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Blog: Does the Bible justify Child Abuse?

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on December 7, 2007


The cardinal passage from Scriptures being used as justification of various types of what can only be described as child abuse, is Proverbs 13:24 “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” In this ‘article’ I will show how a misunderstanding (willful or unintentional, it really doesn’t matter for the purpose of this article) of the Hebrew Scriptures has lead to a culture of violence and abuse within devout fundamentalist Christian families. This culture is represented and promoted by, among others, Pastor Michael Pearl and his wife Debi. In his book “To Train Up a Child”, Pastor Pearl gives some horrifying examples of both methods and reasons for using violence to raise children.

“Select your instrument according to the child’s size,” writes Pearl. “For the under one year old, a little, ten to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (stripped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.” When addressing the possibility that a child might object to the abuse, Pearl writes: “When she screams or flees, calmly follow through by physically subduing her. Sit on her, if you have to, and slowly explain that you will not tolerate this resistance. Explain in a normal tone (She will eventually stop screaming and listen) that you are going to give her, say, five licks for the original offense and an additional two licks for the fit. Slowly apply the five licks, counting out loud. When I say slowly, I mean with a thirty second gap between each lick and a calm explanation to the screaming child that you are not the least impressed except that you are going to spank harder and she still gets the additional two licks plus one more for her ongoing screaming. When you have finally arrived at five well- anticipated and carefully counted licks, say, “OK, your spanking is over; that is the five licks you got for hitting your brother, but now I must give you two more for trying to run away.” Give her one lick and say, “Now, that is one of the licks for running away; you have one more coming.” Give the second lick, and then calmly and slowly explain that all her licks are over now, except for the one additional lick she incurred for continuing to scream during the spanking. After you have finished, tell her that you are going to let her up now, if she stops screaming, otherwise you are going to give her one additional lick. If she stops, or at least makes a great effort to, then you have won. You may never have to go through this horrible time again. But, if she is continuing to scream in defiance, you have the option of continuing to warn and spank, or of ceasing here with a parting warning: “Next time you better not run and throw a fit; for if you do, you will only get more licks and harder ones.”

During the period of Enslavement in the US, ‘flogging’, corporeal punishment using a “rod” (cane), a “switch” (a slender, flexible shoot, rod, etc.) or a whip, was used to discipline errant slaves. Slaves were reduced into a frightened, painful sobbing heap as a result, and they were grown men and women! How much more then a child? It is natural for any human, grown or child to respond to pain and humiliation or the anticipation of pain and humiliation with cries and attempts to avoid pain and humiliation. Crying and running away from a danger, such as pain and humiliation, is a defense mechanism, innate in all living creatures. This NATURAL response to danger, is, according to Pastor Pearl, to be responded to by further pain and humiliation…!

The ideology behind this calculated, willful and sadistic abuse, is nothing but one of needing absolute control by any means possible and killing a soul in the process. It is based on the idea that children are born bad, evil, corrupt, and that this badness, evil, corruption can be beaten out of them, another misreading of Scriptures: Proverbs 22:15 “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.”, Proverbs 23:14 “If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” ( gives a very scary cross reference to Proverbs 23:14 -> 1 Corinthians 5:5 “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (NASB ) Alternate reading: “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”

The kind of sadistic abuse Pastor Pearl teaches and promotes has absolutely nothing to do with what the Author of Proverbs suggests. Abuse will not teach a child God’s Word or God’s Will, it will cruelly and sadistically cripple and eventually kill the child emotionally and spiritually. It might be that the child will stop bothering its parents unless invited, but the child will forever be scarred and far from the Image of God which the Creator intended it to be. I would suggest that rather than beating the bad out of the child, parents using Pastor Pearl’s “childrearing” methods, will be beating bad, evil, corruption and Satan into their children.

Let’s look at what Scriptures REALLY teach about child rearing and how to go about it. Proverbs 3: 11-12 states “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Alternate reading: “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD, neither spurn thou His correction; For whom the LORD loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.”

