Corporal Punishment of Children in the Covenant of Grace (1/5)

Discipline by means of corporal punishment (spanking) is one of the most practical issues in families today.(1) It remains one of the most widely used means of discipline in American families and according to Robert Larzelere, PhD (Nebraska Medical Center) writing for the American Psychological Association, spanking continues to be “….a subject of controversy within the child development and psychological communities.”(2) It is a subject that polarizes respected experts on both sides of the issue. Almost everyone has experienced or is using corporal punishment as a means of discipline with their children. A method that has been either learned from their own experience or taught by child rearing experts in respective faith based communities. The Christian community long known for being advocates of spanking often making references to “spare the rod spoil the child” (Prov. 13:24) and looking down at secular models that are too passive and therefore non-biblical. What are pastors to do when families who want to raise their children in the Lord recognize that in light of the doctrine of common grace there is wisdom in listening to those non-believers? How are Christian parents to be faithful to verses of the like of Proverbs 13:24 charging parents who spare the “rod” as an act of hatred and not love? Are we being faithful to the Scriptures in spanking or are we making a hermeneutical mistake?

I argue that children in Christian homes are members of the Covenant of Grace and therefore their discipline ought to look like the discipline all receive who are in the Covenant of Grace as modeled by God. Christian parents understanding their Scriptural mandate to raise their children in the fear and admonishment of the Lord in light of common grace can must listen to secular experts in parenting through the prism of special revelation. First this essay will discuss the theological perspective. Examining the Scriptures that deal with disciplining children and corporal punishment. Second, this essay will examine effects of corporal punishment on our children. Third, this essay will argue that alternative-only methods cause parenting to focus on a thinking way and not a hitting way of addressing the behavioral problem. Due to space the scope of this paper is not to be a exhaustive hermeneutical exegesis of biblical mandates, deal with abusive side effects of corporal punishment administered in error, exhaustively explore the effects of corporal punishment, or critique different discipline methods.

1 “Corporal punishment is the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury for the purposes of correction or control of the child’s behavior”
Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review,” Psychological Bulletin 128 (4 2002): p 540.
2 Robert Larzelere, “Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline,” n.p. [cited March 1, 2012]. Online: