biblical parenting, Parenting

Biblical Parenting – 1 Corinthians 4:21

What do you desire?
Shall I come to you with a rod,
or with love and a spirit of gentleness?
1 Corinthians 4:21

In Paul’s first letter to the church of Corinth, he writes the verse above.  He asks them if they would prefer that he comes with a “rod” or with “love and a spirit of gentleness.”  

The rod, as studied before, is obviously not a literal one.  And this question is obviously a rhetorical one.  

Paul was not asking the church if they wanted him to beat them with a literal rod.  The rod was a symbol of his authority as a spiritual father to them.

In Greek, “rod” is the word “rhabdos.”  A “rhabdos” symbolized the harsh and severe rule of a harsh and severe ruler much like the Roman rule of the day.   The Romans would often use rods as a method of corporal punishment for crimes committed.

While the Jewish law prohibited a man from being beat more than 40 times (Deuteronomy 25:3), the Roman law had no such prohibition.  Under Roman law, a person could even be beat to death with rods!  This is why Paul makes a distinction between the Jewish beating with the whip and the Roman beating with rods that he received:

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
Three times I was beaten with rods… 

2 Corinthians 11:24-25a

These public beatings were not administered as “spankings for children,” but rather as a punishment for criminal offenses.  They were carried out by order of a judge for breaking the law – either Jewish law or Roman law.

So when Paul asks the church which they would prefer – that he come with the rod or with a spirit of love and gentleness, it is obvious that if given the choice, we all would prefer to be treated with love and gentleness – especially by those with authority over us.

Paul is making the point that we can live under the law (and the punishment that comes from the law) or we can live under grace (and the love and gentleness), and of the two, grace is greater!

By giving the choice between the two, we see that they are mutually exclusive.  We can come with a rod or with love – but not with both.  If we come with a rod, we are not coming with love.  If we come with love, we cannot come with a rod.  Which will you choose?

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

  1. How do I usually come to my children: with a rod (rules and punishment) or with grace (love and gentleness)?
  2. In Paul’s view, was the rod a positive tool that we should use in our parenting?
  3. Would my children say that our relationship is characterized by love and gentleness?  Ask them!
  4. Would my spouse say that our relationship is characterized by love and gentleness?  Ask him/her.
  5. Does God come to us with the rod or with love and gentleness?
  6. The opposite of the word “gentle” is: rude, rough, violent, harsh, severe, unkind, and uncontrolled.  In what ways have I been rude, rough, violent, harsh, severe, unkind, and/or uncontrolled with my children?
  7. How can I repent for my lack of love and gentleness?
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Parenting, spanking

Part 5: Who is “the child” in Proverbs?

He who withholds his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.
Proverbs 13:24

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;
The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.
Proverbs 22:15

Do not hold back discipline from the child,
although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.
You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol
Proverbs 23:13-14

 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Proverbs 29:15

That’s it. An entire parenting philosophy that has lasted hundreds of years has stemmed from these four verses from a book of poetry.

To summarize what we have learned thus far in this series:

  1. “Spanking” is not found anywhere in the Word of God, so we are either not obeying these verses correctly or we are not understanding these verses correctly.
  2. The “rod” in these verses is a figurative rod symbolizing authority.
  3. The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom literature written by a King for his son in order to prepare him to take over the throne and is intended to be read as a collection of wise sayings (not commands) that are generally true (not always true).

Now, we will take a deeper look at the object of this discipline – the “child” – in order to see who was intended to be the receiver of the “rod.”

One of the greatest books that I have read on this subject is Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me by Samuel Martin. (You can read the book for free here!)

Much like in English, Hebrew has nine different words that represent nine different stages of a person’s growth.

If you went to visit a friend who had two sons – a toddler and a teenager – and asked her, “Is your child still in diapers?” She would easily understand that you were referring to her toddler and not her teenager.

Similarly, if you were to say to her, “Your son can move my car from the driveway,” she wouldn’t hand the keys to her toddler.

Likewise, if she were to say, “The toddler can drink juice, but the teenager may have a soda for lunch,” I highly doubt that you would be confused as to which one should drink juice and which one should drink soda.

The reason why we understand these terms easily is because while both of these boys are her children and both of these boys are her sons, the words “toddler” and “teenager” imply totally different stages of growth.

Below is a chart that represents the various terms used in Hebrew to represent the different stages of growth from infancy through adulthood.

Male

Female

Root

Meaning

English

Age

yeled

yaldah

yalad

“To give birth”

newborn

0-1 month

yonek

yanak

“To suck; to nurse”

infant

1-12 months

olel

olal

“To ask bread”

Not yet weaned child that eats solid food

1-3 years

gamul

gamal

“To wean; to complete”

Weaned child

3-4 years

taph

taf

“To cling; to swaddle”

Child close to mother

4-6 years

elem

almah

“To become firm”

Pre-Teen

7-11 years

na’ar

na’arah

“To shake off”

Teenager (unmarried man/woman)

12-18 years

bthulah

“Virgin”

Unmarried woman right before marriage

bachur

bachurah

“Ripened one”

Ready to be married man/woman

ish

isha

Man/Woman

In order to accurately interpret and apply the verses in Proverbs, it is important to understand which stage of development is being referred to in the verses above so we do not end up “giving soda to a toddler.”

