The "Latest Spiritual Gobblydeegook?"
I dunno...the whole thing smacks of the latest "spiritual" gobblydeegook. I don't expect any brownie points for that opinion, so don't worry... It just ignores basic scholarship in favor of recent social trends. Because somebody abuses a truth makes the thing itself no longer true?
This was basically her response to the concept that spanking a child might not be a Biblically sanctioned method of discipline. Greg, whose comments followed hers, echoed similar sentiments.
When I was in college I participated in an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and at the end of each year I had the opportunity to attend "chapter camp." This was a one week camp to dig deeper into issues of spirituality. The first year I went I participated in the "Jesus the Lifechanger" track. We spent one week studying the book of Mark. We ripped it apart. It was awesome, and lived up to it's name--we learned about Jesus, and it was life changing. As I recall, we dug so deep that even after 7 days of spending about 6 hrs per day in Bible study, we had only gotten through 7 chapters! It was there that I was first introduced to the principles of basic hermenuetics, though I did not know that term, I just knew that I learned how to really study the Bible. I applied the principles I learned on a regular basis after that.
Saddly, after a few years I quit doing the hard work to really study and interpret the Bible, relying instead on quick study, and perhaps a cursory glace at a commentary if I felt I wasn't quite understanding something. Even sadder still, since that seminar I took nearly 15 years ago, I have never encountered a situation in church where people were actually being taught those very important principles of how to properly study scripture.
Some years ago I "met" a pastor who goes by the name of "Metochoi" on-line. He was kind enough to write up several "lessons" on Biblical Hermenuetics. These lessons parallel what I was taught back in Chapter Camp, and formed the basis of my study of interpretation of the "rod" verses in Proverbs--using some quotes from Tedd Tripp's book Sheperding a Child's Heart to make points.
#1 = Interpret LITERALLY.
Tripp asserts on pg 108 that “the rod” means “a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment”
This rather symbolic definition of the rod violates the very first basic principle of Biblical hermeneutics--interpret LITERALLY. The word "rod" is literally a noun, and as used in scripture in places other than the verses used to justify spanking refer to a thick and heavy stick or a ruler's sceptor. Yet Tripp's definition transforms it into a verb, and then symbolically transforms it to a vaguely stated "use of corporal punishment." To be fair, the Proverbs are a collection of often symbolic passages (for example, must a husband really sit at the city gates talking while his wife conducts business such as buying and selling land as depicted in Proverbs 31?), and many interpretations of the rod passages assume that the “rod” is meant symbolically. However, to follow other principles of hermeneutics we must be able to find clear evidence somewhere in the scripture—and truly throughout the body of scripture, to support a symbolic interpretation. I fail to find support for such a specific and very highly symbolic interpretation. Further, a similar interpretation is rarely applied to Proverbs 14:3 “A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back” or Proverbs 26:3 “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back”--both verses which clearly refer to adults and have been used in the past to justify wife beating.
#2 = Understand the HISTORICAL-CULTURAL background.
It is important to remember how families were structured at that time. Childrearing was left primarily to the women, men would take over the raising of boys only when they approached bar mitzvah age. Solomon is addressing this book to his adult son (this point relates the concept of interpreting scripture in context), who would have had very little dealings with his young children. Further, the Talmud, which was essentially the Jewish equivalent of a modern day Bible Commentary, specifically forbade fathers from striking their children, as the children may lack maturity and strike back, dishonoring their parents and thus violating the commandment to honor their parents. Even if a child is outwardly controlled and does not strike back, many, if not most, children who are dealt with via corporal punishment at times wish to strike their parents. Christ states that to think in the heart of sinning is to have sinned, so the parents are tempting their children to sin. Corporal punishment of young adults was officially conducted by governmental authorities in OT times, NOT the parents (of course it is unrealistic to think that parents never struck their children, just as it is unrealistic to think that husbands never struck their wives).
Further, the use of the rod in the OT bore little relationship to modern day spanking - best anyone can tell it was used on the back, not buttocks; it was used on adults with no evidence that young children were subject to it; and by modern standards the rod beatings were often violent enough that parents would be arrested for emulating them.
#3 = Analyze the GRAMMATICAL structure.
In analyzing the grammatical structure it is important to remember that the scriptures were not written in English, but rather Hebrew/Greek. The “rod” verses use two words that are important to look at. The word “na’ar” is translated into “child,” and the word “shebet” is translated into “rod.”
