Investigating the Bible: Let’s instead say, ‘Spare the rod; school the child’


The toddler threw a tantrum. His father gently carried him to an empty corner of the dining room so he wouldn’t hurt himself. However, the tike began spitting on the linoleum floor. This continued for several minutes and then silence. His father asked: “Are you ready to come out now and behave?” The child yelled, “No! I’m waiting for more spit!”

Children can be exasperating. But what about the adage, “spare the rod, spoil the child”? This is not a quote from the Bible. It was coined by poet Samuel Butler in 1660, as a line in his satirical poem. However, the actual Bible verse has the same hard message: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24, English Standard Version; used unless noted). This is not advocated today. Spank your child with a stick in public now and someone from our state’s child protective services may soon pay you a visit.

One Internet blogger explained that the meaning of the word “rod” in ancient times was more than punishment. Shepherds used it to guide their sheep and at times to protect them from attack. So the blogger concluded this verse means whoever fails to guide their child hates them. This softened interpretation doesn’t hold up. In another place of Proverbs, the meaning is clarified: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13). Can the Bible be trusted if it appears to give outdated advice? Yes, if we practice an essential method to study the Bible.

Use all the Bible. The scriptures are separate books and letters written over more than 2,000 years. Any important message will be supported by the whole Bible. Taking action on the advice of one verse is a sure way of misinterpreting the Bible. The “Reader’s Digest” gave a lighter illustration of a verse used out of context that was posted in a dentist’s office: “…open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” (Psalm 81:10, King James Version).

Old Testament teachings followed today should be supported by the New Testament. For example, the Old Testament law from Moses declared, “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be surely put to death.” (Leviticus 20:10). The New Testament taught differently. The Pharisees brought Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery and threw her on the ground in front of him, saying she must be stoned to death, but he “…said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (John 8:7). While the earliest manuscripts exclude this story, scholars agree that the incident happened.

The two New Testament passages which specifically offer guidance on parenting emphasize compassion. “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21), and “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

(Ephesians 6:21). A believing parent guided by God will exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22).

The Old Testament also presented a more gentle perspective of parenting. Solomon, the author of Proverbs, described his father and mother as adoring parents: “When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments and live.’” (Proverbs 4:3-4). And later he wrote, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6). The adage from the whole Bible on discipline is: Spare the rod; school the child.

David Carlson Pastor (yes, that is his last name but not his profession) is an Oregon, Polk County resident and graduate of Bethel Theological Seminary.



First: Do you know ANYTHING about child psychology? No. Research for the past 3 decades (not what you’re preaching from your soapbox) shows the healthiest children are reared by parents who catch them doing something right and praising them for it, giving examples, and NOT ignoring the behavior. The example of the boy in the corner is a good example of ‘time out’ when children are out of control. The rest is garbage.
Second: You say, in the last few words of paragraph, “…scholars agree that the incident happened.” This is insanity: a) no one can prove Jesus existed; b) no one has any of his words written on anything; c) the Bible has been amended from the late 100s CE to the invention of the printing press - oh, yes, then King James I did his own translation and added his personal agendae. Change the word ‘scholars’ to ‘preachers’ and it’s acceptable because we know preachers are not scholars unless they specifically went to, say, Princeton, and earned a PhD.

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable