By Nate Wilson
“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15 ASV*)
Isn't spanking for older children?
Here are definitions on the Hebrew word na'ar (child) from the standard and best-known Hebrew-English lexicons:
Brown, Driver and Briggs "a boy, lad, servant, youth, retainer"
Strong: "a boy from the age of infancy to adolescence; by implication a servant; also (by interchange of sex), a girl (of similar latitude in age): - babe, boy, child, damsel, lad, servant, young (man)"
Holladay: "marriageable male while still single: boy, youth, young man, servant, girl"
Davidson: "male infant, boy, lad, youth, servant, childhood, youth, girl, maiden, young woman, handmaid"
In English, this word in Prov. 22:15 is translated "child" in the Geneva Bible, the King James Version, Webster's translation, the Revised Standard Version, the American Standard Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New International Version, the Contemporary English Version, and the New Living Translation. That's pretty much every reputable translation of the Bible into English. Anyone who wants to translate the word as something other than “child” here is going onto really shaky ground and claiming to have a superior knowledge of Hebrew to all the English-speaking scholars throughout all of history. As long as we're looking at translations, let's look at the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible that many New Testament writers used: the word used here for "child" is "neos" which basically means "new" (Thayer Definition: recently born, young, youthful). So, while the Hebrew word could include an adolescent, it cannot be used exclusively of an adolescent; it has a much bigger scope in view, including all of childhood, right down to neonates. This is speaking of children of all ages.
Should you really hit your child?
The Hebrew word for “rod” here is anything that "branches off." And remember that the bottom is part of the back, so it's entirely reasonable to apply this passage with a switch to the backside of a child. The object is not to damage the child, but rather to give appropriate negative reinforcement to show that they have done wrong. For some children, the mere sight of a rod is enough to bring them to repentance, in other cases, it takes a few firm blows before they feel it enough to decide not to do that wrong action again. Note that the Bible encourages the use of a rod, not of your hand. Your children should not be afraid that you are going to hit them when you reach your hand out to them . Don't strike them with your hand; use your hands for giving them hugs – they need lots of that!
But are children morally able to understand right and wrong?
Some Christians believe that children are morally innocent and that it is not right to treat them as though they have sinned when they show immature behavior. But there is a theological problem with distinguishing between immaturity and rebellion. This means that sinful actions done by one class of humans (children) are no longer sin and makes a mockery of the sinful state of humanity and of God's grace in salvation - it means our children don't need Jesus; all they need is humanism (behavior modification) until they reach some age of moral culpability. Folks, this is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that all mankind became dead in sin when Adam and Eve broke God's first rules (1 Cor. 15:22), that when we were conceived we were “in sin” (Psalm 51:5), and that people start telling lies as soon as they are born (Psalm 58:3)! It's because of our sinful state from birth that we need Jesus to save us. Even when we become the children of God, the Bible also teaches that God “chastens the sons whom He loves and scourges them” (Hebrews 12). Christian parents are to reflect the character of God toward their children, and part of that character is to use corporal punishment. From their earliest ages, we need to carefully notice sinful, selfish attitudes and actions in our children - anything that does not bring glory to God - and provide training in what the Bible says is right and wrong and an appropriately-measured stripe from a switch. But it must not stop there! We must then help our children find God's grace by praying together for forgiveness for their sin and assuring them that they are forgiven by the blood of Jesus. We must do this with our children from their earliest ages to direct their hearts to Jesus all their lives rather than allowing a time of "freewheeling" during their younger years which only reinforces the human nature to run away from God.
Do we have the option of not spanking our children?
Proverbs 22:15 does not contain a command, but we must use the entirety of scripture and not just one verse to develop our Christian walk. There are other verses which contain imperatives to spank, such as Pro 23:13-14 "Withhold not correction from the child; For if thou beat him with the rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from Sheol." Pro 19:18 also contains a command: "Chasten thy son, seeing there is hope; and set not thy heart on his destruction."
Isn't chastisement more related to verbal instruction than spanking?
The word for "Chasten" here in Hebrew includes both physical blows and verbal correction. The Septuagint uses the word paideuw to translate this word into Greek, and it has the same range of meaning including both verbal instruction and spanking - and it is the same word which the Septuagint used in Prov. 22:15. Since this word is used in the context of the “rod,” we cannot rule out spanking from the meaning of the word. In fact, Webster defines the word “Chastise” as "To correct by punishing; to punish; to inflict pain by stripes, or in other manner, for the purpose of punishing an offender and recalling him to his duty." Spanking is clearly in view here.
But that's child abuse!
Biblical spanking is very different from physical abuse. Abuse happens when a parent feels some benefit through harming a child. This may be when the parent is angry or has some other selfish motive and lashes out at a child with their hands – or their words – to belittle the child and make the adult feel better about themselves. That kind of behavior in an adult is abominable! Biblical spanking is totally different; it is done in an environment of self-control, where the parent unselfishly brings blessing to the child through the understanding of sin and forgiveness. In my experience, Biblical discipline is inconvenient for the parent; it's hard to stop what I'm doing to take the time for spanking - it's so much easier in the short-run to ignore the bad behavior of my children. However, I spank because God has commanded it in the Bible, and I know that it will make my children happier in the long run.
* The American Standard Version of the Bible is used here because I think it is the best English translation in the public domain.