Posts Tagged ‘grace-based discipline’

Hi, Folks! About to head out on vacation here, but just wanted to pop in and share a few links about an author I’d like to read!

Some of you may have heard of him, Samuel Martin. I just learned about him through the GCM board. A true, modern-day Biblical scholar! I’d really love to see his writings hit mainstream, as I believe they’d really mark a turn in how we interpret the rod verses and treat children, as a culture.

I have not read him myself, so I’m not sure what other topics or ideas he represents. But, here are a few links to get you and me started. Two of these links contain excerpts of his writings. Samuel Martin on Biblical/Hebrew interpretations of child discipline and spanking:


Happy Summering!!



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God teaches us to comfort each other, by comforting us. We teach our children to comfort themselves and others, by comforting them, answering their cries, and showing them we are reliable. 

We also must remember, when correcting our children, that it is God’s gentleness which leads us to the knowledge of truth (2 Timothy 2:25), and His goodness which leads to our repentance (Romans 2:4). 

Our children’s view of their Heavenly Father is strengthened by their view of loving parents, so we must be sure we’re striving to mimic our Perfect Father. And we must make sure we have a Biblical understanding of the nature of children.

The Nature of Children

All have sinned
All are born with sin nature
Babies do not yet commit sin
Children sin less than adults

While it is true that we are all born with sin nature, (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23), …babies do not yet commit sin.  There are three verses usually sited to show that we are born sinNING, but note the alternate interpretation following each:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, [into a home full of iniquity], And in sin my mother conceived me [my mother was a sinner].” (Ps 51:5)

Babies have sinful parents, & are brought up in homes where sin takes place.

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” (Ps 58.3)

Infants cannot speak, so neither can they speak lies. Figuratively, then, the children of the wicked are doomed from birth because of the wicked homes they’re born into. We are born with a sin nature, but babies cannot yet sin.

Proverbs 22:15, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

The verse does not say, “Foolishness is bound tightly around the heart of a child”. However, that is the common interpretation. It says, “Foolishness is BOUND [not loosed] IN [inside] the heart of a child…” The heart is not bound. The foolishness is bound. It’s not yet loose. It’s easily driven out, at this young age, before it is loosed. 

We can clearly see this play out in the world. Adults become caught up in far worse sins than children. Left to our sin natures, & away from God, we sinners get worse & worse with age. Those saved at a young age fare far better in life, than those saved later.

Israelite children were not held accountable for their sins until after the age of twenty, because Scripture says they were not yet able to choose good over evil. 

(God said:) “Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” (Deu 1.39) 

This coincides with the modern scientific studies stating that the human brain is not fully mature until around age 25. Up until then, the centers controlling impulse have not fully developed. This is not to say that children younger than 20 cannot sin, or don’t know how to resist temptation at all. Obviously, the older the child, the more responsible for their choices they can be. But, this is all part of the maturing process. 

“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking [unable to discern good from evil]. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”
(1 Corinthians 14:20 ESV)

Infants are not evil. Paul uses the innocence of infants as an example of how innocent we should be.

Matthew 8:2-4, “And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus uses the innocence of children as an example of the humility He wants to see in us.

I Corinthians 13:11, When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Paul expresses children’s lack of understanding. However, Jesus uses children as an example of how we should enter the kingdom of God. Children misbehave because they do not understand, not because they are being sinful.

We are taught to speak the truth in love, and are given instructions on how to discipline each other within the Body of Christ. If this is how we are to treat one another in the Body of Christ, does it not also apply to youths? In the Kingdom, there is neither male, nor female, Greek, nor Jew, slave, nor free. Paul warns Titus, “don’t let anyone despise your youth.” If we are to treat each other with these guidelines, as adults (who, CAN be held accountable for knowing how to choose good over evil), how much more are we to uphold these principles with our children, who can’t yet maturely choose or be held accountable, and are held up by Jesus as the example of Kingdom people?  Have authority over them, yes. But, combine this with the golden rule, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 

What about children too young to talk? Knowing now what we do about the nature of children as less sinful than adults, less able to know how to choose good, and true examples of Kingdom people, we can erase all preconceived notions about children being evil, or doing things in defiance.  We need to see the world through their brand new eyes, understand the world as they do (with their very limited understanding), so we can more effectively guide them. 

