Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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The rod in Proverbs is not metaphorical

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8 minutes to read It is increasingly fashionable to argue that corporal punishment is uncivilized and out of step with a God of love. It’s not, and it isn’t.

I’ve had the misfortune to be involved in several debates on this topic lately, with people who take their cues on parenting more from liberal blogs and behavioral research than from God.

For example, I was recently told:

Spare the rod, spoil the child actually means the rod as in God’s word, not a stick!

What is most notable about these sorts of claims is how difficult it is to get any kind of substantiation for them. Exegesis or word studies just aren’t on the radar. But as the saying goes, what is freely asserted can be freely denied.

Still, just because someone refuses to argue for their position doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. So are there any good reasons to think the rod in Proverbs 23:13–14 et al must be physical? Is there any reason it cannot be a figurative rod, representing discipline in general; rather than a literal rod, representing corporal punishment?

The Hebrew terms

The term “rod” in the Hebrew is shebet, which means, simply, a rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, sceptre or the like (see for example the NAS Hebrew lexicon). The meaning of the word is physical, just as the meaning of “stick” in English is physical; unless there is some contextual clue that a metaphorical sense is intended, or unless we have some overriding presupposition to preclude a literal interpretation, the presumption should be that a physical stick is in view.

Similarly, in Proverbs 23:13–14, the verb nakah is used twice; it means to strike or to smite. Again, this can carry a figurative sense—so 2 Samuel 24:10: David’s heart struck him after he had conducted the census. But when joined to a simple, physical noun like shebet, and absent any indication of metaphor or the like, there can be no doubt that what it means is a literal striking with a literal stick; as in Exodus 21:20:

When a man strikes [nakah] his slave, male or female, with a rod [shebet] and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.

Even the most determined liberal would presumably agree that this passage is saying precisely what it appears to be saying. Yet when it comes to the rod of Proverbs, which uses very similar phrasing, we are supposed to believe a metaphorical interpretation is best. Yet look at the language:

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you will beat him with the rod, he will not die. As for you, with the rod you shall beat him, and his life you will save from Sheol. Proverbs 23:13–14, LEB

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. ESV

Do not withhold discipline from a child; even if you strike him with the rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will deliver him from death. NET

Even the NLT, which gets a lot of stick (believe it; I went there) for being a paraphrase rather than a “real” translation, renders this passage as follows:

Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.


What proponents of a figurative rod need to do is demonstrate that the terms shebet and nakah are used together elsewhere in Hebrew literature—and particularly in the writings of Solomon—to refer, in the same kind of context, to something like the discipline they envisage; whether that is having God’s word impressed upon the child, or using timeouts, or whatever—rather than hitting with an actual stick. These are straightforward terms in Hebrew, with straightforward physical meanings—is there any evidence whatsoever that they are being used metaphorically here?

If not, the prima facie weight of evidence is squarely on the straightforward reading: that hitting one’s children with a physical stick is an appropriate way of punishing them.

Biblical parallels

In fact, there are obvious parallels between the rod of Proverbs and other passages in the Bible; but these illustrate a very hands-on, physical approach to discipline. Such an approach gels well with a physical interpretation of punishment in Proverbs, but clashes with the kinds of gentle, attachment-parenting discipline methods advocated by those who read the rod figuratively. Take for instance Deuteronomy 8:5, where God explains the purpose of making his people wander in the desert for 40 years:

And you should know with your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so Yahweh your God is disciplining you. Deuteronomy 8:5; cf. Proverbs 3:11

Or consider what Hebrews 12 says about discipline, starting with the cross:

For consider the one who endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood as you struggle against sin. 5 And have you completely forgotten the exhortation which instructs you as sons?

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or give up when you are corrected by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one whom he loves, and punishes every son whom he accepts.”

7 Endure it for discipline. God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there whom a father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, in which all legitimate sons have become participants, then you are illegitimate and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we have had our earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Will we not much rather subject ourselves to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a few days according to what seemed appropriate to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we can have a share in his holiness. 11 Now all discipline seems for the moment not to be joyful but painful, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who are trained by it.

Notice the emphasis on physical suffering, starting with the crucifixion of Jesus. The author of Hebrews tells his readers that they have not yet been disciplined to the point of shedding blood; yet should they not welcome even that, since Jesus was willing to take punishment on our behalf to the point of death itself?

Indeed, given that Hebrews 12:3 compares the rod of God against Jesus on the cross to the discipline we receive as sons, isn’t a denial of the appropriateness of physical punishment ultimately a tacit denial of Jesus’ representation of us? Yet without that representation, there is no salvation.

I don’t use the term “attachment parenting,” above, derisively; there are many good things that Westerners can learn from it (the value of co-sleeping, for example). But the attachment approach to discipline is not one of those things.

Other parallels

One of the interesting things about Solomon is how many wives he had. And one of the interesting things about his wives is that one of them was an Egyptian princess (1 Kings 3:1). Since the Egyptians had proverbs of their own, you will sometimes find some parallels in Proverbs to Egyptian wisdom literature. (Indeed, you will sometimes find village atheists ineptly claiming that Solomon copied from the Wisdom of Imhotep, as if this disproves inerrancy.)

With respect to the rod of Proverbs, there is an Egyptian proverb that says:

Boys have their ears on their backsides; they listen when they are beaten.

Though this statement is not directly mimicked in Proverbs, it illustrates that other cultures also had sayings about how to direct children’s behavior—and, most usefully, is explicit about the way in which to do so. I should be genuinely astounded if anyone were to try to take this proverb figuratively. But if it is similar to the proverbs of Solomon on the same subject—as it obviously is—why, then, should we take his figuratively either?

Moving the goalposts

Often, when I reason through this kind of evidence with people who oppose corporal punishment, they are forced to agree that their interpretation of Proverbs really was wishful thinking.

But then, they do something remarkable.

Rather than acknowledge that their views about corporal punishment were mistaken, they will start moving the goalposts. Here are three common ways this happens:

1. Proverbs isn’t talking about hitting children

The Hebrew word for “child” in Proverbs 23:13 is na’ar—and some anti-smacking advocates will try to claim that it refers only to youths around the ages of 14–24. This is flatly false. It is used of unweaned children in Exodus 2:6 and 1 Samuel 1:22, for example. In Isaiah 7:16 and 8:4 it refers to a child who is too young to choose good from evil, or speak his parents’ names. The word na’ar, rather like our English word child, can refer to a baby, or to a young man, or to anything in between.

2. We shouldn’t listen to what Solomon said, given how his children turned out

In effect, the argument is that since Solomon did use corporal punishment, and his children were rebellious, we should view that as a mistake on his part, and avoid making it ourselves.

It’s hard to know where to start in listing the problems with this, but here is a sampling:

  1. The Bible only tells us about three of Solomon’s children: his daughters Taphath and Basemath, and his son Rehoboam. Rehoboam was certainly no saint, but we know nothing about Solomon’s daughters. So this argument relies on a sample size of one—it is, at best, a gross assumption; at worst, an argument from silence.
  2. We know nothing about Solomon’s child-rearing practices. Did he practice what he preached? Going by Proverbs, we’d tend to think he was a chaste and faithful man—yet he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. As any Christian is acutely aware, knowing what to do is a far cry from doing it.
  3. Proverbs are not hard and fast rules; nor are they guarantees. It should be obvious that many children disciplined by corporal punishment don’t turn out well. Proverbs are guides; principles that generally hold true. Often they require discernment to properly employ (cf. Proverbs 26:4–5).
  4. At the most basic level, this is simply a denial of the inspiration of Scripture. The objection amounts to either, “God was wrong,” or “This part of Proverbs wasn’t written by God.” Needless to say, that is not a Christian response, but a faithless one. If your views on child-rearing are leading you to deny the authority of the Bible, then you are at best deeply confused and in need of repentance—and more likely not a genuine believer at all. Genuine believers conform their lives (including their parenting) to the Bible; not vice versa.

3. The rod is actually a shepherd’s crook

Quoth one interlocutor:

The metaphor of sheep and shepherds is far more in line with God’s overall message than beating a child.

But this simply will not fly. Once you admit that shebet is a physical rod—such as those used for shepherding—you cannot get anything except corporal punishment from Proverbs 23:13–14, because it specifically speaks of beating your child with it!

No doubt there is a certain poeticism and romantic appeal in the notion of the rod as a crook; and no doubt that is biblical—“your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). But to assume that being comforted by God’s rod precludes physical punishment, is not only question-begging, but really is tantamount to sticking your fingers in your ears when shown Proverbs 23:13–14 and singing, “Lalala, can’t hear you!”

(It is also a classic example of the insulated, urbanized perspective of most liberals. Does a shepherd never smack an errant sheep to move it back into line? Have you seen how roughly farmers will handle sheep? They are animals. They don’t care.)


There is no contextual evidence, nor literary parallels, to suggest the rod of Proverbs is figurative. There is a great deal of contextual evidence and parallels to indicate that the straightforward reading is correct: physically hitting children is a good and valid form of punishment. To deny this is ultimately tantamount to making Scripture subordinate to modern secular parenting ideals, denying the inspiration of the Bible.


Kirk Skeptic

I’ve known a lot of public school teachers, and all seemed to be able to tell which of the kids in their classes were spanked vs those who weren’t. I wonder how…

We do have a number of wacko cultists whose use of corporal punishment is nothing but brutal, causing libtard do-gooders in the state and its allegiant media to cast aspersions upon Christians to whom Proverbs stands as it reads.


