Christianity,  Culture

I Spank My Kids

SpankSpanking has become quite the controversial topic these days and has even become somewhat of a taboo in certain quarters. For this reason, Nancy French has a column in National Review Online in which she boldly declares “I Spank My Kids.” Her declaration is provoked by a report from Texas about a woman who was convicted of a felony for spanking her child. No belt was used, and no bruising occurred. Nevertheless, this woman lost custody of all three of her children and was sentenced to five years probation. After the trial, the judge scolded the mother saying:

“You don’t spank children today. In the old days, maybe we got spanked, but there was a different quarrel. You don’t spank children. You understand?”

This judge’s shaming of this mother indicates that the spirit of the age has gotten crosswise with the spirit of the Bible when it comes to spanking. Even though the Bible affirms corporal punishment (Proverbs 13:24), spanking has become a no-no, and parents who do spank are feeling the pressure to keep it secret lest they be accused of child abuse.

There is even a debate among some evangelicals about the ethics of spanking. This debate tends to focus on the proper application of the various “spanking” texts from the book of Proverbs.

Proverbs 13:24 He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.

Proverbs 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Proverbs 23:13-14 Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod, And deliver his soul from Sheol.

Proverbs 22:15 Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Scholars such as William Webb argue that Christians have to go beyond the Bible’s affirmations of corporal punishment to a better ethic that would forbid it (see here and here). But I think that Webb and his ilk have misunderstood the Proverbs when it comes to physical discipline.

For a better account of the Bible’s teaching on corporal punishment, I would recommend a short article by Paul Wegner titled, “Discipline in the Book of Proverbs: ‘To Spank or Not To Spank?’.” In this article, Wegner shows from scripture several different levels of discipline, one of which is corporal punishment (#6).

Level 1. Encourage proper behavior: A wise parent encourages a child to behave properly (Prov. 1:8-9; 2:2-5; 3:13-15; 4:7-8).

Level 2. Inform of improper behavior: A wise parent is proactive and addresses certain issues before the child might be confronted by them (Prov. 1:10-15; 3:31-32).

Level 3. Explain the negative consequences of sin: A wise parent points out the negative consequences that lie along the path of life (Prov. 1:18-19; 5:3-6).

Level 4. Gently exhort: Wise parents will, on an ongoing basis, advise and exhort their children against sin that can easily become a pattern and encourage them to use wisdom (Prov. 4:1-2, 14-16).

Level 5. Gently rebuke or reprove: The wise parent knows when to use rebuke properly (Prov. 3:12; 24:24-25).

Level 6. Corporal punishment that does not cause physical harm: A wise parent knows when to use corporal, non-abusive punishment (Prov. 19:18; 13:24; 23:13-14; 29:15).

Level 7. Corporal punishment that causes physical harm: The book of Proverbs does not suggest that parents use this technique for discipline, but that serious sin can lead to serious punishment (Prov. 20:30; 10:31).

Level 8. Death: The book of Proverbs also does not include this in the realm of parental discipline, but in the realm of consequences meted out by government or society’s leaders (Gen. 9:6; Prov. 19:18).

This article does not say everything that needs to be said about physical discipline, but it does establish a biblical basis for it. Despite the pronouncements of the judge in Texas, parents who love their children will make use of non-abusive physical discipline (Prov. 13:24). This is what the Bible teaches, and we should be vigilant not to let the spirit of the age make us think otherwise.


See also Andreas Köstenberger, God, Marriage and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2010), pp. 142-46.


  • Sam

    I was homeschooled my whole life. Raised in a Southern Baptist home where we didn’t read Harry Potter or listen to pop songs. I was spanked as a child (not extremely often, but enough to remember clearly).

    You know how many scars I have to show for it?


    As someone who has participated in children’s ministry for a few years, I can tell you that the cost of letting strong willed kids do what they want to for the first 14 years of their life is much, much higher than a red bottom.

  • Jacob Allee

    As a veteran youth pastor I know first hand what raising children with no discipline looks like by the time they get to be teenagers. Not my kids. Spanking is appropriate at times and it corrects behavior quite well in my home.