In order to understand correctly the meaning of verses such as Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15 we have to connect it to Proverbs 3:12, as God Himself provide us with an image of how to raise our children. God doesn’t abuse us with a cane, switch or whip, nor does He humiliate us. He reproves us through His Word, He correct us, not by physical violence but by reminding us verbally of what He wants of us, this is evident throughout Scriptures. Nowhere in God’s Teaching is there any direct implement of physical abuse. Why is that? Because the Hebrew Scriptures takes as self-evident the image of the shepherd and his rod as the archetype of a good and loving parent. If one studies societies which in terms of the institution of shepherding, one will see that a shepherd NEVER uses his staff/rod to strike or beat the sheep. A shepherd’s staff/rod is an instrument of GUIDANCE, to direct the sheep onto the path the shepherd wants them to move. A shepherd uses his staff/rod to catch straying sheep and to keep the flock together as it moves about. It also serves as a simple weapon to ward off wild animals.

When the Hebrew Scriptures use ‘rod’, ‘staff’, ‘discipline’, ‘correction’, it refers without exception to guidance through verbal instruction and nothing else. This becomes even more evident if we read Deuteronomy 6:7 “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (NIV) First it says to teach the words that God commands to one’s children and then it tells us how that is to be done, “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” This idea of the rod and staff being something that is not an instrument of hurt but of gentle guidance, is recorded in Psalm 23. Psalm 23 is perhaps the most famous of all the Psalms, and it portrays God as a Shepherd whose rod and staff is a comfort. When Scripture seemingly contradict Itself both opinions must be true, which means that God cannot be a loving Parent, whose “rod and staff” is our comfort and at the same time expect us to beat the living daylights out of our children with implements of torture. So either God is not the Loving Parent who guides us with His Word, His Rod and Staff of Comfort, or the meaning of Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15 is not what Pastor Pearl teaches. You choose.

Lastly, Jesus Christ is portrayed as the Good Shepherd, and throughout the Gospels we are admonished to let the little children come to Him, because they belong to the Kingdom of God, Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; Luke 18:16 and by implication Mark 9:37. Children are not “let to come anywhere” through whipping them there, they are getting where they need to go through gently picking them up and guiding them with the words of love and encouragement. We are also told that whatever we do to one of His little ones we do to Him, Matthew 25:40, and that if we hurt one of His little ones, it would be better for us to be sunk in the sea with a millstone around our necks. So every time we beat a child, whatever our motivation might be, we are whipping Jesus Christ and their Angels are keeping track of every lick we administer, Matthew 18:6, 10-11; Luke 17:2; Mark 9:42.


LORD, Father of all children, great and small, for the sake of Your name, protect all children who are now living with abusive, sadistic parents, be they Christian or not, and keep these small innocent souls as intact and unharmed as possible. You who said “let the Children come to me”, work Your Gentle and Life-Changing miracle for those children, so that they may grow up and be whole and sound in body, mind and spirit. In Your Holy Name. Amen.

Original author, Henry Gordon, used with permission

I don’t usually post entire Blog entries, nor do I usually agree with Christians – this is an exception.

This guy I agree with COMPLETELY on this issue.

Edit: As far as I have been able to determine, the quotes in bright red in the above entry is from  Spare the quarter-inch plumbing supply line, spoil the child


14 Responses to “Blog: Does the Bible justify Child Abuse?”

  1. Michael said

    I agree Silly Old Bear, talking to a child. Guiding them in to whats wrong and whats right is the only way. Punishment wont do it. In a loving way talking does more good.


  2. Thank you, Michael 🙂


  3. Angel said

    This is my first visit here and you have a terrific blog. I never bought into that “spare the rod” mentality either. Nice post.


  4. “Check your instrument according to a child’s size” – Please! These people
    are insane and certainly NOT teaching love. By the way you Silly old Bear,
    next time I put somebody else’s writing on my blog I will give reference to where it came from! Thanks for your recommendation. Have a wonderful day!


  5. Thank you Marsha!

    The omission of an original source in the above entry was purely unintentional, due to general brain farting. I hope you are satisfied that I have amended this.



  6. Quebec said

    Thankyou for sharing this very accurate and instructive description of the ‘spare the rod’ scripture. It is the most excellent discourse on the meaning of the Proverbs scripture that I have come across. The very gentle and wonderful horseman Monty Roberts (CA, USA) suggested that the rod referred to in Proverbs is a fishing rod – that the idea is we need to spend quality time with our children. His book ‘Join Up’ (aka ‘horse sense for humans’) is brilliant reading for anyone who has children around them, and also his book ‘the man who listens to horses.’


