Parenting in Jesus' Footsteps

What Does the Bible Say?

By Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Sagendorf

As a pastor, I'm often asked about what the Bible says about the way we should live our daily lives. For example, how should we discipline our children? What about spanking? My answer is clear. I can find no sanction in the teaching of Jesus or the witness of the New Testament to encourage the practice of corporal punishment... at home, at school, or anywhere else.

Some take an opposite view, often quoting Old Testament scriptures to prove their point. Those who employ this method frequently misunderstand and misuse scripture. A similar method of selective reading could just as easily be used to justify slavery, suppression of women, polygamy, incest and infanticide. Much of what poses as biblical grounding for corporal punishment is really secular thinking wrapped in religious language. It does not stand the test of what Jesus said and taught. Consider the following:

  1. Jesus was overwhelmingly committed to non-violent response, even in situations of high stress and conflict. Corporal punishment is a violent act against a child's body. It is not a response which is consistent with what Jesus demonstrated.
  2. Jesus was committed to the beauty, sanctity, innocence and life-giving character of children. "Unless you become like a child," he said, "you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." It is hard to imagine that Jesus would sanction the practice of hitting those in whose very presence the kingdom is made real.
  3. Jesus was committed to love and forgiveness as both the means and the end of all human relationships. These two qualities form the very foundation of his ministry. An action such as spanking which is clearly intended to cause pain hardly qualifies for what Jesus would call an "act of love."
For these reasons, I am convinced that corporal punishment is opposed to biblical teaching. People of faith are encouraged to find different methods to provide structure and direction for their children's lives. Discipline is important! Children must learn how to be accountable. But when parents hit children, no matter what the pretext, the opposite often happens. Instead of learning values, children simply observe the capacity to be mean and harmful. Fear and resentment follow.

Parents who work to establish a gentle and non-violent environment will find good results. Nurtured in an atmosphere free from fear and threat, children will be able to better learn and embody the values which are most important.

Reprinted by permission from the author.

Back to Articles Page