Let me just say that to properly understand individual words in Hebrew the starting basis is the two letter root. Hebrew language Parent-Child root relationships is the starting point, not just looking at a Strong’s. Your way and others of establishing the Hebrew meaning of rod is severely flawed.

Here is an example of what I mean when it comes to getting at the true meaning of words.

Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your work to the Lord…”
Strongs has ‘Commit’ as commit , remove , roll…. etc.

But when we look at the two letter Hebrew root we find it is ‘gal’
גָּלַ. which is something piled up… a heap of stones.

When you search it’s use in the O.T. you find it’s use in Gen 31 where Laban and Jacob pile up stones as an agreement or covenant to be a witness.
Use of piling up stones was a common practice to indicate such things.

This is how you get at a word(s) meaning… not just going thru a Strongs.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

When you can make an entire comment like this without connecting it to any point of agreement or disagreement with the post it is attached to, you know you’re stuck on a hobby horse, and need to dismount to evaluate your priorities.

Have you heard of the etymological fallacy? Sometimes a rod is just a rod.

Dan Mowrey

I was just reading the commentary on the rod by John K Rosemond. He contends that it is the article preceding the noun that suggests its true meaning, whether physical or metaphorical. “a” refers to an actual stick, whereas “the” refers to a metaphor. Sine all of the passages referring to the use of the rod to discipline a child use the article, “the,” the true message is a metaphorical one. Your response would be helpful.


The rod clearly has metaphorical use- representing the word of God and authority, spiritual rebuke. Here are just a few verses out of many where it is used in this way:

Ezekiel 20:37 And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” KJV

Isaiah 30:31 “For through the voice of the Lord shall the Assyrian be beaten down, which smote with a rod” KJV

Isaiah 30:32 And as the LORD strikes them with his rod of punishment, his people will celebrate with tambourines and harps. Lifting his mighty arm, he will fight the Assyrians.

“The Lord’s voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall hear thy name” hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it” Micah 6:9

Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes Psalms 89:32

Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thine heritage, which dwell solitarily [in] the wood, in the midst of Carmel: let them feed [in] Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old. Micah 7:14

How are these not metaphorical uses? Also, there are Proverbs about using the rod against adults but pastors never preach about how we should apply those in our society. They just ignore them.

It’s interesting because someone actually received rebuke from God for supporting a friend who accidently struck his child in the face with the object he was spanking him with when the child tried to move out of the way and ended up in jail. The friend told him on the phone while he was still in jail that he did nothing wrong and was simply obeying the Bible by striking his child. After that phone call the Lord rebuked him saying no, you are spiritually wrong as to what the rod means in those verses, go back into the scriptures, the scriptures revealed it represents the word of God. His friend, when he walked home from the jail, had received the same revelation from God while in jail. Interesting because they had never known about that interpretation before.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I explicitly acknowledged that the rod can have metaphorical uses, so what is the purpose of your examples? What I proved is that Proverbs is not employing such a metaphorical use, as demonstrated by comparing with other similar passages like Exodus 21:20, and simply from the objections Solomon anticipates (“if you beat him he will not die” makes literally no sense under a metaphorical interpretation).

Your story about this fellow in jail sounds highly contrived, and even if I take it at face value, the better explanation is that he and his friend are self-deceived or lying because of guilt and a zeal for piousness that is not in accord with knowledge.


What do you say about the rod verses about adults? Do you support corporal punishment for adults based on these verses? I don’t know what you mean by contrived. They both were adament prior to the incident corporal punishment was necessary based on those verses and taught it to their church, counciled parents to do it and did it to their own kids until God corrected them that they were wrong and that the rod represents the word. Because the word of God is just as good for them for correction as adults. And that is how God corrects adults, through his Word, which can be harsh at times. No one taught them this, but other people have been shown the same which seems to lend credibility to it. Because the rod does represent the word in tons of bible passages. And back then in bible times they actually had rods which were huge to a representation in their houses. Striking a small child with it would likely result in internal injury. The rod is not random household items like spoons and belts. No one in those times would recognize the use of those as the use of the rod. And I don’t mean offense but your style of responses come across as a bit arrogant and self righteous. Just letting you know.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Do you not support corporal punishment for adults? The law of God is explicit that this is a just and good method of discipline:

If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, and the judges judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked. And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his wickedness, by number. Forty stripes he may give him, he shall not exceed; lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee. (Deuteronomy 25:1–3)

The term for beat here is the same as in Proverbs: nakah.

You haven’t given any argument that the rod in Proverbs is metaphorical. You have simply thrown out some red herrings and unsubstantiated assertions that don’t engage with the exegetical evidence at all. But the exegetical evidence is what matters.

If you have exegetical arguments to make, then I am willing to listen.


