Proverbs 22:15 (NIV)
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.
There are two different ways to interpret this passage…and much of that depends on what a parent thinks about spanking. The literal interpretation points to “the rod of discipline” as an actual rod or implement used to bring about some level of physical pain, whereas a figurative interpretation would look at “the rod” as a general method of correction, like a stern rebuke or perhaps the removal of some privilege. Which interpretation do you prefer?
Actually, your preferred interpretation is irrelevant. What we need to be focused on is the correct interpretation, regardless of what our personal feelings are. In some bible studies, people will be asked, “What does this passage mean to you?” That might be a nice application kind of question, but it is not the primary question we need to be concerned with. The primary questions are, “What is the proper interpretation of this passage? What does it actually mean?” If we don’t get the actual meaning right, our application will be off…much like the use of a compass that is not set to True North.
The literal, historical context of this verse means that that “rod of discipline” is an actual implement – corporal punishment. A rod back in Solomon’s day was a long reed-like “whip” that was used against the back and produced a noteworthy sting without causing any real damage. In the modern world that might be a paddle or a wooden spoon or a flexible rubber “cat’s paw”. From all of my own study as a parent, most Christian parenting experts would not recommend using your hand to spank your children because that is far too personal, but the fact remains that the bible clearly endorses corporal punishment as a way of correcting your child’s foolish ways.
The beginning of this proverb is also very important to understand. Folly – or foolishness – is literally bound up in a child’s heart at birth. Did you have to teach your child how to sin? Of course not! Folly as a child is natural and needs to be met with correction rather than anger. If you can’t apply correction without anger, then delay the correction (Eph. 4:26). Our anger does not produce godly righteousness (Jas. 1:20), but the “rod of discipline”, applied out of genuine love and concern, will help our children find and stay on the right path. It will help drive that natural folly far away.