New Testament Parenting


One thing that turned me away from spanking and punitive parenting was the realization that nowhere in the New Testament are we told to treat our children differently than we would any other Christian or non-Christian. While parents are obviously in a position of authority over our children, no where are we told to use unusual methods in exercising this parental authority. The two main “parenting verses” in the New Testament are Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21. Both of them are in a list of other relationships, with no indication that there’s a fundamental change in the relationship between parents and children and that between parents and anyone else.

For instance, Colossians 3:12-17 gives us a whole list of characteristics that’ should be true of the Christian; things like “tender mercies” and forgiving and letting the peace of God rule your heart and “bearing with one another.” Few Christians would argue that these verses endorse the idea of Christians striking one another in discipline – except when it comes to children. How is striking a disobedient child “bearing with” him? It seems clear to me that we must challenge our children with scripture when they go wrong and direct them toward the right, but I can see no justification for forcing them to obey. any more than we would force an elderly Alzheimer’s patient to obey. We may have to remove our children from certain situations or prevent them from doing something harmful, but that is a far cry from forcing them to act as we wish through spankings.

In Ezzo’s essay, “Today’s Child, Tomorrow’s Man” he scoffs at parents who “cry grace, grace, give me more grace” and complains that “We so seldom hear today, righteousness, righteousness, help me make them more righteous.” Perhaps we seldom hear that because the New Testament gives no indication that parents have the ability to “make” their children more righteous through the methods Ezzo advises in his books. On the contrary, the Bible teaches that true righteousness is a gift of God, and not something we can “make” our children do (Rom. 5:17; Phil. 1:11, 3:9; 1 John 2:29; etc.). Ezzo argues that Christian parents fail because “The child is trained to the letter of the law and not the principles of the law” and that the solution is to teach “the ethics of Christ” so the children understand the laws they must obey. But it is not through teaching “the ethics of Christ” that we bring our children to Christ – it is through faith, and “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)

As 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Paul does not praise Timothy’s upbringing because those raising Timothy made frequent use of the rod or otherwise insisted he obey the law – Paul rejoices that Timothy knows the scriptures. Speaking as a former spanker, in the long run it is far, far more effective to teach our children the scriptures and to let God work on their hearts than it is to use the rod to try to force their little bodies into submission.

1 Timothy 2:4&5 tell us that a Christian leader should be “one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence, (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?).” But if the Christian “rules his own house” by striking the children, and he is not allowed to strike his fellow Christians, then the “witness” of his well-behaved children is false. Why would God tell us to look to how a father treats his children to see how he will lead within the church if God intended Fathers to use a completely different system of discipline with their children than they would with church members? To me, this passage clearly implies that we should treat our children as we would treat another Christian we were in authority over.

For some time it was argued that a husband should beat his wife to keep her in line, and there were Bible passages used in support of this. But numerous authors now point out that there is nothing in the Bible telling husbands to force their wives to obey – on the contrary, the wife is directly told to submit. The word translated “submission” in 1 Timothy 3:4 in regards to the children’s relationship to their parents is the same word Paul uses in Galatians 2:5, where he says he would *not* submit. There’s no reason to assume that Paul feels the father should *force* submission in 1 Timothy 3:4 when elsewhere he uses the same word to discuss something he refused to do.

I feel that a lot of Christians have created this weird break in their mind where they’ve put children under the “law” while adults are under grace. Of course some Christians have everyone under the law, and think nothing of arguing in favor of beating and bullying adults. But most of the punitive parents I’ve known are very gracious and show other adults (and even the children of other parents) considerable grace – but when it comes to their own children, it’s law. It’s really strange. Jeff VanVonderen’s “Tired of Trying to Measure Up” has a list of “unspoken rules” common to families that aren’t grace-based, and reading that really got me to thinking about how a lot of Christians treat children profoundly differently than they would an adult, and not in a good way.