That was Old Testament law. So then how would you say we should apply the rod verses in proverbs towards adults in our society? Because you made a post about how it needs to be used against children, but not adults. This is very common in culture but doesn’t make a lot of sense to single out the verses regarding children. You obviously were not concerned about the ones regarding adults that I can tell.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

The Old Testament law is perfect, holy, righteous, and good (Ps 19:7; Rom 7:12), and whoever relaxes the least of it will be considered least in the kingdom of heaven.

This article is specifically responding to objections to corporal punishment for children. Corporal punishment for adults was not directly relevant to that objection. Yet if you read the article, you will notice that one way we can know that the rod is not metaphorical here is because of it being derivative of God’s notably physical discipline of his people, who are also notably adults.

You seem to be all over the place. You go after any trail of thought you can to avoid having to deal with the one thing that actually matters: the exegetical evidence for my position, and against yours.


We are not under Old Testament law anymore. If we were, we would be under animal sacrifice, not mixing fabrics, etc. I am pointing out that you are pretty much ignoring the Proverbs on using the rod on adults but teaching on the ones regarding children. This is what most Christians do on this topic- but it is not right to cherry pick Bible verses. Since the Bible says to use the rod on both adults and children, how would we as a society go about making sure adults in society are receiving corporal punishment? Because virtually none are in the Christian world? And why didn’t you address it earlier? Are you having pain inflicted on you when you act foolish like Proverbs says adults should receive? If your children are subject to it, why aren’t you when you do wrong?


I’m not avoiding what you are saying- you don’t agree with discernment I and others have that the rod verses about children are about discipling with the word of God. God’s word does require discernment and we simply do not agree in that regard. Discernment cannot always 100% be argued logically. It has to come from God himself.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

You do not have discernment. You have a feeling, which you are allowing to override what God actually says, then rubber-stamping it by claiming that it came from God himself. But God does not contradict himself.

The issue of adult corporal punishment is irrelevant to this article. I am not writing to magistrates who have the ability to change laws to reflect God’s. I am writing to parents who have the ability to change their households to reflect God’s ways. Btw, we are most certainly under Old Testament law where that law has not yet been accomplished (Mt. 5:17–18). But your belief that you can improve on God’s perfect model for righteousness is pretty strong, or you wouldn’t have posted here to begin with, so discovering that you are an antinomian is not exactly a surprise.


You’re being self righteous as you are in most of your writings and comments. You can call it a feeling- that doesn’t make you right. I have studied these verses and many rod verses referring to the word of the Lord-listened to sermons from pastors who have studied this topic- there is scriptural support for what I am saying. There is no reason it absolutely has to be literal striking when it is used so often as not that. It could be- that is why it has to be discerned. And you didn’t answer my question about why you made an article about how the rod is not metaphorical and completely excluded what it means for adults- this is the same pattern seen in the church when it comes to the rod. It’s cherry picking and it isn’t right. I think you’re just making an excuse that your article is for parents. You clearly show the same pattern as most that you don’t really care about the rod verses addressing adults, which I suspect is why you didn’t respond to my questions about why you are not struck when you do wrong, and almost no adults in Christian societies are despite the clear scriptures in Proverbs saying to use the rod against foolishness and lack of understanding and wisdom in adults, which many adults have, and all have at times.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

there is scriptural support for what I am saying.

So give it.

There is no reason it absolutely has to be literal striking when it is used so often as not that.

Except for the reasons I have already given that you have failed to even engage with, let alone refute.

And you didn’t answer my question about why you made an article about how the rod is not metaphorical and completely excluded what it means for adults

The irony of you calling me self-righteous is comical. Did I come to your blog to tell you how you should have written one of your articles? I wrote this article in response to specific disagreements from specific people on the specific issue of corporal punishment for children. If I were dropped into a hitherto undiscovered land and told to start a nation, you can rest assured that it would have adult corporal punishment written into its laws, no jails, no state schools, no state medicine, execution for capital crimes like murder, rape, bestiality and sodomy, etc etc. But apparently that isn’t the answer you are looking for either, so why do you keep harping on it?


I already gave you Bible verses where it is used to refer to the word of the Lord.
You don’t give reasons except it has to be taken literally- with no real reason why it absolutely has to.
I didn’t ask you what you would do if making up the rules of the land- I was asking you to address the problem of why our existing society and Christian church does not teach or apply the rod against adults. It doesn’t matter about a hypothetical society you would create.


Also- the fact that the original language uses “the rod” suggesting metaphorical use (word of the Lord). The word was referred to as “the rod” in those days as well, and the pages of God’s word were held together with a rod on each side.


