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Spoil the Rod, Spare the Child

16 October 2013, 08:03

Over the last two weeks during this debate on hitting children, the one phrase that pops up overwhelmingly as a Biblical doctrine is “Spare the rod, spoil the child”.  This misguided teaching is not even Biblical.  The phrase ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ comes from a 17th century poem by Samuel Butler titled Hudibras, a satire about the English Civil War and, ironically, a mockery of religious extremists and hypocrites (sound familiar?). 

To hear people like Errol Naidoo and Andrew Selley spouting a quote from an epic poem that mocked religion is, on the one hand, exceptionally amusing.  On the other hand, it is exceptionally frustrating to see such blatant misinformation from people who really should know their Bible’s better than these two supposed men of God.  In case you don’t believe me, here is the verse in which this famous non-biblical phrase stems from:

"Now if you'll venture, for my sake,
To try the toughness of your back,
And suffer (as the rest have done)
The laying of a whipping on,
(And may you prosper in your suit,
As you with equal vigour do't,)
I here engage myself to loose ye,
And free your heels from Caperdewsie.
But since our sex's modesty
Will not allow I should be by,
Bring me, on oath, a fair account,
And honour too, when you have done't,
And I'll admit you to the place
You claim as due in my good grace.
If matrimony and hanging go
By dest'ny, why not whipping too?
What med'cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil'd;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child."

Samuel Butler was almost certainly thinking of the Biblical verses about rods and children when he wrote his own famous line about them.

However, what Butler implied in between the lines of his satiric verse is believed to be more bawdy (sexual) than Biblical.

One thing is certain: what Samuel Butler was talking about in that part of his poem Hudibras is a bit different than what the pious authors of the Book of Proverbs had in mind.”

Not exactly what everyone thinks, is it?  The irony would be delicious if it wasn't so upsetting to those of us who actually know our Bibles and who are frustrated by supposed leaders blatantly misleading their congregations.  

 Let us now address the verses in Proverbs which apparently tell us to hit our children. 

 Proverbs 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Proverbs 23:13-14 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 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

 These verses have been taken literally by the Christian community for centuries, it is only in recent years that some very brave Christian’s have made an astute observation regarding these verses:  Jesus did not hit children.  Why then are Christian’s, who are supposed to live their lives according to the teachings of the New Testament and Christ’s message of love, utilizing the teachings of an Old Testament king who turned to paganism, to justify the physical abuse of their children?  The rod verses were figurative, many Christian Biblical scholars have proved it time and time again.  The rod referred to in these verses was the shepherds crook which was used to PROTECT and GUIDE the sheep.  Discipline, a derivative of 'disciple' meaning 'to teach/lead'.  The rod has been incorrectly construed as a weapon rather than a symbol of protection and guidance, and because of this, the word 'discipline' has become interchangeable with the rod, the majority of Christian's thinking discipline means hit/spank/smack/tap/whoop/beat etc.  Likewise, 'beat' found in the KJV was intended to mean 'constant' as in, "The sun BEAT down upon him", it does not mean to literally beat.

The most concise research undertaken on this topic has been performed by Samuel S Martin, a devout Christian Biblical scholar residing in Jerusalem.  His book “Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me:  Christians and the Spanking Controversy” is an in-depth Bible study into this very topic.  His book can be downloaded for free here:

 Martin, who clearly states he himself was raised with the supposed teachings of these verses, says in his book:

“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.”

Conventional Christian’s are in fact, by physically punishing their children, holding themselves above God and Jesus Christ.  They assume the role of God, rather than being a role model for Jesus.  They have appointed themselves judge, jury and executioner (God’s role) rather than leading by the example Jesus set for us. 

 Galatians 6:1-3  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

L.R Knost, a well known Christian author whose book “Gentle Parenting:  A Christian Perspective” due to be released sometime next year, put it quite nicely:

“It is not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world.  It is our job to raise children who make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”  If that is not a Christ-like line of thinking, I don’t know what is.  

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