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Is Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child, Biblical?

Is Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child part of what the Bible gives us for advise, or is this a creation of religious commentators and translators?

I’m putting this post up today because I happened to be doing some research into a paleo-Hebrew text, and it reminded me of a legendary saying that we all seem to believe was either directly spoken by God, or inspired by God himself, and therefore to be obeyed or at least the proper attention paid to it. But here’s a shocker for you, in case you are not aware of it – some of the biblical verses were actually mistranslated by scholars hundreds of years ago, and yet have never been corrected! One such is the legend that we think we all know, in the admonition of “spare the rod and spoil the child.” But few of us know how that phrase came to be.

I was researching another topic and noticed that the Hebrew Rabbin (plural for Rabbi but your spell-checker is perhaps goy-built) had modified one of their existing proverbs from the Old Testament.

We see that Proverb 22:15 has been traditionally translated in the Hebrew language version of the Old Testament as: “A nod to the wise is sufficient; the fool requires a blow”. (http://qbible.com/hebrew/) After laughing hysterically for a while, I decided to look up the original Hebrew that they were quoting. Because it couldn’t be that funny.

The King James Version has translated that same chapter and verse as “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.”

So it seems that King James’ boys decided to bend it so that it would apply to children in their Church schools as well. Rods, blows, fools, children …. what’s really going on here?

So I decided to check the Hebrew version to see what they actually wrote in the early Hebrew text. But the actual Hebrew (from the Masoretic text) tells us a completely different story.

I’m shocked!   But not really, since I have seen this a few times previously.

The word meanings, in the order that they are given, and with the number of times that each meaning has been used in other portions of the biblical text is:

conspired 18, bind 14 (to league together)
folly 13, foolishness 10
instruction 30, correction 8 (discipline)
tribe 140, rod 34 (to branch off)
young man 76, servant 54, child/lad 77
heart 508, mind 12, (will, understanding)
in, at, to, on, among, with, towards, by, because of
than 224, above 46, among 35, any 35, besides 46, outside 52,
far 25, (to be or become far or distant)

We should accept the meaning that is used most frequently as having the best chance of being the correct one.

So I believe that they meant something like : “Foolishness conspires in the heart of a young man; reaching further than any instruction.” So it was probably just a comment on how difficult it is to train young students, and NOT A COMMANDMENT TO USE A ROD ON THEM.

No rods, no more blows; albeit fools or slow learners they may be!

So let’s all just take it for granted that we no longer have to beat those ignorant kids, the ones that just don’t “get” the bible teachings in Sunday School classes. And of course I understand that nobody ever beats any children in Sunday School – I made that statement as a tongue-in-cheek example.

But I do consider that when a Nun or Priest used a ruler on the knuckles of a child, or spanked his or her bottom, it counts as not “sparing the rod” so as not to “spoil the child”. And even those actions are either completely discontinued or curtailed in today’s world. But what about the generations that grew up with this type of discipline? And what about the harsh discipline awarded to our own children in the rural America of olden days?

BTW – I used to be one of those Sunday School teachers, and in my experience the kids actually got the message more often than some of the adults did.


After posting the above, I received a comment from a reader who had  a very important question to ask …..

So what about Proverbs 13:24?

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

And here is my own reply:

You asked about Proverbs 13:24?

Thank you for asking. I had not noticed that it ran so parallel to my own example. But does it also have a meaning that is similar to my own example or is this the smoking gun that tells us to physically discipline our children?

Yes, after looking it over, I find that this is yet another example that proves my own point – that the Biblical text  absolutely does not say to spare the rod and spoil the child.  As you  provided, here is how it is traditionally translated:

“Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”

Here are each of the meanings from the original Masoretic Hebrew characters for this verse in question;

to withhold, restrain, hold back, keep in check, refrain
rod, staff, branch, offshoot, club, scepter tribe, From a root meaning to branch off; a scion,
+ suffix meaning “his”
to hate, be hateful, to hate (personally):—enemy, foe,
son, grandson, child, member of a group, children, youth
+ suffix meaning “his”
and, and therefore, also, then, yet
to have affection for (sexually or otherwise), lover, love
+ suffix meaning “his”
to seek, seek early or earnestly, look early or diligently for
+ suffix meaning “his”
properly chastisement; figuratively reproof, warning or instruction; also restraint:

As to this last word meaning, we look to usage and context to determine which meaning fits best, based upon how they have been used in other verses of the text.

The Hebrew was translated as the following meanings, and the number of times:
instruction (20 times)
discipline (18)
punishment (2)
warning, chastise and reproof are all (1 time)

So what we actually have in that verse is quite different from what King James tells us, and very much in line with my earlier example.

But thanks to your  question, we now have another sad situation.  It appears that we are being provided with wisdom towards how we should counsel or keep in order the
members of our extended family or tribe. And the situation that this verse speaks of is one of abuse of minors.

When one is observed to mistreat his own children, what advice does the Bible provide to us in order to help put him or her back into a loving path? That’s what my translation of this verse gives:

To keep in check a relative (or tribal member);
the hateful anger he has towards his children,
and therefore to have his affection,
seek early and diligently for his instruction.

So, in order to control the perhaps frustrated or alcohol induced anger that has arisen between one of your relatives and his own children, and to ensure that those children have the life that they deserve, this verse was placed in the Bible to guide us.

And that answer is very simple – very early on,  before it gets completely out of hand, and with great determination and diligence, instruct him in the error of his ways.

But again, no rods, no beatings, no children being punished, but, in this example, exactly the opposite.

Would it not serve to have this taught in Church in replace of the traditional explanation and command to not spoil the rod?

I will offer up here my own opinion, and you can take it for  what you will.  But my conscious dictates that I at least offer this suggestion.  Rather that having your own life and those of your children determined by a translation from any of the
versions of the many translations of the Old Testament, take a look at the original text for yourself.

Then decide if that is what they were actually trying to
convey to us, or was it what a 16th Century religious commentator decided was the best form for humanity to adopt?   Is it the word or God or the opinion of men? Is this what God wanted me to know, or is this how scholars in the late middle-ages period of history felt towards the strong, physical disciplining of their own children and the children of their congregations?

This:  http://www.qbible.com,  is one website that offers the original Hebrew words, and each can be clicked on to learn
the many possible meanings behind each word. Then you can make your own decision.   For your own families.

If I can help with any of your questions surrounding the Biblical texts I would be happy to do so, time permitting.  I will not preach to you – because I am not a preacher.

People say that the Bible is not perfect. I believe that in it’s own way it is – it’s faulty translators and not God that we have to blame for any errors that we find.   Enjoy your day and please hit the Contact Me link with your comments.