Child Discipline

Every child becomes an experiment.

The goal?  We wish to raise up a well-adjusted self-controlled spiritually tuned adult full of selflessness and cheerful service.  The result?  It varies.

On this most important of all topics, the Creator of the Universe has an interest.  And so it should be no surprise that the Bible offers much counsel on how to secure holiness among your offspring.

But that counsel is most certainly not in vogue.  To follow it is, in places, illegal.  And the idea is gaining ground (perhaps consequently) that the old Book is bit antiquated or is in need of modernized neutering via shady interpretation.

As I work always with youth, and as I have had the privilege of observing my peers from the period of marriage to the period of launching teens into the waiting world, I have had an opportunity to test, as it were, various theories of raising children.  And being analytical (like you have no idea how analytical I am) I have been at this business of observing with keen interest for two decades already.  But as Heidi and I have not increased the world’s population, I have hesitated too long to write what I have seen.  I hesitate no longer.

Some Bible Data

The Bible plainly teaches that painful discipline is at least a part of the proper art of raising children.  It also teaches that angry discipline (see my audioverse.org sermon, Against Passionate Anger) fails to reform and should form not part of proper correction.  It also teaches that warm love and painful discipline relate to each other as the handle does to the spoon.  That is, the love is what gives the pain leverage.  These are the conclusions.  Now to the data:

First, Abraham was chosen because he would be successful at inculcating his extended family with the principles of living for God.

Gen 18:19  For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. 

Second, it is our work to surround our children with exposure to God’s principles of living.  They should be hearing and thinking of God’s words continuously.  This is how we prepare them for the seal of God.

Deu 6:5  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6  And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: 7  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. 9  And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. 
Deu 11:19  And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 20  And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: 21  That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth. 

I bring out these two points first because some persons seem to have a view that the Bible lacks all nuance when it comes to discipline.  Do you feel that the Scriptures are barbaric?  That is your ignorance manifesting itself.  Do you suppose that the Bible recommends painful punishment as the cure-all for bad behavior?  Hardly.  The Bible begins with a comprehensive educational program.  But, yes, it does get to the point of recommending corporal punishment for some cases.

Pro 13:24  Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.
Pro 19:18  Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. 
Pro 22:15  Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. 
Pro 23:13  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. 

These passages have an urgency to them.  Early childhood is the time for the child to learn to submission to authority.  Later in life this becomes so difficult to learn.  So, parents, I suggest to you to find a few people that were raised the way that you propose to raise your children.  How are they doing?  Happy?  Victorious over their urges and emotional flares?  Zealous and consecrated?  Oh, you can’t find any such people?

I know youth and young adults that are warm, zealous and consecrated.  I know many of them.  And almost all of them were spanked at least occasionally.  Generally, the most thoughtful parents have a variety of disciplinary measures.  They reserve spanking for forms of willful insubordination.


Still, I understand why governments repress spanking.  For persons lacking the Holy Spirit in the life, anger destroys the usefulness of discipline.  Angry discipline is like screaming at someone to calm down -- pathetic.  If you don’t have victory over your temper, you are not ready to properly discipline a child.

Eph 6:4  And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Col 3:21  Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.
Avoid all severity; this will hurt your own souls, and do them no good; on the contrary, if punished with severity or cruelty, they will be only hardened and made desperate in their sins. Cruel parents generally have bad children. He who corrects his children according to God and reason will feel every blow on his own heart more sensibly than his child feels it on his body. Parents are called to correct; not to punish, their children. Those who punish them do it from a principle of revenge; those who correct them do it from a principle of affectionate concern (Adam Clark on Ephesians 6:4).

And this brings me to a key point: teachers and parents ought not to reserve their sweet warmth for obedient children.  It is possible and highly useful to confirm your love to a child that is being disciplined.  Even adults need that kind of affirmation to save them from reckless abandon.

2 Cor 2:6  Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7  So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.  8  Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him. 

Such corporal discipline, done early and done with warm loving self-control, means easier life later.

Pro 29:15  The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. . . . 17  Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul. 

Pro 3:12  For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. 
Heb 12:6  For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7  If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? 8  But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 9  Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 10  For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. 11  Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. 

Corporal discipline lacks the sour taste that longer forms of discipline leave behind (such as grounding, time out, loss of privileges).  It is three minutes of discomfort rather than 30 or 300 or 3000 (roughly three weeks).  But as indicated earlier, angry discipline is always sour.

Now your local child psychologist (how are her children doing?) may decry such ideas as these. But God gave us the Bible so we wouldn’t be cast on her limited acquirements for such a momentous undertaking as raising children.  That poor lady hasn’t had a good education.  She probably doesn’t even know the part that the Ten Commandments and Bible stories play is producing well-ordered children of faith.  Do you know about these things?

Psa 78:5  . . . [God] appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: 6  That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: 7  That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: 8  And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God. 

Of course, as children age they come to a point where corporal discipline needs to taper off, giving way to reasoning.  Maybe this happens at age 11 or 12 for many children.  But if the work before that time hasn’t been done well, it is doubtful that “talking it through” will avail. “A servant will not be corrected by words.” Proverbs 29:19.

Of course, Proverbs 22:6 has limits.  Adam and Eve both sinned.  And so did Lucifer.  One rebel is not proof of rotten parenting.  But this rising generation, largely raised without corporal discipline, seems to be the angriest ever encountered.  And as I have not even mentioned music or video games or movies or social media (these are the injection points for filth and violence in society today), this article certainly isn’t rounded.  And as it doesn’t even draw a thought from Ellen White, it certainly could be much longer.


In that incredible experiment you are making on human hearts, don’t leave the Bible behind.  Don’t suppose that it is ill-informed.  Don’t imagine that modern experts have an edge on the Creator.  Experts they are.  But their goals are different than those of Christ.  Holiness and worldly coolness don’t look the same.

Yes, I have watched.  And I see those raised with angry beatings (or routine shaming) coming on the stage disadvantaged.  But I see those raised without corporal punishment doing little better.  And in those cases where the Bible plan (including the large informal educational part) is implemented, I have watched a crop of mission-minded wholesome youth taking the scene of action.

The Word of God is profitable.


The Institute of East Asia Training, with Eugene and Heidi Prewitt, serves budding missionaries from the countries of Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore and Malaysia. These young people are trained in the arts of winning hearts, selling books, teaching doctrines, planting congregations, and reaching unreached groups.  Extensions of the iEAT program that serve in Indonesia are listed as a separate project.