The Bible’s Viewpoint
“The Rod of Discipline”—Is It Out-of-Date?
“Foolishness is tied up with the heart of a boy; the rod of discipline is what will remove it far from him.”—Proverbs 22:15.
“Any physical punishment is emotionally abusive and should not be sanctioned.”—Parents Anonymous.
THE BIBLE’S mention of “the rod of discipline” ignites fiery controversy. This is understandable, for each year thousands of children die as a direct result of physical abuse by a parent. Perhaps this is why one Bible commentary passes off the Bible’s sanction of physical punishment as merely a “culturally conditioned opinion.”
But cultural opinions did not inspire the Bible—God did. (2 Timothy 3:16) Are its comments on “the rod of discipline” unreasonable? It is important that we examine “the rod” in its context. To illustrate: The individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle make little sense. It is only after fitting them together that one can see the whole picture. Likewise, “the rod” is just one piece of the puzzle. To see the full picture, we must fit “the rod” in with other Bible principles related to discipline.
A Balanced View
Does the Bible endorse only physical punishment? Consider the following advice:
• “Never drive your children to resentment.”
• “Don’t over-correct your children, or you will take all the heart out of them.”
Yes, the Bible’s viewpoint is reasonable. It acknowledges that physical punishment is usually not the most effective teaching method. Proverbs 8:33 says, “Listen to discipline” not, ‘Feel discipline.’ And Proverbs 17:10 points out that “a rebuke works deeper in one having understanding than striking a stupid one a hundred times.” Furthermore, Deuteronomy 11:19 recommends preventive discipline, taking advantage of casual moments to instill moral values in one’s children. Thus, the Bible’s view of discipline is balanced.
What About “the Rod”?
The word “rod” is translated from the Hebrew word sheʹvet. To the Hebrews, sheʹvet meant a stick or a staff, such as that used by a shepherd. In this context the rod of authority suggests loving guidance, not harsh brutality.—Psalm 23:4.
Sheʹvet is often used symbolically in the Bible, representing authority. (2 Samuel 7:14; Isaiah 14:5) When referring to parental authority, “the rod” does not refer exclusively to physical punishment. It encompasses all forms of discipline, which most often need not be physical. And when physical discipline is employed, it is usually because other methods have proved unsuccessful. Proverbs 22:15 says that foolishness is “tied up” (“anchored,” NJB; “deep-rooted,” The New English Bible) with the heart of the one receiving physical discipline. More than mere childish frivolity is involved.
How Should Discipline Be Administered?
In the Bible, discipline is consistently linked with love and mildness, not with anger and brutality. The skillful counselor should be “gentle toward all, . . . restrained under evil, instructing with mildness those not favorably disposed.”—2 Timothy 2:24, 25.
Therefore, discipline is not an emotional outlet for the parent. Rather, it is a method of instruction. As such, it should teach an erring child. When administered in anger, physical discipline teaches the wrong lesson. It serves the need of the parent, not that of the child.
Furthermore, effective discipline has boundaries. “I shall have to chastise you to the proper degree,” Jehovah says to his people at Jeremiah 46:28. This is especially vital to remember when administering physical discipline. Hitting or shaking an infant can lead to brain damage or even death.* Going beyond the intended purpose of discipline—to correct and to teach—may lead to child abuse.*
The Bible Does Not Promote Abuse
Before correcting his people, Jehovah said: “Do not be afraid, . . . for I am with you.” (Jeremiah 46:28) Discipline should not leave a child feeling abandoned. Rather, the child should sense that the parent is ‘with him’ as a loving, supportive encouragement. If physical discipline is deemed necessary, the child should understand why. Proverbs 29:15 says that “the rod and reproof are what give wisdom.”
It is a sad fact that today many use “the rod” of parental authority abusively. Yet, fault cannot be found with the Bible’s balanced principles. (Compare Deuteronomy 32:5.) When we consider “the rod” in its context, we see that it serves to teach children, not to abuse them. As in other matters, the Bible proves to be “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness.”—2 Timothy 3:16.
The book Outgrowing the Pain: A Book for and About Adults Abused as Children cautions: “Spanking can become child abuse when it is done in an out-of-control way, with enough force to leave injuries. Using instruments to hit, spanking with a closed fist, hitting very young children, and hitting in vulnerable areas (face, head, stomach, back, genitals) can increase the likelihood of corporal punishment becoming child abuse.”
The book Father Power, by Dr. Henry Biller and Dennis Meredith, notes: “Physical punishment need only be quite mild to be effective. If it comes from someone he loves and whom he knows loves him, the emotional impact will be enough to make the child think about what he has done.”
[Picture Credit Line on page 26]
The Bettmann Archive