There is clear reference in the Bible to the fact that God punishes. Because we as parents are supposed to be teaching our children who God is, is there not justification for us to employ punishment as we present for them the full and complete nature of God? Even if one abandons spanking, wouldn’t it be wise to use other forms of punishment?
From the dictionary:
- 1. The act or an instance of punishing.
- 2. The condition of being punished.
- 3. A penalty imposed for wrongdoing: The severity of the punishment must… be in keeping with the kind of obligation which has been violated (Simone Weil).
- 4. Rough handling; mistreatment: These old skis have taken a lot of punishment over the years.
From the Thesaurus:
- disciplinary action
- hard work
- just deserts
- punitive measures
- rough treatment
- short shrift
- slave labor
- what for
We’re talking here about a penalty for wrong doing that falls along a spectrum of hard work to outright abuse and victimization. What does the Bible say about this? There are actually many verses that talk about punishment, so let’s take a sampling and see what they have to say.
There is definitely a theme of God punishing the unjust. While He says that his blessings are for those who love him and his curses are for his enemies, we see mention often of curses for those who put themselves outside of his Law. Some examples of this can be found in Isaiah 13:11 “And I will punish the world for [their] evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.”
Evil, which is violating the Law of God, deserves punishment. This is clear. This is why when the Israelites abandoned God’s Law they found themselves being punished.
It is true, as I point out in another article about this issue, that for them this consisted of the removal of God’s protection and was more in line with the natural consequences not being blocked-the natural consequences being that the wages of sin is death.
But all it took was to turn back to God and His Law and God stated over and over again His promise to hear them and heal their land; again and again He has returned them from captivity when they have returned to Him. In our own lives we may see this too. While God does not remove His relationship and salvation He sometimes withholds His protection so that we endure the natural consequences of our choices.
This is always AFTER He has taught us, AFTER He has patiently corrected and encouraged us, AFTER He has provided a way of escape from the temptation, and AFTER we have willfully chosen to violate His Law. I would argue that we can look at the lives of believers and also see that new believers have the natural consequences of their sins blocked far more often that more mature believers whom God expects to know better. When you are chewing on the meat of God’s Word and stumble in an area of milk you can expect to suffer the natural consequences of your poor choice.
So is it ever the job of a parent to punish a child? We certainly have a passage in Hebrews 12 that says: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” This passage is very problematic to translate and study because of several issues discussed more in my article about Hebrew 12, but for now let me simply say that the author of Hebrews is here quoting a passage from Proverbs. As you study the translation of this verse between different versions of the Bible you see how problematic this particular verse is as many do not contain the word “scourge”. He is quoting the Septuagint which is a Greek translation of the OT (and even though the word in question from the Septuagint has been translated as “scourge” in the OT it appears as “punishes”), but in the Hebrew original version the verse actually reads, “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Now, let’s see what it means to “chasten” and then we can deal with the second part of the verse. “Chasteneth” is “paideuo” means: 1) to train children; a) to be instructed or taught or learn; b) to cause one to learn; 2) to chastise; a) to chastise or castigate with words, to correct; 1) of those who are moulding the character of others by reproof and admonition; b) of God; 1) to chasten by the affliction of evils and calamities; c) to chastise with blows, to scourge; 1) of a father punishing his son; 2) of a judge ordering one to be scourged.” When used by the Hebrew authors of the Bible the words “chasten” or “chastise” are generally understood to be a verbal correction and carry with them the connotation of “come let us reason together.” This fits better with the understanding of the Proverbs passage in question when read in the Original Hebrew. Why, then, does the author of Hebrews cite the more punitive worded Septuagint and why does he appear to be saying that God punishes his spiritual sons as fathers punish their physical sons? To understand that one must look at the context of the passage in Hebrews and understand to whom it is being written.
Hebrews is a book written to Messianic believers in Yeshua/Jesus who were being persecuted because of their faith. The book is an attempt to encourage them; to give meaning to what they are going through. The intention of this passage is not to teach how to be a parent, but rather to draw on the reality of the life of the individuals who were no doubt at some time treated harshly by their earthly father (note that Paul’s instructions to fathers to not provoke their children to anger was due to parenting practices of the day that were not advisable under the Law as they were causing children to violate the commandment to honor their father and mother) and were now suffering for their faith.
