Monday, April 2, 2007

Should Christian's Smack?

It is a hot topic at the moment with the Government and Greens trying to push through the anti-smacking legislation. So what position should we take? Christian support for smacking is drawn from the OT in the main. The OT takes a strong stand against excessive beating stating that beating a slave which leads to death requires punishment (Exod 21:20). However, few today would be comfortable with the following verse in which it is stated that if the slave gets up after a day or two, there is no punishment for the slave is the property of the owner (Exod 21:21).

The notion of physical punishment is attributed to God in the OT. In 2 Sam 7:14 through the prophet Nathan God speaks of establishing a personal relationship with the king from the line of David. God tells David he will be 'his father' and David and the dynasty will be his sons. It then says from the mouth of God, 'When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.' This is balanced by setting the concept of physical punishment in the context of love: 'But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you' (2 Sam 7:15). This divine physical punishment notion set in the context of a Father-Son relationship is carried through into the notion of the exile when God brought punishment against the house of David for rejection of the covenant. In Ps 2:9 the nations too will suffer the rod at the hands of God for rejection of his son the king. In Ps 89:32 too, God promises to punish the sin of his people with the rod and their iniquity with flogging.

Job spoke of God's rod after his terrible experience of suffering including the loss of family, possessions and prosperity (Job 9:34; 21:9). He interpreted his experience as punishment in this sense.

In terms of family it is the Proverbs that gives the most support. The most oft-quoted verse is Prov 13:24: 'He who spares the rod hates his son, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.' Murphy in the Word Commentary notes on this verse that 'corporal punishment for unruly children was simply taken for granted in ancient Israel and Egypt'. The rod here is shêbet and is a stick for punishing and correction. This emphasis is seen in Prov 19:18: 'Discipline your son, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.' Such punishment should not be so severe as to lead to death. Similarly in Prov 22:15 the writer states, 'folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.' Again in Prov 23:13-14, 'do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.' Prov 29:15 reinforces this: 'the rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.' These texts emphatically endorse that corporal punishment was essential to parenting in Jewish thinking (see also Sir 30:1-13 which endorses corporal punishment).

In the prophets the rod is seen through divine judgement against Israel and other nations often through nations (Is 9:4; 10:5, 15, 24; 11:4; 14:29; 30:31; Lam 3:1; Ezek 7:11; 21:13).

Now as we know, a position expressed in the OT is not sufficient to be seen as decisive unless it can be supported in the NT.

In the NT 'the rod' is a negative notion used as a punishment by the state on Christians (Acts 16:22; 2 Cor 11:25). In Revelation it is a symbol of judgement (2:27; 12:5; 19:15). In Christ's teaching there is an endorsement of the place of children and need to care for them deeply (Mt 19:13-14; Mk 9:37. Parents even if evil, give good gifts to their children (Mt 7:11; Children are models of discipleship (Mt 18:3; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:16 cf. Mt 21:16). There is no endorsement of the OT position. Jesus did rebuke violence (Mt 5:38-48); however, this text refers to retaliation and enemies, not children.

In texts relating to the raising of children in Paul there is no mention of corporal punishment but a call to love children, not exasperate or embitter them and bring them up in the Lord (cf. Col 3:21; Eph 6:1-4).

At this point one could see the argument going either way; toward an anti-corporal punishment position or toward ane endorsement.

However there are other texts that suggest that God disciplines his people through suffering in the NT. Paul speaks of those who abuse the Lord's Supper and then die as God's discipline for the good of the church (1 Cor 11:32). The writer of Hebrews interprets suffering in the same way quoting Prov 3:11-12. He encourages the recipients not to lose heart at God's judgement as it is an act of love. The recipients are to endure discipline because God is treating them as sons and asks, 'for what son is not disciplined by his father?' That is, it assumes that good fathers will discipline their children and appears to assume a Jewish understanding of this as inclusive of physical punishment. In fact, failure to discipline would indicate that the recipients are not true sons (12:8). That this is assumed is seen in 12:9: 'Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!' Discipline in this sense is seen as a good thing (12:10). While it is is unpleasant and painful at the time, it 'produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it' (cf. Rev 3:19).

Hebrews then endorses the need to discipline children and appears to assume the OT position on corporal punishment.

All in all then, it would seem that the biblical narrative supports the use of physical force in the discipline of children. As such Christians are correct to challenge the attempt to impose an anti-smacking bill.

Having said this I would want to qualify this with several other points:
1. Good discipline is not done in anger, it is done in love with clear explanation. If we are angry we should take some time to cool down and then administer the discipline.
2. Good discipline does not inflict serious physical damage but leaves marks at a a temporary surface level.
3. Such discipline should be last resort and we should work to use other forms of discipline and not merely take the easy way out with the use of smacking.
4. Such discipline requires great consistency and clarity so that the child knows what is expected and what the consequences will be. Random smacking with inconsistency is poor parenting.
5. We as Christians should oppose all other physical acts against children.
6. We should stand with the nation in seeking to resolve the issues that have led to so many children beaten, killed and abused at present.

A final point: Jesus loved kids and warned of eternal consequences to those who do not. We need to raise the status of children in home and church and love them with greater zeal!

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