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Is Spanking A Form Of Child Abuse?

by Ian Coker

There is a famine in the land. So said Amos in another time and place (Amos 8:11), but he wasn’t speaking about bread and water, but about a hearing of the words of the Lord. We live in a land of plenty but we are being destroyed by lack of knowledge. In forsaking the fountain of living waters we are driven to the cracked cisterns of our own short- sighted wisdom from which we dredge such stuff as spanking as a form of child abuse.

I don’t doubt the integrity or sincerity of those who come up with such doctrine, but they are wrong, plain wrong. I can understand they are attempting to be well-meaning when they see violence and injustice in the sight of an adult inflicting a measure of pain on a child, but they are wrong, plain wrong. I can see where they are coming from when they suggest that violence begets violence, but they are wrong, plain wrong. God expressed a truth in Isa. 55:8,9 that is as applicable to this subject as any other.

When man vaunts his wisdom over God’s, there will be a price to pay, you can guarantee it. Every generation only gets one shot at raising the next generation so we cannot afford to go into this, ignorant of what God has to say about the subject. And God has somewhat to say about this very subject.

It is true that God has not answered every specific question about the question of child discipline, but that is why He gave us a measure of His own intelligence. Parents do make mistakes because their wisdom is not as God’s (cf. Heb. 12:10), but all human attempts are characterised by imperfections. And the fear of making mistakes with discipline should not stop us from attempting to do the best job we can in the disciplining of children. To allow fear to freeze us will put us in the same category as the one-talent servant (cf. Matt. 25:25).

God has not left us without witness with respect to guidelines concerning corporal punishment. Before we look at some passages in the book of wisdom, Proverbs, let me say something about truth. God did not preserve us a half of His word, but a whole, and the Old Testament is a source of instruction for the Christian, even as is the New. 2 Tim. 3:16,17 includes all Scripture as being inspired and profitable, whilst Rom. 15:4 pays special attention to the things written aforetime as being a rich source of education for the Christian. Have you noticed how often a New Testament writer will allude to an Old Testament principle? It’s true the Old Covenant was nailed to the cross, but there is a lot of what I would call “non-dispensational” truth in those first 39 books. That is, truths that are as relevant today as they were two thousand years before Christ.

In particular, the disciplining of children is a work that must be done regardless of the dispensation in which we live. It does not matter if we live at a time when we worship God through the Mosaic sacrificial system or in the time when we worship God through Christ, children still come into the world the way they always have, and have to be equipped to face the trials of the world as they always have needed. Paul makes a specific application of an Old Testament principle in the area of child-rearing in Eph. 6:1-3. We may also notice such verses as James 3:6; 1 Pet. 1:15,16 which illustrate this principle, and what can we say of the Hebrew writer who illustrates faith in the memorable eleventh chapter by highlighting a series of Old Testament characters. You see, God’s nature doesn’t change and neither does the essential human nature. And so it is with profit that we read the practical wisdom of the book of Proverbs.

There are four basic passages that I believe will establish the truth that spanking is not a form of child abuse. The first is Prov. 13:24 - “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”

This is the proverb that gave birth to the modern expression, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. The parent who does not practice corporal punishment because of the illusion that such is an expression of hatred needs to have a relook and a rethink. The Scripture says the opposite: ‘ he who spares the rod hates the child’. This is not to say that such a parent detects feelings of hatred in his heart - in fact the opposite is often true -“I love my child too much to bear to spank him” is often an accurate expression of feelings. But feelings are not the arbiter in this instance. The parent who comes forth with the proverbial “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you”, though trite sounding to the child, is probably expressing more accurately the correct relationship between feelings and actions. Jesus Christ Himself was made perfect through sufferings (Heb. 2:10) and should we think that we can dispense with it? It is a process that will continue through life (Heb. 12:5-11) after our parents have left off their training. Early discipline will help set the pattern of acceptance and profiting from discipline.

The second proverbial passage is 22:15 - “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child: but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” I knew my wife and she gave birth to four fools. That’s the way of it. A parent’s work is to turn a fool into a wise man. I’m not being mean or cruel, I’m just saying that the Bible says life is more earnest than Grandma’s brag book. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child” is not something that ought to destroy our joy at the arrival of a child into the family, but it is something we have to come to grips with when we realise that along with the joy there comes the responsibility that goes with starting off a soul on its journey to eternity. Every criminal was once a little bundle of joy. But children come into the world essentially self-centred and with foolish notions. They do not care that mother is sick or tired or both and that it is 3 a.m. - if they feel hungry they will bawl and demand instant attention and gratification! They don’t know that the world was not meant to revolve around them, and it is the parents’ responsibility to teach them.

