Spare the rod, spoil the child.
As with most popular proverbs, there are elements of truth contained within this saying, which is probably why it is often mistaken for Scripture. Some verses in the Bible have similar wording as well, further complicating the confusion. This blog will discuss two major difficulties with this saying and determine if the Bible supports the principle of corporal punishment.
Several verses in Proverbs have similar wording to our saying in question.
Proverbs 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
The first difficulty is the meaning of “rod.” Two translations could be used here. One means “a rod or staff for smiting” and the other means “a shepherd’s implement used in mustering or counting sheep.” In Psalm 23:4, it is obviously the latter because the whole psalm is about a shepherd, but is Proverbs 13:24 saying a father should be a shepherd to his son or a disciplinarian? Since a sheep is not likely to understand why it might be disciplined, it seems that the definition would fit better if the son is being struck by a rod to be chastised rather than prodded so his father can count how many children he has.
Literally this verse is saying, “The one who withholds the rod from his son, hates his son, but the one who loves his son seeks him out early in the morning to discipline him.” The implication is that it happens often when the son is in need of discipline, but it is not saying parents should beat their kid every day without cause. Doing so would certainly “provoke your children to anger,” which Paul warns us not to do in Ephesians 6:4.
Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from Sheol.
This passage actually promises that if a child is disciplined with a rod, he/she will be saved from Sheol, which was the place the Hebrews believed they would go when they died. In other words, punish your child when he does wrong, and your child will not go to Hell. Some translations say “if you punish him with the rod, he will not die,” but this should not be misinterpreted as a promise that if you beat your child within an inch of his life that God will miraculously save him from death (believe it or not, I have heard that interpretation). As verse 14 explains, the death being referred to is the death of his soul or as some call it, the “second death.”
This brings us to the second difficulty of this saying. How does one apply this without going too far? For legal purposes, one should not beat their child in such a way as to leave a mark on the child’s body. Some children need only a time out or a privilege taken away to get the message and change their behavior. Others need more stern punishment to get the point. Spanking exclusively would make it difficult to go to the next level. What are you going to do if it doesn’t work? Spank them harder next time? I can’t answer these questions, but the principle found in these verses is this: if you do not punish your children when they do wrong, you hate your kids and are literally telling them to go to Hell. Whether your punishment includes spanking them, grounding them, or taking away privileges, it seems the Bible leaves that for you to decide.
I know this is a controversial topic so by all means leave a comment or a question. Even if you disagree, I will post your comment if you give a cohesive argument and back it up with Scripture. Come let us reason together!