The national debate on the ethics of corporal punishment rages on, and pro-spanking Christians continue to claim the Bible encourages or even commands such behavior. I’ve argued that the withering findings of social science regarding spanking should be taken seriously and have warned that one shouldn’t build an entire ethic from Proverbs, a book of general wisdom rather than universal commands.
In the last week, however, I have dug deeper into the few Biblical texts that directly address corporal punishment. It turns out that much of what pro-spanking Christians teach has no Biblical basis and often directly contradicts what the text actually says. So spanking proponents don’t actually read these Biblical passages as literally as they say they do. If they did, they wouldn’t be defending their views on Twitter. They’d be complaining to the warden.
Let’s assume for a moment that those claiming to read these passages literally are correct. Here are five myths of “Biblical spanking” and what the Bible actually says:
1. Limit the age and number of swats when spanking – Evangelical leader James Dobson says parents shouldn’t spank kids younger than 15-to-18-months old and “most corporal punishment [should] be finished prior to the first grade.” He and others have also popularized the “two-smacks-max” approach to limiting the number of swats. These restrictions, however, are found nowhere in the Biblical text. Rather, these teachings are often drawn from social science, a field that is dismissed by the same individuals when convenient.
In the Bible, there is no upper or lower age limit found in the Biblical text. However, the Bible does speak about corporal punishment for adults at which point it imposes a “40 lashes, but no more” restriction (Deuteronomy 25:3).