A gracEmail subscriber writes: “As a mother of two young children, I want to parent them in a godly manner. The only scriptures I have found regarding physical discipline refer to ‘blows’ given with a ‘rod’ and leaving ‘stripes’ on the back. Can you comment on these scriptures (Proverbs 10:13, 13:24, 20:30, 22:15, 23:14, 26:3, 29:15). Christian parenting books and courses recommend not spanking when in anger, but I would have to be pretty angry to do the things recommended here.”
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As Christian parents, we have the awesome responsibility to train our children in godliness. Mothers can pass on the faith by teaching their little ones the Scriptures (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:14-15). Fathers, too, can “bring them up [literally “nourish”] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). The word translated “discipline” means “training” of which punishment is only a small part. Fathers are specifically commanded to train and instruct in ways that do not provoke their children to anger or exasperate them to the point of discouragement (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21).
The book of Proverbs is a form of writing known as “wisdom literature,” collections of which have been found in many cultures from ancient times to the present. “Proverbs” are generalizations that communicate wisdom gained through experience and observation over time. What they state is usually but not always the case (the Book of Job illustrates that fact). For this reason, someone has suggested calling them the “Probablies.” I think that three of the seven Proverbs you cite above are not talking about parents and little children (10:13; 20:30; 26:3), including the one that mentions “stripes” (20:30). In reading the Proverbs today that clearly involve parents and children, we would not err to think “switch” instead of “rod” and “licks” instead of “blows.”
As I see it, the Bible allows but does not require spanking. I was spanked occasionally by my parents and I spanked my children a few times when they were small. In keeping with the nature of the Proverbs, I believe it is “probably” the right thing to do when appropriate. My personal guidelines concerning spanking included the following. Spank only for willful defiance, not for mere mistakes. Never spank when angry. Warn clearly and in advance. Explain the reason for spanking before doing it. Spank as little as necessary to accomplish its purpose. Always conclude by reaffirming love for the child in words and with a hug.