Spare the Rod, Spoil the child

3 min readJul 30, 2019

During a talk in church “Heart Talk” earlier tonight, I made a statement which I could see immediately didn’t go down well with many, so I thought to right an explainer note, and decided to post it here as well, since I have somehow fallen off the writing wagon.

The statement in question is that the phrase “He who spares the rod, spoils the child” isn’t from scripture…and while we have been socialized to think that it is, it was actually coined by a 17th-century poet and satirist by the name of Samuel Butler in his poem “Hudibras.”

“If matrimony and hanging go/By dest’ny, why not whipping too?/What med’cine else can cure the fits/Of lovers when they lose their wits?/Love is a boy, by poets styl’d/Then spare the rod, and spoil the child.”

The four similar scriptures that I can think of that people often mixup with the above are as follows:

Proverbs 13:24 (KJV): He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Proverbs 23: 13 and 14 (KJV): Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. 14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 22:15 (KJV): Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 29:15: The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.

It’s easy to see how a mix of the above can over time be represented as “He who spares the rod, spoils the child.”

That aside, do these scriptures necessarily promote corporal punishment or beating children? In my opinion? No.

Here’s why:

Seeing as the bible isn’t originally written in English, every time I am confused about something, I tend to either read multiple translations of the same scriptures, or just look up the actual meaning of the root words in question. If we do the latter in this instance, here’s what we’ll find.

The word translated to ROD in the verses above, shebet is staff (consider that the children of Israel where predominantly Shepherds at some point. The staff was used to pull their animals out of a ditch, and guide them as they grazed, shepherds didn’t beat or flog their animals. (P.S shebet also means shaft of spear, truncheon, sceptre (mark of authority), but those are too far out to be what’s meant in the above verses.

The root words for “beatest” and “beat” (in Proverbs 23:13:14 respectively) is ”Nakah” (which means to blow, smite, strike, slay or kill). So how do we decide whether it means to strike in this instance or to kill or slay? I think the key is in the fact that if you look at Strong’s Definition of the word, it states that “nakah” can be used both literally or figuratively.

My conclusion is that it was used figuratively (that’s my own conclusion o, draw yours). Assuming the meaning is literal, and it doesn’t mean kill, a strike, smite or blow is very far from the kind of beating I see happening around us.

Now regarding whether corporal punishment or beating is good or bad, I think that one is between you and God to be honest. At the very least though, let’s not justify abuse with scripture.

My personal opinion is that love and reason should be prioritised.