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Child corporal punishment: spanking

The pro-spanking position

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We recommend that you first read our introduction to spanking:

We have a companion essay on the anti-spanking position

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Reaction to Bible passages about spanking.

The pro-spanking position seems to be mainly based on seven passages in the Bible.

The Bible contains seven verses that may relate to the spanking of children:

bullet Five in Proverbs specifically mention the use of a rod to beat a child.
bullet One is more ambiguous; it mentions a parent "chastening" of a child. But the verse probably refers to the use of a rod because it mentions crying, and it is surrounded by other verses that specifically refer to that form of punishment.
bullet A verse in Hebrews refers to a father disciplining his son. The method is not specified. However, most of the other passages which describe child discipline refer to the use of a rod. So, this verse probably implies the use of a rod as well.

Christians differ in their reaction to these biblical passages:

bullet Most religious liberals probably feel that these passages merely reflect the child-raising customs of the age. They note that the verses were written in a pre-scientific age when child psychology had not developed as a field of study. Most probably accept that spanking is hazardous to the sexual and emotional health of children. In their own parenting style, they either reject corporal punishment entirely as a method of discipline, or adopt it only in very unusual circumstances. Some would interpret the passages in Proverbs as accurately reflecting Solomon's parenting style, and the devastating consequences of corporal punishment on his son.  They generally would not believe that these passages represent God's intent for parents. They suggest that they represent only Solomon's policies -- techniques which the Bible later indicates are counter-productive and dangerous. Rather than promoting corporal punishment, they might interpret the Bible as recommending against its use.

Robert Ingersoll, a well known 19th century free-thinker, who wrote in 1891 about King Solomon:

"To me it has always been a matter of amazement why civilized people, living in the century of Darwin and Humboldt, should quote as authority the words of Solomon, a murderer, an ingrate, an idolater, and a polygamist -- a man so steeped and sodden in ignorance that he really believed he could be happy with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines."

bullet Most Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians, believe that God inspired the authors of the Bible to write material which is inerrant -- free of error. This leads many of them to feel that the above passages place upon them a religious obligation to physically punish rebellious children. Darrel Reid, head of Focus on the Family - Canada (a Fundamentalist Christian group) said that "The theological underpinning for family corporal punishment is tied up with the responsibility that God gives families for raising the young. You can find it particularly in the early books of the Bible, where God says your responsibility is not just nurturing but also correcting them."
There are wide variations in biblical interpretation among conservative Christians:
bullet A Church of God congregation in Aylmer, ON is mainly composed of German-speaking Mennonites from Mexico. It it their belief that the Bible requires that when they spank their children, they must strike them with an object, typically a wooden stick or a leather belt. They believe that they are forbidden to spank their children with their hand, because the hand is considered an instrument of love, guidance and comfort.
bullet The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church, is a conservative Christian group which discourages spanking.
bullet Some interpret the "rod" in the Proverbs passages as referring to a shepherd's rod that is used to gently guide sheep. This is possible interpretation for four of the six passages, which refer to such vague terms as chasten and reproof. This seems unlikely, because the rod is also mentioned in Proverbs 23:13 and 23:14 as being used to "beat him."
bullet It might be argued that four of the six passages in Proverbs refer to a male child. Perhaps the author did not intend girls to be beaten with a rod.

A common theme among the most conservative Evangelical Christian sources is that it is important to start the discipline of children at an early age. A leading Fundamentalist Christian leader and psychologist, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, recommends spanking children in some situations from the age of 18 months. Some believe that corporal punishment is the only effective method to be used. Discipline and spanking are often closely linked; the terms are often used interchangeably. Non-violent parenting techniques are often not emphasized. They often promote the belief that without spanking and hitting, children will grow up completely undisciplined.

One Evangelical source points out that a child who is forced to accept punishment from her/his parents will be more likely to accept punishment and chastisement from God as an adult.

Over at least the past two decades, there has been an increasing concern about violence in society, including spousal abuse; violent hate crimes; violence motivated by sexism, racism and homophobia; school shootings; etc. It is to be expected that increasing attention is being paid to corporal punishment of children. This naturally leads to increased tension between religious conservatives and the rest of society.

