Disciplining with Corporal Punishment
When I was a youngster my mother spoke of the *birch. She could remember its use for punishing petty criminals, and even I can remember when it was used in the Isle of Man, back in the nineteen-seventies. It was finally banned in 1993. The purpose of birching was both to punish and to deter.
I can testify that corporal punishment was widely used in the school where I was a pupil between 1946 and 1951. I was caned twice and slippered many times! I saw the headmaster brake a cane on the hand of pupil because he struck him that hard, not once, but three times on each hand. He had bespoke canes for that purpose. Caning was banned in UK state schools in 1986, and in independent schools in 1999.
Scottish government ministers have recently been considering legislation which will ban parents from smacking their children. If the proposed bill is passed, it will become a criminal offence for them to smack their children. No longer will they have the ‘right’ to smack them for enforcing discipline.
Whether you agree or disagree with laws banning corporal punishment, among things to consider are the ethical and moral aspects. And, is there compelling evidence that demonstrates it works? Is it effective for disciplining children?
If you are a Christian you will be guided by the teachings of the Bible, especially those found in the New Testament, and in particular what Jesus says about it. You will want to act in accordance with His will and in obedience to Him.
God’s Disciplining of His Old Testament People
God promised He would be severe when it came to disciplining His Old Testament people, i.e., His special people whom He loved (1 Kings 10:9; Hosea 11:1). He warned them through Moses with these words, ‘And after this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins (Leviticus 26:27. 28).’ In Psalm 89:31, 32 He declared, ‘If they break My statutes and do not keep My commandments, then I will punish their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.’
There’s a fair amount in Proverbs about disciplining – some of it by physical chastisement. Here’s a selection:
‘My Son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; For whom the LORD loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights (Proverbs 3:11, 12).’
‘Wisdom is found on the lips of him who has understanding, but a rod is for the back of him who is devoid of understanding (Proverbs 10:13).’
‘He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly (Proverbs 13:24).’
‘Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die (Proverbs 15:10).’
‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).’
‘Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell (Proverbs 23:13, 14).’
Did Jesus Discipline His New Testament People?
We find precious little in the New Testament about Jesus disciplining His disciples and His followers, but there were issues of discipline within His church (1 Thessalonians 5:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15). Paul the Apostle wrote epistles to the churches concerning matters of discipline (2 Corinthians 10:10, 11). He was exceptionally keen on disciplining himself, as is evident when He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27, ‘But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.’
Having been strict with himself he could be strict with those who received his instruction. He would not accept disobedience (2 Timothy 3:2), laziness (Titus 1:12, 13), worldly lusts (Romans 13:13, 14; Galatians 5:16), and above all, the teaching of a false gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6-8).
Regarding Jesus, I know of only one occasion when He came near to disciplining one of His disciples. It was when He severely rebuked Peter saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men (Matthew 16:23).”
Jesus did not use physical violence on people. Yes, He may have cracked a whip in the temple as He drove out those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, but He did not hurt or wound them (John 2:15, 16). He was very forthright when dealing with the Scribes and Pharisees. However, He never physically abused them. Instead He berated them, calling them a ‘brood of vipers!’ for their evil ways (Matthew 12:34; 23:33).
Jesus came to save a **people and to demonstrate His mercy, grace, forgiveness and steadfast love (Exodus 34:6, 7). He did not come to ‘discipline’ a people, but to have them as an inheritance (v 9; Psalm 33:12) and to give them an inheritance (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4), a place where there will be no need for discipline (Revelation 21:22-27).
*Birching – Isle of Man 1972
**The Message of the Bible [The Salvation of a People]