I am probably going to get myself in a heap of trouble with this one, so I have to start with a disclaimer: I mean none of this personally. There that ought to about cover it.
So I thought I would take a break from my typical rants about homosexuality and taxation and the police state and what-not and talk about something completely different: The Larch.
No really, I want to discuss spanking. This is a topic of considerable import to me because I have young children, so I must of course have an answer to the question of spanking. Well, depending on who you are, it may or may not surprise you to know that I spank my children. I hope child protective services isn’t reading this… ahem…. No, but really we do spank our children and this is because of the instruction we have received from the Word of God through our elders and the ministry of Paul and Tedd Tripp. See, I’m a good little Reformed person aren’t I?
So why write about this? I usually use this platform for controversial topics – at least those topics that are controversial for those I tend to rub shoulders with, and this would not seem to be one of them. Well believe it or not, this is one of those issues in which it came to me that I need to be ware of a potential loophole in my thinking. I mean. I’m a Libertarian. I quote the non-aggression principle right and left. And spanking would seem to be a form of coercive aggression wouldn’t it? Have I missed something? If the Bible commands spanking and spanking is a violation of the non-aggression principle, then perhaps the NAP is not all it’s cracked up to be! Or does the NAP truly prohibit spanking in God’s economy, and have I been wrongly dividing the truth? In short, how can I be a staunch Libertarian AND spank. It would seem that something has to give. And if by some miracle the Libertarian Revolution does actually happen, how can I stand and defend the practice of spanking to the atheists who don’t hold to the authority of Scripture and believe spanking to be an outright violation of the NAP, which would decidedly make it criminal? So there is quite a lot at stake here, not the least of which are the souls of my children and the glory of God. These are not things I take lightly, and so I have given them much thought and have wanted to write about them for some time.
Then the other day, I came across this article which is an exert from the book Jesus the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R. Nost. In this exert, she attempts to make an exegetical argument against the Biblical teaching of spanking. So having felt a bit of momentum from reading this article, and in the interest of providing a Biblically sound response for my friend who posted this on Facebook, I feel led to finally get myself in gear and write these things down.
I am going to do this in three parts. Today, I am going to interact specifically with Nost’s article and deal with what the text of Scripture actually says, particularly in the texts that she uses. Part Two will be a synthesis of my own study of the Word, the teaching of my Elders, and what I have learned from the Tripps to answer a very important question: What is the goal of parenting, which will have drastic implications for what methods we use and how we use them. Then in Part Three, I will deal with the Non-Aggression Principle and see if I can reconcile it with the teaching of Scripture. Rest assured, if I cannot, the NAP is what goes!
So for starters, go read her article so the things she says are fresh in your mind as you consider my response.
The Infallible and Inerrant Word in Translation
So usually I start off a critique with something positive, so I will follow that pattern here. Nost has made an attempt to ground her teaching in the Word of God and this is to be commended. Far too many who wish to deviate from traditional instruction do so by deviating from the Word of God. I figure it would be apropos to assume that her intentions are genuine and that her heart is truly desirous to follow God’s instructions in her parenting, and in the parenting she counsels other couples in. I say this because it may sprinkle a little sugar on what I am about to say.
I have learned over the years of honing my critical literacy to consider it a red flag – or at least dark orangy yellow flag – when a significant percentage of the primary content of an argument aimed at undermining a conservative teaching of the Word follows this sort of pattern:
- The English translation of this verse is “Such…”
- Most conservatives take it to mean “Such and such plain sense meaning of the English translation.”
- But really, this that and the other original language word really means “thus and so,”
- so the passage really should have been translated “Such and such translation that means something completely different than – or the exact opposite of – the traditional translation.”
Repeated observation of this pattern has taught me that it is nearly without fail a signal of false teaching.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that there is no value in original language study. After all, the doctrine of verbal, plenary, infallible, inerrant inspiration does technically only have direct application to the original texts, and we do know that there are some idioms that just don’t carry over to our language and culture with the same weight and nuance that they do in the original, but there are some very critical ground rules that must be observed when studying original languages.
The first rule is that in presupposing the sovereignty of God and the fact that His Word is very precious to him, we must therefore form a corollary presupposition that the Spirit’s work in transmitting the Scriptures did not end the second the ink was dry. We presuppose that The Spirit has continued to preside over His Word in the work of translation throughout history so that even though the translators are fallible, it can, and must, be held that their translation is sufficiently accurate to convey the Lord’s message. Indeed, this fact of the Holy Spirit’s oversight is sufficient to convey the doctrine of infallibility and inerrancy to the translation, provided that the motives of the translators are pure – which would leave out the heretical translations such as the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation which has as its telos the blotting out of the divinity of Christ in order to perpetuate the heresy or Arias. Now if you have skepticism of the infallibility of the Translated Word due to the fallen nature of the translator, that’s fine, but remember that the original human authors were just as fallible as the translators! It is not the purity of the writer or translator that guarantees the reliability of God’s Word, it is The Spirit, and He does neither fail nor err!
