Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Do Some Christians Reject Spanking?

Since sharing our decision not to spank our child, I've received a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. In general, I've noticed that the biggest misconception about Christians who reject spanking is our motivation for doing so. Many in the pro-spanking camp portray non-spanking Christians as "world-pleasers," just going along with "the world's wisdom" instead of "God's wisdom." But the truth is, non-spanking Christians hold their convictions precisely because of the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, not because of the advice of Dr. Phil or The Super Nanny.

And that's why the "rod" verses in the Book of Proverbs must be viewed through the prism of the New Testament. Even if those verses are NOT figurative, they can still be legitimately superseded by the higher standards of love and grace found in the New Testament. The Old Testament has been fulfilled through Christ. In Christ, we have a fuller picture of how God, as Father, relates to us, as His Children, and in turn, we, as parents, have a fuller picture of how to relate to our own children. We have Christ's example of nonviolence, overcoming evil with good, disciplining through teaching, unconditional love, mercy, grace, compassion, gentleness, kindness, patience, and self-sacrifice. We have been given the Holy Spirit to teach, guide, and convict. In light of these "developments," many Christians find themselves conflicted about using physical retribution to force children into compliance, let alone to bring about true repentance. Our understanding of the teachings of Jesus lead us to believe in grace-based discipline (which will be the subject of another post).

This conviction about forgoing corporal punishment, is much like the slue of other Old Testament practices that Christians have abandoned because of the fulfillment of the law and the higher callings of Christ. For instance, Christ updated "eye for an eye" with "turn the other cheek." He updated the callous allowances for divorce to a higher standard because of the hardness of men's hearts. We no longer abide by dietary restrictions, though eating shrimp is famously labeled an abomination in the Old Testament. We no longer engage in the harsh punishment, such as stoning people for behaviors like adultery (Duet. 22:23-24), fornication (Duet. 22: 13-21), or breaking the sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36). We also do not stone rebellious children (Duet. 21:18-21), or put to death children who curse or attack their parents (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9).

Likewise, much of the content of the Book of Proverbs, must be understood in the context of its relationship to Law of Moses, the legal system of the time, and all of the Old Testament must be filtered through the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Randall Heskett explains in Interpretation Journal:

"The book of Proverbs can only be appreciated and correctly understood in an environment where the Law of Moses is the legal orientation. Without this understanding, the book has no real context. Remove it from this context and you have chaos. This also makes sense even from the very beginning of the book of Proverbs...Solomon, in the first proverb also urges his readers to "..hear the instruction of thy father, and do not forsake the law of your mother.” The word for “law” is the Hebrew word “torah” which is used numerous times to describe the “law of Moses.” The point is, all of the information that you find in the book of Proverbs was produced within a legal and religious environment where the Law of Moses was the governing religious system."

Of course, many of the standards of the OT carry over into the NT. The ones that do are reiterated in the NT, but no where in the NT are we told to physically strike children, though there are many passages that address the parent-child relationship. We are told to love, teach, train, discipline, and educate, but never to physically strike. In fact, when Paul lists the qualifications for leadership in the church, he requires that leaders must be a "no striker," (1 Timothy 3:3). And a few verses later, when Paul calls for leaders to have obedient children, he does not make an exception for disciplining children. Samuel Martin, author of Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me, expounds on Paul's "no striker" requirement:

"There are no exceptions given. He should not strike his neighbors, he should not strike his co-workers, he should not strike his wife, and he should not strike his children. In the Bible verse that follows the one that says that a pastor should not be a striker, the Bible says that the pastor should have "his children in subjection with all gravity." If striking the children was meant to be used as one of the means to keep the children in subjection with all gravity, then this would have been an excellent occasion to give spanking as an exception to the commandment to be "no striker", but no exception is given."

The absence of a single clear instruction to physically strike a child in the New Testament combined with the overall heart of the New Testament leads many of us to raise our children without resorting to hitting. Parents have a responsibility to discipline their children and teach them right from wrong, but many of us just don't believe spanking is an appropriate tool for the task, and in the long run, we believe it does way more harm than good.

Another good resource for the non-spanking Christian position is Rick Creech's article over at Bible Gems.

You can read my posts on the figurative interpretations of the rod verses here, spanking and the bible here, and our original "coming out of the closet" post here.


Becky C. said...

Even though I am a radical pro-spanking Mom I believe it is wrong to argue that as a Christian, who follows the Word of God, you must spank.

I am not a theologian--but it seems to me that these are not mandatory instructions--but advise-albeit advise which I beleive is very good.

It seems to me that all people, Christian or not, should give a great deal of weight to this advise. Spanking is one of the few specifics on parenting given in the Bible, and it has been used for eons by countess satisfied parents--- even without resorting to any religious argument reasonable parents should give this historical experience a great deal of consideration and deference.

Like I say, I am not a theologian, but I think it is really a stretch to argue that the passages in the Bible are not about corporal punishment.

But, I don't think you are bound by that advise--there are good arguments against spanking. But, when they are put up against the testimony of the ages, it seems to be they fall woefully short.


Tia Lynn said...

Hey Becky. Thanks so much for weighing in. I appreciate your point of view and I TOTALLY respect your opinion. My main point in these posts is not to prove the bible forbids spanking, because i don't believe it does, but just that it doesn't require it. However, I do believe based on the highest ideals of the New Testament, that spanking is not the best option, and does more harm than good, but I don't believe all parents who spank are in sin or are child abusers or something.

I really do believe the proverbs on spanking are figurative, but like i said in this post, even if they are NOT and are seriously recommending striking children, I still believe they are legitimately superceded by the New Testament, just like stoning and all the other harsh things the OT recommends, but that we no longer do.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this!@ My pastor has just loudly endorsed using not hands but a wooden spoon to hit children until they cry as the 'right' way to raise children. He used proverbs to back this up and I am just horrified! I want to leave my church! I am researching this topic and just praised God as soon as I saw your article. There are more of us than you'd think. I wonder how many of us just stay quiet. Maybe it's time to get more vocal about THE LOVE of JESUS.

Anonymous said...

this is so helpful! thank you! i knew this in my heart, but thank you for your words. brilliant. i absolutely embrace the NT and its teaching of love and grace and have dodged the hurling of Solomon's recommendation of striking with the rod. i keep focusing on the fruits of the spirit and all the things it affords us and seems like spanking is the opposite of these. self control for one is so important when discipling your child. bless you. i shared this with others. thank u so much. glad that i have never touched my girl with my hand or paddle. only thru God's grace.