The Hebrew language had several words to describe different ages of children, including words that specifically defined babies and young children. Neither of these words are used here. “na’ar” is used 238 times in the OT. 3 of the uses are in the Proverbs “rod” verses. 200 of the uses, or 85%, are used in ways that clearly do not refer to small children (lad, servant, young man, youth, 7 of 16 uses of young , 24 of 51 uses of child(ren)). In some cases the age of person being referred to cannot be determined (young-9, boys-1, child-19: about 12%) . That leaves only a few uses that clearly refer to refer to young children (babe-1, child-5: about 2%). While it would be incorrect to say that the use in these verses can’t apply to young children, it certainly seems likely that it doesn’t, especially using other hermeneutical rules.
The word “shebet” refers to a large branch, a walking staff. Some spanking advocates have insisted that this can be interpreted as a hand, while others use “flexible objects” (such as spatulas, belts, leather straps), thin dowel rods, paint stirrers, or wooden spoons. Clearly none of these fit the definition of a large branch. Another meaning of “shebet” is a ruler’s scepter. This again was a fairly thick rod, but it was a symbol of authority that was not used to strike people. It was also used in reference to a shepherds rod, which was used to gently guide sheep or to fight off attackers, not to strike the sheep.
In analyzing the grammatical structure, it is important to recognize that the Proverbs contain many symbolic texts, and also were considered to be wisdom texts rather than commandments. Whether corporal punishment—if it is indeed supported by scripture—is wisdom or a command makes a significant difference. If parents are commanded to use corporal punishment on their children, was Mary in sin since we can assume that she never used corporal punishment on Christ? How about the foster parent that is forbidden by law to use it? Dwight L. Moody, who by the accounts of his children did not spank them? The parent whose child has a medical condition (brittle bone syndrome, leukemia or other conditions that cause easy and excessive bruising) that prohibits corporal punishment? How many times must a parent use corporal punishment on a child to be in obedience to the command? Is one use enough? How do we draw the line about what age to start/stop using it?
#4 = Use SYNTHESIS [Compare scripture with scripture].
Just to start you off, consider Proverbs 23:13 and 14;
"Do not withhold correction from a child; for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell."
The Bible does say that beating someone with the rod could lead to death (Exodus 21:20), and parents certainly have beaten their children to death with a rod (a wooden spoon in one case I read about), citing Proverbs as evidence that the beating couldn't be the cause of death despite what doctors said.
Also compare it to Ephesians 2:8 and 9:
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
If the Proverbs rod verses refer to spanking, then they state that parents can literally save their children through spanking. Yet the New Testament makes it quite clear that we cannot save ourselves through works - is it logical to argue that God won't allow us to boast of saving ourselves, but happily gives us the right and opportunity to boast of saving our children?
If the rod in Proverbs refers to God's word, and we use the New Testament methods of discipline outlined in Matthew 18 and other passages in the NT (i.e., challenge people who are sinning with God's word), then we are following Romans 10:17 ("Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God"), and the Proverbs rod verses fit neatly with New Testament theology. But if the Proverbs rod is a literal one, then the verse is saying that parents can do what the New Testament says only God can do.
Another point to make in comparing scripture to scripture, is to consider Ephesians 6:4, which admonishs parents not to provoke their children to wrath. The Greek word used in this passage is “parorgizo” and the “Blue Letter Bible” states that this word as used in the New Testament means “to rouse to wrath, to provoke, exasperate, anger.” Most spanking advocates would admit that spankings often provoke anger, even wrath. Tripp addresses this by stating that the parent should spank longer, which seems inconsistent with the goal of avoiding provoking anger and wrath.
#5 = THEN you can APPLY the passage!
I believe that the Bible does not endorse spanking, and a careful reading of the entire work of scripture to me would seem to actually prohibit spanking.
#6 = At every step, rely on the ILLUMINATION of the Holy Spirit.
I have sought to do this, as I honestly believe that many spanking proponents have prayed and sought the Holy Spirit. However, I believe that many spanking proponents have made the mistake of attempting to interpret scripture without doing careful work to cover the first 4 steps of proper Biblical interpretation—which is just as much of a mistake as doing the first 4 steps without relying on the Holy Spirit (okay, well maybe not…I think that sometimes the Holy Spirit will choose to supercede our short cuts…).
#7 = Interpret in CONTEX
This point is addressed as comments interwoven in the explanation above. Specifically, in understanding the “context” of Proverbs, one must understand who it was addressed to, what cultural practices were being referred to, and what the style of the writing was (often symbolic).
What NOT to do:
#1 = NEVER make your point at the price of the proper interpretation.
#2 = NEVER rely on superficial or shallow study.
#3 = NEVER allegorize or spiritualize unless the text itself calls for it.
#1 The passages in question clearly do apply to parenting, so this does not apply.
#2 I believe I have done rather in depth study of the verses in question, so this does not apply.
#3 I believe this is what spanking advocates do when they change a “rod” into “spanking with a flexible instrument”
Not all of this was my original work. Over the years I have collected quotes here and there from others that I have retained, for example, the first 2 paragraphs of #4 are borrowed.