i am processing…

I am striving to be a Berean and right now I am finding myself truly amazed as I study and research.

The Pearls and their teachings seem to have brought to light many more questions about appropriate and inappropriate spanking, the various teachers who are advocating one thing or another, and the admonition to parents that if they choose to not spank their children, they are sinning by prescribing spanking as the only Biblical method of discipline. I guess I hadn’t seen all of this before when I only read these books one at a time over many years.  But now, looking at all the chapters on physical discipline lined up, I am feeling overwhelmed.

I am still trying to work my way through not only the particulars of various “child discipline” methods but at the theology behind them
.  That is what is of the most concern to me right now.  What is the motivation behind the teachings?  Do we really believe, for example, that spanking a child with a rod will keep him from Hell? Taken literally, it teaches a works salvation. Does the Scripture mean to use a rod on a child’s back in the phrase “the rod for the back?” And if these are commands that MUST be followed, where is the admonition in the New Testament? Since the book of Proverbs is quoted so often in the NT, why aren’t the rod verses quoted? If it is a sin not to spank, why is this not a central or crucial part of the epistles?  And to what age does the word “child” refer?  Both Samuel Martin in Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me and Clay Clarkson in Heartfelt Discipline say that the Hebrew word for child in the Proverbs passages does not talk about babies or even small children, but rather, older, rebellious children.  And then I  wonder if fools are to be beaten, wouldn’t we need to be beating lots of adults we know?

I ask myself where the Gospel is in the midst of all of this? 
After all, if sinless perfection or even perfection manifested in first time obedience is the requirement and parents are able to exact that from their children, who needs Jesus?  I don’t have answers, only more and more questions.  If these words in the Hebrew do not mean what many parents, especially homeschooling parents, are being told that they mean, then there is a paradigm that is being pushed and promoted that is, as we know paradigms do, causing tremendous damage to some families. I think, for instance, of adopted children who have attachment issues or children with autism, ADHD,
Down’s syndrome, or other special needs. Some of these teachers believe that spanking is commanded for all children; none of the above would be exempt. It is heartbreaking for me to know that homeschooling moms are being told they aren’t godly or obedient moms unless they prescribe to these teachings rather than being students of their own children and trusting the Lord for His guidance in raising each child individually.

I have been looking at these books that are being pushed in homeschooling circles: To Train Up A Child, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Withhold Not Correction, and What the Bible Says About Child Training and I am overwhelmed.  And I just came across a review of Geoff Botkin’s family CD’s where he states that “to obey God’s law you must spank your children.” The common key teaching is that parents who are obedient to the Lord must spank their children (at the very least) and according to most of these teachers, discipline them to repentance and beginning while they are babies.

I am also rereading Clarkson’s book, which is refreshing and encouraging and stresses relationship building and recognizing the very real God-given needs of children entrusted to our care.

Finally, a new read that just arrived in the mail is Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me by Samuel Martin, a Hebrew scholar and an American who lives in Jerusalem. His work is scholarly and has many footnotes and resources. The word studies on the word “child” and the rich imagery associated with nursing babies and mothers took my breath away.  You can order the book for about $10.00 at his website.  By the way, one of the interesting facts he tells is that Dwight L. Moody didn’t believe in spanking his own children!

I am in process…

 photo Blog__Sidebar_Hello_zps79b9481b.png


  1. Jack Brooks says

    I hope you don’t fall into the Oprah trap — i.e., use the most atrocious examples of child abuse as an excuse to reject corporal punishment altogether.

    Also, watch out for a hyper-dispensational approach to the Old Testament. The New Testament doesn’t only reiterate God-given rules from the Old Testament, in order to let us know that the rule continues. The New Testament approaches it from the other direction — it tells us what’s cancelled. E.g., the priestly-sacrificial system, circumcision, and so on. “God only needs to say something once”, goes a saying I’ve heard. So I would say what’s significant is that the NT doesn’t bar corporal punishment.

