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Child corporal punishment: Spanking

Biblical passages about the spanking of children

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Spanking in the Bible:

The phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child" is often incorrectly attributed to the Christian Bible. It does not appear there. It was first written in a poem by Samuel Butler in 1664. 1

Corporal punishment is strongly recommended in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Most of the biblical quotations advocating corporal punishment of children appear in the book of Proverbs. Christians interpret these passages in different ways:

bullet Religious conservatives generally believe that the book of Proverbs was assembled by King Solomon, circa 1000 BCE. He brought together a group of sayings which were already current in his time; some may have been his own thoughts; others may have been first written down centuries earlier. 2 The passages which deal with spanking presumably reflect his parenting beliefs with respect to his son, Rehoboam.

bullet Religious liberals generally believe that Solomon first introduced "ancient oriental 'wisdom' to Israel and it later became customary to attribute all books belonging to this particular literary genre to him. The actual authors of Proverbs were the successive generations of wisdom teachers (or 'wise men') who had charge of the moral and practical training of young men of the court and upper classes...." King Hezekiah is mentioned in Proverbs 25:1. Thus, Proverbs in its current form, cannot date from earlier than than his reign in the 8th century BCE. It may have been assembled as late as the 4th century BCE. 3

The following quotations  come from the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible:

bullet Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."

bullet Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying."

bullet Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."

bullet Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."

bullet Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."

bullet Prov 29:15: "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."

An additional verse from the New Testament is occasionally cited as justification for physical punishment of children:

bullet Hebrews 12:6-7: "...the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?"

From our study of conservative Protestant books on child-raising, and the content of numerous radio programs on Christian radio stations, it appears that many fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians equate "punishment" and "discipline" with "corporal punishment." But it is not clear whether the discipline, referred to at the end of this New Testament verse, refers to corporal punishment or to some other form of correction (e.g. removal of privileges).

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The results of corporal punishment, as described in the Bible:

As mentioned above, from a conservative Protestant point of view, it is probable that these passages in Proverbs describe Solomon's own parenting style when he raised his son Rehoboam. The Bible subsequently records the negative effect that this parenting style had on his son. Rehoboam became a widely hated ruler after his father's death. At one point, he had to make a hasty retreat to Jerusalem to avoid being assassinated by his own people:

bullet 1 Kings 12:13-14: "And the king [Rehoboam] answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions." (ASV)

bullet 1 Kings 12:18:  "Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork; and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem." (ASV)

These same events are recorded in 2 Chronicles 10:6-19.

It can be argued that:

bullet Most conservative Protestants believe that the Bible is completely accurate and inerrant - free of error.

bullet The passages in Proverbs probably accurately and precisely portray Solomon's parenting style.

bullet As an adult, Solomon's son Rehoboam, was vicious, unfeeling, inconsiderate to his subjects, had no regard for human rights, and was widely hated. He barely escaped assassination at the hands of his own people.

bullet Perhaps the Bible's true message here is:
bullet If you don't want your children to grow up to be like Rehoboam, then you should not follow Solomon's parenting style, as it is accurately described in the Bible.

bullet You should avoid using spanking or any other form of corporal punishment.
bullet These conclusions seem to agree with recent studies which indicate that one out of every three boys has a genetic problem that will almost certainly cause him to engage in criminal or anti-social acts later in life if he is physically abused. It is unknown what level of corporal punishment will push these children over the edge and make them become violent and aggressive as adults.

On the other hand, many Christians will argue that because the Bible is inerrant, that Solomon's parenting recommendations reflect God's expectations. Thus conservative Protestant parents are obligated to "beatest him with the rod" as the preferred form of discipline.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Holly Rossi, "Sparing the Rod,", 2005-FEB, at:
  2. C.I. Scofield, "Scofield Reference Bible," "New and improved edition," Page 672.
  3. R.C. Dentan, "The Proverbs," in  C.M. Layon, "The interpreter's one-volume commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, (1991), Page 304.
  4. Robert R. Gillogly, "Spanking Hurts Everybody," Theology Today, at:

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Copyright © 1995 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-APR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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