I have not run across many discussions of Grace Based Discipline (or what I would call New Testament parenting), but I have seen many debates on Ezzo and on spanking, and going on those experiences I suspect the main reason GBD is condemned within Christendom is that it argues against the idea that parents have a responsibility to force their children into submission. I do not think most people would admit how strongly they feel the parents must rule over the kids – the days when Christian authors cheerfully speak of “breaking a child’s will” are pretty much gone – but that’s the impression I get. I also think for a lot of people their knowledge of Grace Based Discipline is more assumed than real – they don’t know much about what GBD really is, and are rejecting a straw man they’ve been told is GBD. A child who is undisciplined is not being parented with GBD.

by Sheryl Tribble

Comments

  1. Bob says:

    I agree. I am a pastor and tomorrow I will be preaching a message entitled, “Stop Playing the Parent Card and Start Dying to Parent” which basically warns against the abuse of authority that parents are given. As a pastor I have been very grieved by the Ezzo approach and think that more pastors ought to speak directly to the issue from their pulpits. I think that elders, in other words, should graciously use their authority by denouncing his unbalanced ideas in order to protect children who from parents who are abusing their authority. And to protect sincere parents from the grief of having lost spiritual influence in the lives of their children because they honestly thought that punitive parenting was the right way because a teacher told them so.

    • Thank you so much for your comment. The world needs more pastors like you.

    • mike says:

      I can’t believe what I’m reading here. With the exception of a couple comments I just realized how far in Babylon we have gone.
      2 timothy 4:3
      For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear

      Not sure if anyone has looked at what kind of fruit this new age teaching is producing but todays younger generation are ” inventors of evil” sowing wickedness and reaping sin. Go back to yester year, say the 1950 society was humble, kind and people were wholsome. I’ll tell you one thing those grownups all had in common, they had all been spanked. The ones that didn’t probably started the wickedness of that time. Tell a preacher of the 1800s that its better not to spank a child. I don’t know if he would laugh histerically at you, stair silently in disbelief or run you out of town. The fact of the matter is we had a better society back when we followed the Bible.

      Don’t believe the lies folks, read your bibles and to you preachers out there you will be judged more harshly in the end, better double check your doctrine instead of trying to fill tithe bucket.

      Ezekiel 3:18 consider yourself warned.

      • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. If you read some more, I think you will see that we are taking the Bible very seriously. We are not actually worried about what a preacher of the 1800’s would say, but what God says. Society of the 1950’s was not perfect. Trauma and mental illness was hidden and not discussed. I have seen the fruit of gentle parenting and it is lovely. To clarify, I am not advocating lack of discipline, I am advocating gentle discipline.

  2. Steph says:

    Thank you for teaching what is RIGHT! I agree with Linda that the world needs more pastors like you! Our church is looking for a new pastor as our current one will be leaving in May for another church…We’d love to have you!

    • Nate says:

      Wow, I am not trying so say anything bad about pastor Bob or this website. But I am shocked to read steph’s comment saying that they would love to have you. Way to pick em!

      When you find a pastor that preaches the words you like to hear on current issues you find nothing but a good public speaker. what ever happened to solid exegetical preaching?

      And regards to the author of this artice. I have a quick question, how would you say you handle the Old Testament? I am just curious as to how you came to this position. Has the Old Testament been completely done away with in Christ? Can any of the principles be applied today?
      Thanks

      • Hi Nate and welcome to my site. I am not the author of this piece, but I do have many links to discussions about the Old Testament, Proverbs and the Rod. Check out the links and the tag cloud in the right sidebar.

      • benjamin says:

        I completely agree with you Nate, a true Christian must censor what they read and be careful of wolves in sheep clothing. I have nothing against you Bob but we must focus on remaining faithful to what the word of God says to us. Solomon says in Proverbs13: 24 He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
        one thing that we must realize is that there is a fine line between what God lays out as discipline. and what is classified as abuse which absolutely wrong

        thanks

        • benjamin says:

          i’m sorry I mistook bob for the writer of the above article. I disagree with what the author says about discipline, because it contradicts the bible in so many ways, God is a merciful God yes completely agree but he is also a just God

          Exodus 20:5-6 I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
          And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

          I know that this commandment does not deal with this particular issue but I believe that this particular quote is still relevant

        • henry says:

          Thanks Ben! Am glad u are a true believer, I could say unto u as jesus said unto nathaniel, here come a true Israeli who can not b deceived . Here is my question to Bob. Was it stated in the laws of moses or the commandment of God to apply the Rod 4 discipline, if not y term it as the law? Was proverbs a law or a true saying, inspired by the lord. Pls tell that Bob to refrain from such teachings.

        • chris says:

          Solomon’s son also grew up to be an uncaring and much despised king that his own people tried to kill him. I think it is more of a “don’t raise your child this way ” story in the bible.