    The Proverbs are mostly guidelines, rather than laws like the Ten Commandments, so it’s assumed that wisdom — the wisdom that’s the major theme of the first 6-8 chapters — guides parental discipline. The thrust of Proverbs’ approach to discipline is instruction and a deep love and respect for the godly parent, not the rod. Love, piety, and instruction are the major notes, corporal punishment is a minor note. It’s there (contra the not-touchy people), but it’s not the focus or sine qua non of good parenting (contra the people who write as if spanking is Solomon’s go-to answer for everything).

  2. says

    Jack, I hear you!

    I guess what I am troubled by is two fold…that control via corporal punishment is a requirement for godly parenting and that it all seems symptomatic of yet one more push for family perfection. I understand that God only needs to say something once. And of course the Old Testament is not to be dismissed. But it seems that Scripture is so much fuller than what these books are saying. And that there are so many actual commands that are being ignored where the use of the rod is being placed at the center of “tying heartstrings” or whatever it is called in whichever book. That seems out of balance.

  3. Debra says

    Jack- that was a great comment!

    Thatmom – I’m so looking forward to your analyses. It seems overwhelming – and I would love a really deep analyses of these books. I’m not anti-spanking, but I am pretty much alone amongst my close friends because I believe spanking is for older kids and as a last resort. This momma thanks you for doing the hard work!!


  4. says

    I so apprecaite your honesty and struggle with this. I still have littles so not much time for lots of research. My concern is that we often think that spanking comes with the exclusion of building relationship. Like it has to be one or the other. Scripture (as far as I understand and I am no scholar) supports both sides in some ways. I don’t agree with the Pearls at all but does that mean I don’t spank…no. Do I do it ALL the time for everything…no.

    I have a child with special needs and he is the one that opened our eyes in many ways to spanking not being the be all and end all of Christian parenting. We are each accountable to God for how we love, train and discipline our children. I personally won’t let a book tell me how to raise my kids and I fall into thinking that most people would think that way but am realizing thats not true.

    There is not enough in scripture to convinve me that spanking my child is unbiblical but there is enough in scripture to cause me to use it sparingly and not as the only means of correcting my children. Grace goes a long way especially with a child who cannot control himself. Each child needs different means of training. I used to think there was one way to parent every child and now I realize there are many ways to get to the same end. And isn’t the end the point? A child who does honor and obey his parents, walks in the fruits of the spirit and loves others and Jesus. When I say many ways I don’t for one minute mean the Pearls way.

    Again I appreciate your challenge of this without seeming like you have all the anwsers. We have to be careful as Christians that we don’t create even one more dividing line amoungst the body. Most of what I read is in one camp or the other…spanking is all wrong or not spanking is all wrong. My bible doens’t make it that clear.

  5. says

    I think it’s good to be sorting through this thoughtfully and prayerfully. Children are a trust to us, one of the many “talents” we will be required to account for.

    My children are grown, and I see the fruits of my good parenting as well as my failures. I cannot go back and re-do, but thankfully I have confidence that it is Christ who saves, and not my good parenting. It is God who replaces hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, not me.

    All that said, I’ve got a neat interview for you – heard it on NPR the other day, a discussion of the classroom control techniques of the nations most effective school teachers. I found it enlightening: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124532654&ps=cprs

  6. Amanda says

    Thank you for giving your time to research this. You always speak with such grace, and I really appreciate that. Raising 3 special needs children changed how I looked at training my children. I think it is “easier” to spank than to have to think relationally. I was not a faithful follower of the Pearls, but when my son was diagnosed with autism, I cried at the times that I had spanked him when he probably didn’t even understand. That was many years ago, and I desire to show more of God’s grace to my children which is how I want to be treated.

  7. L says

    Jack, I agree with not being reactionary. Actually, a few months ago I could never have imagined myself considering raising children without spanking being necessary at least occasionally. I don’t think I’ll ever put it entirely off limits, but my views are undergoing some radical changes. God has been doing that with me quite a bit lately so I’m getting kinda used to it (thanks in part to thatmom’s blog ministries!), but I am still researching/thinking/meditiating extra hard on this issue just because I don’t want to throw out okay stuff with clearly awful stuff. It seems to me though that God is using this latest tragedy to really shine some light on a bunch of nasty, slimy lies being taught in the Church.

  8. says

    I am also doing research – specifically about Tedd Tripp’s book. (one of our Sunday School classes is using his material right now) I can tell you that the theology behind some of his material is not what we agree with. For example, we believe that our children are a part of God’s covenental family. Tripp teaches that when they disobey they have moved “outside of the covenant” and need to be spanked/disciplined (he tends to use those synonymously) in order to “restore” them to the covenant. I think that idea underlies a lot of the other punitive Christian parenting methods. If we are looking to ourselves to restore our children to God instead of relying on God’s GRACE and the Holy Spirit we could easily resort to using any method possible.

  9. says

    Very insightful and thought-provoking post.

    I must first say that I am not against spanking. I abhor child abuse.

    I, too, have a child with special needs. I worry a great deal about what is promoted by those who have influence and advertise their expertise and homeschooling parents with children with special needs. I will tell you that “biblical training” is touted quite often in the homeschooling children with special needs world.

    Fact: Children with Down syndrome often do not respond to traditional parenting methods – time-outs, spanking etc.

    Fact: Positive behavioral approaches to behavioral challenges do work with children with Down syndrome.

    I do my best to promote that which is true but it is a huge battle.

    I’m glad the rest of the homeschooling world is helping me in this battle by bringing it to the table to talk about it and highlight abuse.

  10. says

    I’ll be very interested in seeing the theological digging you do. . . for me that has been key in a change in my relationship with my children. Not that I wasn’t focused on the -relational- aspects in the past. . . but as a new mom, that relationship was one that was very much borne out of fear and a focus on controlling behaviour — not a relationship that reflected being brothers in Christ, with a focus on pointing them to our need for a Saviour.

    Interestingly. . . the parenting themes you’ll find among many in Church history is a focus on parents pointing children to Christ. Even if a culture practiced harsh physical discipline, among Christians that wasn’t the -focus- as it often is among Christians in our North American Christian subculture. Jonathan Edwards, for example, wrote and preached extensively on helping children see their need for a Saviour, yet in extensive reading, one Edwards scholar didn’t find anything he said about spanking (the scholar didn’t want to rule it out, with Edwards vast writings!

  11. says

    So, Jack do you believe Christians are commanded to spank their children and to not do so is a sin? Do you think applies to all children? I want to be certain I understand your blog post.

  12. Jack Brooks says

    I believe we’re told to use the rod, but the controlling context is wisdom. We should adjust what we do with the rod (i.e. corporal punishment) to the child — their age, knowledge, temperament — and the circumstances. The rod won’t work in the absence of the weightier matters — love, justice, personal integrity, prayer, faith, and instruction .And I believe the rod will produce the opposite effect, if I am exasperating the child to wrath. But if I absolutely refuse to use corporal punishment, then I believe Solomon would call that “foolish”, or sinful. If the Scripture says, “Use the rod in a wise way”, and I say, “No, I won’t use it at all”, how can I justify that stance? I see the Lord saying to me, “I know about Lydia Schatz, but you know that’s not what I was telling you to do.”

    & — if I agree with a writer that corporal punishment is commanded by the Lord, I don’t believe I am endorsing everything else that writer says. Gary Ezzo says some true things in his curriculum, too, but my agreement with him on those points is coincidental. I still don’t support GKGW.

  13. says

    Jack, how would you counsel parents, then, who have autistic children or those with Down’s syndrome? What about children who have come out of abusive homes and through the foster care system? Using a rod on these children would certainly not be appropriate but yet if Scripture “commands” that we “use the rod”, ie corporal punishment, as you say, do you think a parent is bound to do so? And then are we also commanded to use the rod on adults who are fools?

    I believe that the Proverbs are “wise sayings” and not “commands.” That doesn’t mean that we discount them, but rather, look at them in that light and employ wisdom from the Lord as we do.

    For example, look at all the verses that use the word “bribe.” Proverbs 15:27 says “a greedy man brings trouble to his family but he who hates bribes will live.” And then, Proverbs 17:8 says “A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it’ wherever he turns, he succeeds.” Are we to bribe or not bribe?

    A person of wisdom recognizes that both of these Proverbs can be true but it isn’t always one way or the other. So many of the Proverbs can be looked at that way. This is where the wisdom given by the Holy Spirit must be applied.

