Should I Beat My Child?

By Donald P. Ames

Before you answer the above question, may I first of all ask if you really understood it? Webster defines “beat” all the way from “spank” to “flogging.” The Bible also uses it in similar fashion. And, unfortunately, many people apply it all the way from spanking to flogging. Even among members of the church there are growing instances of child abuse coming to light, and in many instances, those so engaged turn to the Bible and insist they were merely doing what God commanded them to do. Did you know that the Bible says, “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell” (Prov. 23:13-14)? Do you believe you should do what the Bible says? Now, how would you answer the above question? Obviously, the question is – not as easy to answer as we might first have anticipated. And if you were to answer “yes” or “no,” just exactly what did you answer to? It is sort of like, “Have you quit beating your wife?”

Some people ask such questions with the intent of placing us in a precarious position without being able to explain what we really mean in answering (i.e., lawyers’ tactics), and then place their interpretation upon our reply. Others may ask, assuming their concept of the terms is the only definition being u , and reach false conclusions from our reply. Some look at fanatics who go to an extreme and accuse all who try to speak in Bible terms of being in the same class (i.e., some who would pluck out an eye in light of Matt. 18:9 when we all know you could see the same thing with the other eye – what Jesus was really saying was nothing should be more important to us than heaven, and not that we should literally pluck out an eye). Some may be honest, and some may not be. Some may have been deceived by false teachers, and some may be false teachers. We must always remember any passage must be interpreted in its context and in light of other passages also dealing with similar thoughts.

Had I asked, “Should I spank my child?”, this question would no doubt have brought many “yes” responses. It is not as confusing – and yet can be just as misleading. The Bible is abundantly clear on the fact that a spanking is just punishment under proper circumstances (Prov. 19:18; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15; etc.). Even some modern-day “do-gooders” raised on Dr. Spock’s theory of “spanking will warp his personality” are looking at a generation that has been produced under this thinking that has little or no respect for authority and the rights of others, and are having second thoughts. Dr. Spock himself has finally admitted he made a mistake, and it appears that God was a bit wiser than he had given Him credit for.

But, does “spanking” mean one should, or may, literally beat a child in the modern sense of the term? Should we take a cord or whip and beat him without mercy, convinced “we really can’t kill him” because of this passage? Do we really believe that? Should he be treated as a common criminal (Deut. 25:3), or as the Egyptians did the Hebrew slaves (Ex. 2:11)? Should he be beaten as the Jews unjustly did Jesus (Matt. 27:26) and the apostles (Acts 5:40, 16:23; 2 Cor. 11:24)? May he be beaten to the point of “near death” as the robbers did in Luke 10:30 (NASV)? This reminds us of many thusly treated in pre-Civil War days of slavery (and many did die from such beatings). Obviously, this is not the kind of “beating” spoken of in this passage, nor is there any reference to anyone in the Bible so beating a child in fulfillment of this passage. (Note: Deut. 21:18-21 was turning a child over for criminal prosecution and judgment, not for correction!) Such beatings as mentioned here had nothing to do with rearing children no in training them (by example) in the direction they needed to go (Prov. 22:6); but rather were dealing with criminals and/or abuses without concern for the welfare of the person involved. Nowhere does God expect such from a parent! Even though the passage says if you use a rod (note: a correct instrument for such), you will not “kill them,” we all know (1) such can be accomplished (and newspapers read almost daily of such happening), and (2) it is not permission to so abuse a child to the extent of Luke 10:30, etc. Irven Lee in his tract Discipline In The Home, points out, “The rod for chastening is not, of course, a club for abuse” (p. 5).

The word “beat” in Proverbs 23:13-14 comes from the root word meaning to “strike.” The thought throughout Proverbs is that those who ignore their children and refuse to ever correct them will be made ashamed later by their children’s conduct (Prov. 19:26; 29:15), and such children will come to no good end (Prov. 29:1). Hence, a spanking (corrective discipline) along with proper training (preventative discipline so often overlooked) will guide them in the right paths. It does not equate them with slaves or criminals for such punishment though. Such discipline, when needed, is to be administered in love (Tit. 2:4) and pity (Psa. 103:13 – in contrast to the type “beating” in Exodus 2:11 and Luke 10:30). It is compared to the chastening we get from the Lord (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-8). (He did not treat us all like Ananias in Acts 5:5!). We are also told we are not to provoke (“exasperate” -NASV) our children “lest they become discouraged” (Col. 3:21) in making so many demands and in finding so much fault they cannot hope to please us. Nor are we to be so unfair and unloving as to provoke to wrath (total rebellion -Eph. 6:4; not just “unhappy” over being spanked – Heb. 12:11). Thus we see the word “beat” does not carry the idea of abusing or losing control in discipline when used in Proverbs 23:13.

Let us use our terms correctly – and respond properly – that we may fulfill what the Lord requires of us in all respects.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 3, pp. 75, 87
February 5, 1987