Spare The Rod And Ignore The Bible

The Minnesota Vikings’ owner has admitted that he made a mistake when his team reinstated Adrian Peterson, its star running back and one of the league’s best, after first deciding to keep Peterson from participating in team activities, when it became known he had been indicted last week for injuring his 4-year-old son by beating him with a “switch,” aPhotos from the Houston Police Department showing injuries of Adrian Peterson's allegedly abused son. slender tree branch often used for disciplining kids.

My dad used a switch on me now and then when I was growing up in southeast Kansas in the 1960s, and it is, apparently, still fairly common in some parts of the country to beat children with them.

I heard Goldie Taylor, an often insightful African-American pundit, on public radio this morning explaining, in a way that partly echoed Charles Barkley’s comments on the issue, that for a lot of black folks in the South, beating their kids is a part of their culture, some of it stemming from the phrase used in black churches, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” a phrase that most people think is in the Bible. Actually that phrase isn’t in the Bible, but what is, from Proverbs 13:24 (King James Version), is this:

He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

That seems clear enough, no? Beating your kid with a stick is a way of showing him (or, presumably, her) love. But Goldie Taylor, parting ways with Charles Barkley, tried to explain that the “rod” in that phrase was not an instrument of punishment, but something shepherds used to gently guide their sheep, not beat them. It was, she said, a source of comfort not pain (“thy rod and thy staff comfort me,” from the 23rd Psalm), and the misinterpretation of that Bible-inspired phrase was erroneously used to justify the whipping of children by their parents, parents like Adrian Peterson, who, he said, had parents that beat him in the same way.


Here is the King James Version of another passage in the Bible, Proverbs 23:13-14:

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Nothing in the Bible is clearer than that. No amount of sugar-coating the Bible can alter the meaning of that passage. Beating your kids is not only okay, says the God of the Bible, it is part of a divine strategy to keep them from going to hell (a place which, oddly, the God of the Bible created as punishment for the disobedient). And, for those of you who are not familiar with such things, that stuff is taught in evangelical and fundamentalist churches all over America, not just in the South and not just in black churches. I was taught it and I, on rare occasions, practiced it on two of my three children, acts for which I am now utterly ashamed.

We know better these days. We have learned something about the effects of trying to beat obedience into our kids. We are evolving culturally. Violence against our children doesn’t do any real good, but does do a lot of real harm. In this case, given the publicity it has received, it may be that some unintentional social good can come from what happened to Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son, namely that it is no longer acceptable, anywhere, to beat kids with a rod, a stick, a switch, or even the hand.  And more than that, perhaps another good is in sight: more people will realize that the Bible is full of bad advice, a strong indication that the much-revered book is a product of ignorant and narrow-minded men, and not an infallible Word from the God of the universe.


[photo: Adrian Peterson’s son and his injuries, from Houston police department]


  1. Troy

     /  September 17, 2014



  2. Bbob

     /  September 17, 2014



  3. Ben Field

     /  September 17, 2014

    Mystery solved, permanent concussion explained!


  4. ansonburlingame

     /  September 18, 2014


    Considering Biblical directions in such a matter is irrlevant in my view. What is relevant is how best to impose discipline on a child, by a parent or even a teacher in schools.
    Beating, call it assault, someone is wrong for sure, today. But disciplining a wayward child, or adult for that matter remains a dilemma in this modern society.

    I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s and was “swatted” from time to time. That was not assault in any way and I suffered no physical harm. Sure it hurt and I resented it, or at least was scared that it would happen again, but, again, no physical harm ever happened other than a sore butt or cheek (from being slapped). And such actions by both my mother and father caused emotional turmoil in me to figure out how to avoid the next round of being “swatted”.

    Until this incident happened I saw Adrian Peterson as almost an icon for football. He exemplified hard work, endurance, great courage, and behind the scenes seemed to spend a lot of his money to help others. Was that all a smokescreen, hiding a “brute”, one that “beat kids”? I don’t know for sure, yet. I wonder if LeBron has ever “swatted” one of his kids?

    Peterson has been charged with felony assault of a child. Is he guilty of such? Again, I don’t know and will not know until legal action is completed. No way can I prejudge that charge based on a picture and rabid outcrys (your outcry seems slanted towards religion so far which is fine if that floats your boat).

    We have a broken, old paddle, sort of like a ping pong paddle hanging in our home. The teacher in school (late 60’s) broke that paddle on my step son’s behind, in school long ago. We all laugh about it today including my 53 year old step son and his kids, today. The family consensus is he “probably deserved it”!!!

    Parents have the responsibility to raise their kids to become good adults, good citizens. Teachers are responsibile for teaching the skills and behavior, in school, to achieve the same goal. To achieve that goal, discipline is required and I have never found a way to impose discipline without the threat of some form of punishment.

    Some would dispute that last comment and firmly believe only positive reinforcement should be used. Fine do so with you kid if you like, but in terms of how I raise(d) my kids or enforce discipline on my grandkids today is my business, unless I break the law for sure.

    I do agree, however, that if Peterson (or Rice, or others) are convicted in a court of law of felony assault (against a child or another adult making no difference) then at that point they should be removed from any professional sport for a lifetime. But for now the issue is what should be done before such legal action runs its course. I see no way how an NFL commissioner can determine how a father disciplines his child correctly until his actions have been proven as right or at least “not guilty” in a court of law.

    As well, a court could determine Peterson’s actions, while “wrong” did not rise to the level of felony assault of a child. Should a father be banned from sports for a misdemeanor offense of “slapping a child”? Is there a law that says “slapping” is illegal? I have no idea.

    I do however appreciate your views on this matter and agree that if the Bible allows using a “rod” to beat a child then once again, the Bible is wrong, today. Ancient books can in no way dictate behavior in today’s modern world of that nature. But current laws are a whole different matter.



    • I think to some extent Adrian Peterson is a victim of his upbringing, like we all are. I don’t think he’s necessarily a bad person and should lose his NFL career. But I do think he, and others who are defending him, need to use this moment as an attempt to educate themselves about a misguided disciplinary approach. Then some good will have been achieved. This is partially how societies evolve. We can see how domestic violence against women is completely unacceptable (except for the head of the NFL, apparently) and we can hope that violence against children will someday be unacceptable as well. Evolve, evolve, evolve, I say!

      Also, I don’t deny that discipline is sometimes necessary and effective. It is the instrument of that discipline that is in question. Violence against a loved one is not the proper instrument of discipline, especially when there are so many other ways available. And don’t underestimate the role that the Bible has played regarding the issue of beating children. People take that stuff very seriously.



  5. ansonburlingame

     /  September 20, 2014


    Once again we are not far apart at all, on another and different issue, domestic “violence”.

    I put the word in quotations because I doubt that society has yet to come to grips with what that means today. As you say, evolve, evolve, evole. The question is how fast., but the direction, less violence is a good one.

    Someday society will view football as we today view gladiatorial contests, pure and unreasonable violence, simply to “please the mob”, a mob that likes “violence”.

    I will CC you on an email being crafted in response to just today’s Globe.



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