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Corporal Punishment of Children in the Covenant of Grace (2/5)

What to Do – The Christian Mandate

There is no disagreement that parents are to discipline their children. Rightly understanding and interpreting the call from Scriptures such as: “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:24) “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:13–14) “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15) How are people of the Book to reconcile verses such as these with their understanding of discipline? Corporal punishment is clearly commanded yet there must an understanding that prevents arriving at an absurd conclusion, the hermeneutic must be carefully considered.

It is argued here that an apostolic hermeneutic gives the most explanatory power to understand these passages rightly before moving to a discussion of praxis. The Covenant of Grace is an exclusive covenant. It is with those who have expressly confessed faith in the God of Abraham and today it is realized as faith in Jesus. Therefore only those who hold faith in Jesus are considered by that faith also children of Abraham (Gal 3:29). The primary institution in the Covenant of Grace is the church made up of families. The Church clearly belongs in this covenant because it is the body of Christ. The Church is composed of Christian families who are its members and therefore the basis that covenant children are baptized. The result is that families are considered in the Covenant of Grace.

In the administration of the New Covenant both adults and children receive discipline. Adults receive discipline through the church and children through the family. Christians however, are also described as being disciplined by God (Hebrews 12:5-7). Those who are not the children of God have his wrath and judgment abiding on them (John 3:36; Rom 9:22; Eph 2:1). Those who are the children of God however are the recipients of his good pleasure and never his judgement. His discipline is measured by his mercy and love. Discipline is sanctification in the life of the Christian.

The model of Christian discipline is set in the model God has shown. It is measured in love, tempered in grace and merciful. This is not an argument simply that the mentality of a parent should never discipline in anger though that is clearly true (Eph 4:26; 6:4).(1) Rather the argument is to support the proper hermeneutic of the corporal punishment verses and understand that covenant children are seen as Christians are by God (Heb 10:28-30). The right understanding of the verses in Scripture speaking of the use of a rod should first be understood in the right context of the genre of literature it is written.

Koch describes Yahweh not as a “higher authority who deals out reward and punishment on the basis of an established norm but rather somewhat like a ‘midwife who assists at a birth’ by facilitating the completion of something which previous human action has already set in motion.”(2) The genre must be considered in interpretation as part of the message and not only the medium of an idea.

1 Ellen Pinderhughes et al., “Discipline Response: Influences of Parents’ Socioeconomic Status, Ethnicity, Beliefs About Parenting, Stress, and Cognitive – Emotional Processes,” Family Psychology 14 (3 2000): p 397
2 Klaus Koch, Theodicy in the Old Testament (ed. James L. Crenshaw; London, England: SPCK, 1983; repr., Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1983), p 61.
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