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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

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 other implement. Many of the leading Fundamentalist Christian advocacy groups use this interpretation:

bulletThe 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.

bulletJames 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 Jews and Christians have been searching for alternative interpretations for these passages.

bulletSome 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.

bulletOthers 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 a 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. All of the latter practices have long since been abandoned. Thus 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 should use to hit a misbehaving child, causing them pain, and thereby discipline them.

Some examples:

bulletRobert 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 (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). What better means for controlling the 'folly ... bound up in the heart of a child' (Prov. 22:15) than by using the 'shebet' or rod. 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

bulletBetty Miller, referring to Proverbs 22:15 writes 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

bulletDennis 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)." answers a visitor's question:

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

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

bulletDave Miller, of Apologetics Presswrites:

"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

bullet"Tim" at Grace & Truth Ministries writes:

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

bulletCharles Gleason writes:

"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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Interpretation 2: The rod is not weapon to inflict pain on a child:

bulletJay and Jessica Wigley wrote:

"Proverbs is a book of poetry -- figurative language. Considering just that, I'd say that the rod mentioned in Proverbs is a figurative rod, not a literal one."

That is, when Proverbs 22:15 says "The rod and rebuke give wisdom..." it is referring to the "rod of correction," meaning non-violent methods of correction and teaching a child. As proof of her interpretation, she quotes Proverbs 23:13: "...if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die." Over 1,000 children die each year in the U.S. as a result of corporal punishment. If "beatest him with the rod" really means to beat a child with a rod, then the Bible would be lying. But the Bible is the Word of God and does not lie. Thus, the passage must be referring to a non physical correction with a figurative rod. 10

bulletJoanrenae also comments God's promise in Proverbs 23:13. She notes that Exodus 21:20 discusses a situation in which a man must be punished if he beats his male or female slave that he owns to death with a rod. One can conclude that the rod in Proverbs cannot be the same rod as is mentioned in Exodus. If it were, then the Bible would be lying. She writes that:

"[If Proverbs] were talking about a literal rod here, we would be finding a contradiction because it says he [the child] SHALL NOT die."

She notes that the Hebrew word "shebet" throughout most of the Old Testament refers to God's authority. She continues:

"If you read the 'shebet' passages in Proverbs, you will see that you can always substitute the word 'authority' for 'rod.' If 'rod' can be referring to God's authority or a nation's authority in some of the above verses, then it is referring to a parent's authority in the following verses: You cannot kill someone with your authority. You can be striking (beating) them with your authority by using your authority to discipline (teach, disciple, educate, instruct) and guide them. I hold to the figurative interpretation of this verse.....So many Christians have taken FIVE verses and hung a whole child rearing philosophy on them! Parents are told to use this as a primary form of punishment (what these experts refer to as discipline). Some use the words "punishment" and "discipline" interchangeably when they mean two entirely different things. These people are basing their theology on nothing more than the traditions of men!" 11

bulletLaurie Morgan refers to Proverbs 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." She writes:

"Here, the rod is very clearly a metaphor for correction itself. It is very plain English, but many people still do not understand. Saying the 'rod OF correction' means that it is correction -- being described to be like a rod -- that drives folly from the heart of a child. The 'rod of correction' is like the 'long arm of the law'. Is the law literally a long arm?? No. Is correction literally a rod? No."

She concludes:

"For those who feel nostalgic longing for the 'good old days' where children were quick to obey and parents were strict: please remember, it was that kind of parenting that created the world we live in today. It is time for kinder, gentler, more biblical parenting." 16

bulletNancy Hastings Sehested, pastor of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, -- a Southern Baptist congregation -- referring to Proverbs 13:24, said in a 1995 broadcast:

"When you hear the word from this passage of 'rod,' what do you think of? Perhaps a stick for beating and brutalizing, right? But what happens - what happens when we understand the rod in this Proverb as the same kind of rod and staff that comfort in Psalm 23? 'Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.' The rod and staff are the shepherd's tools for comforting the sheep. It is for caring and protecting, never for beating them to death. A good shepherd delights in his flock. The shepherd will go to whatever lengths necessary to provide the finest grazing, the rich pastures and clean water. The shepherd will do whatever is necessary to provide shelter from the storms and protection from enemies and diseases that sheep are susceptible to."

"Jesus said, 'I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives his life for his sheep.' This Good Shepherd's rod and staff comfort the sheep. The rod is thrown out on a path to startle the sheep warning them that they are in danger of wandering into an unsafe place. The shepherd uses the rod to drive off coyotes and wolves. Being stubborn creatures, sheep often get themselves into ridiculous dilemmas, like our children. Children are in need of shepherding like sheep so that they don't stray off into paths that will hurt them or destroy them." 17

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Interpretation 3: The rod is to inflict pain, but Proverbs should be ignored:

Some Christians interpret the Proverbs' passages as referring to a wooden stick used to beat a child. However, they reject the passages as representing very poor advice that dates from a violent period of biblical history.


Susan Lawrence of Arlington, MA, a homeschooling Lutheran mother, was distressed to see an advertisement for a child discipline tool called "The Rod" in a Christian homeschooling magazine. It is pictured above. Interviewed on Beliefnet, she said:

"There are about five verses in Proverbs that do speak of beating your son with a rod, and also in Proverbs they speak of beating fools on the back, and that kind of thing. There's a lot of punishment in the Old Testament. If you read the whole thing, there are floggings and stonings and all kinds of harsh punishments."

When asked about Proverbs 23:13's statement: "...if you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod and you will save him from the grave," Lawrence said:

"It's a lie, because children who are beaten with a rod sometimes do die. Between one and two thousand children die every year in this country from corporal punishment. One hundred forty-two thousand are seriously injured from corporal punishment every year in America, according to the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the New England Journal of Medicine. So it can't be taken literally." 11


Michael Jost writes that a "shebet" can mean a scepter or a staff as in a shepherd's staff. It is a sign of authority and a tool to shepherd the sheep. He writes:

"According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, 'the scepter originated in the idea that the ruler was a shepherd of his people'....[Like shepherds,] As parents we are to guide our children in the wilderness of the modern world. We need to provide them with a set of values and with ways of approaching life that has integrity and respect for others as a cornerstone. We certainly don't do that by beating them. A shepherd who beats his/her sheep, will have no flock. The sheep will run from his/her voice and flee from his/her calling....We parents are the shepherds for our children. By applying the rod of protection, guidance, care, and nurturance, we can guide them into adulthood. But if we spare the rod, children are abandoned to their own devices and limited experiences for guidance. Discipline is about instruction, not beatings. A child cannot listen to someone he/she is afraid of. Lessons cannot be integrated by one who is in shock from having been struck. What they learn is distrust, fear, and violence." 12


Grace Chou studied the passages in Proverbs after receiving a suggestion from her mother to stop spanking her son. She writes:

"I found the perfect example of grace-filled discipline in Jesus. [Author Rick] Creech notes that, 'Some of the things of the Old Testament were done away with when the New Testament came into place. Take the adulterous woman in John 8:3-11 for example. The law of the Old Testament stated very clearly that if anyone committed adultery, they should be put to death. But Jesus did not allow the men to put her to death. Instead Jesus said to the men, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Jesus did not change the moral principle that was in the law, because he still told the woman, "Go now and leave your life of sin." But Jesus did change the way that the requirement of the law was enforced. Jesus did away with the harsh physical punishment, but he still upheld the moral standard.' I knew it was my job as a parent to do the same." 13,14

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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 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JUL-02
Latest update: 2013-JUL-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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