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Recommendations by pro-spanking advocates:

Most of the older books on child-raising advocated corporal punishment as a normal disciplinary method. More modern books available in conservative Christian bookstores still do. But most current books written from a secular or a liberal religious perspective recommend that alternative methods be used and that spanking be avoided.

Some points made by supporters of spanking:

bullet All of the "pro-spanking" sites on the Internet that we have been able to find are written from a Christian Fundamentalist or other Evangelical perspective. 3 to 10 A common thread running through many of these sites is the concept that the only alternative to spanking is to impose no discipline at all. To raise a child without discipline is a form of severe child abuse.
bullet "Spanking was good for me; I turned out OK. It should be good for my children." From a caller to a phone-in show on a radio program that I participated in.
bullet Spanking is necessary, even if it is only used as a last resort, as a backup where other methods have failed.
bullet Spanking is the only method of discipline for toddlers who cannot understand reason and explanations.
bullet The eight strongest studies demonstrate beneficial outcomes from corporal punishment.
bullet Parents who have an authoritative personalities and child raising methods have the best behaved children.
bullet Ever since corporal punishment was abandoned in the public schools, discipline has declined and school violence -- even shooting -- has increased.
bullet Since parents started to abandon spanking, youth violence has increased. 11

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Excerpts from specific authors:

bullet Dr. James Dobson, is a child psychologist and founder of the fundamentalist Christian agency, Focus on the Family. In his Reference Guide, he recommended that babies younger than 15 months should not be spanked. He wrote:
bullet "There is no excuse for spanking babies or children younger than 15 to 18 months of age. But midway through the second year (18 months) boys and girls become capable of knowing what your telling them to do or not do."
bullet "If children cry for longer than five minutes, "the child is merely complaining...I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears." 12

According to a year 2004 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, any corporal punishment of a child under the age of 24 months is a criminal act of child abuse. Canadians should beware of implementing Dr. Dobson's recommendations fully.

bullet Ronald Williams of the Believers Baptist Church in Winona Lake, IN, wrote:

"One thing is certain, correction with the rod should and must start very early. In fact, correction with the rod should start much earlier than our contemporary godless and irresponsible society believes is normative....What is the tool of the condition in this passage?...It is variously defined as a rod, a staff, a scepter, or a wand. In short, a rod is an instrument strong enough to be used in a session of correction so that it will not be broken. It also lends itself to inflicting pain on the posterior of the child, but it is not so constructed as to break bones or tear flesh!...A rod in most cases is probably a wooden paddle used for spanking the buttock....Although a hand may have to be used in an emergency session of correction, this is not what the Lord had in mind. Your hand cannot do an effective job of correcting since you will inflict about as much pain on your hand as you will on the child's buttock. Your hand should represent love and affection, not correction. The Lord prefers this inanimate object called the rod." 13

bullet Dennis Finnan of The World, the Word & You! radio program stated:

"Today with the abandonment of discipline encouraged by the elite secular thinkers, the rise in juvenile delinquency has exploded. The American Bar Association reports that juvenile crime involving criminal violence and death by guns and drugs, has all but clogged the nation's courts with children involved, as young as twelve years of age."

"What has caused this massive rebellion to authority, and out of control rage of children? The answer is, THE ABSENCE OF LOVING CORPORAL DISCIPLINE BY THEIR PARENTS DURING THE FORMATIVE YEARS. Many a life of sin and shame is simply the outgrowth of a life without any discipline, without any rebuke and without reproof. Now I realize, that there are many voices out there with all kinds of advice. But let me take you to the place of tried wisdom and knowledge, where you won't go wrong if you follow its advice. That place of authority and wisdom is the Bible my friend, for God's Word has never proven itself wrong, and has always blessed those who followed its teaching regarding rearing children. ..."

"Today we have a generation of humanity that rejects God and His word as the basis of life, and has established its own wisdom in place of it. Secular humanism, now the official philosophy and religion of our schools, media and courts today has had a generation to raise children and its results are disastrous. Yet, God's Word still stands as the tried and true way to rear children. This, of course, includes the mandatory use of parental discipline that includes spanking a child." 14

Michael and Debi Pearl are authors of a popular book among religious conservatives: "To Train Up a Child." We describe their discipline recommendations in a separate essay.