Baby crying in the night: Out to manipulate you, or truly in need of comfort? Toddler touching the stove after being directed not to: Sinfully disobeying you, or testing the world to try and understand what happens?  (I might add here, the area of the brain capable of creating deceit, is completely non-existant at this age.)

What we can do instead is recognize their true need (comfort, understanding), our God-given instincts (hormones which cause a mother to answer her baby’s cries, and which repel her from harming her children), and be imitators of God in Christ. (Psalms says he hears our cry, he answers from his holy hill, he does not leave us or forsake us, he comforts us, he meets all of our needs, he gives us wisdom and understanding, his yoke is easy, and his burden is light).

Traditionally, children are expected to either behave or face punishment. Christianity is based on grace, “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We escape punishment, and instead God chastens us (see “Rightly Dividing” post for definition of “chasten”), yet still accepts us. The chastening is not pleasant, but He says, “My yolk is easy, & my burden is light.” This is not to say children do not require some tough love. “Easy & light” here doesn’t mean “weak & wimpy” (permissive parenting). Instead, Paul says he was “gentle” among the Ephesian church, “as a nursing mother.” 

When children misunderstand the way the world works, and make unwise decisions, they’re trusting us to guide them unconditionally, with patience and gentleness. We must strive to display the fruits of the Spirit while we’re guiding. It is what our Father in Heaven would do!

Even if we aren’t being a “neglectful” by earthly (societal) standards, we need to check ourselves against the Heavenly standard, as layed out in the Bible.  We, as Christians, must hold ourselves to a different standard than the world, especially in how we influence the next generation.

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It was brought to my attention recently by one of my readers that my comments about Solomon in the post, “Grace”, may seem to discredit the Bible as God’s Word, or may indicate that I don’t believe the Bible is entirely true. The same reader was also concerned that my letters to Dobson were disrespectful to him, and posting them here was slander, not in keeping with the Biblical mandate to approach our brothers and sisters directly to resolve conflicts.

I appreciate her thoughts on the matter, and understand her concerns. It is never my intention to cause anyone to be stumbled by my writings. I do believe the Bible is entirely God’s Word, and I tried to approach Dr. Dobson in a loving, Biblical manner.

My goal with this blog is to present a more Biblically accurate approach to child discipline than what has traditionally been taught in our culture, by Dobson and others. I don’t believe any if them have meant any harm to children. But, unclear interpretation of Scripture, combined with the natural sinfulness of man, can become Satan’s playground.

Following are excerpts from my reply to her.  I hope it may clear up any confusion I may have caused for others:

On reading 1 Kings chapters 11 and 12, we find the accounts of Solomon’s rebellion against God, and Solomon’s son, Rehoboam’s, slander against his father. While I DO believe that the whole Bible is God’s inspired Word, I am thankful God sees fit to tell us the whole story. Solomon, in all his glory and God-given wisdom, in the end, did not make wise choices.

If the proverbs literally mean we’re suppose to beat our (adult) offspring, then these fall under grace, as do the commands to stone, as Jesus illustrated with his parable of the prodigal son, and also with his treatment of the woman caught in adultery.

While I do hold Solomon’s wisdom in high regard, because he was inspired by God to write them, I still hold the direct teachings of Jesus above all.

There is no record anywhere in the Bible of someone actually beating a child with a rod. Solomon is the closest example we have, and it seems his sons didn’t hold him in high regard, neither did they seem very merciful. They seemed to be following in Solomon’s footsteps, to whip and scourge the people of Israel.

However, inspired by God’s wisdom through the Proverbs, I take seriously the wisdom to be a constant source of authority for my children.