And what does God say is part of that process? - the rod of correction. Maybe some are offended by the word ‘rod’. It is understood that punishment must fit the crime and any responsible parent striving to please the Lord will not take to an infant with a piece of 4X2 spotted gum! There is a difference between harming a child and disciplining a child, and if people don’t know the difference then they should not become parents.

I am of the conviction that proper corporal punishment is a great antidote against abuse. The parents who abuse and batter their child to death usually do so in blind rage when they have reached the end of their tether because of the behaviour of an undisciplined child. Of course, this is a generalisation - there are parents who are motivated by cruelty, lust etc.

When should corporal punishment begin? We have a joke in our family that runs something like this: Our firstborn received her first ‘spanking’ when she was a month old. Because we were on a learning curve with the first one, the second one got his first spanking at 3 weeks. We learnt some more things with him and so the third got his at two weeks. With the fourth I used to belt up on Diane while she was still pregnant! Just kidding.

But seriously, the above is all true with the exception of the last little bit. Some of the people I have shared that with have been a little horrified, I believe. How can you take a rod to a new-born child!? Obviously the rod has to be in proportion to the age of the child. With a new-born, a rap across the pilchers with a finger is enough to get their attention and they do get the message that not all behaviour is acceptable. Bear in mind that verbal reproof is ineffectual with a baby, even as with an older fool. The sooner you start discipline, the sooner you finish. The sooner you start, the easier it will be on the child and the more tranquil your home will be. Try giving a dog a few years ‘head -start’ before you start training and it will be hard on you and the dog. It’s amazing how many parents think it’s perfectly right and proper to train a dog, but that it is wrong to train a child. Prov. 22:6 says we are to train a child in the way he should go. If you give a child a few years ‘head-start’ before you start discipline, it’s going to be harder on you and the child.

The third Scripture I want to draw your attention to is Prov. 23:13,14 - “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

It seems that God has a Scripture for everything. This is the one for the timid parent who has been swayed by arguments of brutality and abuse. A child is made by God to be able to stand a spanking. Watch them rough and tumble in the yard, fall off their bikes, fall out of the tree house, get knocked down in footy, trip over and skin their knees, etc., and you will realise that Solomon told the truth when he said “if you beat him with a rod he will not die”, Again, if you cannot make a differentiation between a disciplinary belting and injurious abuse, you need not to be a parent. The abuse of punishment does not deny the proper role of punishment anymore than the abuses of Christianity deny the truth of the faith.

In our house when the children were growing up, the open hand across the buttocks and the back of the legs was the standard form of corporal punishment. But there was also a ‘higher court’ down the backyard for graver offences. This was the old mulberry tree which sacrificed a number of its switchy branches in the cause of punishment. These branches did leave some marks temporarily, but no bones were broken and no damage was done, only good. Punish, but don’t injure.

The object of the exercise he says is to “deliver his soul from hell” (K.J.V.) More properly, it would mean saving his soul from the grave - that is, saving his life in fulfilment of the promise of living long on the earth (cf. Eph. 6:1-3). But I have no problem in leaving the K.J.V. as it stands with its implication of spiritual salvation. All who will be saved will have to submit themselves to the disciplining hand of the Lord (Heb. 12:5ff). A child trained in the way in which he should go not only is given the best possible start in life, but learns the art of submission which is vital to Christian faithfulness and growth. Not all people will accept discipline (Heb. 12:11), but life is discipline, and the child raised with it is trained to accept it. Thus, in actual fact, the Lord may have less disciplining to do in later life if the parents do their work. As David said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71).

The fourth passage is Prov. 29:15 - “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.”

Here is another passage that speaks of turning a ‘fool’ into a wise man. And this is the fourth passage now that mentions the rod, the synonym for corporal punishment.

Lest any should gain the impression that child training is solely centred around corporal punishment, remember it is the sum of God’s word that is truth, and this passage includes reproof. Reproof is essential so the child can know how and why he has done wrong and what he should do in the future. There are many parents who believe they can train their children by reproof alone, thereby relieving themselves of the onerous task of applying the rod. While we are left to our own wisdom to determine appropriate proportions of rod and reproof, the eternal wisdom specifies that there is a place for both. Belief will not save without baptism (eg. Mark 16:16), and it is the rod AND reproof that is required to give wisdom in the way God designed.

The pain of the rod helps focus the attention on the reproof. All over the land in our schools which have decided to dispense with the wisdom of God, we have disobedient students who swagger into the Principal’s office knowing that after a few words they will be able to swagger out unrepentant. But a young bully never sees so clearly as when he looks through teary eyes; never speaks so truly as when through blubbery lips, and never sits so circumspectly as when on a stinging posterior. Finding his way back to his classroom with reddened eyes covered with one hand and the other seeking to comfort the afflicted part of his anatomy will do wonders for future behaviour and may even give him a little bit of wisdom.

Spanking is not a form of child abuse - rather it is the opposite.

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