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Analysis by the Family Research Council:

The Family Research Council (FRC) has prepared a very thoughtful analysis of corporal punishment from a conservative Christian perspective . 3 They seem to be quite aware of the hazards of spanking - particularly the possibility of corporal punishment escalating in intensity and frequency until it becomes serious abuse.

Although the FRC advocates spanking as a discipline method, they recommend that its use be severely restricted. They have in fact moved a long distance towards banning spanking entirely:

bullet They differentiate between "abusive hitting and nonabusive spanking."
bullet They recommend that verbal corrections, time outs, and logical consequences be the disciplinary methods of choice.
bullet Spanking should be reserved for instances where non-compliance persists, and only if non-physical disciplinary methods have failed. "For very compliant children, milder forms of correction will suffice and spanking may never be necessary."
bullet The child should receive "at least as much encouragement and praise for good behavior as correction for problem behavior."
bullet "To avoid public humiliation or embarrassment," it should always be done in private
bullet Spanking should be restricted to a range of ages. It "is inappropriate before 15 months of age and is usually not necessary until after 18 months. It should be less necessary after 6 years, and rarely, if ever, used after 10 years of age."
bullet If spanking does not seem to work, a parent should never increase the severity of hitting. Professional help should be sought, and/or other disciplinary techniques tried
bullet They recommend a single slap to the hand of a young child, and one or two spanks to the buttocks for older children
bullet They recommend hugging the child afterwards.

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Concerns by the conservative Christians:

During 2001-AUG, Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian agency, held a poll of visitors to their web site on government interference in the family. The question was: "How much do you worry about the government interfering with your parenting." This could cover a range of concerns, including sex-education in the public schools, to teaching their children about sexual orientation. But conservative Christians seem to have an increasing concern of Child Protective Services intruding into the home because of the use of corporal punishment. Results of 10,543 responses to the question were:

bullet "A lot" 57%
bullet "A little" 34%
bullet "Not at all" 9%

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Useful Books.

The most popular books which advocate spanking children as a form of discipline are by James Dobson, founder and president of the Fundamentalist Christian agency "Focus on the Family."

bullet James C. Dobson, "The strong-willed child: Birth through adolescence," (1992). Read reviews and/or safely order this book from the online bookstore [Author's note: In this biblically based book, Dobson recommends spanking as a discipline tool from the age of 18 months. Reviewers of his book seem to either love it or hate it.]
bullet James C. Dobson, "The new dare to discipline," Tyndale House, (1996). Review/order this book
bullet James Dobson, "Complete Marriage and Family Reference Guide," Tyndale House, (2002), Page 402. Review/order this book

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  1. C.I. Scofield, "Scofield Reference Bible," "New and improved edition," Page 672.

  2. R.C. Dentan, "The Proverbs," in  C.M. Layon, "The interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, (1991), Page 304.

  3. The Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Christian organization, has an article "Spare the Rod? New Research Challenges Spanking Critics" at They have materials available on this and other social matters that are written from a Fundamentalist Christian perspective. They are located at 801 G Street NW, Washington, DC, 20001. Toll-free number is 1-800-225-4008.
  4. A Web site "Sex Facts from the Bible" has an essay: "Guidelines for Spanking Your Children" at:
  5. The Christian Family Foundation has a section on their Web site devoted to this topic. See: 
    bullet , and 
  6. Mack and Brenda Timberlake, "The Spanking Dilemma" at:
  7. Fundamental Baptist News Service: "Study says Spanking is Destructive," at:
  8. Mark Benedict, "Ann Landers Advises Against Spanking, But What Does God's Word Teach" 
  9. Christian Answers Network, "When is a child old enough to be spanked and how should it be done?"
  10. It's In the Bible, "Child Training/Parenting," at:
  11. Murray Straus, "Demystifying the defenses of corporal punishment," at: You may need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  12. James Dobson, "Complete Marriage and Family Reference Guide," Tyndale House, (2002), Page 114-115. Review/order this book
  13. Ronald E. Williams, "The Correction and Salvation of Children," Believers Baptist Church, at:
  14. Dennis Finnan, "Dare to Discipline," The World, the Word & You! at:

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Copyright 1995 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAY-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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