  7. “Thankyou for sharing this very accurate and instructive description of the ’spare the rod’ scripture. It is the most excellent discourse on the meaning of the Proverbs scripture that I have come across.”

    Yeah, I really like this too. As I said, I don’t usually quote entire articles, but this one was too good to let go.



  8. Rob Garvin said

    Wow, from someone who doesn’t really believe in the Bible, SOB preached a fabulous sermon.
    That Pastor and his wife sure do have things topsy turvy.
    From my own experience with our children. Number one, boy. Only ever smacked with wooden spoon about 5 times in his growing life. Never more than two sharp smacks which stung enough to remind him that his behaviour was not acceptable. Talking and loving were the normal best methods. Shouting and belittling a child is definitely wrong. the child believes what they are told. If one tells them they are bad then that is the direction they will go. Children must always be directed into the way they need to go with positive affirmation but bad behavior must never go unpunished, but never administered in front of others.
    If a child is to be corrected, it must be done while the parent is NOT angry. Taking out one’s anger on a child is extremely cowardly and nothing short of being a bully. The child will note the bullying and probably carry it on into their own life.
    I did not fare quite so well with the two girls, much to my own disgrace. Fortunately they have grown to be Lovely people because their Mother was such a Darling. They had their share of rebellion. They are three reasonably well adjusted adults.
    As a child myself, I was subjected to the razor strop and the butter stick many times. My Mother loved us but was herself the recipient of the “stick” so at least we have worked on removing this type of deterrent from the family line somewhat. I was determined that my children would not have to endure the yelling and shouting or the beatings that I myself had. We did not have full success but at least our Grand children are in good hands (once their mother found a wonderful husband who also believes that the stick and shouting is not the best answer but loving and talking is.)


  9. ANA DOWNS said

    I’ve been looking around and really am impressed by the exceptional content material here. I work the nightshift at my job and it is so boring. I’ve been coming here for the past couple nights and reading. I just needed to let you know that I have been enjoying what I have seen and I look ahead to reading more.


  10. Wow, from someone who doesn’t really believe in the Bible, SOB preached a fabulous sermon.

    I wasn’t going to reply to you Rob Garvin, simply because your understanding of the Torah/Hebrew Bible and the Greek Scriptures is so way off base that discussing with you would be like doing high-tech battle with an unarmed man.

    The fact is that I do believe in the Bible – The Hebrew Bible – the part that doesn’t have any blasphemous additions about a man being G-d. My friend, Henry Gordon, who wrote the original post above, is a Xian, with extensive, in-depth studies of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek Scriptures, so extensive that he qualifies for post-graduate studies and ordination for the Lutheran priesthood in two different denominations (one with the Baptists and one with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden).

    You – you’re nothing but a certified child abuser, and you should be in jail for your crimes against innocent and precious children.

    Any further comments from you will be deleted here. You are not welcome here.


  11. I’ve been looking around and really am impressed by the exceptional content material here. I work the nightshift at my job and it is so boring. I’ve been coming here for the past couple nights and reading. I just needed to let you know that I have been enjoying what I have seen and I look ahead to reading more.

    Thank you, Ana :)I am glad that you found something worth filling your nightshift with 🙂



  12. Carole Martin said

    I just came across this blog in some research I am doing on childhood punishment. I was one of those kids whose father used a razor strop to punish. Believe me, it left me with deep emotional scars that I have struggled with my entire life. I am 66 yrs old now and still have times that I weep for that little girl who was so abused. My father was a minister who believed in ‘do not spare the rod’. Sometimes people are such idiots.


    • Carol,

      Thank you for commenting 🙂

      It’s never too late to have a happy childhood – nor is it too late to take that little girl and hold her close and tell her how much YOU love her, and how wrong YOU think the man that beat her with a razor strop was, and how that is no way to treat a child. Yes, cry for her, or perhaps, WITH her, and then in your mind’s eye stand up (as a now adult woman) to that man in the presence of that little girl and tell him fiercely and strongly that has no right to treat her that way, then – still in your mind’s eye, grab that little girl, and walk out of his presence with her in your arms. Sounds ‘weird’, I know – however it helped me heal that little kid inside me, the little kid who was beaten with everything from open hands to wire clothe hangers by the woman who was supposedly my mother.


  13. […] Very good work done here: […]


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