This is one good article discussing the significance of the use of “the rod” rather than “a rod” in the verses prescribing the use of the rod for children. And he is not anti-spanking either, but also sees the use in Proverbs as metaphorical based on the wording matching the wording of when it is used metaphorically in other scriptures. Since there is both metaphorical use and literal use in the Bible, according to him, we should be applying the other rod scriptures as guidance to determine how to interpret these rod verses in Proverbs regarding children as such.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

You don’t give reasons except it has to be taken literally- with no real reason why it absolutely has to.

This is flatly false. Since you are not willing to engage honestly with what I have written, there is no need to continue the discussion.


You gave a reason that is not really a reason- that it is used literally in several Bible passages. But it is also used metaphorically as well- yet you give no credibility whatsoever to metaphorical use because it is also used literally. That is circular reasoning and when it comes down to it, circular reasoning is not really reasoning. I did give a legitimate reason because “the rod’ is metaphorical use which matches the metaphorical use of the other scriptures. Also discernment which you did not say you received discernment in your interpretation of these scriptures.


How is thinking your reasoning is circular reasoning false witness? That is my opinion. And how is it false witness when we are talking to each other and not someone else?

Susie jean

I think that you are correct when you say its referring to a literal striking of the child, but it’s so important also to remember that discipline refers to teaching someone as well. So, the proverb about discipline and teaching is very important and kindness and tenderness. It goes through some if those characteristics in the new testament and also the old covenant. It says bless the lord eternal oh my soul for his love always endures and his loyalty is to our sons who keep all his commands. Part of the discipline that its talking about in proverbs is teaching your child gods commandments, statutes and judgements. This is our job as parents. Sometimes, we have to spank, but mostly we teach of his ways and his laws.


Susan, what about the fact that the Bible says to use “the rod” vs “a rod” on children (most translation get this original language right though a couple may be mistranslated on a couple of the verses) doesn’t that suggest metaphorical use? Also, what about the fact that neuroscience research is finding that kids who are spanked (especially with objects and not just hands) but not abused show more fearful brain responses in several regions of the brain that abused children show too, but not nonabused nor never spanked children? Would God want us to harm children’s brain development? How would he not know that corporal punishment harms normal brain development? Scientists find that cortisol release in developing brains of children is harmful to healthy brain development. Corporal punishment has been found to release an abnormal amount of cortisol into the bloodstream that can last for several hours after corporal punishment is administered, and that is why neuroscientists look at these regions of the brain that are known to be affected by cortisol release in childhood. Also, studies have found that some children are emotionally disturbed by corporal punishment, even when carried out “with love” (in fact all these studies made sure the punishment was administered not out of anger but genuine concern for the child’s behavior) I was one of those kids. It really disturbed me that they would inflict pain on me knowing how terrified I was and then hugging me after, it just seemed so creepy. I can’t look at them the same because I could never tell an extremely scared child “I have to hit you” and then hold them down to do it while they are begging me not to like my parents did to me.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

This sounds a lot like the objection that people have to capital punishment because what if you execute an innocent person. A naive failure to grapple with the multivariate realities and priorities of a fallen world.


Actually, it isn’t because the studies showed that the majority of the children showed these heightened fear neural responses to things like pictures of someone being nervous regardless of how they said they felt about corporal punishment. That would mean corporal punishment harms the brain development of most who receive it, especially with objects but also with hands.

Susie jean

I dont think spanking is the only way to train a child either. So, if you didnt respond well to spankings as a child then dont spank your child. I was beaten as a child a few times. Not often,but it wasn’t a spanking, but an out if control beating and it did scare me. But I felt ashamed if myself after I was beaten and I felt like I let my mom down and I begged her not to tell anyone that she had to beat me like that bc I felt like others would blame me for being incompetent. So, if shed even hug me and take me back I felt so happy and reassured. I cant speak to the studies that were done about spanking but it’s my opinion that spanking was nothing like being beaten by someone iut of control. The fear level in that is way higher. You dont know when they’re gonna stop. I do believe that a person who’s been beaten is more likely to beat their child. I’ve had to teach myself different ways to communicate and to calm down and explain myself to my child so I dont lose my temper. I love my girls so, even though I’ve spanked them, I try very hard not to lose my temper and to use words to explain what I need them to do when it comes to chores around the house.

Susie jean

That beating happened when I was 9 years old and my mom lost her temper. We were very very poor and she was a single mom and had to work, so she asked me to mow the lawn and I didn’t know how and she didn’t know how to show me. So, I tried , but I couldn’t get it working and came back in but she started hitting me in the face and the head. Just slapping me all over and yelling that I was lazy and stupid. She knocked my glasses in the floor and was pulling my hair so hard and busted my lip. There was blood running down my face. This was abuse. This stuck with me for years making me afraid and ashamed someone would find out what a bad kid I was. Personally, that felt different than when I got a buty whipping when I didn’t clean the kitchen well enough at the age of 10. That was not nearly as scary bc i knew i didn’t do a good job and mom wasn’t out of control. I.just bent over and got my whipping and did a better job next time. I do believe personally that spanking is fine and even a butt whipping if you’re not giving it your all, but a parent needs to explain how to do something and be kind about it and gentle.

