Monday, December 8, 2008

Don't Spare "The Rod". Discipline your child. But don't use the accidentals of a verse as translated into English to oversimplify, either.

The Hebrew verb that is translated as "train up" in most English renderings of Prov. 22:6, "Train up a child in the way he should go, so that when he is old, he will not depart from it", is "chanuk" (the root word of "Chanukah". It means "dedicate", like Chanukah is "The Dedication". You can dedicate a temple, inaugurate a leader, bless a house, cut the ribbon at a ground-breaking ceremony, or put a bit in a horse's mouth (yes, it can mean that too!). Dedicate your child. Inaugurate your child. Accustom your child. Commit to being a good example to your child. Put a bit in its mouth.

The Hebrew noun translated as "rod" in the Biblical proverb "spare the rod and you hate your child" means basically "branch". This is almost always used metaphorically to refer to lineage (think of a family "tree"). Think of Jesus as the "rod of Jesse", or a "shoot growing out of the stump of Jesse" (a reference to the lineage of Jesus). But it can also mean a more literal branch, like a shepherd's staff. A shepherd uses uses his staff to hook his sheep out of crevices or away from the edges of cliffs. Sometimes he uses his staff to discipline his sheep (for their own good!), and sometimes he uses it to beat away wolves. A good shepherd will take the personality of each individual sheep into account when he disciplines them. It can also be used to refer to a scepter, used to rule a kingdom. The word "rod" can be symbolic of a dominion or of leadership. It can also reference a javelin. I like the symmetry of the proverb. It's like, if you spare the rod, you hate your child, BUT if you love your child you will discipline him (or throw a javelin at him?). It contrasts love and hate, and compares the rod and discipline (spare the rod and you hate your child, if you love your child, you will discipline him). Discipline. As a principle. Not "spanking on the butt with a wooden spoon" specifically.

When we already have "spanking" in our minds when we read this proverb, it sounds like a proverb about... spanking. We assume "rod" means "spanking rod". Why? Because that's what we assume rods are used for. Also hanging curtains.

The trick is to try and have in our minds whatever an ancient Hebrew would have in his mind when reading this proverb.

Would he be thinking, "spare the wooden spoon used to spank, and you hate your child", or would he be thinking something more like "spare the staff used to beat away wolves, rescue sheep from peril, and discipline them as well, and you hate your child", or maybe "spare the scepter that signifies oversight, and you hate your child" (or "spare the javelin, and you hate your child...")?

Anyway, both of these are of the genre "proverb", whose intent is general and principle, not commanding and promising.

I am most definitely not categorically against spanking a child on his rear in the right context. I am against using this particular proverb to say that the Bible commands that we spank every child indiscriminate of their personalities or mental states on the butt with a wooden spoon everytime they misbehave.


  1. If you don't hang curtains in your child's room, you probably hate them.


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