Many people today claim that spanking children is not only recommended in the Bible, but is an explicit command. Nevermind the fact that the only verses that supposedly advocate for spanking are the four from the book of Proverbs, and Proverbs are not commands… Let’s explore together how Jesus responded to the commands of the Old Testament.
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.
But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him,
“Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”
But He said to them,
“Have you not read what David did when he became hungry,
he and his companions, how he entered the house of God,
and they ate the consecrated bread,
which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?
“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath
the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?
“But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.
“But if you had known what this means,
‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’
you would not have condemned the innocent.
The religious leaders (Pharisees) attempted to subject Jesus to their interpretation of the Biblical command to “keep the Sabbath holy” by refraining from work. However, Jesus allowed his disciples to break the law of the day because He knew that the heart of God is for COMPASSION – not strictly following a set of rules.
Jesus was perfect and never sinned. So while he may have disobeyed the religious law, he was operating in perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father.
It is essential that we can learn, as Jesus did, to obey our Heavenly Father by accurately interpreting His Word. How do you decide which “commands” in Scripture to obey and how to apply them to our modern life?
Other “Commands” We Don’t Obey
Just like Jesus, there are plenty of “commands” in the Bible that we do not obey. We understand that we are not expected to obey these commands for many reasons:
- WRONG GENRE. They are figurative – not literal.
- WRONG CONTEXT. They are intended for a certain people in a certain time at a certain location within certain cultures and certain contexts that are very different than ours.
- WRONG COVENANT. They are a part of the Old Covenant under the law of Moses – not under the New Covenant law of grace.
- WRONG APPLICATION. They are intended for a specific people at a specific time – not for every individual in all situations.
Just for fun, let’s read some passages of Scripture with the same hermeneutic that is applied to the “spanking passages.”
Mistake #1: WRONG GENRE
Interpreting Literally What Is Meant To Be Figurative
Put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.
I highly doubt that anyone would attempt to claim that the Bible advocates for a command to commit suicide or to put a literal knife to your throat as an alternative to gluttony. The same people who want to interpret the spanking verses in Proverbs as literal do not apply that same hermeneutic to this verse that is also in Proverbs.
Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none,
and anyone who has food should do the same.
I am guilty of this one… I have more than two shirts, and I know there are plenty of people in the world who do not have even one shirt. Is it a sin to have two shirts? No. We are obviously not supposed to read this verse literally, but we should pay attention to the heart of this verse. We should care for the poor and not be so obsessed with our own material gain that we neglect the welfare of others around the world who are in need. This verse in particular is a little difficult to wrestle with as an American… Our world would be very different indeed if we obeyed this one verse.
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine,
Or with gluttonous eaters of meat;
For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags.
We are “commanded” in Proverbs to not hang out with alcoholics or gluttons. Should we get rid of all our fat friends because they are going to be poor? Just as our spanking verses found in the book of Proverbs, we can easily see that these Proverbs are not meant to be interpreted as commands or promises or guarantees. There are alcoholics who are extremely wealthy, just as there are people who do not drink who are struggling with poverty.
Mistake #2: WRONG CONTEXT
Neglecting to identify the differences in culture and customs
“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.” Deuteronomy 25:11-12
I do not know of any Christian who would advocate for cutting off a wife’s hand for grabbing her husband’s attacker by the “private parts.” This law was a part of the Law of Moses as a part of their legal system and not intended for us to obey today.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
All that have not fins and scales in the seas,
and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters,
and of any living thing which is in the waters,
they shall be an abomination unto you.
So sorry, shrimp eaters. “The Bible says…”
Mistake #3: WRONG COVENANT
Obeying what is no longer meant to be obeyed
Under the Old Covenant, the Jews were expected to worship God through regular, ritual sacrifices. However, under the New Covenant, Jesus was our perfect sacrifice by which He has “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). There is no longer any need to obey the rules and rituals surrounding the animal sacrifices as atonement for sin since Jesus is our perfect atonement.
The 10 Commandments
I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but the 10 Commandments are a part of the Old Covenant. God has promised that as believers, his New Covenant has been written “not on tablets of stone but on tablets of [our] human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3). We are no longer held accountable for our obedience to the 10 Commandments, but we now relate to God through the blood of Jesus Christ and the communion of His Holy Spirit.
The first time that tithing is mentioned in Scripture is in Genesis 14:20 when Abraham tithed 10% of the spoils of war – not to God, but to Melchizedech. The Jews were commanded under the Mosaic law to tithe their crops, animals, and even spices! However, under the New Covenant, we are no longer obligated to live under the law of tithing. We see no mention of tithing to the believers in the New Testament, but they are encouraged to give generously. See: Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–37; 11:27–30; Galatians 2:10; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–9:15)
Mistake #4: WRONG APPLICATION
Personalizing what is not meant to be personal
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
So… which is it?
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones,
and kill every woman who has known man intimately.
But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.
This was God’s command to His people. But I cannot say that I have heard a sermon preached on this passage in which the pastor tells the congregation that we should also obey this command. This command is not personal to us, but specific for the Jews at that particular time.
“If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son
who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother,
and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,
then his father and his mother shall take hold of him
and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,
and they shall say to the elders of his city,
‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious;
he will not obey our voice;
he is a glutton and a drunkard.’
Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones.
So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
This passage is extremely interesting to examine in light of the spanking controversy. This is another passage which seems to support corporal punishment for rebellion, but there are some interesting points to identify:
- The son is mentioned as being stubborn and rebellious because he will not obey the voice of his parents. The parents have not administered any kind of physical punishment to him.
- The parents disciplined him, but he would not listen. Here we see again the connection between discipline and listening. He was disciplined (taught and instructed) by his parents’ words, but he would not listen to them. Listening is NOT obeying. Listening is listening.
- The parents take him to the elders of the city. When their son does not respond to the verbal teaching and correction of his parents, the parents again do not administer physical punishment, but instead take him before the elders of the city. This scene is a legal confrontation. In Jewish culture, a person could not be found guilty without the presence of two witnesses. By taking the son before the elders of the city, the parents were serving as witnesses, but it was the elders who found him guilty or not guilty.
- The son was a glutton and a drunk. The son they are referencing in this passage is not a small child. He is most likely a na’ar.
- The elders of the city were the ones to administer the physical punishment. The parents did not stone their child, the elders of the city did. There is no passage of Scripture in which parents are responsible to carry out the physical punishment of their children.
There are tons of other “commands” in the Bible that we do not obey – nor do we expect others to obey. If we can use proper Biblical hermeneutic through analyzing the genre, context, covenant and application, then why would we not examine just as closely the four passages found in Proverbs that supposedly advocate for hitting a small child as a means of teaching and instruction in godliness?