So when we are tempted to go to the original language, we must not expect to find anything particularly earth shattering. Given the fact that we have over 500 years of translation history (1,000 if you count the Vulgate), all of which has been overseen by The Spirit, we must assume that the English translation we have before us plainly expresses the message intended by the Spirit. It cannot therefore be the case that a review of the original language would render a completely new meaning that runs contrary to the entire historically traditional translation. We may expect to extract nuances of meaning – perhaps an understanding of emphasis or a clarification of some kind – but to find that the English translation that we have had for 500 years is so far incorrect that the verse was really intended to say something drastically different all along is not good Biblical scholarship.
I can say this confidently because this translation history I speak of does span 500 years, and having been translated over such a long period of time by men of drastically different backgrounds, geographical locations, educational training, and – most importantly – with an ever growing repository of available original language manuscripts and issues of textual criticism, you find enormous harmony in all the finished products. Through all of what might seem like a terrible mess were it a purely human undertaking, you find tremendous variety in vocabulary, word order, idiom, and sentence structure, but you scarcely, if ever, find any derivation in the conceptual meaning transmitted by any given text. The Spirit has worked mightily to preserve His Word!
So we must be very skeptical of arguments that make heavy usage of radically retranslating select passages of Scripture as a primary or sole supporting argument. Such is the domain of false teachers and syncretists, and when you find yourself reading such, beware!
Now again, word study is not a worthless pursuit in and of itself, but a second rule must be held, and that is that Scripture needs to be our primary source material for understanding what a particular word means in the original language. For her words, Nost gives alternate translations, but does not give definite citation of her source for these translations, leaving it vaguely up to “Ancient Hebrew” or “Hebrew culture.” This hardly provides rational or Biblical compulsion to accept her definition. In several cases, the definition is somewhat ambiguous, and she simply selects the translation that is most friendly to her preconceived notions and her argument. Not once does she ask how the word is used in the rest of Scripture, choosing instead to rely upon uncited extra-Biblical sources to determine the meaning.
Translating the Biblical Instruction on Spanking: Na’ar
Take for example her retranslation of “child” at the very beginning of the article. This is the Hebrew word “na’ar“, which she claims is the word that Proverbs uses in each of the spanking passages. I only partially fact checked her on this, and was satisfied that it is the word used in Proverbs 23:13-14, which says,
“Do not withhold discipline from a child (na’ar); if you strike him with the rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.”
Nost claims that this word refers to an adolescent or young adult – a strange place to begin the argument I suppose, but let’s go with it.
Now if she had done the aforementioned consultation of the rest of Scripture to understand it’s use, she may have been spared from making such a ridiculous claim. It took me a mere five minutes to discover that na’ar is the word used to refer to Moses in the reeds in Exodus 2:6.
“When [Pharaoh’s Daughter] opened [the basket], she saw the child (hay-ye-led), and behold, the baby (na’ar) was crying.”
Consider Moses’s age. He was very young, only barely old enough that he had become difficult to hide. Any parent knows that this happens quite young. Another significant fact is that he still needed a wet nurse, indicating that he had not yet been weaned. Oh, and in case that still leaves some doubt, we must consider the most significant detail: the Scriptures plainly say that he had only been hidden for three months!
Elsewhere in Scripture, na’ar is used to refer to David when Samuel was choosing the next king. David was obviously quite a bit older than four months, having killed a lion and a bear with a club and a sling. So unless he had the inhuman strength of Davey Crockett, David must have been nearly full grown. He is elsewhere described as a man of valor – before fighting Goliath even!
So if the word na’ar can be used to refer to a child as young as three months old, and also be used for a nearly full grown youth, it would seem to indicate that it is a term used to refer to children of all ages, not specifically to one age or another. Thus the word “child” seems the most apt English translation for a passage like Proverbs 23:13-14 which gives us no contextual indication that it has a specific child or age range in mind. So right off the bat, our guard needs to be up!
She redefines “discipline” (muwcar) as “verbal instruction and teaching,” and “reproof” (towechah) as “reason with, convince, prove, persuade”. She follows this up with a claim that neither have to do with physical punishment. Conveniently absent is any reference to tak-ken-nu in Proverbs 23:14, which is a different word than towechah and is translated “strike,” which is especially poignant in its pairing with “the rod”.
Perhaps tak-ken-nu is what she means in her reference to the term “nakah“, which I don’t see here anywhere. Her transliterations are slightly different than mine, so maybe that explains it. In any case the root of tak-ken-nu is tak-keh, which, unsurprisingly, means “to strike”, and is the same word used in Exodus 2:13 when Moses confronted the Hebrew slaves who had gotten into a fight.