    Look at these “rod” verses. Proverbs 23:13-14: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.”

    As true believers we know that salvation is given by Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone. “We” cannot save a child’s soul. We also know that someone CAN die from being punished with the “rod.”

    And then what do we do with the application of those passages of Scripture that actually ARE commands? Like bear one another’s burdens, admonish one another in all wisdom, etc. Let’s think about admonishing in all wisdom. A wise parent knows the particular needs of a particular child, the weaknesses, the stresses, the physical or mental or even emotional “handicaps” if you will that make training and discipling more challenging. Shouldn’t the actual command “to admonish is all wisdom” be our standard? And aren’t there situations where admonishing in all wisdom would never call for the rod of chastisement?

  14. says

    The use of the rod is controlled by wisdom. If a child is so intellectually limited that he or she can’t even understand why you’re giving them a spank — and by “spank” I’m including something as mild as a little tap on the bottom, though you seem to be speaking of it as always being a real whack — then there’s no point to doing it. Spanking is part of correction, but if a person can’t be corrected, then it’s unwise to use it. But no one can, on scriptural ground, say, “It’s wrong to spank”, as a universal generalization.

    The instructions are also given to parents, not other care-givers. For example, we don’t allow SS teachers or others to even touch the church’s children (other than hugs & kisses!). I was the one who caught one particularly fanatical deacon at a long-ago church — home-schooler, btw — pulling off his belt and getting ready to strap a visitor boy in SS, inside a closed-door SS room. I went & grabbed the pastor, and it wasn’t 24 hours before we had an absolute “no-touching” rule. I believe our rule at the Christian school at which I taught was that teachers could only physically intervene to prevent harm to themselves, others, or property damage. I don’t know enough about foster care to have an opinion about how that may or may not work.

    My bottom line is that no one has the right to say, “No corporal punishment, ever”, since the Bible says we should use it, when, where, and however appropriate. It never tells us when, where, or how; that’s up to our best judgment, with the help of God’s wisdom.

  15. says

    Jack, I have known several families who adopted out of the foster care system who struggled with what is known as “attachment syndrome” in their children. It causes children to have tremendous difficulty bonding with parents and siblings as a result of not having consistent child care in the early years and being taken from primary care givers, even when those care givers are abusive. Typically those children have been able to make themselves detach emotionally from trauma causing them to not respond to physical punishment the way other children might. There are no “tears of repentance” etc. As I understand it, Lydia Schatz and her sister were both children in this sort of situation. I believe this is one reason that foster parents aren’t allowed to spank or us any corporal punishment. I’m not real familiar with this system so if someone knows more about it, please enlighten us here.


    Also, think about what we know about Stockholm Syndrome. There are some real similarities.

  16. says

    There is a big difference between saying spanking is sinful or commanded and saying that it is an option to be used with wisdom. We need to be very clear about that. With wisdom, some parents may choose to never spank and I don’t believe by making that choice they are sinning, but rather, are admonishing
    “in all wisdom” as they listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

    Jack, your story about the Sunday school teacher was interesting because I know there are many private Christian schools today that require a parent to sign a waiver that allows the school to use corporal punishment on children if they are allowed to enroll them. A friend of mine even told me the other day that when her son was little, 20 or so years ago, the school principal paddled him with a long wooden board and she never was told about it until the kid told her later. She thought they ought to have called her so she could have had the option of dealing with him herself first.

  17. Daina says

    Hi Karen, I know this article was written almost 7 years ago, but I thank you for writing it as it ministers to my heart. I am heartbroken right now about this paradigm which is pushed, and the way that I feel that spanking is implied into the rod verses, while other interpretations are spoken of as heresy. My husband and I are experiencing division on the issue right now, as I feel convicted against spanking, and PTL he has agreed that our family does not need to violate those convictions, however he still believes that my choice is an outright sin, a rebellion against God, and that by reading Clay Clarksons bokk, I am finding teachers to satisfy my itching ears. So he basically thinks that my choice to pursue gentle discipline is going to cause us greater problems down the line. Its very sad, I feel very misunderstood, but I know Im not along. God bless you. I’m enjoying reading your articles on the subject this morning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *