Five times in the book of Proverbs the writer encourages his readers to employ the rod in disciplining children (13:24, 22:15, 23:13, 23:14, 29:15). Though some contend that “rod” is used in a figurative rather than a literal sense, there’s no real evidence for that. Since a word is to be understood literally unless we have a good reason not to do so, it’s corporal punishment that’s being discussed.
A few observations:
1. There is a right way and a wrong way to think about and employ corporal punishment. We hear about the wrong way (and rightly so), but with usually no effort made to balance it with stories and accounts of the right way and how it has been beneficial. As a result, it becomes like the person who formulates their concept of air travel safety by only reading the headlines. I’m not aware of any headlines that speak of the safe arrival of almost three million passengers each day, so they end up with an extreme, false view of air travel safety. It’s my impression that this is the way many opponents of corporal punishment form and present their opinion. There certainly is a wrong way to employ corporal punishment, but there is also a right way—and that is what the Scripture speaks about.
2. Corporal punishment is one tool in the discipline toolbox—it is lazy and ineffective parenting to overuse it.
When our three children were growing up, we rarely spanked them and for only one reason—rebellion. They could and did do things wrong (and there were consequences), but only when they chose to defy our authority were they spanked. They all figured out quickly that rebellion was unacceptable and that was that.
3. It’s not fair or helpful to indiscriminately refer to all corporate punishment as “violence.”
In fact, it’s sophistry. Would anyone refer to a child receiving a vaccine as “violence?” After all, an adult is piercing their skin with a needle—how cruel! You could say the same thing about surgery. Our son underwent an appendectomy when he was ten. One adult anesthetized him, while another punched a small hole in his abdomen—how terrible—NOT! We wouldn’t have our wonderful son, his lovely wife, or three of our grandsons if they hadn’t done that. It’s all about context. Labeling all corporal punishment “violence” is careless, sloppy, and non-constructive.
The writer of Proverbs knows what he’s talking about in regard to discipline! Moreover, millions of parents over thousands of years and numerous cultures have lovingly followed his instruction as part of raising their children in the ‘training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).