Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is Spanking Biblical? Part 2: Hebrews 12

Before I delve into this passage, I would like to point out that discipline and punishment are not synonymous. And contrary to popular Christian thinking, discipline and spanking are not synonymous.

I have posted on this difference before, but I would like to review the difference between discipline and punishment briefly. "Discipline" in the Bible comes from the Greek word "paideia." "Paideia" was actually a common term when the New Testament was being written. According to, "paideia" meant the following to the early Greeks: "the process of educating man into his true form, the real and genuine human nature." The Blue Letter Bible Lexicon defines "paideia" as "the whole training and education of children." Other ways that the term "paideia" has been translated are "chastening," "nurture," "instruction," and "chastisement." Another definition of "chastening/paideia" by Vine's Expository Dictionary is that chastening "denotes the training of a child, including instruction;" hence, "discipline, correction," "chastening," Eph 6:4, RV (AV, "nurture"), suggesting the Christian discipline that regulates character; so in Hbr 12:5, 7, 8 (in ver. 8, AV, "chastisement," the RV corrects to "chastening"); in 2Ti 3:16, "instruction."

Discipline involves training, nurturing, correcting (chastising). It does not involve inflicting pain on a child in order for him/her to learn; this is punishment. Here is another difference between discipline and punishment from Danny Silk's book Loving Your Kids On Purpose: “Discipline works from the inside out, while punishment tries to work from the outside in. The parent who is bringing learning to a child is not going to try to control the child, but is skillfully going to invite the child to own and solve his or her own problems.” (160) 

Here is a further illustration of the difference between the two from a blog I read recently: "There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior. Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again." The problem with punishment is that it really only works on outward behavior. A child who is punished may be very obedient to their parent's commands, but they still struggle with inward sin. Worse yet, they will likely become sneaky, afraid to share their struggles with sin with their parents because they know that, like a  perfectly fair judge, their mom or dad will always meet out a punishment.

The focus of discipline, on the other hand, is to nurture children. It is to teach them, actively, how to behave correctly. It maintains relationship while still upholding a standard. It is grace-based; it is relationship-oriented. It does not pit the parent against the puts the parent on the same team as the child.

Judging by these thoughts, would you label a spanking as "discipline," or as "punishment."

I urge you to carefully consider this difference.

Now, if you would like to see an excellent example of discipline vs. punishment, read Hebrews 12. I urge you to read Hebrews 10:32-39;11-12 several times before continuing to read my post. Here is what my husband and I noticed when we were studying this favorite passage of Christians who advocate corporal punishment of their children.

  • Who was this book/passage written to? Believers. What was going on in their lives? They were enduring/about to endure some heavy persecution for their faith.
  • Never once is it stated or implied in these chapters that "you better behave, or else God is going to discipline you!"
  • Hebrews 12 was intended to be an encouragement to these early believers. Would you be encouraged if someone told you that "you better not sin, or else God is going to come down hard on you, and punish you?" The book of Hebrews, in fact, is all about the great High Priest, Jesus, who died for their sins, so that they would not have to endure punishment for said sins.
  • Is Hebrews 12 prescriptive or descriptive? Is it showing how God deals with His children, or is it giving us commands as to how to raise our children (I am not saying it is not a model for us; what I am saying is that it would be wrong to teach this passage as a parenting text)? 
  • If you use this passage as a justification/prescription for spanking, where are those three, four, or five steps that Christian parenting experts tell you you should take when you spank (explain the reason beforehand, hug afterward, don't use your hand, etc.)? If those steps are so essential to take so that the spanking is done in love, why aren't they in this passage, or even in the Bible for that matter?? I realize that many of these experts use the phrase, "and scourges every son whom He receives" as justification of their idea that we, too, should spank our children...but if you are going to follow this passage as a law, you had better "scourge" then. This would mean that you would use a very large whip, and you would beat your child with it until he/she bleeds! "Scourge" does not mean a few swats with a stick. 
  • Jesus was scourged for our transgressions. He is the perfect Son whom the Lord received. Because of Him, we are all able to be received by God as sons. At the beginning of Hebrews 12, the author urges readers to consider Jesus, who endured hostility from sinners, so that they do not become weary (vs. 3). The author goes on to point out that they have not had to shed their blood yet, as Jesus did, in their struggle against sin (better translated "sinful men")! The author is clearly encouraging them to press on through the persecution, knowing that Jesus had also endured the same harsh treatment.
  • Read Hebrews 12, inserting the word "punishment" every time you see the word "discipline." Is this comforting to you? Because this passage WAS intended to be comforting. Now, insert the word "train" into every place you see the word discipline, because this is what paideia actually means. Is that comforting? It should be!
  • Point of Hebrews 12: You are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who trusted God in all circumstances. Do the same! As you go through persecution and hardship, realize that God is using it to train you, because He wants you to mature; you are His sons.
  • Notice that when the author of Hebrews refers to parents who discipline their children, he contrasts these parents with God. They disciplined "as seemed best to them." This actually connotes parents who discipline for their own selfish reasons...God does not ds
  • Finally, did you know that the Greeks also had several different terms they used when referring to children. Here are two that I would like to point out: "Teknon" means child, and is often used to describe believers, who are all children of God, and "Huios," which means son, and connotes maturity. "Huios" is the term that Hebrews 12 uses when it illustrates that God deals with us as "sons." This passage is talking about how God trains mature believers. Interesting, considering that somehow this passage has been construed to mean that we should take a small switch or wooden spoon, spank our small, immature children with it, and then have them give us a hug in order to train them.
Friends, please ask yourselves if this passage really teaches spanking. Read it over and over again! In a further post, I will talk about how life and hardship does indeed train our children, but first I wanted to address the issue of this passage and whether or not it is commanding parents to spank their children.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully reasoned. And great to get that insight into the Greek language being used. Thank you.