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
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.
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
Prov 13:24: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he
that loveth him chasteneth him betimes (diligently)."
Prov 19:18: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let
not thy soul spare for his crying."
Prov 22:15: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child;
but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
Prov 23:13: "Withhold not correction from the child: for if
thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die."
Prov 23:14: "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt
deliver his soul from hell (Shoel)."
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:
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).
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
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:
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)
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:
Most conservative Protestants believe that the Bible is completely
accurate and inerrant - free of error.
The passages in Proverbs probably accurately and precisely portray
Solomon's parenting style.
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
Perhaps the Bible's true message here is:
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.
You should avoid using spanking or any other form of corporal
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.