Because it was culturally expected that God got credit for all that was good and all that was painful, God is being shown to be a loving father who is using this to grow them in their faith and bring them into more spiritual maturity. This is upheld by the admonition that follows in verses 7-11 which is: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
The word translated “sons” is “huios” and means “those who revere God as their father, the pious worshippers of God, those who in character and life resemble God, those who are governed by the Spirit of God, repose the same calm and joyful trust in God which children do in their parents (Rom. 8:14, Gal. 3:26 ), and hereafter in the blessedness and glory of the life eternal will openly wear this dignity of the sons of God. Term used pre-eminently of Jesus Christ, as enjoying the supreme love of God, united to him in affectionate intimacy, privy to his saving councils, obedient to the Father’s will in all his acts.” And often the word translated as “disciplines” in one version is translated as “corrects” or other words in other versions. For example, in verse 9 when he talks about “fathers which corrected”, “which corrected” is “paideutes” and means “1) an instructor, preceptor, teacher; 2) a chastiser.” So God is compared to our fathers who corrected us as instructors through what was generally understood to be verbal correction.
So we have the redeemed of God who are suffering and an encouragement to them that God is using this suffering to teach them as their earthly fathers who loved them taught them through unpleasant means. Yet other than the reference to “scourgeth” which only appears in some translations and for which there is no Hebrew OT reference, we don’t have a picture of people being spanked or physically punished. Instead we have a situation that is in line with James’ admonition to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2)
Does this reference to unpleasant discipline from earthly fathers in an attempt to encourage those who are suffering for their faith give us a foundation, or even a wall, for a doctrine of punishing our children? Not only is that not the authors’ intention, I do not believe that this passage can be stretched to support that idea.
In Deuteronomy 32:35 we learn that vengeance and recompense belong to the Lord. This means that it is for God to demand justice. In the Law He clearly states some violations of the Law that require certain actions from the violator in order for recompense to be made. While the community was responsible for demanding these actions of recompense, they were not put in the position of setting them. Also, because of the commandment forbidding someone from bearing false witness against his neighbor, it was determined that no one was allowed to be the only witness against someone’s sin.
There must be two or more witnesses before it would be determined that someone had violated the Law. This is partly why some punishments for actions are steeper for someone known to have violated the Law verses someone accused of violating the Law (for example in the case of rape of a woman where it comes down to his word against hers.) Yet these are judgments and punishments done at the level of government. It was the priests or the judges or the king (depending on what time in history you are talking about) who would determine whether or not someone had violated the Law and what, if any, retribution must be made. Only adults were held accountable for fulfilling the Law!!!!! This bears repeating only adults were held accountable for fulfilling the Law!
Today we have a system of government that does not rely on the OT Law but was based on it in many parts and has determined punishments for many of the same things. While we also have a juvenile justice system, our primary justice system is one that only adults are held accountable to. Children are not expected to know better, adults are. Children are expected to learn from their mistakes, adults are expected to pay for theirs.
According to Proverbs 17:26 we learn, “Also to punish the just [is] not good, [nor] to strike princes for equity.” This is consistent with the requirement for two or more witnesses before someone could be found guilty of violating the Law. Here the Hebrew word translated “punish” is “anash” and means “1) to fine, amerce, punish, condemn, mulct ; a) (Qal) to fine, punish ; b) (Niphal) to be fined, be punished, be mulcted”. And “tsaddiyq” is the word for “just” and this is what it means: “1) just, lawful, righteous; a) just, righteous (in government); b) just, right (in one’s cause); c) just, righteous (in conduct and character); d) righteous (as justified and vindicated by God); e) right, correct, lawful”. In other words, do not charge a just man with violating God’s Law and fine him or assign a penalty for something he did not do. The warning is serious because you would be a man imposing a punishment against someone God has justified, vindicated and found righteous. This becomes especially important if your child is a believer who has been justified by the blood of Jesus. If God has called him righteous then you have no right to punish him.
Some will then argue that one of God’s commandments is to “Honor
your father and mother”. This is true. But let me again state that ONLY
adults were held accountable for fulfilling the Law. The Law is spoken to
each individual. It is our job as parents to teach our children how to live
rightly and thus fulfill the Law. (If you are struggling with my repeated
references to the Law applying to us today please read my study on the
Until our child becomes an adult we are instructed regarding the Law:
- “Deu 6:1-9 Now these [are] the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do [them] in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do [it]; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God [is] one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
This is our instruction as parents-not to punish, but to teach. If we fail to teach our children then they will violate the Law of both God and the land and they will face punishments. But vengeance and recompense are God’s, not ours, to demand. While we are the first reflection of God that our children see, let us not arrogantly put ourselves in God’s place and demand that our children worship us instead of the Lord-or even until they are able to worship the Lord. Let us always be instructing them in the ways of the Lord. Let us not put our law above His in their hearts and let us not hold them to a higher standard than God does-God who does not make children accountable for upholding His Law!
So, God does punish, but this does not mean that as parents we must punish. In fact, the Bible is clear that we should not. References to parents punishing that are being used to encourage believers who are suffering for their faith do not provide a sound basis for a doctrine that the Bible teaches parents must punish. Instead, our job is clearly outlined in Scripture-to teach; to disciple; to correct and to impart to our children the value of Gods Law. Let us be about doing that!