Spanking and the Bible

Spanking and the Bible

What do we make of passages in the Bible that call for spanking? Here’s a few of them: 

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” – Proverbs 13:24

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” – Proverbs 22:15

William Webb is an adjunct professor at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. His book, Corporal Punishment in the Bible, helps us understand those verses and how to apply them.  


S[email protected]: What is your response to Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to have spanking made illegal in Canada?

William Webb: I think it is a good thing. It is a long overdue move. It will have different practical implications amongst different cultural groups, that will make is difficult to carry out. But, despite the challenges that may exist, I’m delighted to hear the news of Prime Minister Trudeau’s direction.

[email protected]: What insight does the Bible give into spanking children?

William Webb: Spanking is taught within scripture. It’s taught as a good thing. This raises a conundrum for faith and biblical authority for Christians.  However, it is helpful if Christians realize that many texts in the Bible don’t give an ultimate ethic (e.g., the slavery texts) within their concrete statements.  Rather, they point us in the right direction.  They move the ethical “scrimmage markers” downfield, if you will, but not all the way to the goal line.  The biblical text is time-bound, but is also moving somewhere.  It’s an incremental ethic.  We must read the corporal punishment texts—both the adult and child texts—within its ancient-world context, where for adults the proscribed beatings of 200 lashes and five open wounds (Egyptian context) gets reduced to the biblical maximum of 40 lashes maximum and a statement in the text of Deuteronomy about preserving human dignity.  A good development of biblical authority has more to do with hearing the redemptive spirit of Scripture and thinking through its logical extension as we apply it today.

[email protected]: Okay, then how should biblical text, concerning spanking kids be interpreted and applied today?

William Webb: The heart of the text on corporal punishment (for both adults and children) was to draw communities to better behaviour, with a desire to move people away from folly and toward wisdom. If it’s possible for that community to arrive at this end in a different way, using a more ethical means, that is a good thing. If through alternative non-violent means, we can get the same results, that one should take that route. It is not simply an a ethical right. 

[email protected]: What should leaders in Canadian churches respond to Prime Minister Trudeau’s “no more spanking” initiative?

William Webb: Three things. First, in the public sector church leaders should support the decision to remove spanking (as one means of discipline) on the basis of ethical reasoning.  Second, in the church setting help Christians understand how to read and understand their Bibles, namely, moving away from spanking to good alternative methods of discipline actually honours the redemptive spirit of Scripture and aligns better with biblical authority.  Third, and most practical, teach families the parenting tools/skills on how to train their children using alternative, non-corporal means of discipline.

[email protected]: What is God’s heart on spanking?

William Webb: God wants children to grow up in a respectful way. I don’t believe he is “for spanking”. Rather, he is “for good behaviour”. He is keenly interested in the [abstracted] goal of moving children away from folly and towards wisdom.  That is what is close to God’s heart. There is nothing sacrosanct to God about keeping spanking as a means.  In fact, the contrary is true.  If parents today can achieve the same goal (behaving children) through other good, non-violent means, then it brings an even greater, double-sized smile to the face of God. 

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