          1 Kings 12:13-14: “And the king [Rehoboam] answered the people roughly, and forsook the counsel of the old men which they had given him, and spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke: my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” (ASV)

          1 Kings 12:18: “Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the men subject to taskwork; and all Israel stoned him to death with stones. And king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.” (ASV)

  3. Elizabeth Doubet says:

    Hello, this is all very interesting for me. In two weeks I’ll be leading a conversation at church with the parent’s group we have and we’re rather divided on the smacking issue. What would you say if it were argued that we treat children differently because they aren’t adults. No adult had to be told several times to put their shoes on then laugh as the run and hide. Some chidlren it seems have trouble understanding the importance of time ( and other such adult matters) and really just have to be able to follow adult instruction without necessarily understandiing.

    • Hello and welcome.

      While is is true that there are valid reasons to treat children differently, that does not mean that we have the right to mistreat them. Our job is to guide and instruct them and we must be careful not to hurt them. There are other, more gentle ways to get them to cooperate.

  4. Adam H says:

    Hello Hermanda Linda and commentators,
    I am an associate pastor of a larger and rapidly growing missional church and among other things, I am responsible for equipping families to disciple their children and one another. I found this article of very sound merit and exegetically accurate. I do not think the majority of families that claim to follow “religion” struggle with too much grace. I’ve always found that families error more on the side of misappropriated tolerance followed by anger and resulting in abuse or at best, exasperation of their children. Discipline and equipping is critical in helping our children form the right understanding of God. He is righteous and we are in desperate need of his grace and mercy in order to compliment and come alongside a Holy God. He loves us into that freedom and demonstrates it by Jesus own personal and weighty sacrifice. I too, as a loving Dad, must do the same for my children and give them the best opportunity to choose righteousness. Screaming, squeezing, hitting, or even giving them the “cursed eye” in order to force them to respond is not only weak it is unbiblical, ineffective, and ultimately an indicator of ones own lack of faith. I say this from personal experience doing it the wrong way and the right way. The right way brings joy not fear (don’t mistake “fear” with “awe”).

    Thank you!
    Jewish and Jesus Christ Follower,
    Adam Hrebeniuk

    • Max says:

      Amen Adam.
      I am a Family Support Worker at an Elim Church in Birmingham. There have often been heated discussions, in the parenting classes I run, regarding this subject.
      I feel very encouraged by this article and also your comments. I may read your comments out during my next session, if that’s alright.

      Thank you
      Max
      Saved and live by grace

  5. Angela says:

    I don’t typically comment on blogs but I feel called to. I did not grow up with scripture, I had “spiritual” parents and as loving and wonderful as they were/are, there was a hole in my chest that I couldn’t fill. I explored just about every trouble a teenager can get into without dipping into felonies. I read the bible at 17 thinking it would help me argue against and prove Christians foolish and hateful. It had the opposite effect. At nearly thirty, I am now a “born again” and I have a family of my own. I have found joy in Christ and my anxiety I had medicated for years is now gone. I realized this morning as I screamed at my son, I have withheld this relationship from Christ. I realized that I gave Christ my own life (I had thought) but I had not trusted him with my son. At 6 he is struggling with aggression and violence which has been made worse at a school full of it. I had struggled to make a connection in new testament teaching and parenting advice. I googled “new testament parenting” and this was the first link I clicked on. I could not be more grateful. Thank you. This has been the bridge that my human mind needed to come to yet another divine inspiration to improve my life. I can not say thank you enough you. God bless, all of you.

  6. Abbie Nielsen says:

    I just got home from church with my two homeschooled, preschool boys in toe. My heart was overwhelmed by what I witnessed in their Sunday school class, and I immediately googled “balancing authority and grace with children, scripture”. I am so grateful for this article because it made me feel less isolated in my own impressions of things. My 2 ½ year old struggles with separation anxiety and, since he is home with me and not on school, church is one of the main places that we have the opportunity to work through this. Six months ago, he went through phase of tremendous panic at the thought of being in his Sunday school class without me. He would cry and scream, never stopping until I picked him up from his class. At home, in the middle of the week, he regularly said “Mommy, please don’t make me go in my class”. When I realized that this was on his mind even when we weren’t headed to church, I knew that I needed to be sensitive. I became the teacher in his class and we “did it together”. He grew to like the other volunteers and I made sure to give him space, not coddling him, just being a presence that helped him feel safe as he learned about God’d love.

