I strongly believe in corporal punishment when it comes to children. And further, I believe it is absolutely biblical! I have seen the results of people who were raised without corporal punishment, and I contrast that with the people I know who were raised with corporal punishment. The differences are stark! Spare the rod, spoil the child! My sisters and I were raised with corporal punishment. Looking back I’m thankful our parents loved us enough and had enough wisdom to use it. I didn’t appreciate it at the time I was getting my bottom hit by a leather belt (ouch!), but I thank God for it now as an adult!
Even though parenting isn’t as good as it was in our grandparents’ or parents’ time still a majority of parents agree with corporal punishment. More than 70% of Americans agreed in 2012 that, “it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking.” (see Smith, Tom W, Peter Marsden, Michael Hout, and Jibum Kim. General Social Surveys, 1972-2012 [machine-readable data file] Principal Investigator, Tom W. Smith; Co-Principal Investigator, Peter V. Marsden; Co-Principal Investigator, Michael Hout; Sponsored by National Science Foundation. NORC ed. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center [producer]; Storrs, CT: The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut [distributor], 2013.)
The Puritans had much to say when it came to disciplining children. The Puritans proceeded on two assumptions. The first is that children are born evil. Puritanism was a branch of the Reformed faith, which has always taught the doctrine of total depravity. Simplified, this means that everyone is born a sinner, and although some people are worse than others, everyone outside of Christ is alienated from God, unable to please Him, and liable to His judgment. John Robinson said, “There is in all children, though not alike, a stubbornness and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride.It is a natural corruption and root of actual rebellion against God”. Another Puritan put it this way, “The young child which lieth in the cradle is both wayward and full of passions. And, although his body be small, he hath a great heart, that is altogether inclined to evil”.
This is radically opposed to the sentimental view of children most people hold today-including many Christians. But, whether we like it or not, it’s what the Bible teaches. Do you need the texts? Here they are, Psalm 58:3; Psalm 51:5, “The wicked are estranged from the womb, they come forth, as soon as they are born, speaking lies”. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me”. Note, the former verse says the wicked are sinful from birth. But, in the second verse, David says, I was too! That pretty well covers it! If the wicked are born wicked-and the good are born wicked, you tell me who isn’t born wicked! When I hear people say kids are innocent, I wonder if they have kids! Or, if they were ever kids themselves!
There was a seminary student who loved Church History, especially the Church Fathers. He had a son whom he named, Athanasius Augustine (poor kid!). By the time the boy was two years old, the man said, “I should have named him Satan Beelzebub!” The child was more like a Satan than like a saint! Children are born in sin. That’s the first thing the Puritans assumed about them. The second grew out of it: Children cannot be left to themselves-they need both guidance and correction.
Three quotes, “Children should not be left to themselves, to a loose end, to do as they please”. “Natural corruption and actual rebellion must be destroyed and in no way nourished. Parents must keep down this stubbornness; The children’s willfulness must be restrained And repressed”. “If the evil be suffered to increase, it will rage and burn down the whole house. For we become good, not by birth, but by training. Therefore, parents must be wary and circumspect; they must reprove and sharply reprove their children for doing or saying ill”.
John Robinson, a Pilgrim preacher wrote, “Surely, there is in all children a stubbornness and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride which must in the first place be broken and beaten down so that the foundation of their education being laid in humility and tractableness, other virtues may in their time be built thereon.”
This too is politically incorrect. Even serious Christians wince a little when they hear it. But, once again, it is precisely what the Bible teaches. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it from him”. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother”. “My son, keep your father’s commandment and do not forsake the law of your mother”. “Bring them up in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord”.
