IS IT TIME TO RETIRE THE ‘SPARE THE ROD, SPOIL THE CHILD’ VERSE? 

Once upon a time I was the guy who thought new ideas about parenting were all hogwash. All a bunch of new age hippies talkin’ ’bout peace and feelings and way too ready to throw out the good ol’ fashioned methods of parenting. You know the tried and true tough love never talk about your feelings kinda parenting that has worked for years?

More and more I find myself transforming into one of those new age hippies, don’t get me wrong some of the tried and true methods from the days of old have their merits but many of those methods worked better in times gone by because those times? Well, those times, they were different. 

I’m not saying we throw away all the advice offered us from our elders, just that maybe some of it can be filed away in the archives under the title ‘once valid methods that worked, but don’t anymore’. 

Okay, enough with the sarcasm, I grew up in the good ol’ days and I was raised well. My parents did what they could and I think they’re proud of who I became. My M.O is different and it’s not because I think my parents were wrong, because they weren’t. But even they know that today’s world is different, much different than the one I was raised in. I mean just last week in my small hometown a man tried to lure a kid away from a school! That stuff was unheard of where and when I grew up, but it’s all too commonplace nowadays. 

It’s for that reason that I get just a little bit irritated when when I hear people talk like I used to talk about parenting today being weak and fragile versus the parenting of yesteryear being the only true method. 

Yeah! I parent in a way that when seen from the outside may look overbearing, I admit that. But since we’re talking about stuff from the olden days, remember this adage: better safe than sorry? I’m sticking with that one. 

Do you know what the defenders of yesteryear’s parenting use as their defense? The Bible. Problem is their ‘spanking is biblical’ argument comes from a proverb that doesn’t exist, all too often “spare the rod – spoil the child” is quoted and everyone around nods their heads in agreement saying mm hmm, but do you know what it actually says? 

“He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

Proverbs 13:24

Nothing about the affect the lack of discipline being the cause of a spoiled child. The emphasis is on the father who refuses to discipline his child. If he loves his child, he’ll discipline him. Not one word about what the child will turn into without the rod. 

Now when we talk about the rod in that verse there is some debate among scholars about whether or not it actually means a rod – something used to spank, or hit a child in a form of punishment or, a rod -(in the metaphorical sense) something used to guide or steer a child in the right direction in the same way a shepherd uses his rod to steer his sheep. I tend to lean toward the former, not because I think the end all solution for discipline is a good spanking (I don’t) rather because for centuries that was the method used and biblical times would’ve been no different. 

With that said, I tend to disagree with people who use the Old Testament book of Proverbs to defend their use of corporal punishment. Even with the many other uses of the word ‘rod’ in Proverbs I still think we should refer to the words of the Apostles and Jesus in the New Testament and line them up with Proverbs and make a decision based on what the Bible as a whole says, rather than cherry picking a couple of verses that suit what we want. 

For the record, the ‘rod’ is referenced in Proverbs in 29:15, 22:15, 23:13-14, and there may be more depending on the translation you read. 

Do you know what the New Testament says about physical discipline? 

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”

Ephesians 6:4 NLT (you’ll find a similar verse in Colossians 3:21)

I have yet to hear a good answer for my question of “how exactly does someone use a rod on their child and NOT provoke them to anger?” 

“In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely. And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.”

Titus 2:6‭-‬7 NLT

I know that one may not be directed towards fathers per se, but I don’t think we can exclude them, it is talking about teaching and what is a good father if not a teacher?.

“Don’t Lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.”

1 Peter 5:3 NLT

“But those who won’t care for their relatives, especially those in their own household, have denied the true faith. Such people are worse than unbelievers.”
1 Timothy 5:8 NLT

“Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do. “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise:”

Ephesians 6:1‭-‬2 NLT

That one in itself could be a blog post because Jesus quotes the Ten Commandments reiterating that children should HONOR their parents, through honor comes the willingness to obey, not the other way around. I could type for hours about that one.

“You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”

2 Timothy 3:15‭-‬16 NLT

I’ll ask again, what does the New Testament say about physical discipline? As far as I can find, not a single thing. In fact there’s more about caring, not lording over people, and encouraging one another than anything else. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the OT and it’s references to the rod of discipline, 2 Timothy 3:15-16 says all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching. So I think that if, at times some form of physical discipline is needed it isn’t wrong per se, but before we use the Bible as it’s defense we need to know the verses in that Book that may offer up an alternative form of discipline. 

Speaking of alternative forms of discipline, God the Father uses the most patient, compassionate, love filled approaches to being a father, so much so that if we saw someone use half that amount of patience on thier kids we would probably call him out for being too soft, giving in too much and not using the rod enough. God the Father disciplines in a way more akin to live and learn rather than the heavy handed obey and submit demands many kids still grow up with, but He does it in a way that is constantly reminding us of the dangers of going against Him 

Yeah, the good ol’ days were good. I cherish a lot of those memories and if I could go back in time and raise my kids in a world that felt safer I would do it in a heartbeat. Rather than reminiscing in our childhood years and thinking “I was raised this way, and I’m fine. So I’m gonna raise my kids this way too” shouldn’t we look at the bigger picture and admit that the world is different now? If that means we can’t let our kids run around town doing God knows what, than maybe that’s a good thing. If we have to adapt our parenting to today and admit that not everyone can be fixed with a spanking, than maybe it’s time. 

Maybe, for those open minded enough to see it, being a parent that actually watches their kids, being someone who prevents bumps and bruises through teaching rather than waiting til after and then scorning them for it is an approach that encourages wisdom. Maybe it’s time we take some of the thinking that we were raised on and change that thinking into methods specifically modified for our kids, some might react well to a little physical discipline, some won’t, and for those that won’t maybe another form of discipline is needed. 

Maybe instead of twisting the Bible to say that if I don’t spank my kid will grow up to be a spoiled brat, we should begin quoting the New Testament scriptures that talk about love, gentleness and kindness. The verses that talk about encouraging our kids and maybe, just maybe that old textbook in grandma’s basement about how to properly spank every child into submission should be added to the pile of things to burn at the next campout. 

These are my thoughts​, feel free to leave yours below and thanks for sharing. 

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