Everyone has heard the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Some people believe it’s from the book of Proverbs. However, it’s neither a Bible verse nor a Biblical principle. It’s like the other non-Biblical verse “the Lord helps those who help themselves” in that it’s quoted by people who know little or nothing about the Bible to elevate certain kinds of behavior from mere human tradition. Biblical ignorance is so pervasive that it even reaches groups of people who should know better. People prefer knowing Biblical passages that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs. They memorize parts of the text that they can put together to prove a Biblical basis for whatever they believe in but they ignore the vast majority of the text. So many who profess a love for the Bible or quote verses have never actually read the book. Some of the most popular fake verses are actually paraphrases of biblical concepts such as “God works in mysterious ways” or “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” They sound proverbish so people figure it must come from the Bible. But take a closer look and you’ll realize that it’s just a quote coined by a man. What we call these are phantom Bible passages, begun by pure Biblical illiteracy or a goof-up by the speaker that then spreads like wild-fire.
Some people say “spare the rod and spoil the child” because they believe that without spankings, a relationship is ruined. When and how did spankings originate? It first started as a pagan fertility rite in ancient Greece. Women who were unable to conceive went to the temple of Juno where the priests of the Greek god Pan spanked them with goat hide whips to increase fertility. Spanking is primarily associated with erotica. Later, the Catholic Church used spanking as a means of cleansing women of their sins. Whether for erotica or punishment, the person being spanked was always an adult and always a willing participant. The notion of spanking children emerged in Victorian times as an expansion of the Catholic tradition of punishment for sin.
So, with that introduction, what does the Bible say about spanking, or proper discipline?
“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who
loves him is careful to discipline him.”
The Hebrew word for rod in this proverb describes a scepter or staff. A scepter was a large carved staff that was a symbol of tribal authority. The Hebrew word for rod was used 190 times in the Old Testament and 140 of those times it was translated to tribe. The other 50 times it’s translated as rod, club, shaft, or truncheon.
This does not mean that God wants a father to beat his son into submission. The word discipline translated from Proverbs 13:24 appears 50 times and 38 of those are translated into instruction or correction, never punish. So, we’re talking about proverbs where things are often symbolic, and the rod symbolizes authority. Proverbs 13:24 should be interpreted as “Whoever fails to exercise his parental authority hates his son, but he who loves him is sure to instruct and correct him” It’s a warning to fathers that as the heads of households, it is their responsibility to instruct and train his children.
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with
the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod
and save his soul from death.”
This proverb is not giving permission to beat the child. This proverb starts out in a literal reading but then switches to an allegorical interpretation. Death in this context refers to the second death-the spiritual death. Therefore, this verse is saying that if you take responsibility as the father and correct the child, you can save him from spiritual death. To see that not all proverbs are to be taken literally, we can look at Proverbs 23:5. It says “Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” It’s obviously allegorical.
In Old Testament times, the people knew that the children did not intentionally commit evil actions that had to be beaten out of them. The children were not punished, they were disciplined. The root word of discipline is disciple which means student. It has never meant punishment. That thought that evil had to be beat out of a child came with the Catholic Church and the Victorian era. Hebrew men led by example and instruction to “tame” their children.
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them
up in training and instruction of the Lord.”
Discipline is still necessary, however. Too many parents these days are too busy being friends with their children instead of instilling good morals. The children aren’t learning the consequences of bad behavior and in turn they are walking down the path that leads to destruction and death.
“Discipline your son, and he will give you peace;
he will bring delight to your soul.”
“Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not
be a willing party to his death.”
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother”
God disciplines His children. God’s discipline upon us is when we have to endure hardship. He is training us, as every righteous father disciplines his own son. If you are not disciplined than you aren’t really a child. Most human fathers discipline their children for a short time as they see fit but God disciplines us for our good so that we can share in His holiness. When disciplined, we have respect and therefore we should submit to God as well. No discipline is enjoyable and it can be painful but it produces righteousness, peace, and honor to those who have been brought up with discipline.
“And you have forgotten the words of encouragement that address you as sons:
‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do
not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those
he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
There are many proverbs that tell us how the wise heed discipline and love knowledge. Those who hate correction are not wise and lead others astray. They hate themselves and have no understanding (Proverbs 10:8, 17; 12:1; 15:12, 32; 19:20).
“Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path;
he who hates correction will die.”