Although I did not write directly to Dr. James Dobson, I got about as close as possible. My real hope was that the letters would make their way into his hands. Since there’s no way to call him up on the phone, writing to his organization is the closest I can get to confronting him directly.

I am writing on behalf of all families who’ve been negatively affected by his teachings on child discipline. I felt, then, that it was appropriate and helpful to also allow families like ours, access to the responses I received. Affected families, as they so choose to seek websites like mine, may choose to also share the letters on their own blogs.

I do not feel that I have slandered Dr. Dobson in any way. I mentioned more than once the positive influence he’s had on my marriage. I simply reiterated the facts as they unfolded for my family.

It could be argued that the practice is in direct disobedience to everything Christ teaches. I can conclude since He spared stones, He would also likely spare the rod. It is dangerous for Christian organizations to create a whole system of “Biblical” spanking, based on unclear interpretations of a few Proverbs taken out of context.

It’s important to note, sparing the literal rod does not mean we spare the figurative rod. Children need discipline. It is has been through loving, Christian approaches, such as those described on gentlechristianmothers and goybparenting, that we’ve found ways to truly disciple (the root of the word, discipline) our children.

By openly talking about these difficult experiences in our lives, we pray to influence Christians to turn way from these damaging practices, so others can avoid the same mistakes. We are aware that many people were spanked and turned out just fine. I’m one of those. However, for every person whom God’s grace allowed a good outcome, there are countless other families at their wits end because of spanking. Marathon spankings are not uncommon, even among loving families. It is especially the spirited, lively, intense kids who suffer. I’m certain FOF does not intend these outcomes, but it’s important they’re aware it’s happening.

I appreciate the time anyone takes to write me, and pray my answers have been satisfactory.

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2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

I’ve been there. Your child does something so defiant, you honestly don’t know what to do. You try everything you can think of, then find yourself reaching out for tactics you don’t want to use. You think, “I am doing this in love. It is for their own good. After all, doesn’t the Bible say to do this? Why does it feel so awful?! I wish there was another way.”

I’m going to present to you some Biblical evidence that perhaps it doesn’t have to be this way…that perhaps there IS another Biblical way to discipline. You may think you’ve heard it all before. But, don’t you owe it to yourself to closely reexamine what the Bible really says? Don’t you owe it to your child to find out if there is, in fact, a better way? And, don’t you owe it your Creator, the Creator of your child, to make sure you’re “rightly dividing” His Word? I am so thankful someone pointed this out to me! I can’t help but share it with others!

You’ve heard that the Bible says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Can you find that chapter & verse? No. It’s simply not in the Bible. This quote comes from a 17th century poem (see footnote A), not the Bible. The Bible verses refering to a rod of discipline are as follows:

Pr 13:24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Pr 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Pr 29:15 The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

The first thing we need to examine is, are we literally obeying the Bible when we spank? No, because the Bible speaks of “beating” a “child” with a “rod”. I’m not suggesting anyone beat their child with a rod to properly obey the Bible! I’m just pointing out that if we really thought these verses should be taken literally, we’d in fact be beating our young children with something like a shepherd’s staff. In which case, they certainly could die, even though Proverbs 23:13 (above) says they would not. Scripture is Truth, and does not lie! Further proof that these beatings are figurative, not literal.

Do we stone adulterers anymore? Do we any longer stone our rebellious adult offspring? No, because we live in the age of GRACE!  Praise Jesus, for He made it quite clear how we are to react in these situations! (John 8:3-11, Luke 15:11-32- The Woman Caught in Adultery, and The Prodigal Son.) So, even if we could conclude that the rod verses should be taken exactly literal, we can clearly see they are no longer valid in this age of grace Jesus has made possible!

If these verses aren’t literal, or in line with grace, what do they mean? How are we to apply them?