Susie jean

I also feel like but whippings should be scant in number when a child is older than 6 or so. I’ve spanked my kids with my hand when they were little to show that I mean business, but by 6 or so they’re old enough to know better so they will listen when you explain something to them. Kids that haven’t been taught to mind and listen dont listen to their parents words. They’re just ignoring the parent or teacher and they become impossible to teach. So, I think that’s what proverbs is referring to when it talks about stricking them with a rod. Its letting a child know, hey. You listen when your mother talks. I mean business. How are you as a parent supposed to teach or instruct when they’re acting like a fool running around. If a child gets all resentful bc they got a butt whipping when they were disrespectful to their parent, then I tell them too bad. God you to honor your parent and fools wont stand in God’s sight. The bible says that.

Susie jean

By the way, sorry about my phone. It’s been misspelling lots of words.
The jewish tradition doesn’t spank kids too much and they turn outback lot of successful people compared to the general population. So, i do think that proverbs is not only referring to a literal rod but also teaching in general. Mainly teaching God’s laws like clean and unclean meat, the sabbath and holy days and the ten commandments. Doesn’t it say that the law converts the soul. Let my law be a lamp stand to your feet and do not despise my law. It says my son, do not despise the correction of your mother. So, if a parent whips their child’s backside, that child should not despise their parent for that but should accept it and incline their ear to teaching.


But how is it right that because of someone’s age, it’s okay to hit them but not other ages? There is a righteous sense of injustice there because its considered abuse a certain age- but why? And should we just ignore the studies showing harm to brain development? Sorry, but I think that is a valid reason to be resentful, especially when you knew your parents knew it caused a lot of anxiety issues in you, which my parents knew it did for me.


I just don’t understand the lack of logic in this topic. I’m told as an adult woman, no matter what I do wrong, I never deserve to get hit. If I was upset about being hit, that would be totally justified and how I should feel, no matter how bad what I did was. But when I was a child, and more vulnerable and less accountable for my sins, I did DESERVE it- why? Why would it matter my age whether I deserve to get hit or not? That just seems to devalue children and make them less human because its okay to be violent with them, but not with adults no matter what they do wrong. It’s the same kind of logic that people use to justify abortion, that they aren’t deserving of the same protection from violence as adults are.


Maybe because I am not a neurotypical I don’t understand the logic behind this that most neurotypicals accept, that its okay to hit small children but not adults ( I am mildly autistic) to me its just so obvious that the principle has to be the same for both, otherwise you can’t really say an adult woman never deserves to be hit for any reason. There’s just a logical inconsistency there.

Susie jean

Well, I think if you can teach a small child to mind in other way that works better for you and your child, then do it. A woman isn’t under her parents authority anymore. That’s why you don’t hit a grown woman. In society, you get punished worse. You spend your life in jail or get beaten by the police in worse case scenario, but I took it to mean teaching your child at a younge age to listen to their parents words and obey them will save their life when they get older. I dont always take that to mean a literal rod, but it can be. It can be a small rod bc little kids dont always listen and you can’t explain it to them bc they dont understand English very well. But when they’re older. They understand what your saying. I babysat a little girl who was horrible for her own mom and she was 8 or 9 but her mom asked her to pick up her toys sbd she said no! She threw garbage in the floor and was destructive. Her mom couldn’t get her to cooperate bc when she was little her mom didnt teach her to listen and obey, so now this girl did not listen to correction. So, it’s hard to talk to this child and no body likes her or wants her around mot even her own grandmother. I’m being honest here that I get compliments on my kids behavior and they get asked to do things bc they’ve been taught to listen. I think that’s the main idea of this verse is to teach your child to listen and to obey when they’re little so they’ll obey when they’re older. If you find another way to do that besides a literal rod then by all means use that. As an adult, the consequences of being a fool are much worse than a butt whipping. The neurological studies about making a child afraid ste probably true. Nut children should be afraid to disobey the law of God. The fear of god is the beginning of all wisdom. So, fear is a good thing to some degree. Fear can make you say, I should listen and do the right thing. Especially bc us humans dont always do the right thing for the right reason. I dont think a child should be terrified of their parent.


I get what you’re saying, but the reasoning is that the woman doesn’t deserve to get hit period, not that she is not under anyone’s authority. So there’s still a problem of consistency in principle.


This increased fear response to general stimuli is also seen in the same degree in abused children (in those specific brain areas-the spanked children did not have some of the increased fear response in other areas of the brain, indicating corporal punishment affects brain development less than abuse but in some brain regions the same as abuse) and is not a good thing. This is associated with anxiety disorder problems and overreacting to situations with fear and anger towards other people.