“Why do you strike (tak-keh) your companion?”
It is used in Deuteronomy 13:15 to describe God’s prescribed treatment to a city that strays into idolatry:
“You shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it…”
It is used in 2 Kings 13:19 to describe a military assault.
“You will strike down (tak-keh) Syria only three times.”
So if tak-keh is what she is referring to as nakah, then her claim that it is some generic striking that can be used metaphorically like being struck with an idea appears to fall apart. Tak-keh definitely has the meaning associated with physical violence of some kind. Several of its uses are military and judgmental. The KJV may give us the richest translation of this word: smite. And even if nakah is used in some general sense in some other text, we have tak-keh here in this text, and even if tak-keh could possibly be interpreted generically, context would be critical, would it not?
Her example is being “struck with the idea of a bicycle”. How do we know what strike means in that sentence? It is paired with other words that clarify its meaning. It is paired with “idea”. Since “idea” is not a concrete physical object, it cannot be used to strike physically, therefore strike just be metaphorical here.
How do we know what strike means in Proberbs 23:14? It is paired with other words that clarify its meaning. It is paired with “the rod”. Since the rod is a physical object that can and is used to physically strike, the meaning here is literal and not metaphorical. This would seem to indicate physical punishment, no?
Oh, right, there’s that troublesome issue of The Rod. The meaning that “the rod” add to the term “strike” would depend on its own definition, wouldn’t it? Nost defines “shebet” as “shepherd’s crook”, which is actually helpful to the traditional view, not hurtful. Two things need to be considered.
The first is that the term in Proverbs 23:14 is not “shebet” it’s the more specific “bas-se-bet“, which is the same term used in Exodus 21:20:
“When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged.”
That doesn’t give a definite impression, does it? In fact, when we compare these two Scriptures, doesn’t this shed light on what must be going on in the back of the Israelite father’s mind as he is disciplining his children? Apparently beating slaves carried mortal danger, and apparently the physical discipline advocated in Proverbs 23 is similar enough that it tended to make father’s fear for their child’s physical safety. Thus Solomon here is reassuring fathers that this act which seems so extremely violent and devastating is actually not harmful to the child, and will in fact do him good. Such is the only rational explanation for the presence of this verse in the first place!
The second thing about shebet to consider is the nature of a shepherd’s use of his staff. Nost says that the shepherd’s staff was a symbol of authority in Israel. That is true, and I’m glad of it too, because I’m sure there were a whole lot of sheep who didn’t go astray because they had such a high regard for the strong symbol of authority in their midst. No, not at all.
There’s a reason the shepherd’s staff had a crook on it! When a sheep started wandering toward danger, the shepherd would reach out and forcibly yank it back to the fold. This must have been painful! In time the sheep learned to stay close to the shepherd because it associated wandering with the pain of the rod. Which is good, because if it didn’t learn to associate wandering with the pain of the rod, it would soon learn to associate it with the pain of the wolf’s maw. The shepherd’s staff was far more than just a symbol, it was an instrument of rescue, and that rescue came in the form of immediate, physical pain!
What Is Folly?
Discipline is of course far more than just spanking. It does of course involve all these other things that Nost advocates. But they do not displace the rod itself. The rod serves a critically important role because it deals with the one thing that these other methods cannot: folly.
Nost redefines folly as childishness. Again she gives no justification for this redefinition, and make no mistake, it is the most significant word she redefines. This is the heart of the entire matter. Proverbs 22:15 says:
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod will drive it far from him.”
She retranslates this as
“Naivety, silliness, inexperience is bound up in the heart of a young man; wisdom, leadership, protection will drive it far from him.”
Is this an accurate rendering of this text? Absolutely not! The key word here is folly. Is folly merely childishness as she claims, or is it something else?
Throughout Proverbs, folly is contrasted with wisdom, and the great thesis of Proverbs is found in Proverbs 1:7:
“the fear of The Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
The character of the fool in Proverbs is the one who has no fear of The Lord, who rejects wisdom and instruction, who lives in constant, stubborn rebellion to God’s authority and to the human authority under which God has placed him. The child’s problem in Proverbs 22:15 is not merely childishness, but folly of the heart, which is hard hearted rejection of The Lord. Nost’s prescription of wisdom and leadership (as a “strong presence”) are powerless to do anything about it, because the very nature of the foolish heart is to reject such wisdom, leadership, instruction, and authority. All of these things that Nost advocates that parents do are great and needful tasks, but if the issue of folly of the heart is not dealt with, then nothing that we do can avail any lasting good for this child. I will discuss this in more detail in Part Two as I analyze how understanding what is at stake in parenting, and what the Biblical goal of parenting is is critical for us to approach it effectively.
Are We Forgetting Grace?