  • Michael

    Spanked my little girl last night with a Tweety Bird paddle after she stayed up until almost midnight. Afterward, gave her a big hug and a big kiss and told her its Daddy’s job to see to it that she becomes a fine Christian woman. And when she woke up this morning, that’s exactly how she was acting.

  • Michael

    It seems to me that spanking is only periphery. The real issue seems to be a culture that, through perverse understanding of individual freedom, simply despises any form of authority, particularly Biblical authority.

  • Ariana N.

    This article makes me ashamed to call myself a Texan. This judge should be ashamed of herself. I do spank my child and will spank the next one as well. I was spanked as a child and consider myself better for it. I would rather my child cry over a few spankings now (me too sometimes!) than to experience the excruciating consequences of an undisciplined life later down the line.

  • Allen Smith

    Thanks Denny for good entry. I’ve thought many times of writing a book: How Spanking Helped My Daughters Use the Potty.

    This would go against all contemporary physiology, even get me arrested in some parts of the world, but it’s true! Two of my girls have had the hardest time going to the potty and it turns out that it is more of a heart issue of rebellion than a physiological issue of ability. So in a last resort effort to encourage our four year old daughters, after years of positive reinforcement, constant reminders, and panty-less messy days, we’ve had to spank our girls to the potty.

    So a the loving application of the “board of education” to the “seat of knowledge” has helped our girls become wiser and excise more self control.

  • Roger

    How “progressive” of the Judge and William Webb to improve upon God’s Word!
    I became a believer while in the Army and my oldest daughter was a toddler. I can remember that for years she was spanked with a little wooden paddle (very light and flimsy, but effective) that was given to us by our first Bible Study leader. On one side it had a list of Scripture verses regarding why you discipline children, on the other a list of consequences when you don’t. She not only survived, but has turned out quite well – High School Valedictorian, Summa Cum Laude undergrad, 4.0 Grad School, and a productive member of society.

  • Dexter

    “This is what the Bible teaches, and we should be vigilant not to let the spirit of the age make us think otherwise.”

    We should also be wise and discerning and get a good christian lawyer. LOL

  • Cindy Bailey

    Society has, as in many other areas reacted to the abuse of a few(meaning the perpetrators) dictate thought. The bible supports corporate discipline….but as your article indicates spanking is not the “first” option. Parents too often are so wound up in their own selves they do not “react” to the behavior until it is at it’s peak and their “dander” is up! Thus they spank out of uncontrolled anger and not metered discipline for a clear infraction to a well defined behavior.

    Thanks for the post

  • Brett Schlee

    On “Level 8: Death…”, what about the final step of discipline Jewish parents were required to take when all others failed? (Deut 21:18-21) Is this considered a legal penalty? It definitely involves the parents as plaintiffs/witnesses.

  • Brian

    watch super nanny. there are plenty of ways to raise well disciplined and well behaved children without having to beat (spank) them into submission. And I would expect such a scholar as yourself to know better than to take such Proverbial terms as “rod of discipline” literally… shame on you all.

    p.s., i am not against spanking per se, but to me, the need to spank often says more about the parents need for control than that of the child.

  • Scott Piland

    Dr. Burke,

    As a recent Southern grad, I definitely appreciate this reference to a more balanced approach by Wegner on the issue of physical discipline. With folks like Ted Tripp visiting and being promoted around campus, and the inclusion of Shepherding A Child’s Heart in several practical courses at Southern, I found myself a bit befuddled after reading Tripp’s book, since it seems to be a myopic, ‘spanking-is-the-only-way model’.

    Thanks again.

  • Donald Johnson

    Webb’s book on Corporal Punishment is now out. He points out 7 ways that pro-spankers go beyond the Bible’s text. They go beyond it in a good way, but still go beyond what it says on the text on the page. Webb’s argument is that they are GOOD to go beyond it and should go beyond it even more. It is a good thing as they have partially caught the redemptive spirit of the text and gone beyond it themselves.

    But do not think what pro-spankers now advocate is found directly in the Bible, as it is not.

  • brittany

    i spank my children andd i do not care what anyone has to say about it its either you put thier butts in line now or when they grow up the will probly be in all sorts of trouble and end up in jail and to the judge well she is just plain ignorant everyone spanks their kids some just dont want to admit it and some are just judgmental i fell like we gave birth to our babies and its our choice on how and when we disipline our children

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