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.
- Who wrote the book of Proverbs? (mostly) King SolomonThe proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: (Proverbs 1:1)
- 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)
- 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.
- Wise Sayings
- Usually figurative
- Generally true – not necessarily true
Proverbs are NOT:
- Commands from the LORD
- 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?
- What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read literally?
- What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as commands?
- What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as promises?
- What are some other verses in the book of Proverbs that we should not read as guarantees?
- 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”?
- 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.