurricular arts schools, so a bit different process), but that’s all. Spanking is really not necessary.

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  15. Janice Mitchell

    Why did God allow Egypt to enslave His Children?

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    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Because people did evil, and people chose to enslave Israel. God made us with free will. And then God rescued His people.

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  16. CM

    I’m always cautious when people justify their behavior solely on verses picked out of context.
    And more so when it only comes from the Old Testament.

    I mean, if they call themselves Christians, did they ever read Romans ? And Acts 15 ? Since Jesus died for our salvation, we ARE NO MORE supposed to follow the Law. So why do I constantly hear “Christian” people saying “We should read Leviticus and do exactly what’s written in it” ?

    I recently read someone explaining why she did no more celebrated Easter (as “unbiblical”) but instead followed the Jewish feasts. How can that person say she is a Christian if she does not celebrate Christ’s rising ?

    On the spanking issue, I wonder how many people have that “do exactly as God told or it will end poorly” stand BECAUSE they have been raised that way by their own parents (“do exactly and immediately what I tell you without thinking or it will hurt”) …

    Reply
    • CM

      Also, I’ve read several times “it’s better to hurt physically than hurt through words”. That seems true, but is not.
      It’s based on the false assumption that you SHOULD HURT someone to parent them rightly.
      Could we not just let the hurting part aside and teach instead how to freely adopt the right behavior, according to each kid’s age ?
      Using both our bodies and words to set the right example and train gently kids to do what’s good.

      I remember being spanked and being physically abused by my mother when I was a child, up to 15 or so (when I was strong enough to stop her). I don’t see any difference between when she really was upset and when she wasn’t. It felt unfair and devastating, even though she justified it.
      Yet being yelled at and called names and given endless lectures and emotional blackmail (which lasted long after I left home) was even more devastating. It felt more “acceptable” to me, because when it hurts physically, you know without any doubts someone is being mean to you. It took me years to realize how much damage it did to me.

      So yeah, words may have hurt me more than beating. But neither of it did make me grow up. It taught me instead to be sneaky, lazy and a liar. And made me more vulnerable to school bullies.
      What did help me was conversations with people who did hear me and acknowledge my feelings and showed me ways to fix what was wrong.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        So interesting and heartbreaking, CM! I’m glad you’re able to process what happened to you as a child. And you’re right–can’t we stop thinking we have to hurt someone?

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, CM, I’ve thought that too. How much of the support for spanking is based on how we were taught to not question things?

      Reply
  17. Tori

    The claim that spanking is a “literal” interpretation of the Bible has always been so bizarre to me—hello people, how does using a rod literally equate to modern-day spanking?? “Rod” and “spank” are not the same things. At all.
    Also it aggravates me when people claim spanking isn’t hitting. Urgh.
    I’ve never liked spanking; it’s about using pain to gain control. It doesn’t actually TEACH our kids how to be kind, happy, spiritual humans. When my kids (6, 4, and 1) make a mistake, I seek to understand, then work with them on how to right their wrong. Isn’t that what Jesus does with us? Did he agree that the woman taken in adultery deserved to be stoned, or did he gently and lovingly instruct her to go and sin no more?

    Reply
  18. Patrick

    Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controversy Paperback – June 3, 2006

    Available on Amazon, a tremendous book that reviews the great error of misusing the biblical texts that call for hitting children. Be armed with the word of God to silence this terrible practice by far too many Christians.

    Reply
  19. Gloria Sumpter

    The rod is an extension and to me don’t spank with your hand but something else.

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    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That is illegal in most countries. I don’t think we can spank at all, but spanking with something else means you don’t actually know how hard you’re hitting and you do more damage.

      What you are saying is not rooted in the Bible or in psychology, and has been shown to do harm. God does not try to control us, and we should not control our children either. There are much, much better ways to raise them and guide them to make good decisions while keeping strong attachment to them and building a relationship so they talk to us, rather than hide from us.

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  20. R Sauereisen

    My husband and I stopped spanking our children many years ago because we recognized it was damaging our relationship with our middle daughter. We also saw it didn’t work with our youngest son either. I wish we would never have spanked at all! To this day, my relationship with my 14 year old isn’t good. I don’t know how to fix it. I also know that I am far too quick to lecture when I’m frustrated and that damages our relationship too. But I feel like I don’t have the tools to change like I’d like even though I’ve read various books. Though I was spanked as a child, I’ve never felt like it harmed me as a child. More so, the harm has begun with a Mom who has become very grumpy, manipulative, and demanding.

    Reply
    • Samantha

      I feel for where you are at with your eldest. I know that must be heartbreaking some days. I do feel as though there is hope. I have really enjoyed Ralphie Jacobs from Simply on Purpose and her take on positive parenting. She has helped me immeasurably with my parenting (I come from a very legalistic, controlling, fundamental background so all I knew was control/shame/punishment when I became a parent). A couple of her main principles are to look for the good in your children and to stay in control of yourself (stay safe). I’ve realized I’m the one that needs to change. Not my children. They regulate to my mood. If I am calm they will get there as well. If I look for the good in them, the vast majority of bad behavior goes away without me having to say anything at all. It’s funny how it’s socially accepted for parents to have temper tantrums but kids get punished when they have them. I think about that a lot when I’m misbehaving. ha That said, back to Simply on Purpose, even if you just follow Ralphie on insta and don’t get her audio course (which is fabulous btw) the free content is invaluable. My home has gained so much peace and connection. Much love to you!

      Reply
  21. Elizabeth

    I was raised by very fundamentalist and abusive parents. Our minister insisted that kids had to be spanked for every little “sin”, they had to be spanked on bare skin, and they had to be spanked with some sort of implement. The spanking had to be hard enough to get them to “really cry” and bruises and welts were expected. My parents used a leather stock whip, and we were always whipped completely naked. Most of the lashes ended up on our bottoms and genitals, but they would whip us all over. I couldn’t help screaming in pain during these whippings, and that made them whip harder. I was out of that house the instant I turned 18, and I’ve never gone back. I don’t lay a finger on my kids, and had to get a lot of counseling to help me deal with my abuse. All I can say is it’s worth it to be patient and loving with your child. It may not get instant (but fake) results like spanking, but your relationship is so much better.

    Reply
  22. Michael

    Check my book now out, WE SPANKED GOD; Mike Tovar

    Reply

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