Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by leaving a comment on this post.
(Note: This post was originally published on thefrontieratgrace.com on November 16, 2011).
Recently I received an email from a mother of young children asking for clarification on the Bible’s stance toward corporal (physical) discipline. Though she is not against the use of corporal discipline, she was concerned that some Christians present the use of corporal discipline by means of the rod as the only godly way to correct a child.
The most direct biblical references to corporal discipline occur in the book of Proverbs. One of the most-quoted is Proverbs 13:24: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son / but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (ESV). Similar passages appear in Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 23:13,14; and Proverbs 29:15–17.
In order to understand these proverbs, it is helpful to understand how biblical proverbs function. Their purpose is generally not to establish laws or promises, but to lay out principle of wise—that is, skillful—living. I addressed this issue at greater length when introducing a sermon series at Grace Polaris on the book of Proverbs.
Accordingly, I do not believe it is proper to say that these verses require a parent to use corporal discipline; certainly they do not require a parent to use a literal rod to address all offenses in children of all ages. Here’s how I would characterize the Bible’s stance on this issue: The Bible indicates that a component of wise parenting is the use of corporal discipline. Just as the proverbs do not forbid borrowing but caution against it (see, for example, Proverbs 16:7), so also the proverbs do not mandate the use of corporal discipline but strongly recommend it.
It is important for us to remember that the goal of parenting is to bring our children up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and that this is ultimately a matter of the heart attitudes underlying behavior, not of behavior itself. Many methods of discipline are not particularly effective in addressing the heart, because they do not create an environment in which the child understands that rebellion against God-given authority structures is not merely inconvenient; it is sinful and unwise. Proper use of corporal discipline, on the other hand, reinforces the God-given authority of the parent and the negative consequences associated with stepping outside that authority.
One final thought, even as I acknowledge that much more could be said about this issue: Corporal discipline is always to be applied in the context of a loving relationship, in a controlled and non-injurious fashion and never as an expression of parental anger. Parents who think that corporal discipline is the only facet of godly parenting are missing the boat and potentially placing their children in danger. Ironically, corporal discipline is completely ineffective when it is not administered by a parent who consistently demonstrates love, care, and faithfulness to his children.
Your thoughts on this issue are welcome. Comments?