Is Spanking Biblical?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Should Christians spank their young children?  Is it biblical to discipline in such a way?  What principles can we learn from the Bible as to whether spanking is what God would want parents to do?

Discipline and Not Abuse

There has never been more disagreement between non-believers and Christians and even among Christians themselves than over the issue of whether parents should spank their children or not. Disciplining a child is not child abuse and spanking is never to be done in anger or in a fit of rage.  The parent needs to cool off before they do or even say anything.  Parents of a strong-willed child feel it necessary to spank young children to prevent them from doing serious harm to themselves or endangering their lives.  To catch a child in the early stages of dangerous activity is important because it sends a strong message to the child who is old enough to understand that they will have certain consequences for particular actions. Older children may be better off by giving them a time out or adolescents or teenagers can be disciplined by restricting their Internet, video games, or cell phone usage.

The type of discipline very much depends upon the age and understanding of the child.  Every child needs discipline but so do adults and God sees to that.  Young children may have to have discipline if they disobey direct parental orders that they can clearly understand.  Keeping them in an environment so strictly controlled can disrupt natural activities of the remaining members of the household and may not always be practical or possible.  In other words, children must have some freedom and not be in lock-down all the time and since they need some freedom, the will necessarily make poor choices.  That is part of growing up. Even a child that plays outside in a fenced area can find ways to harm themselves.  One parent I knew had to discipline his young toddler because he kept eating flowers from the flower bed.  It was not practical to get rid of all the flowers in the flower bed but some flowers can be poisonous to children.  There must be supervision of course but children can be very sneaky and can find ways to get into all kinds of trouble or serious danger and in a very short amount of time!

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

This saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” has truth to it but it has been corrupted more than any other by non-believers because they see it as the Bible teaching Christian parents that it’s okay to use a rod for correction on their children.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In the first place, this is twisting the actual Bible verse from its context which says “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov 13:24).  One thing that most translations do not bring out in this verse is that it should read “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him “disciplines him early.”  That is the proper interpretation.  The key is to discipline children early before their character is solidly grounded and harder to change.  The “rod” that people emphasize is not an actual rod but it is symbolic of the parent’s corrective discipline.  Proverbs 13:24 is not explicitly saying that corporal punishment (spanking) is commanded but it doesn’t  exclude this option either.  Each parent must make that decision for themselves.

Some states have stricter laws than others and it may be criminal to spank in public in one state while it is not in another.  If spanking is done, as with all discipline, it should be done in private so as not to humiliate the child in public.  How would an adult like to be taken to task in public?  Not likely. When dealing with a stubborn three-year-old that refuses to be disciplined by time outs or withholding certain privileges, parents may see spanking as the only option.  I will neither recommend nor try to discourage spanking.  That is a choice each parent must make with their own children because each child is different and differing methods of discipline may be more effective and work much better than spanking.  There are always alternative methods to spanking that a parent could use and spanking should not be considered the first or only option of discipline.  Sometimes children can do things so quickly and it’s impossible to watch them ever single second of the day.  It only takes a split-and they can suddenly be in harm’s way.   Parents know their children better than anyone else so no one expert can tell you exactly what to do.

Older children may be better off by giving them a time out...

Older children may be better off by giving them a time out…

Real Child Abuse

Child abuse is illegal of course.  Never strike a child when angry.  Take a time out before you do something you will regret.  Children are much more vulnerable to injury than adults are.  You can be arrested and lose custody of your children for child abuse but I do not believe that spanking and child abuse are the same thing.    It can be, but that is where parents need to be careful and not discipline a child in anger.

The other extreme is also child abuse.  That is parental neglect.  The parents neglecting to discipline a child is an alternate form of child abuse.  The opposite of love is not hate…it is indifference or apathy.  To let a child do what they want is to show the child that no rules or no law is a good thing.  To “spare the rod”…or spare correction…is to spoil the child.  The Proverb is true that “a child left undisciplined disgraces its mother” (29:15) because even “the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Prov 3:12).


Love equals discipline; no discipline is equal to not loving them.  Love and discipline go hand in hand.  You can’t have love without discipline.  You must “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death” (Prov 19:18) because “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (Prov 22:15) and so “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die” (Prov 23:13).   Children, parents are not off the hook either because God tells us that He lovingly disciplines us too:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.” 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?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:5-11).

More about discipline: How to Discipline Children

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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