The Puritans were serious about their kids. Serious enough to find out what they were and what they needed. We would do well to follow their example. When it comes to guiding and disciplining your kids, the first thing the Puritans emphasized is this: start early. John Cotton said, “These babes are flexible and easily bowed; it is far more easy to train them up to good things now, than in their youth and riper years”. No parent can deny this. The longer you wait to teach your children, the harder it becomes to do it. Children learn obedience long before the learn the reasons for it. If your kids are little, don’t worry about explaining things to them, just teach them to obey, to pray, and to be kind. Samuel Willard adds, “If you would prevent Satan from corrupting your children, do not delay, but be dropping an instruction as soon as they are able to understand anything”. If Satan were nice, he would start tempting our kids when they turned 18. But he isn’t nice. The devil starts early! Parents should do everything we can to counter his work from the beginning! Would you let a big kid beat your toddler for five minutes before stopping him? If not, why would you allow Satan to beat your child for years before you do anything about it? Kids can be cruel, of course, but nothing like the devil!
Richard Baxter worried about the power of habit, and how hard it is to break a bad one once it’s had time to develop,“If we have been accustomed to outward wickedness, inward impenitency, hardness of heart, and unbelief, it will be very hard when we come to break off from it”.
Note carefully what he says: It’s not only actions we have to deal with, but attitudes. People often say, “You can’t read hearts or judge motives”. That may be true of strangers, but in your own kids? Sure you can! Not infallibly, of course, but if you pay attention, you can do it pretty well.
The longer you wait to break bad habits, the harder it will be to do it-and the more your kids will suffer because of it!
Start early. If you haven’t done that, start now.
Puritan Cotton Mather summed up the Puritan view of corporal punishment, “Better whipped than damned”. But having said that, let’s be very clear what role they gave to corporal punishment. It was not the only means of discipline. Samuel Willard says spanking is a last resort, “Know their natural dispositions and use severity as a last means”. Cotton Mather says it should only be used for serious offenses, “I would never give a child a blow except in cases of obstinacy or some gross enormity”. Richard Greenham urged self-control on parents when spanking a child, “They must chasten the mildest means and with the least rigor”. Anne Bradstreet, who was a great Puritan poet and woman of grace, reminded us to not discipline every child alike, but to adapt the punishment to each child, “Diverse children have different natures, those parents are wise that can fit their nurture to their nature”.
Here are some relevant Scripture verses which address corporal punishment.
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.Proverbs 13:24
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.Proverbs 22:15
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.Proverbs 23:13-14
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.Proverbs 29:15
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.Proverbs 22:6
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?Hebrews 12:7
On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.Proverbs 10:13
Some notes from my study bible and a commentary:
Proverbs 13:24 (RSB:ESV2015E): 13:24 rod. Although the word may symbolize any kind of disciplinary correction, there is little doubt that corporal punishment was approved in some situations (10:13; 22:15; 23:13, 14; 29:15). Discipline with love prevents the rod from being destructive (3:11, 12 and notes).
Proverbs 13:24 (RHKJVSB):
13:24 spareth. Hebrew, “withhold what is due.” rod. Corporal punishment is to be judiciously and lovingly used in the correction and training of children (22:15; 23:13–14; 29:15). chasteneth him betimes. Disciplines him early, that is, quickly or promptly
Proverbs 13:24 (MHCCB): Verse 24
He acts as if he hated his child, who, by false indulgence, permits sinful habits to gather strength, which will bring sorrow here, and misery hereafter.
Proverbs 13:24 (MHCWB:CUOV): Verse 24
Note, 1. To the education of children in that which is good there is necessary a due correction of them for what is amiss; every child of ours is a child of Adam, and therefore has that foolishness bound up in its heart which calls for rebuke, more or less, the rod and reproof which give wisdom. Observe, It is his rod that must be used, the rod of a parent, directed by wisdom and love, and designed for good, not the rod of a servant. 2. It is good to begin betimes with the necessary restraints of children from that which is evil, before vicious habits are confirmed. The branch is easily bent when it is tender. 3. Those really hate their children, though they pretend to be fond of them, that do not keep them under a strict discipline, and by all proper methods, severe ones when gentle ones will not serve, make them sensible of their faults and afraid of offending. They abandon them to their worst enemy, to the most dangerous disease, and therefore hate them. Let this reconcile children to the correction their good parents give them; it is from love, and for their good, Heb. 12:7–9.
As corporal punishment was phased out of schools in the latter half of the 20th century we have seen school violence, bullying, attacks on teachers, disrespect towards police and other authority figures, and widespread profanity skyrocket!