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Does the Bible Command Parents to Beat Their Children?

dennis the menance being spanked

Repost from 2015. Edited, updated, and corrected.

The Bible speaks, you decide. And please, no revisionists who hilariously say that a “rod” is actually a shepherd’s crook used to gently guide the sheep (children) along.

The Bible says:

  • Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. Ephesians 6:1-3
  • Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Colossians 3:20
  • In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding. Proverbs 10:13
  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24
  • Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
  • 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. Proverbs 23:13,14
  • A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Proverbs 26:3
  • The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15
  • My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth, Proverbs 3:11,12
  • If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Hebrews 12:7-9

These verses are often used to justify the brutal, violent beating of children and teenagers. God demands obedience, and children who refuse to obey should be beaten into submission. Through the centuries, countless Christian parents have used paddles, whips, hairbrushes, books, belts, or anything else that was handy, to beat their children. Better to beat them than lose them to the devil, right?

spanking

Most of us who were once Bible-believing, sin-hating, devil-chasing Evangelical literalists now see that our disciplinary methods were abusive, cruel, and ineffective. It’s hard to look back at how we disciplined our children as “unto the Lord” and not feel regret and shame. I know that’s how it is for me.

I was a stern taskmaster. I believed the Bible laid out the pattern I had to follow IF there was to be any hope of my children turning out well. I can now say that my children turned out well DESPITE the whippings I gave them. Their love, respect, and forgiveness overwhelm me. I don’t deserve it.

They know I was just doing what I thought God commanded me to do, but knowing that I inflicted unnecessary pain on my children is heartbreaking. I am often asked if I think all spanking — which is actually beating — is child abuse. In general, yes I do. I think there are better ways to discipline children than by hitting them. While I make some allowance for slapping a toddler’s hand now and again, I do not think hitting, punching, or slapping a child is the best way to get them to obey or conform.

Yes, the Bible says ___________________, and we who desire to live in a less violent world must be willing to say that the Bible is w-r-o-n-g. The authors of the Bible likely reflected the way children were disciplined during their time, but we have come to the place where we now know that beating children, for whatever reason, is not only unproductive, but it is also abusive.

spanking with belt

If you are a parent with young children, how do you discipline your children? I am an old man, the product of an era gone by, an era when violence against children was the rule and not the exception. If we truly want to live a nonviolent way of life, it must begin with our treatment of those who are innocent, weak, and vulnerable. If you had to give discipline advice to a young father or mother, what would you tell them? Please share your advice in the comment section.

Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Silver

    I have a toddler, who is in the midst of the “terrible twos” (they are not that terrible actually). We don’t hit for any reason. I will give time outs when they are needed, but more often I try to reward good behavior and use natural consequences to teach behavior (when they are something that won’t cause permanent harm to my child).

  2. Avatar
    Fraternite

    I also have a toddler (nearly 3!). He only gets his hand smacked when he is wilfully nasty despite being told to be nice.

    We don’t like time outs in principle because they isolate, and because they practically seem to escalate the situation rather than deescalate it. Usually the threat of the handsmack is good enough to provoke an apology and hugs, which is probably the best possible outcome.

  3. Avatar
    Becky Wiren

    When my adult sons were little, I did spank them. I tried not to ever do it when angry etc. And I did comfort them. BUT…if I could go back in time I wouldn’t spank them. If I ever have grandkids I never plan to spank them. Ever.

  4. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I was spanked as a child, by my mother and by my grandmother who were my primary caregivers. Not often, because in our 4 generation household grandma ran a hierarchical structure where the oldest was at the top (my great-grandmother) and the youngest was at the bottom (me). Somehow I figured if I acted like an adult I could improve my status, but that’s not how it worked. Anyway, when I was 8 I started hitting my mom back when she spanked me, so that was the end of spanking. My mom was kind of on the fence about corporal punishment because it was the 70s and even in Tennessee public schools parents had to sign whether they allowed their children to be spanked at school or not.

    I probably would have spanked my kids too, not knowing better, but my husband was against it. His parents didn’t spank him or his brothers (I don’t know how not, both were beaten by nuns and priests at Catholic school). My husband is a trained educator, so he had learned the harms of corporal punishment as well as tools for doing things differently.

  5. Avatar
    Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I would point them to the “Love and Logic” series of books. It’s about having consequences without beating or punishing.

  6. Avatar
    mary

    both husband and myself were spanked as kids but not as often as others we knew. in the 70’s lots of parents in pentecostal churches were spank controlling their kids based on the flawed theology. we spanked very infrequently when our kids were small, but we soon stopped as our beliefs changed. we have apologized to our kids for this. hopefully as more of us drop the bad theology/belief systems, violence against kids and the world at large will decrease. thanks for shedding the light on this.

  7. Avatar
    Matilda

    Scotland has made the spanking of children by their parents a criminal offence. Here it Wales, this will become law too in 2022. We know so much more about child psychology and child development than past generations. Using physical violence on a child just tells them it’s OK for a bigger stronger person to abuse a smaller weaker one and they can grow up to perpetuate that cycle.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      The United States needs serious reform when it comes to corporal punishment. Way too much “Biblical discipline” in this country. Sick of the memes I seek on social media talking about the “good old days” when our parents thrashed us with a belt.

  8. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I was a very depressed child, and merely being yelled at for some infraction was extremely painful for me. My parents strongly believed in spanking, I just never gave them a reason to do it. My mother was so proud of having such a “good” daughter. My mother-in-law pestered me for years about that, not wanting to believe it. When I was finally diagnosed in my early thirties and treated, she pestered me again and I said it was because I was depressed, had always been depressed, and was now finally being treated. Then I got a lecture about how people ought to fix their own brains and not rely on mental health professionals.

    I don’t have children.

  9. Avatar
    Sarah

    Best explanation I’ve heard is that thousands of years ago that was the best way to discipline. Today with science there are better choices available. I don’t think that’s the whole answer to why this is in the Bible. However Proverbs is a bunch of sayings found from observing the world at that time

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      I would argue that it has never been the best way to discipline, but it is the easiest way. When just putting food on the table, keeping your family safe, and managing basic hygiene is amazingly difficult, whacking the kid to get him to go milk the goats takes the least time and keeps the family unit running. Worrying about children’s mental health is a privilege of people who don’t have to work that insanely hard to keep themselves and their loved ones alive. I consider those Bible verses a mirror into the difficult lives people had at that time.

      I think it is no coincidence that countries which have banned corporal punishment also tend to have strong social safety nets; the latter allows you to do the former. Here in the US where I live, the safety net is a joke, and parents who are working two jobs and are generally overwhelmed are more likely to use corporal punishment. They simply don’t have the mental and emotional bandwidth to use more enlightened methods that take more time and empathy. A human can only do so much.

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