Spanking and the Rod of Correction

September 18, 2014

This is a pretty good piece by Matt Walsh.

In relation to the overall point, there is currently a popular notion that the rod in Scripture is not disciplinary. But that take simply will not work. Look up 1 Corinthians 4:21 and see if Paul can make any sense on that viewpoint. In the context of fatherly/motherly correction, Paul speaks of coming with a rod to address wrongdoing.

Yes, as is commonly noted, the shepherd used a rod to protect sheep—but that is not the picture deployed in the Scripture passages being considered (namely, those in Proverbs that advocate the rod being applied to “a child.” Let me hasten to add that the shepherding image is not  at all irrelevant to the total picture. Psalm 23:4 is an excellent portrait of the shepherding role of parents just as it is (directly) of the shepherding role of Yahweh.

But clearly the rod in Proverbs is referring to something else. The rod is an instrument of rule (Psalm 2:9; Rev 2:27 etc), and while the Scripture certainly does not intend us to think of family rule as having the same tenor as the Messiah ruling the nations with a rod of iron (!), just as surely it intends us to think of their being such a thing as family rule, and the rod is connected to that.

I am also aware that some people read “rod” in passages such as Proverbs 13:24 (“he who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly”) only in connection with older children. The argument is that the term for “child” [na’ar] is for older youth or young men.

While the term can mean that, however, it is problematic to make young men or older youth as the exclusive referent in every context in Proverbs.

Consider Prov 29:15: “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child [na’ar] left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Is it necessarily the case that an older youth or young man left to himself will bring shame to his mother? Certainly not. By that point he hopefully has learned wisdom and has internalized the teaching of his childhood. Of course, if he has not done so, he will continue to need ongoing correction. But surely that is not the norm being presented in Prov 29:15. What is the case without exception is that younger children left to themselves most certainly will bring shame to their parents. Foolishness is inherited, and without discipline true wisdom can never take root.

One point of child discipline, then, is that the child will mature into sound judgment and thus can be left to himself as he grows older. Surely the na’ar left to himself in Prov 29:15 is not exclusively or even primarily the late teen. If you have not taught him sound judgment by that point, it is highly doubtful that any amount of rods will give him wisdom. Rather, it is measured, loving but firm discipline, including physical discipline, in the younger years that will bear fruit later, however frustrating at the time. While I grant that in biblical times, there were very different sensibilities regarding corporal chastisement of older children, it is difficult to argue that only older children were intended to receive corporal discipline. (And in fact, our modern anti-spanking advocates certainly don’t want that either. They don’t want corporal discipline at any age.)

It may be that past generations spanked too much at times. There are other forms of discipline, after all. Yahweh is our teacher: He doesn’t spank us for every wrongdoing. But He doesn’t refrain from the rod, either. The Messiah who rules the nations with a rod of iron rules us with a rod, as well. Not an iron one, but a rod, nonetheless.