Spanking and Solidarity

Should Christians spank their children or should they not? There is a renewed division within Christian Evangelicalism on this topic of late, fueled by the NFL scandal and addressed by articles from writers like Jonathan Merritt. While disagreement is never comfortable, when it comes to the treatment of children, we’d better get this right.

While trying to support Mr. Merritt through providing his critics with helpful information, I too received rebuttal…

…, and I’d like the chance to give my fuller meaning to Mr. Prince without the limitations of Twitter.

I chose K&D not because they agree with my stance, but because they (though differing from me) concede the meaning of “rod” as “the pedagogic rule of God” (which rather agrees with Jonathan Merritt’s and my view). I emphasize that pedagogic means “to teach or to guide.” K&D gather this meaning from what is clearly a biblical theological survey of the term’s use in Proverbs… which I provided in my original string of tweets.

What is the pedagogic rule of God? I believe it cannot be better pictured than by Psalm 23, in which (as Mr. Merritt explains), the Hebrew word translated “rod” refers to a shepherd’s rod, which “was used to guide the sheep, not to beat them.” If one employs a “rule” which is pedagogic, then he uses a governing system based on both “nurture” and “admonition,” or a non-exasperating but consistent and love-filled teaching and correction (Eph. 6:4; Dt. 6)–not through default usage of spanking.

For example, the Scriptures say that King David and Eli the Priest produced unruly and evil men, because they never questioned them or told them no. The implication is that if these fathers had so much as admonished their sons, as much as they desired to ‘nurture’ them, then the sons would have been different. This falls in line with the ESV (a most scholarly translation) which is careful to word Prov. 13:24 as, “diligent to discipline him.”

Clearly God has shown us, as New Testament believers especially, that his way of correcting us (i.e. pedagogic rule) is through his Word–through non-exasperating teaching and instruction (2 Tim. 2:25-26; 3:10; 4:2).

Secondly, K&D themselves point out that this ‘pedagogic rule of God’ also works (or, “avails”) for men with their children. Yet, the commentary adds that this same type of rule is to be equated with the ancient concept of “patria potestas” (the power of the father). That is where I differ from Kyle and Delitzsch, because “power of the father” does not hale from an ancient Hebrew cultural reference but from a Roman one, and it indicates that a father is allowed to kill his own son, if he so deems. I know you do not agree with that!

As I already pointed out, even though Kyle and Delitzsch correctly provide the contextual sense of “rod” based on their survey of its use in proverbs, they fail to consistently carry out that meaning from what they say in 23:13 to what they conclude in 23:14. But, that does not mean we cannot.

Furthermore, when one studies verse 12, he clearly understands that the writer is talking about verbal instruction. Yes, the word structure for “(if you) strike” [תַכֶּ֥נּוּ ṯak·ken·nū] is used in Prov. 23:13-14, but one realizes this form of the word appears only in this one set of 2 verses, which indicates this is a specialized instruction for special circumstances; and it is a clause, sometimes translated “although” and other times “if,” leaving room open to say that this is not a command to strike the child as a general rule of correction. In addition, the word strike is in the hoph`al form, which means the usage indicates (if one interprets the passage literally) ‘to strike repeatedly’–as in ‘to hit really hard’ many times until the subject is “beaten down,” as in “beating and bruising.” (Brown-Driver-Briggs, 1b. תַכֶּ֥נּוּ). This is nothing less than a controlled form of torture to reach a desired end. And, such tortures alter brain function, as Merritt’s studies also conclude.

We must also note (if we wish to interpret these 2 verses literally and without consideration to a difference in culture) whom one is instructed to strike:

According to Strong’s, “Child” is translated from na’ar; (concretely) a boy (as active), from the age of infancy to adolescence; by implication, a servant; also (by interch. of sex), a girl (of similar latitude in age) — babe, boy, child, damsel (from the margin), lad, servant, young (man).

This form of the word is used in Gen. 19:4; Joshua 6:21 & Esther 3:13 as well as Prov. 23:13. Each time, it is used in a contrasting manner–as in the other end of the spectrum to the “old” or “aged,” which indicates those who do not have understanding or wisdom enough to guard them against danger. So, in an effort to take this passage literally, are we willing to say that this repeated, bruise-leaving striking is to be done on infants? Are we willing (for the sake of being literal) to say Christians should beat their youths (presumably not just on the rear) repeatedly until bruised? Or, are we willing to say this striking should be done on servants as a general rule? Obviously, we need to interpret this for our day and age and in its context, which Mr. Merritt has been accurate in describing.

With that understood, one gets the impression that such striking action is a last resort in the most extreme circumstances, due to the probability that the child’s behavior will send him to an early death/grave (sheol). In other words, every parent agrees that when a child/youth or even an untrained employee (servant) is performing behavior that is potentially deadly to himself (ex. about to run into the street or mix/drink poison or fall off a ledge or into the fire), then the correct course of action is to strike the child or employee, so that no deathly harm will come to him/her. But again, this is an extreme case and it is a big “if.”

It is poor interpretation of Hebrew to say that this verse means striking (spanking) the child will save the child spiritually, as you suggested earlier. As I am sure you know, context and lexical value are essential to proper interpretation.

We are either left to interpret this verse quite literally, as I indicate above, or we must view it metaphorically, where “strikes” are poignant verbal corrections administered by the pedagogical guidance of the father (who bears about a natural, shepherd-like and corrective authority [a.k.a. “rod”] as God does, Ps. 23); and these consistent, repeated verbal corrections are applied to a child’s foolish thinking and may leave a temporary bruise to his pride, but they would preserve the youth from a foolish lifestyle that would lead him to an early grave.

There are no other ways to treat this passage.

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