When I say general stimuli, I mean things such as images of a nervous face- these increased neural responses seen in the brain scans are seen in both spanked but not abused, and abused children. It’s not considered a good thing for healthy development for people to find their environments more threatening than warranted. This is associated with increased violence, anger, and reactions to situations that are harmful to society in general. Also anxiety disorders.

Susie jean

That’s not true though that adults didnt get hit in ancient hebrew society. Corporal punishment was administered to adults. I’m in support of this in our society too. If a person refuses to learn as a child. In our society we do jail time or solitary confinement or fines, but that’s not always God’s way. I know that we can know christ’s mind by looking to the law. I hope that a person doesn’t end up needing punishment and can learn to do the right thing on their own. I know the bible says God doesn’t like to punish his people and it grieves him when we suffer.

Susie jean

Well, for children that have such anxiety and ste so afraid and nervous, they may only require a talking to and instruction. Maybe you were that kind of child. Some kids are. I was very wanting to be good most of the time. I think most kids are generally.

Susie jean

I think God wants us to internalize his laws and his mind and it’s his goal that we shouldn’t need strong correcting when we’re adults. I know one proverb says to be not as mules or horses which are held by bridles. I think that means that we should internalize to the best of our ability his laws and let him write them on our heart. That way, we dont need to be treated luke a brute animal that you have to control.
There’s also a proverb saying go to the ant you sluggard ir something and i.think that means that a lazy person should look at the ant. She needs no master to push her. She does her work on her own without a task master. From these types of scriptures I get the impression that as an adult its shameful if we have to be whipped and bridled like a beast if burden in order for us to do what we should.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

I’m told as an adult woman, no matter what I do wrong, I never deserve to get hit.

As an adult woman, do you believe everything you are told? Does Scripture say this?


No, but the Bible can’t touch on every single subject. Most believers I’ve met say this though. Even my parents who hit me as a child told me this too(!!)

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

OK, but the Bible does touch on this subject. It says a rod for the back of fools. It explicitly upholds corporal punishment as an ideal for adults, in lieu of dehumanizing and wicked concepts like prison.

Susie jean

I know that God is slow to anger and didnt punish the Israelites the way they deserved. He waited for long time. God doesn’t enjoy the suffering of the wicked and his goal is that every person repents and develops his character and mindset. God is willing to punish if he has to.

Susie jean

Psalm 103: 10 he has not dealt with us according to our sins nor punished us according to our iniquities.
This is an encouraging verse, not to make us sin more but make us to try to overcome and be more like christ is.

Susie jean

The reason I said those comments is that sometimes we can get the impression that God is a horrible, mean jerk who’s just looking for opportunities to be mean to others and kick them under the bus. I used to have that opinion bc.i grew up hearing that god is just waiting jump down your throat if you even habeba wrong thought. I get the fact that God won’t tolerate even the smallest sin in our lives, but it wasn’t really shown how God helps lead us.out of sin, it was just basically like. I’m God. I want perfection and if you’re not meeting my standards then you’re done. I almost turned to believe that the God of the bible was false bc it’s like who would want to spend eternity with a being like that. It would be like spending your life with Hitler. The people who got to go to hell were the lucky ones.


ANY use of the Rod is being called abuse by gentle parents. Most Christians today seem to have no opinion on how others raise their kids so long as they are doing. The so called, gentle parents on the other hand will not be satisfied until christians who incorporate the rod into a comprehensive parenting plan are in jail. Would love a way to argue on the offensive as well because we are constantly having to defend our position to the culture today even though their way is damaging. Thanks again for this article.


Have you considered Proverbs 22:8 “The one who sows injustice will reap disaster, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.” Let’s say it is a physical rod, would this make sense? If you destroyed his physical rod, would he discontinue being unjust? I think not. It seems like he will either die or something terrible will happen to him if he continues down his path of injustice.

All this highlights is a context in Proverbs where the rod is used symbolically and not literally. I think this opens the door to any of the Proverbs about the rod being symbolic. If not all of them, at least some of them, such as the ones that say “the rod of discipline”.


Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Jacob, I explicitly and repeatedly acknowledge in the article that context determines whether the rod is used symbolically or literally. The problem is the context of the passages under dispute dictates a literal interpretation. It is not wrong to see larger spiritual principle at play in them, but that principle is expressed physically in these instances.


Thanks Bnonn, this is a well argued and thought-provoking post, which is helpful as I begin my journey into parenthood. I do have some objections that I’d like to hear your thoughts on.

First, do you think this same reasoning can be used support beating up teenagers and adults? Because that also seems to be the clear teaching of the Scriptures (Prov 18:6, Prov 26:3, Prov 19:25). In fact, it seems like Scripture does not place an age-limit — which is contrary to what most modern-day spankers teach.

