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Is Spanking Biblical?

  • Tom Frye Founder, Family First
  • Published Sep 29, 2014
Is Spanking Biblical?

We freely talk about the importance of discipline in the context of our finances, health, or work ethic, but when it comes discussing the discipline of our children, we often shirk away. Parental discipline, it seems, has become just as polarizing an issue as religion or politics.

In recent weeks, with the Adrian Peterson story being plastered all over the media, the debate over spanking has, once again, been the topic of a plethora of news reports and water cooler debates. One such report by Matthew Paul Turner went so far as to say: “his alleged crimes didn’t happen simply under the guise of ‘parenting’ but rather ‘Christian parenting’” ( Adrian Peterson and the false gospel of spanking). Mr. Turner went on to say, “Today, the most notable proponents of spanking are American evangelicals. They not only preach the gospel of corporal punishment, they also impart messages that lay the foundations for abuses against children and the protection of such abuse by our legal system.”

Though I personally believe, after seeing photos on the news of Peterson's son, that his actions went well beyond a spanking on the behind and into abuse, I do think it is important we do not go as far as Mr. Turner in labeling all forms of spanking as "abuse against children.” Allegations of abuse can understandably stir the emotions of the anti-spanking crowd, while at the same time, create opportunities for defensiveness among those in favor of this specific form of discipline. It is important, however, that we keep our emotions in check and remember the reason for the debate: the well-being of our children.

I am very familiar with the tension this topic can create, as it was also a subject of many discussions in our household during our early years of parenting. My wife Lisa and I had two totally different life experiences. She never recalls a time in which she was spanked, while I was spanked regularly and always in anger. So how is such an issue reconciled? As Christian parents it starts with scripture.

Spanking is often referred to as “corporal punishment,” but as we began to truly examine scripture two things become noteworthy. While “the rod” of correction is mentioned no less than four times in Proverbs (Proverbs 13:24, 22:15, 23:14, 29:15), the word “punishment” is never associated with it. However, the word “discipline” is used in three of the four referenced verses. I believe this is a clear, yet often overlooked, distinction.

Though frequently used interchangeably, the words discipline and punishment are, in fact, quite opposite. Discipline, whether in diet, finance or correction is about betterment, while punishment equates to getting even, settling the score and ultimately separation. Through his sacrificial death Jesus became our punishment. The debt has been paid, the score has been settled (Galatians 1:4, 2:20)

Our job as parents is to model God’s love to our children. They should know they can trust us and that we always have their best interest in mind. 1 John 4:16-18 (NIV) puts it this way, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (emphasis added).

After examining the scriptures, I have come to believe that the debate over spanking is not one of “right or wrong” but rather of “appropriate or inappropriate.” Appropriate discipline (in any form) is rooted in love (Hebrews 12:5-6). So how and when is spanking an appropriate form of discipline?

  • A spanking (or any form of discipline) should never be delivered in anger. This may require a “time out” for the parent to cool down so that loving discipline can take place.
  • Loving discipline requires both an explanation of the offense and consequence, and the affirmation of our love for our child.
  • A spanking should be reserved only for an act of willful defiance.
  • Spanking is not always the best form of discipline. It is important for us as parents to know our children and therefore understand the method of correction which best redirects our children’s behavior.

It is often tempting to succumb to the “world’s wisdom” in many areas of our life, but it is imperative that we turn to scripture as our ultimate source of guidance. Disciplining our children is one of the most difficult, yet important jobs we have as parents, but as Hebrews 12:11 (NLT) reminds us: “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.”

Tom, Lisa and their family live in rural Indiana where they home school their three children. Tom is a singer/songwriter, worship leader, speaker and author. He and his family have an active music ministry, known as the Frye Family Band. The Fryes recently founded Family First, a ministry to strengthen families. The Frye Family Band’s new book, 101 Devotions for Busy Families, and their new EP “Alive for the First Time” are available at

Publication date: September 29, 2014