Proverbs 13:24 uses the Hebrew word “ben” which is a general term meaning “son.” The other three verses listed above use the more specific Hebrew word, “na’ar” – which as you can see from the chart indicates a young man of the ages 12-18. (The word na’ar is also translated as a “male servant.”) Logic would follow that we would use the most specific term in order to determine who is being referred to in these passages.

So if spanking advocates truly want to hit children “the way the Bible commands,” then according to Scripture, they should not start hitting children with a rod until the child is at least 12 years of age (a legal adult in Jewish culture).

This simple truth utterly destroys the “Biblical” basis for spanking as is done in our “modern” culture which is almost exclusively aimed at children under the age of 12.

Just because I am not the type to “believe whatever you hear or read,” I asked one of my friends who was born and raised in Israel and is now working as a Hebrew teacher at a Jewish school, “What is a na’ar?” I did not provide her any context for the question – just simply wanted to get her instant answer.

She replied, “A na’ar is a boy that is like 17 – not a little boy, but not really mature like a man either.”

Just to be sure, I asked her to clarify, “Is Sophia (my 3 year old daughter) a na’ar?”

To which she laughed and said, “No!”

Again, I asked her, “Is your son (an 8 year old boy) a na’ar?”

And again, she replied, “No. A na’ar is like 15 or 16 or 17. My son is not a na’ar yet.”

If people knew and understood the meaning of this one crucial word in Hebrew as easily as native speakers of Hebrew do, the case for spanking would certainly be closed.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. Who is the “child” mentioned in the verses used to advocate for hitting children?
  2. How does understanding the connotations for the Hebrew word na’ar impact our understanding of these verses?
  3. If there is no biblical basis for hitting a child under the age of 12, on what basis are we advocating for hitting our children as a method of discipline and correction?
  4. How are we being influenced by our traditions and our culture more than by the Word of God?
  5. What is the significance that King Solomon wrote these verses to his son in preparation for becoming King?

Another interesting thing to note about these verses is that they make frequent connection between “the rod” and “discipline.”  Let’s explore what Biblical discipline really means.

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Parenting, spanking

Part 4: How Should We Read The Book of Proverbs?

How should we read/interpret the Books of Poetry in the Bible?

(Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon)

If we are going to accurately interpret and apply the four verses from the book of Proverbs used in defense of the practice of spanking, it is important to understand the purpose and intention of the book of Proverbs as a whole.

  1. Who wrote the book of Proverbs? (mostly) King SolomonThe proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: (Proverbs 1:1)
  2. For whom was the book of Proverbs written? King Solomon’s son as preparation for his time as KingHear, my son, your father’s instruction,
    and forsake not your mother’s teaching, (Proverbs 1:8)
  3. Why was the book of Proverbs written?To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
    to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
    to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
    Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
    to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles. (Proverbs 1:2-6)

Proverbs are WISDOM LITERATURE and are part of the BOOKS OF POETRY in the Bible. As such, they incorporate symbols, metaphors and other figurative literary devices. As “wisdom,” they are NOT commands from the LORD, but rather recorded wise sayings from King Solomon.

Proverbs are:

  • Principles
  • Wise Sayings
  • Memorable
  • Usually figurative
  • Generally true – not necessarily true

Proverbs are NOT:

  • Commands from the LORD
  • Guarantees
  • Promises
  • Usually literal
  • Applicable or true in every circumstance or situation

Other Proverbs Verses We Don’t Read Literally

For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. (Proverbs 4:17)

Are they LITERALLY eating bread of wickedness? Are they LITERALLY drinking wine of violence? No, of course not.

In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them. (Proverbs 14:3)

This Proverbs also includes a reference to a “rod.” It is clear that this “rod” is NOT a literal rod but rather a symbol of pride. Or do you think a fool has a LITERAL rod of pride in his mouth?

From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied; he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. (Proverbs 18:20)

If we take this Proverbs literally, there is no reason for us to eat since we should be satisfied by our words. Do our mouths literally produce fruit? Obviously not. These Proverbs were not intended to be read literally.

A hard worker has plenty of food, but a person who chases fantasies has no sense. (Proverbs 12:11)

Do you know any hard workers who do not have plenty of food? As someone who has worked in third world countries for most of my life, some of the hardest working people I know are often those who struggle daily with hunger and providing basic food necessities for their families. This proverb is not a promise.

Put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite. (Proverbs 23:2)

If we are going to assume that the verses that supposedly promote spanking are commands from God, than we should also interpret this as a command from God, but I don’t see anyone in church putting a literal knife to their throat for eating too much. Clearly this is verse NOT a command nor is it meant to be read literally.

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. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

So… which is it?

REFLECTION QUESTIONS:

  1. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read literally?
  2. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as commands?
  3. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as promises?
  4. What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as guarantees?
  5. If we know the book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon for his son (who would be the future king), how might this knowledge shape our understanding of the four “spanking verses”?
  6. If we know the book of Proverbs is almost always meant to be read figuratively and not literally, how might this knowledge impact our understanding of the four “spanking verses”?

Since we know we are to read the book of Proverbs as a figurative book and we are to read the word “rod” as a figurative rod, let’s dive deeper into the four verses that people use to support spanking in order to understand their true meaning and application.

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Part 2: What does the Bible say about “spanking”?

Since I was spanked as a little girl, it was only natural of course that I would plan to do the same with my own children. After all, I turned out AMAZING! However, when I became a mom, I realized that I had no idea how or when to administer a spanking.

Are there certain sins that just get an automatic spanking?
Should I spank her for hitting another kid?
Do I warn her first and then if she deliberately disobeys again, I spank her?
How many times should I spank her?
Do I use my hand or a spoon or a branch or a belt or a shoe?
How young is too young?
How old is too old?
Is this the best form of discipline or merely a last resort?

I decided to go back to the original source – the Bible – in order to make sure that I was really obeying God’s Word regarding how and when to spank my children. I began to do some research in an attempt to answer all these questions that I had looming in my mind.

The first thing I noticed is that spanking is NOT in the Bible. The word “spank” is found NOWHERE in the Holy Scriptures. “Spanking” is a euphemism. Words matter, so let’s call it what it is – hitting.  Spanking is hitting a child.

Despite the fact that the word “spanking” cannot be found in Scripture, there is wide disagreement between how and when to implement this teaching even among those who believe the Bible advocates for hitting a child. If you were to pick up any two books written by “Christian authorities” or talk to any two Christian parents on the subject, you will find a number of conflicting recommendations:

“Don’t spank a child over 5.”
“Don’t spank a child over age 12.”
“Begin spanking before a child’s first birthday.”
“Do not begin spanking until a child is at least 3 years old.”
“Never spank with your hand – hands are only to be associated with love.”
“Spank with your hand so that you will know if you are spanking too hard or too soft.”
“Children have extra padding on the butt which God put there for spanking.”
“A slap on the hands, butt or thighs will surely teach them!”
“Never spank in anger.”
“Only give two swats.”
“Spank until they produce real tears and genuine repentance.”

I’m sure I could record hundreds of other pieces of advice from various parents and scholars, but if in the end all of these people are claiming the ultimate authority on the matter is the Word of God, then we should go back to the Word of God for the answers. Here is what the Bible teaches:

  1. There is NO Biblical upper age limit. The only limit given in the Bible is that there should be no more than 40 stripes (for an adult). The Bible only references using corporal punishment in regards to legal adults (12 and older)
    Forty stripes
    may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. (Deuteronomy 25:3)
  2. The Bible specifies that the “rod” is for the BACK (not the BUTT).
    A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,

    and a rod for the back of fools. (Proverbs 26:3)On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found,
    but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense. (Proverbs 10:13)
  3. The Bible specifies using only TWO items for corporal punishment – the rod and the whip (not the hand or belt).
    Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24)Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.  (Proverbs 23:13-14)Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.  (Proverbs 22:15)The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.  (Proverbs 29:15)

     

  4. The Bible indicates that corporal punishment should be severe enough to leave a mark.
    Blows that wound [bruise] cleanse away evil; strokes [beatings, slaughter] make clean the innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:30)

 

So if we are going to really obey the Bible in regards to this matter,
we should beat our children on the back with a rod until they bruise regardless of age.

I do not know of any Christian who would advocate for doing that. We cannot claim to support a parenting philosophy that hits children as discipline based on the Bible while at the same time neglecting to obey the Word of God’s explicit teaching on the subject. We use the Bible as our excuse to hit our children without being careful to do it the way the Bible says. So either we are not doing what the Bible says or we are not understanding what the Bible says. Let’s explore together the deeper meaning of these verses by investigating what the “rod” really means.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. Were you hit as a child?
  2. How did your parents hit you?
  3. Why did your parents hit you?
  4. How old were you when you were first hit by your parents?
  5. How old were you when you were last hit by your parents?
  6. How did you feel before and after being hit by your parents?
  7. How did your parents decide when and how to hit you?
  8. Would you or have you hit your children?
  9. Would you or have you hit your children the way the Bible recommends? Why or why not?
  10. What is the impact of answering these questions with the word “hit” instead of the euphemism “spank”?

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