I hear it in conversation almost as often as I scroll past some cheesy graphic on Facebook proclaiming;
“Spare the rod, spoil the child.”
“I believe in Biblical discipline!”
“In my day…. (Insert some line about whipping, switches, spankings, getting the belt, etc etc etc.) ….Share if you agree!”
And the list goes on, and on, and (in typical Facebook fashion) on….
I would like to state that this post is a bit two-fold and really serves more as an intro into a deeper discussion on how we interpret and apply Biblical texts while using the the concept of biblical discipline as an avenue to get there, without failing to address what I personally see as a few issues with the typical mode of corporal punishment administered by parents in regards to how God deals with us. I would also like to be clear that I am in fact a parent in training and would never tell someone how to raise their children. Honestly I would advise you to never take someone’s “advice” on parenting that still currently has children in the home, nor do I think every parental approach is applicable to all children.
Here we go…
To start, we need to stop saying we “biblically” discipline our children. The real fact of the matter is that you absolutely do not “biblically” discipline your children and if you do then you should be charged criminally with child abuse. We throw the term “biblically” around as some form of strange justification about how we interpret and apply scripture which ultimately neglects the real intent of the text and fails to point us in the same redemptive trajectory that scripture is on. The scriptures are not static and quite often what is “biblical” is actually not “Christian”, but more on that latter. The truth is that the passages in the scriptures on discipline are culturally rooted in a time when beating children was not only the norm but promoted as righteous before God. What we often mean by “biblical” discipline, spanking a child on the buttocks with an open hand, is not what Old Testament texts such as Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:13-14 are calling for.
The model found in the Proverbs calls for striking a child with a rod or whip on the back or sides as to hit the unprotected internal organs. If you did this today you would most likely find yourself in jail or at the very least find DHR standing on your doorstep with an order to remove your children from your care. I do not know anyone who would promote this type of abuse, much less believe that it was acceptable and righteous before God. Yet why do we have these verses woven into our body of Holy Scriptures?
Remember how I said not everything that is “Biblical” is actually “Christian”? I know how unnerving that statement can be, but it is true. The Bible is a multi-vocal body of documents that has always been on an upward trajectory following an ever changing understanding of who God is. Not every verse carries with it the same level of revelation and portions are going to have to be understood in their cultural context. This is why we must allow Jesus to escort us into the Old Testament. If we are not careful we are quite capable of walking away from the text with an image of God that looks nothing like the one whom Jesus revealed to us. This can be tragic and the disastrous effects of such an approach to scripture have been widely seen in days past; The Crusades, African American enslavement, Native American Genocide, and the literal beating of kids until very recently in human history, just to name a few. All “Biblically” supported endeavors but not “Christian”. Unsurprisingly those that are the most tenacious about insisting the Bible is a flat document with every verse carrying the same weight of importance will find themselves actually moving beyond the “Biblical” model of discipline by not adhering to such a primitive, and ultimately evil, treatment of children. The way we see scripture has to change because of the way we see Jesus. He is the greater revelation and we must interpret the scriptures through his lens.
Well folks, that is all for part one!
Next post we will discuss the implications that comes with believing that God maintains the same form of disciplinary action that is promoted in the proverbs and even later taught by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews along with how my wife and I approach disciplining our son.
Through whom, to whom, and for whom all things exist.