Physical chastisement

Question for you all…

In my local church I’m hearing an unusual argument going round against there being a biblical requirement for use of physical chastisement of children (Brit smacking / Am. spanking). The argument basically goes like this:

The verses in Proverbs that enjoin the use of physical means (e.g. the rod) are cultural/optional expressions of a deeper principle - discipline. And it is only the discipline principle that should be considered as the binding requirement, not the cultural expression of that discipline (which in those times was the rod). So we are free to use/not use physical/non-physical means of discipline, as long as we use some kind of discipline.

How would you respond?


(Context is that after the Scottish government officially criminalised smacking several days ago, the elders will be addressing the topic in a few weeks time, and I’d like to provide some solid counterpoints beforehand, as I’m hopeful there is a possibility that the above approach will be re-considered).


Some years ago my sister-in-law read an article that half convinced her of the same thought that you have outlined above. This was not long after the birth of her first child. My brother didn’t really know what to say. We had more than a few conversations about it, but ultimately he found this by John Piper that was really helpful for both of them, and convinced them both that spanking was both wise and biblical. Hopefully it helps you as well.

I think he’s right in that Hebrews 12:6 is the most important verse in showing why parents should spank their children.


Parents have always been tempted to believe that physical discipline is unnecessary. Hence the exhortations in Proverbs. Also, reproof.

The biblical record indicates that their culture was like ours.


In their criminalization of smacking, what is the punishment for conviction?


More than a Brit slap.

Seems also that the correlation between the absence of fathers in the home and the predictability of criminality must also be linked the the absence of physical consequences. Most moms can’t keep up with disciplining their sons who very quickly grow to overpower their own mothers. I’m guessing we’ll see increased criminality within cultures that embrace that emasculation of fathering by banning corporal punishment.

Most of the articles I’ve read have left that part out. This site lightly addresses it:

Looks like it’s the general take the kids away from the parents tactic. That’s a strong play against anyone who loves their children.


I confine myself to the specific question you ask, eschewing for the nonce to lay out an exposition of corporal punishing in general (which, no doubt, someone else will introduce momentarily).

“Rod” appears nine times in the Book of Proverbs. I first submit that six of these expressly address the application of the rod for purposes of the inculcation of wisdom to a child (Prov. 10:13, Prov. 13:24, Prov. 22:15, Prov. 23:13, Prov. 23:14, Prov. 26:3, and Prov. 29:15).

Prov. 10:13 and especially Prov. 26:3 speak of using the rod to impose guidance or motivation to a fool, and these might reasonably speak to the condition of a child insofar as children below a certain age lack the wisdom which the other proverbs name as the goal for which a parent applies a rod to such a child. Proverbs 22:15 puts it this way: Foolishness os bound up in the heart of a child."

In all these six (or, possibly, eight) proverbs, the rod is the instrument recommended in order to achieve the correction that leads to wisdom.

The Proverbs that mention the rod also observe that wisdom may also arise from words (Prov. 10:13, Prov. 14:3), especially a rebuke Prov. 29:15). So there is no necessary requirement that a rod be used if words will do.

But, the pessimistic evaluation in the Proverbs - viz. that children are foolish - is the starting point for the recommendation that the rod be used in order to successfully achieve the correction the parent seeks.

Is the rod simply a synechdoche for the more abstract notion of correction? And, if so, does this invite the speculation which you’re inquiring about, namely that correction is what a parent may seek apart from spanking?

As to the last speculation, the Proverbs emphatically say “No!” Correction apart from application of the rod may, indeed, be a desirable stage in the evolution of a child’s character as he progresses from fool to sage. It’s a no brainer that wisdom is best achieved by the reception of the words of those who are wiser than the student of wisdom. That said, the proverbs named above insist that a child’s heart is so infused with folly that the first steps out of that deplorable condition are achieved only by judicious application of the rod.


Push back beyond the scope of children.

Scripture applies physical chastisement to more than just children.

See Deuteronomy 25:1-3. Two men enter the court. One ends up deserving and receiving a beating.

Why do I mention this? We’ve been trained up to eschew any kind of physical punishment.

A Clumsy Example: A man can safely gossip and slander in the workplace for years. Suppose his target busts him in the face for it? The man who strikes loses his job, the wicked man keeps his livelihood… though perhaps he is a bit slower of tongue. (I realize this isn’t proper justice in a court, but I imagine most of us would recognize what an HR department wouldn’t, “the guy earned it”, case closed.)

See also Proverbs 14:3 and Proverbs 19:29.

We outlawed this wisdom among adults long ago, and like the other perversity approved by the state, it will come to the children eventually.

Why can’t a man simply be beat for a foolish act that requires no financial restitution? It is not because we’ve progressed in civility, but because the state and lawyers can’t take a percentage of a beating.

How does the state benefit by taking and raising children? (You know that answer.)


Thanks all for your thoughts, much appreciated.

@daveburch as far as I know I think they have deliberately refrained from specifying a penalty, leaving that to be addressed by the courts when cases arise. If you are very bored you can read a transcript of the final parliamentary debate here from p73 and following:

I’ve only skimmed a few bits, but it seems one or two amendments were raised to this effect, but were voted down. Search for Richard Lyle and Oliver Mundell.

This is inevitable. I remember asking my friend John Breneman who was doing Christian counseling as a mission work over in Sweden (after graduating from DTS) whether he avoided spanking his kids? This was way back in 1984.

Since we had our first child, it’s been increasingly impressed upon me that Christian fathers and mothers need to win the hearts of their children if there is to be any fruit to their work of raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The elite are at our doorsteps waiting to steal them from us, and this happens more each day here in the States. Spanking/smacking is just the tip of the iceberg of the justifications they use to get the administrative-state authorities on their side. If we don’t have the love of our children, they will use the state to escape us as quickly as possible, and there will be many ways for them to accomplish it without having to involve DCS. (It’s also true of wives and husbands and divorce. The husband who doesn’t have his wife’s love will be dead in the water in the divorce courts.)

Sad thing is, maybe the majority of Christian fathers and mothers think the best way to win their sons and daughters’ hearts is to avoid rebuke and discipline, and flatter them. Most Christian parents seem not to understand distinction between friendship with their children and having their children’s hearts. May God give us our children/grandchildren’s hearts. Excellent discussion. Love,