Second, do you think bruising or wounding children with the rod is permissible? Because that not only seems to be taught in Scripture (Prov 20:30), but seems like a standard practice associated with the rod in various other passages of the OT. This again seems to be contrary to the “no-bruising” requirement of modern day spankers. How can the charge of cherry-picking be avoided on both of these points?

Third, you make a fair point that na’ar does not exclusively refer to youth, but can you provide a positive case that Proverbs 23:13 is best interpreted as being limited to preteen children? Some translations, after all, do use “youth” or “young” instead for that passage (CSB, LSV, YLT, and NAB). That young men is often the subject (or audience) of Proverbs seems to corroborate this. The majority of times that na’ar is used seems to refer to a young man. If that passage only is meant to refer to a preteen child, then I’d be curious why taph or elem was not used instead.

Fourth, it seems best to see this passage at the very least as hyperbolic. Exodus 21:20 says striking someone with a road can lead to the death but Proverbs 23:13 says that it will not. The word strike (nakah) seems to be overwhelmingly associated with severe punishment or death, which is exceedingly more severe than a spanking and definitely not justified against a child. Additionally, God said of Solomon, “When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.” (2 Samuel 7:14) but this never happened. Likely because it meant to refer to natural consequences, not literal floggings.

Now I say all of this as someone who regards spanking as permissible but I just find the biblical teaching on this not as “clear” as some suggest. Proverbs 23 is indeed the best I have seen, but it still leaves me with several questions.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hi Gil, good questions.

1. I don’t think scripture justifies “beating up” anyone, but I certainly agree that it sets out corporal punishment as a standard method of discipline for foolishness that doesn’t rise to the level of serious crime.

2. Laws about corporal punishment certainly allow for wounding, though these need to be placed into the larger context of punishing adults. I don’t think it is necessarily wrong to bruise a child, but I think most people share the intuition that children do not deserve adult punishment.

3. I think na’ar should consistently be translated youngster. I am not sure why no English Bible does this. It seems like an obvious rendering which captures all of the ambiguity of the Hebrew, and serves well in every case I can remember it being used. It even includes the etymology of “young” (e.g., 1 Sa 1:24, “and the youngster was young”). I don’t see why anyone would take Pr 23:13 to refer exclusively to a preteen child.

4. I don’t think I buy the argument that we must treat Pr 23:13 as hyperbolic. Solomon is presupposing that you love your son and don’t want to hurt him—that’s the whole point of the proverb. Such a person is in no danger of killing his son. The proverb is addressed to the polar opposite of Ex 21:20’s out-of-control slave-master. I also don’t buy that smite requires us to interpret it as a severe (adult) punishment. Proverbs is using words with broad semantic ranges to encompass both children and youths, and allow us to accommodate our understanding of the level of punishment to their age. Neither am I persuaded that 2 Sa 7:14 was not fulfilled literally; I would take it as a promise which applied not just to Solomon, but to his sons in perpetuity. But more work would be required to make that case ;)


Your post and arguments I find are quite level-headed and I admit the conclusion makes me uncomfortable and challenges my view on corporal punishment in scripture but I can see the clarity in which passages like Proverbs 23:13-14 does seem to refer to a physical rod and physical discipline. Your most recent comment addressing Solomon presupposing that a parent loves their child and does not want to hurt them is a really important one.

In your post about moving goalposts, point number 2, sub-point 4, you say “Proverbs are not hard and fast rules; nor are they guarantees. It should be obvious that many children disciplined by corporal punishment don’t turn out well. Proverbs are guides; principles that generally hold true. Often they require discernment to properly employ (cf. Proverbs 26:4–5).”

I agree with this view of Proverbs, but I’m curious what you think these wisdom passages about physical discipline practically look like in a parent child relationship? How do these passages shape how you parent (I’m just assuming you have children)/how do you discern when physical discipline is necessary? Do you think this type of physical discipline is like a slap on the hand to keep a child’s hand away from a hot plate or is this something more or different?

With this perspective on Proverbs I also think it is possible to parent and discipline children without ever needing to use physical discipline/spanking to raise up children in the Lord and who respect their parents. I think the trouble with these passages is that people weaponise scripture for their own purposes, parents who do not know how to get their children to respect them try to beat them to submission and they have lost control. They use violence and fear of punishment as a way to rule and claim it is love. Their physical discipline turns out to be more about them than it is about the child.

Your article isn’t exactly about how passages like these are applied in real life situations but all this to say, I don’t think it’s clear as to what physical discipline really means or looks like based on the verses in Proverbs. And I don’t think a parent should focus their discipline on only Proverbs alone but to conduct themselves in the way of Jesus and to raise their children to be like Jesus with the fullness of scripture in mind. I wouldn’t encourage a parent to use physical discipline but I acknowledge there is wisdom here to be better understood.

Thanks for the post!