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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Part 1 of 2:
What is the "rod" mentioned in Proverbs?

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The biblical book of Proverbs, in its original Hebrew, contains five passages which refer to disciplining children with a "shebet." The word is usually translated in English as "rod." At first glance, these passages seem to instruct parents to discipline their children using violent means -- by physically hitting them with a rod, paddle, belt, or similar implement. Many of the leading fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian advocacy groups use this interpretation:

bullet The Family Research Council recommends that infant/child spanking is acceptable from 15 months of age up to, in rare instances, beyond ten years of age.

bullet James Dobson, child psychologist and head of Focus on the Family, recommends spanking children in some situations from the age of 18 months onwards.

With the gradual abandoning of corporal punishment as a child discipline technique in North America and elsewhere, some Bible-believing Jews and Christians have been searching for alternative interpretations for these biblical passages.

bullet Some feel that the real meaning of these passages in Proverbs is the opposite to their apparent literal interpretation. The verses actually call on parents to abandon methods of child discipline which involve the inflicting of pain.

bullet Others feel that the author(s) of Proverbs did recommend that parents beat their children into submission with a rod. They argue that these passages are merely a reflection of an ancient, very violent, society which practiced human slavery, stoned non-virgin brides to death, tortured prisoners, committed genocide, and acted in other ways which are considered profoundly immoral by today's religious and secular standards. Many of the latter practices have long been abandoned. Thus, they feel that we should reject the infliction of pain as a child-rearing tool as well.

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Interpretation 1: The rod is a wooden stick used to hit a child and generate pain:

Most conservative Christian sources which discuss the "rod" in Proverbs imply that it is a wooden stick of some sort which a parent, guardian, or teacher should use to hit a misbehaving child, causing them pain, and thereby discipline them. This can cause a quick change for the better in the child's behavior. However, many child psychologists recommend against this practice because of their perception that disciplining children through pain damages the adult/child relationship and often leads to long-term emotional and addiction problems later when the children reach aduhthood

Some examples:


Robert R. Gillogly,  author and Associate Director of of The Villages, Inc., a youth residential care facility in Topeka, KS. writes:

"The rod in the Old Testament was basically a wooden walking stick, a stout club, staff, or a tree branch used primarily for defense as in the Twenty-third Psalm, or for marshalling the sheep, or for thrashing cummin. Other uses of the rod included a scourge to inflict punishment or to strike a servant or slave (Ex. 21:20). It was also used as a scepter of authority, the symbol of a king's power, and an instrument of miracles, such as those performed by Moses and Aaron. But, essentially, the 'rod of God' (Ex. 4:20; 7:9; 12:19f.) was used for disciplining people, including children (see Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-11).

Other passages discuss what better means for controlling the:

"',,, folly ... bound up in the heart of a child'" than by using the 'shebet' or rod. (Prov. 22:15)

and that the 'rod of discipline' will drive such folly out of children and make them docile and obedient:

"the rod and reproof gives wisdom" (Prov. 29:15).1


Betty Miller, referring to Proverbs 22:15 wrote in's Daily Devotional:

"...that all children have rebellion in them and when it surfaces, it is our duty as parents to drive it out of them. We are to do this by punishing them with a whack on the buttocks with a small reed-like rod. This rod could be a switch from a fruit tree branch or a willow tree branch or a small wooden spoon. It is not to be a large heavy rod or anything that would cause permanent physical damage. The purpose of a spanking is not to cause any lasting bodily harm, but to cause spiritual correction....Parents should not fear that spanking will hurt or cause them to die, although some scream loud enough that it sounds that way. On the contrary, it is a kindness to a child, as they will respect authority, if it is done properly." 2


Dennis Rupert, pastor of New Life Community Church in Stafford, VA, writes:

"Proverbs 23:13-14..... show that the rod WAS for beating. The shepherd usually used a staff, not a rod, for rescuing, guiding, and creating a boundary for the sheep. The shepherd used the rod for beating (if not always sheep, then enemies of the sheep). Both are necessary in the life of sheep and both are necessary in our lives. Just like Psalm 23:4 says, 'your rod AND your staff, they comfort me'."

Concerning the word 'beating' (Hebrew naka, 'smite' in the King James language) ....There is a whole range of meaning for this Hebrew word (just as in English). The word is used to describe everything from whipping a donkey, to hitting a rock with a stick, to killing a man. The entire range involves unpleasant physical affliction, but not necessarily brutality."

There are people who see any physical affliction as brutality. I'm not of that camp and I think that is more the spirit of the age, than Biblical thinking. Even in the New Testament, God sees the discipline of parents as a worthy method which 'produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it' (Hebrews 12:7-11)."

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bullet answers a visitor's question:

" Question: "How should Christians discipline their children? What does the Bible say?"

Their response was:

"The rod in the Bible is a reed-like stick. Proverbs 23:13-14 does in fact promote physical discipline:

'Don't fail to correct your children. They won't die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death' (NLT version).

There are also other verses that support physical correction (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 20:30). The Bible strongly stresses the importance of discipline; it is something we must all have to be productive people and is much easier learned when we are younger. Children who aren't disciplined grow up rebellious, have no respect for authority, and as a result obviously won't be readily willing to obey and follow God." 3


Dave Miller, of Apologetics Press wrote:

"Lest someone get the idea that Solomon used the term 'rod' figuratively, without intending to leave the impression that parents should actually strike their children with a rod, he clarified the target:

'Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell'." (Prov.23:13-14)"

Since God would not approve of child abuse (cf. Colossians 3:21), it follows that whatever instrument is used for spanking, whether switch, yardstick, paddle, belt, razor strap, etc., should get the job done without inflicting inappropriate or unnecessary damage to the child's body." 4


"Tim" at Grace & Truth Ministries wrote:

"God COMMANDS us to spank with an implement in Proverbs 23:13-14...The promise from God is that if we do 'beat him with a rod' we will deliver his soul from hell. What a wonderful reward for obedience to the Lord in this area!...The Bible says use a 'rod', and God has His reasons for commanding that we use a rod. It is better to use a rod than one's hand because God says use a rod. You can run to psychology or to a wrong interpretation of the Scripture, but both paths are sadly a means of you yourself rebelling against God and His clear Words." 5


Charles Gleason wrote:

"The most important consideration must be God's point of view, as revealed in the scriptures. The verses pertaining to the rod of correction are actually COMMANDS of God, to parents of unruly children....Even without the biblical endorsement, spanking has a very established background in the history and tradition of the family unit. Even many of our young adults of our day, can remember grandmother or grandfather using some form of 'the rod of correction' upon their buttocks. (even if their parents did not)....Schoolteachers, guardians, and even neighbors, thought nothing of paddling a rude or naughty child in times past. While this non-parental spanking policy may be subject to many different opinions in our day and time, it was a common sight in our recent past." 6


According to the web site, Clyde and Twyla Bullock once manufactured, advertised, and sold "The Rod," shown here, to whip children. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the rod is a "22-inch, $5.00 white nylon whipping stick... Named after the biblical 'rod of correction,' the Rod provides 'a faith-based way to discipline children ... and train them as Christians,' [Twyla] Bullock explains."

The rod's designer, Clyde Bullocks is a Southern Baptist. This design appears to be his interpretation of the "rod" mentioned in the book of Proverbs. Their advertisement read:

"Spoons are for cooking. Belts are for holding up pants. Hands are for loving. RODS are for chastening."

It refers to the rod as "the means prescribed by God," citing 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." 7,8,9

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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  1. Robert R. Gillogly, "Spanking Hurts Everybody," Theology Today, at:
  2. Betty Miller, "Daily Devotional,", at:
  3. "How should Christians discipline their children? What does the Bible say?,", at:
  4. Dave Miller, "Children and the Rod of Correction," ApologeticsPress, at:
  5. "Tim," "CHILD TRAINING: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH?," Grace & Truth Ministries, at:
  6. Charles Gleason, "Obey God or man,", at:
  7. "Petition to Governor Henry to stop 'The Rod'," at:
  8. Warren Bolton, " 'The Rod' has been spared, but don’t abandon spanking," The State, at:
  9. Anna Badkhen, "Christian crusaders go to battle over spanking. Tools of discipline horrify some of faithful," San Francisco Chronicle, 2005-FEB-06, at:
  10. Jay and Jessica Wigley, "The Rod," at:
  11. Joanrenae, "The Rod or Shebet: An indepth [sic] examination," at:
  12. Michael Jost, "Spare the Rod...Spoil the Child," in "Religion and Discipline," at:
  13. Rick Creech, "Should Christian Parents Spank Their Children?, 1stBooks Library.
  14. Grace P. Chou, "Should I Spank My Child?. One mother's answer to parenting's most controversial question," Christian Parenting Today, 2003-Summer. Online at:
  15. Dennis Rupert, "Was a rod really used for spanking,"
  16. Laurie Morgan, "Choosing Not to Spank - Part 4: THE PROVERBS," Gentle Christian Mothers, at:
  17. Nancy Sehested, "Sparing the Rod: Program 3831," 1995-MAY-14. Transcript at:

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Copyright © 2005 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUL-02
Latest update: 2015-DEC-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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