A follow up on Proverbs 20:30

I received a question motivated by my 10/30/2006 post on Proverbs 20:30, and after responding I thought I would post both the question and the answer here, since I have heard related questions before and some might find the discussion helpful.  If you didn’t read the earlier post, you can click here and do so.  I have edited the question and answer a bit for clarity and such, but they are substantially given here “as is.”  I don’t want to turn this blog into a “Parenting How-To” discussion forum, and there are certainly other locations to go to for such a discussion.  However, given the number of conversations I have had on this topic (and the conversations my wife and I have had, as well) I thought that this might be a helpful follow up.
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The Question:

My husband and I are having a disagreement about this particular verse.  He believes this verse tells us that we should spank hard enough to leave a bruise when the situation warrants it.  I do not believe that this is what the verse is saying.  I believe that when we spank our children we should not leave bruises.  I do believe that spanking does need to be painful enough so that children think twice about repeating the behavior.  I would appreciate your opinion on this issue.  Thank you.

My Answer:

Howdy, and thanks for the question.

The point of the verse is effective punishment that helps the one punished along the path to repentance by providing a negative consequence that he or she would rather avoid, and by associating the wrong choice that has been made with a negative experience. In essence, the punishment has to “hurt.” This is a principle that applies to more than childrearing, actually, but obviously it has a direct impact on childrearing choices.

In order to best give you a helpful opinion (instead of just an opinion) it would be helpful to know you and speak to you both face-to-face, since often the unspoken context (yet not necessarily unspoken because of guile) provides just the right insight to make advice accurate and workable. Still, I can speak to the general principles here and I hope they are helpful.

In my experience, effective punishment will vary based upon the child. For instance, of our children we have one with whom — at this stage — any form of corporal punishment is virtually unnecessary. There is punishment that brings him negative consequences that “hurt,” but the need to spank (which was absolutely present in the early years) has virtually disappeared. On the other end of the spectrum, we have another child for whom spankings often seem to be merely mild irritants; while, on the other hand, seeing his brothers enjoying something that he has been denied because of the choices he has made — THAT really “hurts” and is a great motivator in his case to curb wrong behavior.  Our other two boys seem somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.  (BTW:  With each of the four boys spanking has been a beneficial part of our discipline and training of them.  The comments above are not meant to imply otherwise.)

In order to really apply the principle behind this verse (Proverbs 20:30), my wife and I have needed to be observant, imaginative, and lovingly consistent. And — to be honest — I feel like we have failed more than we have succeeded in all three of these regards, yet God seems to “have our backs” so to speak, and I am thankful for the fruit that we are seeing in their lives.

So to answer your question, I think the focus on bruises is misplaced. My wife and I struggled with very similar questions and finally found that we were asking the wrong questions to begin with. Whether or not there is a bruise should not be the focus. Rather, the focus should be on whether the choice of discipline (1) is lovingly (NEVER angrily) administered, (2) connects behavior to outcome, (3) produces the desired repentance, (4) paves the way for forgiveness and restoration, and (5) ultimately improves the relationship between parent and child (and between the child and God) rather than tears it down.

Proverbs 20:30 touches on some of these principles, but it cannot stand alone as a guide for parents on punishment of their children. There are many other Biblical passages and injunctions that touch on this issue, as well (e.g., unnecessary severity or perceived parental anger or injustice can provoke a child to wrath, potentially contradicting the command of Ephesians 6:4), and all of them should be prayerfully studied and considered in formulating one’s approach to childrearing and discipline issues.

The best way to judge actions — assuming that the actions are rooted in sound Biblical principles of love, law, compassion, and Godliness — is by their fruit. The presence or absence of bruises is not a focus on fruit. The effect of the discipline on behavior, relationship, and character is the fruit, and all three of these must be considered by the “fruit inspectors” before judgment is made.

In this sense, then, Proverbs 20:30 is a call to focus on the fruit of the discipline (the goal being a cleansed heart) in such a way that it is effectively administered for the benefit of the one being punished. And there are many more Scriptures that work together to address how to do that, in addition to this this short proverb alone, and God’s entire Word must be consulted to get the full picture (cf. Isa 28:9-10).

I hope this is helpful. Our church has a brand new booklet that you might be interested in ordering from us in this regard. It is titled “Successful Parenting: God’s Way” and it is so new that we don’t have it listed on our website order form, yet (at least, as of 6/7/2007). However, if you go to our “Contact Us” page, you can e-mail us and request the booklet in the body of the e-mail (or, for that matter, by phone using the numbers given on that page). All of our literature really is absolutely free, with no gimmicks or tricks. We don’t ask for donations, we don’t contact you later without your permission, we don’t give your contact info to other people — we just want the truth of God in as many hands as possible, and many people all over the world have come together to back this work and make all of its materials completely free to anyone who asks, in obedience to Matthew 10:8.

Thanks for your question, and I hope this helps. I know that it isn’t the “yes” or “no” type of answer that we often want to hear, but I hope that it helps to focus the discussion you and your husband are having in the right direction.

BTW, here is that “Contact Us” page:

And should the new booklet be added to the normal order form, it will show up here with our other booklets:

Best regards,
Wallace Smith

One thought on “A follow up on Proverbs 20:30

  1. If I (not as a current parent, but as a former child) may make an observation: God has a way of working through human beings despite themselves, if necessary — if they’re willing to let Him. Strange how hard that seems to be for human beings to grasp.

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