Corporal punishment has largely been outlawed in most public institutions: police forces or schools. As the cultural momentum moves away from retributive justice (death penalty) to reformatory justice (prisons/ ‘correctional facilities’), spanking is now viewed as an act of brutality, a vengeful and abusive form of correction. Increasingly, governments are attempting to outlaw corporal punishment in the home as well.
Many professing Christians are using a hermeneutic that claims spanking is not what the Bible teaches, and that it is a violent and brutal form of action that will only produce more violence and resentment.
Does the Bible teach the use of corporal punishment in the home?
Correction in The Home is Commanded
1) Proverbs 23:13-14. Notice the command is a prohibition: do not withhold correction. Parents must correct. The correction is then explained: “beat him with a rod”. The limit and purpose is then given: it is not to harm and kill, but it will deliver the child from untimely death, brought about by his own sin or foolishness. It will deliver him from eternal destruction by introducing him to the Gospel.
2) Proverbs 13:24. This explanation of corporal punishment turns on its head the erroneous thinking that correction is unkind and spiteful. Instead, the parent who refuses to do this is actually pleasing himself, and acting selfishly, in neglect of his son’s needs. Love – benevolent kindness – leads to prompt discipline.
3) Proverbs 29:15, 22:15. Correction is necessary to bring wise living. The absence of correction will allow a child’s native and natural foolishness to grow and eventually bring destruction and shame to all.
Some object that ‘the rod’ is just a metaphor for correction, not an actual rod. But the natural question is, how would a rod be a metaphor for correction, unless it was literally used that way? Things don’t become metaphors unless there is some association. If the rod was not literally used to spank, it is hard to imagine why the Bible would use it as an association. Furthermore, if the Bible thought of physical spanking as abusive, it is hard to see why it would employ a metaphor with abusive associations.
Correction in The Home Must Be Qualified
1) Spanking is not the only method of correction. (Proverbs 29:15 – the rod and rebuke) God does not only chasten his children with stripes – such as physical pain or loss. He also warns, rebukes, threatens, removes blessings or privileges, allows negative consequences. Parents can use discretion as to which offences merit physical correction.
2) However, the Bible assumes that spanking will be the chosen method at some point. The Bible’s emphasis on the rod means that we do not get to use spanking as a last resort or never at all.
3) Correction is not vengeance (Proverbs 19:18) Spanking should not be done to vent one’s anger on a child that has annoyed, humiliated or exasperated you. Do not spank in anger. Fleshliness in a parent only provokes fleshliness in a child.
4) Correction must be appropriate. Correction out of proportion with the offence will provoke anger in a child at its unfairness. Too little correction encourages sin patterns to continue. The goal is to have enough of a consequence to feel regret and to fear repeating the offence, but not one so painful that fear or a desire for revenge builds in the child.
5) Correction must be consistent. Overlooking an offence on one day and then punishing without warning the next will exasperate a child. Likewise punishing harshly for something that personally annoys you, while being lenient on something that does not frustrates a child’s sense of justice.
6) Correction must be controlled. Telling yourself and your child how many spankings he/she will receive encourages self-control.
7) Correction should include communication: what has happened, why the spanking must take place, and what this reveals about the child’s desires. Christ’s sufficiency, the Spirit’s enablement for obedience must be shared. Love for the child and concern for his/her obedience must be shared, and often enough, prayer.
8) Physical correction should lessen in proportion to a child’s emotional and spiritual maturity and growing self-discipline. The goal of enforced discipline is to create that discipline within the child. Christian discipline is Christ-centred and grace-enabled. A promise is attached to consistent discipline, and that is of a pleasant relationship (Prov 29:17)
9) Wherever possible, correction should be in private, and avoid humiliating the child in front of others.
What About Corporal Punishment in Other Venues?
We are moving away from cultures of shared responsibility for parenting, and becoming more individualistic. The amount of litigation, combined with the ability to easily publicise acts of abuse on the Internet means most schools will probably outlaw it.
In secular nations, beatings administered by police or religious authorities no longer occur. Even though Israel included corporal punishment (Deut 25:1-3) in its justice system, as have most cultures, that is not likely to return.
Christian schools should be advised to avoid corporal punishment that does not include the written consent of the parents, or flouts the laws that apply to public life in South Africa.
Parents should exercise extreme caution when considering some form of chastening in public. Though this may be necessary for very little children, the ubiquitous nature of cell-phone cameras, and self-appointed guardians of the liberal order make this something, if at all possible to delay until in one’s home again.
What If Spanking Is Outlawed in The Home?
In 2016, the SAHRC recommended to Parliament that the 2005 Children’s Act be amended to outlaw spanking in the home. The matter is still under review. Should it be passed, it would represent two things:
1) A violation of God-given parental responsibility with gross interference by the State;
2) A violation of Christian conscience, which requires us to, at least at certain times, apply reasonable and moderate physical chastening to our children in a loving environment.
This would represent one of those rare circumstances when the government is actively commanding evil or forbidding obedience to God. Christians would have to wisely continue to obey the Bible on this matter, in a quiet resistance to what would be ungodly overreach by a government.
– David De Bruyn, Professor of Church History, Shepherds’ Seminary Africa