Many people contact me asking for clarification on Hebrews 12, specifically verses 4-6. When read in the English it can appear to condone spanking, or at least punishment, but I’m convinced from my research that it does not. I am still researching this verse and don’t consider what is written here as final or conclusive but I’m hoping this will be a comprehensive answer that will cover it from several angles.
First, I want to clarify some things about Bible Study and Hebrews specifically. It’s important to understand what kind of a genre you’re working with. Some books in the Bible are history, some are wisdom writings, some are poetry, some are prophecies or apocalyptic writings, we have the Gospels and then we have the letters. Hebrews is a letter. That means the author is writing to a specific group of people–Jewish believers.
We have to ask why it was written–to encourage them that their faith in Messiah is secure and reasonable.
We also have to ask by whom it was written–in the case of Hebrews we simply don’t know.
The author makes no claim to authorship so we can only speculate. Some believe it was written by Paul, but it is one of the last books written and doesn’t fit with the progression of maturity and development of ideas in Paul’s letters.
It was likely written by someone attempting to write in the style of Paul which was something done quite regularly at the time and was considered a sign of deep respect for the person who’s style was being copied.
One very interesting thing to note about Hebrews is that the author presents himself and his arguments more as a thesis than a personal letter. In other words he makes most of his points with secondary sources. Like a paper in college he doesn’t make his own arguments and let them stand for themselves but rather cites other Biblical sources to support his ideas and presents his ideas as secondary to the original sources.
This is what we find going on in Hebrews 12:4-6. “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’”
The author is actually making his point by citing three other Biblical passages so let’s go see what those are in order to understand the point he’s trying to make.
2. Psalms 119:75
Psalm 119 is titled “Meditations and Prayers Relating to the Law of God” and this particular verse reads:
“I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me.”
David is talking about what he has gone through and the suffering he’s experienced for his sinful choices. In God’s Law things are outlined along with their consequences and he’s acknowledging that he has deserved what he’s experienced. This is the understanding of a mature and humble man who realizes the fact that he has done wrong and is acknowledging so before the Lord.
3. Revelation 3:19
“Those whom I love I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.”
This *is* the Lord talking about the fact that when someone does wrong He will reprove them and discipline them. There is no specific mention of punishment on the part of the Lord. In fact it is the Lord warning that He won’t hesitate to reprove and discipline, so be spiritually mature and repent before that needs to happen. It’s almost like God asking us, “Can you stop yourself or do you need my help?”
So, we’ve got our author of Hebrews citing three verses that make clear that God will correct and discipline those whom He loves. No problem, we know that about God. It’s part of His character and He does it throughout Scripture. We also have the implication that as His children we need to repent and learn from the discipline.
But in the Hebrews text we have this pesky use of the word “scourges” which definitely means to beat and hurt. The thing is, that’s nowhere in the original verses. They are found in the Septuagint and that is the source being cited and I believe that the Lord oversaw all of the writing of Scripture-and Hebrews is definitely Scripture. The thing is, the presence of this word does not change the meaning of the passage and must not be allowed to argue for something not intended by the author. Our author of Hebrews is not arguing that God punishes so human parents should punish, or that human parents punish so God punishes. Our author is saying that even difficult, painful, and “following Jesus to the cross” times in our life are things we can learn from. No matter how painful, until we have suffered to the point of death we are learning lessons and we can be encouraged by viewing everything we experience as the discipline of the Lord.
One interesting thing I’ve found about this passage that I will share. Apparently the word “scourge” first appears in the KJV and then is translated back into Greek texts by later translators. This is supported by the fact that the references in the study Bible are for Strong’s dictionary which is the dictionary for the KJV. I contacted the head of the Aramaic Society which is very much into researching the most original texts, and this is what I learned. Aramaic is the oldest Semitic language and basically original Hebrew. In the version of the Bible they are releasing, this is how the passage reads for verse 6: “For those whom the Lord loves He chastens him, and disciplines the son in whom He is pleased.” I was assured that in the oldest versions of this text the idea of scourge is nowhere present. Discipline yes. Scourge no. This would be a more accurate representation of the verses being cited.
Ultimately, each and every passage of Scripture must be viewed in light of all of Scripture and I would never scourge my children because one verse that says this is something fathers do without even suggesting it is something they should do. Certainly any argument for modern day spanking based on this one reference in Hebrews is built on incredibly shaky ground and I do not believe an argument can be made for this practice based on this citation.