The word “rod” is used figuratively many times in the Old Testement as a representation of God’s authority over a nation, or of one nation’s authority over another. A literal rod was usually a shepherd’s staff, (used to beat off the enemy- wolves, bears, lions-, not in hitting the sheep), or a septre (staff) carried by a king or head of household to REPRESENT their authority and guidance.

Try replacing the word “rod” in these verses with it’s figurative meaning, the words “authority”, or even “guidance”. To encompass both meanings, we’ll use, “authoritative guidance”.

Next, do these verses certainly apply to a literal child, who is typically the recipient of spankings? Most likely not. The meaning of the word “child” here is simply “offspring”, or sometimes, “young man”. An elderly lady can say she has five children, but we wouldn’t think she means actual young children. We’d know she means “adult children” or “adult offspring”.

The word “beat” here is the same word used in the account of Jonah when the sun “beat” down upon him. (Jonah 4:8) Did the sun reach down & hit Jonah? No! We understand that “beat” here means, “a constant source”. Therefore, we can also replace the word “beat” in the “rod” verses with “a constant source”.

And, so we have:

Pr 13:24 He that spareth his “authoritative guidance” hateth his [adult] son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Pr 22:15 Foolishness is bound in the heart of a “young man”; but the “authoritative guidance” of correction shall drive it far from him.

Pr 23:13 Withhold not correction from the “young man”; for if thou “apply a constant source” with “authoritative guidance” he shall not die.

Pr 23:14 Thou shalt “apply a constant source” with “authoritative guidance” and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Pr 29:15 “Authoritative guidance”and reproof give wisdom: but a “young man” left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

And, this is exactly how Jews in Old Testement times took these verses
(see footnotes B). They were commands to guide their adult children. And, isn’t that what Proverbs is all about!

Proverbs 1:8-9, “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.”

It is clear, then, that parents are called to be a constant source of authoritative guidance for their offspring, all throughout their lives!  I am not convinced, however, that God has commanded me to discipline my children by hitting.

Since the Bible does not mean we are to discipline children by hitting, how does the Bible say we, as parents, should discipline?

We can find the answer through further examination of these verses. Some other words used in these verses have become synonymous with punishment over the years, when in fact, their simplest definitions are as follows. They are chastening, correction, and reproof.

Chasten: to restrain or subdue. Restrain: to hold back, or keep in check. Subdue: to hold within limits; to quieten (calm).

Correction: something that is substituted or proposed for what is wrong or inaccurate.

Reproof: the act of expressing disapproval.

In it’s simplest form, discipline means that I express my disapproval, calm my child and help him keep within limits, and teach him to substitute a right
for a wrong.

2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:”

The word, “discipline” comes from the word, “disciple”. Therefore, discipline of children shouldn’t be much different from discipleship of believers! The New Testament is chock full of instruction for disciples! (And, none of these instructions includes hitting disciples.) This should make our search for Biblical answers much easier! Praise God!


A- “Hudibras”, by Samuel Butler, 17th century

Wikepedia: [In his poem, Butler originated the phrase “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and although the phrase is often taken to be a Biblical injunction about child-rearing, (probably as a corruption of Book of Proverbs 13:24), ….

“Love is a boy by poets stil’d
Then spare the rod and spoil the child” (Part II, Canto I, ll. 839-44).]

B- “The Rod or Shebet: An Indepth Examination”, by Joan Renae, http://www.gentlechristianmothers.com/articles/rodstudy.php :

“She had the Hebrew checked by three rabbis who confirmed this interpretation of ‘shebet’.”

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I love this message! Through the story of Jonah, Andy Stanley illustrates that God’s process of discipline is His persuit to win us back. Beautiful! There is no more punishment! I will hopefully remember this next time I feel the urge to punish my children in their wayward moments.

