05 May 2011

"Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child"


This will have absolutely nothing to do with raising a transracially adopted child, but it is something that has come up recently in my life and I'd like to share my opinion on it. I share the opinion of William Sears, M.D., and Martha Sears, R.N. Here is an excerpt from one of their books, The Discipline Book:

Hitting Is Actually Not Biblical

Don't use the Bible as an excuse to spank. There is confusion among some people of Judeo-Christian heritage who, seeking help from the Bible in their effort to raise good children, believe that God commands them to spank. They take "spare the rod and spoil the child" (which is not found in the Bible) seriously and fear that if they don't spank, they will commit the sin of losing control of their child. In our counseling experience, we find that these people are devoted parents who love God and love their children, but they misunderstand the concept of the rod.

Rod verses - what they really mean

The following are the biblical verses that have caused the greatest confusion:

"Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive ir far from him." (Prov. 22:15)

"He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him." (Prov. 13:24)

"Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death." (Prov. 23:13-14)

"The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother." (Prov. 29:15)

At first glance these verses may sound pro-spanking. But you might consider a different interpretation of these teachings. "Rod" (shebet) means different things in different parts of the Bible. Our Hebrew dictionary defines it as a stick, whether for punishment, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, or other activities. While the rod can be used for hitting, it is also used to protect vulnerable sheep. Shepard don't use the rod to beat their sheep - and children are certainly more valuable than sheep. As Shepard-author Philip Keller teaches so well in his book A Shepard Looks At Psalm 23, the Shepard's rod was traditionally used to fight of prey and the staff was used gently to guide sheep along the right path, as in the phrase "your rod and your staff they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4). Jewish families we've interviews who carefully follow dietary and lifestyle guidelines in the Scripture do not practice "rod correction" with their children because they do not follow that interpretation of the text.

The book of Proverbs is one of poetry. It is logical that the writer would have used a well-known tool to form and image of authority. We believe that this is the point made about the rod in the Psalms: Parents take charge of your children. When you reread the "rod verses", use the concept of parental authority, rather than the concept of beating or spanking, when you come to the word "rod". It rings true in every instance.

While Christians and Jews believe that the Scripture is the inspired word of God, it is also a historical text that has been interpreted in many ways over the centuries, sometimes incorrectly in order to support the beliefs of the times. These "rod" verses have been burdened with interpretations about corporal punishment that support human ideas. Other parts of the Bible, especially the New Testament, suggest that respect, authority, and tenderness should be the prevailing attitudes toward children among people of faith.

In the New Testament, Christ modified the traditional eye-for-an-eye system of justice with his turn-the-other-cheek approach. Christ preached gentleness, love, and understanding, and He seemed to be against any harsh use of the rod, as stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:21: "Shall I come to you with the rod, or in love and with a gentle spirit?" Paul went on to teach fathers about the importance of not provoking anger in their children (which is what spanking usually does): "Fathers, do not exasperate your children" (Eph. 6:4), and "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will be discouraged" (Col. 3:21).

In our opinion, nowhere in the Bible does it say you must spank your child to be a godly parent.

Painting The Virgin Spanking The Christ Child by Max Ernst

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