After redefining all these terms in Proverbs, Nost spends the rest of her article constructing an argument that spanking is wrong because we are not under law, we are under grace. This seems like familiar waters to me. If you’re familiar with my work, you might think I feel right at home here, right? Wrong! If anyone should know that constructing such an argument should be done carefully, then I’m you’re guy. Nost does not tread carefully at all and comes dangerously close to implying that the Scriptures (even the New Testament!) carry no specific, binding moral authority for us, and the only thing we learn from them is that we “need Jesus.” And it is this portion of her article that concerns me far more than anything else she wrote.
Nost conveniently ignores one of my favorite verses, Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus says,
“Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…”
She has bought into the concept of cheap grace – that grace means not being held to a standard. This is not the Gospel!
I might seem to be deviating from my typical message here, and if that’s the case, then perhaps it is needful that I temper some imbalanced emphases that I have created. For my argument has never been about the nature or content of God’s moral standard, but only about which means at our disposal for spreading adherence to this standard are morally permissible for us to use. In the context of government, I renounce the use of coercive aggression as a tool to promote Godly character in other adults who reject God’s Law, but I have never intended to do so in such a way as to claim that God’s moral standard is not applicable to them! If you’re wondering how I justify the use of coercive aggression for this end in the context of parenting, stick around. I’ll address this from two separate angles in both of the upcoming parts. Today’s post, however, is intended to deal solely with the plain exegesis of what the Scriptures actually say on the matter.
No matter what the relationship between the two covenants, or the effect of the introduction of grace brings about to God’s economy, one thing remains constant: God’s moral standard has never changed and never been relaxed. It is nothing less than the standard of his own character, and he never changes! Our call has always ever been to “be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) having been created in his image. Grace is not the relaxation of this standard, but a cancelling of the debt of sin, because it has been paid, and sanctification that enables and helps us grow to actually meet the standard!
Grace is meaningless apart from the Law. Galatians 3:24 says
“the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”
The King James renders that word “guardian” as “schoolmaster”. The law was there to shepherds us to Christ, and without it, how would we come to him? How could we know the depths of our depravity without looking into “the perfect law, the law of liberty” that is “able to make you wise unto salvation by faith in Jesus Christ”?
If we are never held to a standard, how can we ever know that we have fallen short? Beloved sin is deceptive, so much so that it actually convinces every person who hears Romans 3:23 (“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”) for the first time to say in his heart, “well not me!” Without the ministry of the Word of God and a holding up of the moral requirements of God’s law in the lives of our children, how will they ever understand what grace, is let alone how desperately they need it? They will never be able to grasp the depths of the mercy of Christ hanging on the cross. It will make no sense to them, because the model we have shown them has defined grace as simply overlooking the offense. Refusal to spank our children on the grounds of showing them grace teaches them that grace means not being held to a standard!
Oh how we have cheapened God’s holiness and justice and the weight of glory hanging on that bloody cross! My sins which definitely are real, and definitely deserve the worst eternal punishment should not go unpunished, and will not go unpunished, and have not gone unpunished. They have been punished when Christ hung on that cross! There is a debt, and that debt has been paid!
How precious are those conversations with a young one when they must be spanked for rebellion against your authority, and you have the wonderful opportunity to take the focus off of yourself and put it where it belongs. “Son, this is not about me. It’s about God. Sure, you disobeyed Daddy, but you really disobeyed God, and the punishment you really deserve is far worse than a spanking, but it has already been given to Jesus when he died on your cross.”
How wonderful the opportunity to model with your child that when sin is dealt with, reconciliation follows as you instruct this little one to confess his rebellion to you and seek your forgiveness and you can joyously give it and walk out of the discipline room restored in your relationship saying, “Now since Jesus took the penalty you deserve, you can be forgiven by God and reconciled to him. All you have to do is confess and repent.”
Why would we waste such a golden opportunity to work redemptive grace in the hearts of our children? Because we have bought into this wishy-washy notion that grace means not being held to a standard! This is the most counter-gospel false teaching alive today. This is the echo of the words of the serpent in the garden, “You will not surely die.” Beloved, sin cannot exist in God’s presence. That’s why God created a separate place for it to dwell. Oh that we don’t send our children there because we fail to administer God’s standard in their lives!
I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to Ms. Nost that she herself is not a hard hearted false teacher – that she is merely just deceived herself. But whatever the case, her interpretation of the Biblical instruction on spanking is factually incorrect, to put it plainly, and thus the instruction she gives is sugar coated poison. If you have swallowed some of this poison, there is grace for you at the cross, and there is correction for you in the Word.
I hope you stick around. Next time I intend to answer the question: What is the goal of parenting? What are we trying to accomplish? And how does this goal guide us in choosing the tools and methods we use and how we go about implementing them.
Oh and do stay tuned for part three, would you? Thanks!