Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me:
Christians and the Spanking Controversy
by Samuel Martin
160 pages, nonfiction
Announcement: As of May 4, 2012, this book is available for free in digital format. Please see Samuel Martin’s blog post The Pen is Mightier than the Punch for details.
Like most parents, I sincerely want to do what is best for my child. I stay awake at night thinking and praying about it, and have read countless articles and books on the subject.
Many of today’s Christian authors espouse the idea that children are precious gifts from God, but must be strictly controlled—usually through physical discipline—to ensure godly adulthood.
Is this view Biblical? Numerous high profile ministers insist it is and quote Bible verses—mostly from the book of Proverbs—to support their claims. But are those interpretations correct? Are they theologically sound?
Every teaching must be examined in the light of scripture (Acts 17:11). As a mother, I want to make sure that what I’m doing in the name of God to my child is indeed God’s will. I don’t simply want clever sounding arguments for or against spanking; I want solid, unbiased scriptural evidence one way or the other. After all, one day I will answer to God about the way I parented my child. I want to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” not “You followed popular parenting gurus, but could have done so much better with My help.”
I found Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me to be incredibly useful in my parenting journey. The author, Biblical scholar Samuel Martin, takes an intellectually honest look at scriptures commonly used to support corporal punishment. He thoroughly researches each verse’s context, original Hebrew word meaning, and application in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no proof-texting; only careful, unbiased scholarship. His reverence for scripture is clear:
We … need to be very careful not to read things into the texts that are not there on the basis of an English translation. We have to let the original Hebrew words and their meanings come through into our understanding or else we can lose the richness of meaning that is there for the interested party to investigate. This advice must be especially heeded when it comes to such issues of immense social importance as how we bring up the next generation. For their sakes, we need to be right and protect them from teachings that are not directed at them in the first place.1
Among other things, he addresses and clearly exposes as myth commonly held beliefs, such as a spanking should bring a child to tears; the Proverbs rod verses refer to small children; spanking can be instrumental in saving a child from Hell; the rod is for the buttocks; and more.
Variances in word interpretation of the King James Version are discussed, but this is not an anti-KJV work. Most of the scripture quoted is from the KJV.
It’s interesting to note that Martin was physically disciplined as a child, and planned to spank his own children—until he undertook a thorough examination of Proverbs. Of his studies, he says:
I also saw that theologically speaking the whole idea of a smacking is not congruent with the teaching revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God sent His Son into the world to save the world so they would not have to suffer for their own sins, but parents today punish their children and make them undergo the horrors of punishment for even the most minor of infractions. The idea of mercy is seemingly not applied at all. When parents sin, they ask God to forgive them, repent and know they are forgiven. When children sin, they are judged, tried, condemned and punished.
I also learned that those in the children’s rights community need to take care how they interpret the Bible. Many of the anti-smacking advocates attack the Bible on the basis of taking a verse here or there out of context. This is dangerous and should not be done. Biblical interpretation should be left in the hands of those who are trained to do so.
…I have presented these findings in the hope it will help people to understand and possibly change their minds as I have.2
Martin also provides a fascinating look into Jewish attitudes toward children and examines the phases of child development outlined in the Bible. He points out that some of the most respected Christian theologians of our time, including Dr. Karl Barth and Reverend Dwight Moody, rejected corporal punishment.
The book is written in a matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental manner and is thoroughly researched. There are 353 separate Biblical texts referenced, 82 separate references from Hebrew and Christian scholars, and 39 authoritative Biblical reference works utilized.
As one parent to another, I urge you to read this book before applying the popular models so often presented as “godly” parenting. People, including prominent leaders, can be mistaken. The Bible, interpreted correctly, is Wisdom and Truth.
I highly recommend this book. It can be purchased through the author’s website: BibleChild.com.
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