I hope this link works for you…


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I received another reply from FOF, below. I’ve prayed and thought for several weeks now, and just have no inspiration to write them again at this time. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, which was to be a voice for other families out there like ours, by giving them an honest, unbiased account of our experience with their teachings. To reply to them again would require me to argue points they’re well aware of already; one being that, yes, Dr. Dobson’s books DO most certainly imply that spanking should be our primary discipline tool because, he teaches, it is mandated by God in the Proverbs “rod” verses. They’re really in denial of this point, whether intentionally or not, but no one but the Holy Spirit can convince them otherwise. I pray I’ve at least given the staff members who read my letter reason to toss and turn on their beds at night. Perhaps this small influence can make a small change, which may lead to bigger changes. This is my prayer. 

I assure you, if I am ever inspired to reply again, you will be among the first to know.

Their reply:

Dear [my real first name],

Thanks for responding to Debbie Lynnewood’s e-mail message of January 12. I trust you’ll understand why I’ve been asked to reply on Debbie’s behalf. In an organization the size of Focus on the Family, where mail is received at the rate of several thousand pieces every day, it is not always possible for a given staff member to follow up on every contact he or she has had the privilege of handling in the past. I’m happy to be able to serve you in this capacity.

You are entitled to your opinions, [my first name], and we’re genuinely grateful to you for taking the time to share them with us. But we also feel constrained to point out that you have seriously misinterpreted Focus on the Family’s perspective in several important details. Most importantly, you do us a grave disservice when you represent us as telling parents that they “must spank to obey God.” This is not and never has been our position. On the contrary, we view appropriate corporal punishment as one potentially helpful component within a broad, varied, and comprehensive discipline plan. We consistently tell moms and dads that spankings should be applied only in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority, that they are most effective with children under three years of age, and that they should eventually be replaced with other types of consequences, such as taking away privileges. If you go back and re-read Debbie’s e-mail, I believe you’ll find that she states all of this in clear and unmistakable language.

If you feel a need to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our staff, we’d like to reiterate Debbie’s invitation to call and speak with one of our counselors over the phone. We have a feeling that this would be a much better way of providing you with a detailed overview of our perspective. You may call weekdays from 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. (MT) at 800/A-FAMILY (232-6459). Just ask for our counselors’ assistant, and don’t be discouraged if she requests that you allow a counselor to call you back. One of them will contact you just as soon as possible. Both this service and the return call come at no cost to you; please accept them as a demonstration of our concern for you.

Thanks again for caring enough to write back. We hope this reply has been helpful. Don’t hesitate to let us know if we can be of any further assistance. God bless you. 

Timothy Masters
Focus on the Family

[Oh, and I have no intention of calling their counselor hotline. If I contact them again, it will continue to be by prayerful, graceful, truthful responses, by email.]

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My Reply

(Note before you read: Although I am very concerned about the results in any family who is spanking, my main concern in communication with FOF is their faulty teaching)

Thank you for your response. You are right, I do care very much about this topic, and about the impact FOF is having on the Christian community and the world at large. I am not a person who enjoys the “Mommy Wars” found so often in online communities. My main concern is not the parents who are carrying out corporal punishment in a “perfect” manner, because they so choose. My concern is for those who’re preaching that parents must spank to obey God, and for the imperfect parents trying to carry out these practices, fearing God’s displeasure if they do not discipline in this specific manner. This is what I find so dangerous, because a) parents are not perfect, and will not carry out this punishment with perfect control everytime, and b) if they fail, or the discipline doesn’t work to correct the behavior, they may continue it anyway, out of fear of disobeying God.

You stated in your response to me that, “a parent who is denied the use of [spanking] during this [early] phase of the confrontation may find that irritation, frustration, and anger increase as the problem continues unresolved”. As a long-time follower of Focus on the Family, I need you to be aware that the same thing occurs (mounting irritation, frustration, and anger), even when a parent starts out early in the confrontation with spanking, in the manner set forth by Dr. Dobson, if it does not resolve the behavior. Then, what has developed is an angry parent, with hand raised, not knowing what to do next. It is a very frightening, and very common, situation! Add to this the fear of disobeying God, and you have a parent repeating this tactic, with the same results, and no end in sight. The household can become a battleground. A family should not be so!

A major turning point in thinking for my husband and I was when we viewed a DVD set by the Rainy’s (which was purchased from Focus on the Family, if I’m not mistaken), entitled “Beginning at the End”. You may be familiar with the principle behind the title, which is, to think in the beginning of parenting, what kind of adult you want your child to become.

Towards the middle to end of the set, Mrs. Rainy related a time in their parenting years when spanking became so frequent, that she was becoming exhausted. (I should mention here that both Dr. Dobson and the Rainys suggest spanking harder, and more frequently, when the spanking doesn’t correct the behavior the first time.) At this point, she’d been spanking harder and more frequently, until, for the peace of their home, and to prevent further exhaustion on her part, they compiled a list of alternative discipline tactics to use instead of spanking, and posted it on the refrigerator, for use on such trying days.

It became quite obvious to us what we needed to do for our son and our household: begin at the end. That’s when we began searching for alternative discipline tactics. It makes me very sad for Mrs. Rainy that they did not do this in the first place. I can’t imagine the hurt a mother must feel at spending days on end in such a battlefield against her own child. It truly breaks my heart for families.

When we started researching other tactics, they were surprisingly difficult to find! Especially on Christian websites! Which is how we happened upon gentlechristianmothers.com. From there, we found GOYB Parenting.com, (which has by far been the most helpful tactic), ways to sooth a tantrum, teach our child (and ourselves) better ways to handle anger and calm down, ways to recognize the underlying need causing the behavior, and ways to model and teach the right way to behave instead. This is the kind of adult we want to see our child become.

I completely agree with you that there must be consequences for misbehavior. We believe the consequence must make sense, and hitting never really made much sense in any circumstance. (We’ve never had a problem with our children hitting other children, either.)

In the history of our country, the Bible has been misused, intentionally and unintentionally. I do not believe it is the intentional purpose of Focus on the Family to misuse Scripture, but that is what I see happening. There are verses in the OT which state that if a slave owner beats his servant to the point of death, they should be punished. People used to think this meant it was okay to own slaves, and beat them, as long as they didn’t die from a beating. If we were to follow the rod Scriptures exactly, we would literally need to beat our children with literal rods. But, we don’t, because we’re willing to admit it should be taken somewhat figuratively. (There is some doubt cast on if the verses refer to actual children, or adult offspring in rebellion.)

As I mentioned before, Christ showed us a different way, other than stoning, for women caught in adultery. We also know that, in the OT, adult children were commanded to be stoned, if caught in rebellion. But, Jesus gave us the parable of the prodigal son. Surely, if you cannot accept a figurative interpretation of the rod verses, you can see that Jesus meant for us to handle things in a different way.

When else in life is it okay to hit people? It’s only “okay” to hit children because they’re smaller than us, and we can get away with it? My children, including my very spirited, strong-willed son, have learned to obey, without us hitting them.

Again, I don’t presume to change the minds of our culture about spanking, but I beg of Christian ministries to stop teaching as though it is, without a doubt, God’s best plan for discipline. As Christians, we ought to be coaching parents on ways to control their anger, and disciple their children to obey, in effective ways. Instead, Christians everywhere are hitting their children in the name of “love”. It may “work” for some families, but we have to accept it may not really be what God meant for us to be doing, and it doesn’t always work, ESPECIALLY for strong-willed children.

Again, I love Focus on the Family ministries. It has been the light on my path for ten wonderful years of marriage. But, I am repeatedly dissappointed and ashamed of Christians telling other Christians that they must hit their children, because God says so. It is, in my opinion, the “gateway drug” to abuse in families. So, I just need you to know, in love, it doesn’t work, and it isn’t right to keep telling parents they must. In a way, I view Dr. Dobson as a loving “grandpa” in my life, with whom I’ve had a disagreement. I pray he’ll do the right thing.

With Sincerity of Heart, and Christian Love,
[My Real Name]

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