    After a lot of prayer, we decided to take another step towards his independence. We started attending a smaller campus of our church where he could be in the same class as his four year old brother. I told the teachers about our situation and they extended grace and patience to my little one. Praise God! My boys did great together and my husband and I have been able to sit next to each in service for the first time in a long time.

    Today, as we arrived at their classroom, I could see that their was a different teacher assigned. I tried to connect with her briefly but she wasn’t interested. I felt a little nervous but tried to trust God with it. Within five minutes, my heart felt very unsettled so I peeked into their class to see that my son was crying. The teacher had insisted that he sit down for the story and that his hands stay in his lap. I think he felt overwhelmed by her tone. His crying stopped when he saw that I was in the room so the other volunteers allowed me to stay. The teacher, who would have been excellent with kindergarteners, took my two year old’s toy (that he had brought from home for comfort) and said that he couldn’t have it until after class because none of the other kids had a toy (causing more tears), she insisted that he raise his hand to speak (which he had trouble understanding), and, worst of all, at the end of class, she held a lollipop up in front of him and said that he could have it if he said his memory verse. He wanted it, desperately, but, at two years old, he couldn’t remember the verse and burst into tears. She insisted that he say it, even when I politely said “ I know that he is tall but he is only two years old”. With tear streaming down his face and his little boy shaking, he slowly repeated “The . . . crowd . . .were . . . amazed . . . at . . . His . . . teaching”
    The teacher looked at me with an “I told you so smile” and all I could think was “But what was the point? That he would submit to your authority. That he would learn that scripture is an obstacle and the goal is a lollipop? That’s not how I want my son to feel about the word of God. I would have been much more pleased if he had stood next to his four year old brother, who proudly said his verse, and learned by listening and watching his brother’s example.

    Why do we have to be so hard? Why can’t we allow God to do real transformation in our children’s heart through scripture and through our example of making good decisions? I am heartbroken for my son.I am heartbroken for us as Christians. We live in such fear of disorder that we don’t allow children the space to discover God’s love. I heard something beautiful recently. “Fair doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same thing. Fair means that everyone gets what they need”. My little son needed grace this morning.

  7. henry igwebuike says:

    Proverbs 22vs5: Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child,…. That is, sin, the greatest of all folly; this is naturally in the heart of man; it is in the heart of a child, it is in him from his infancy; it is bound in his heart, it is rooted and riveted in him, being conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity; it is what cleaves close to him, and he has a strong affection for and desire after: the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, Genesis 8:21; so that he is not easily brought off of sin, or becomes wise;

    but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him; the rod used by parents, for the correction of sin and folly, is a means of making children wise, and of restraining the folly that is bound up in them; and of reclaiming them from those sinful ways, which the folly of their hearts leads them to, and so in some measure of driving it far from them.

    • Please understand exactly what those verses mean in the original Hebrew by reading this Rod Study.

    • colleen g says:

      The only cure for sin and folly is Jesus. The rod does not save, it cannot redeem and it does not create a new man within us. Children are not sin monsters. They are needy frail human begins like the rest of us. They are not always going to choose correctly but since when do any of us? No one advocates beating/hitting/spanking when adults sin so why should children who are the epitome of “new learners” be subjected to the same action that gets adults thrown into jail for doing to other adults?

  8. Anne says:

    I love the Lord and have felt for a while in my heart and spirit that spanking is not right there are ways to correct through love and connecting. I asked Jesus to confirm this as I was so confused as to what the bible says. I felt in my heart He showed me New Testament and so I decided to research and found peace. Spanking hurts my child and breaks my relationship with him and does not change his behaviour but love and connection done correctly does. Its something we have to learn but can be done and builds relationship. Thank you for helping to confirm what I have been feeling. Thank you Jesus.

  9. B says:

    Thanks – studying for a sunday school lesson on parenting.
    You should really check out Give them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick… really.

  10. Melinda Makara says:

    Hi!
    I was really happy when I read this article, because I had an argument in my church about this matter.

    When I deal with a child I always have Luke 17: 1-2 in my mind, and when Jesus calls a child to himself and said that we all should be like them.. I really believe, that it is adults’ arrogance what makes them believe, that they are under grace, whilst children are under law, and it is them who are the authority, who have the right to upload the law.

    I certainly believe, that Jesus said in the Bible to follow him, not to follow the old testament. I certainly believe, that even to parenthood it is the right way.

    I work with children with extreme behavioural difficulties. I can certainly say, that all the children, who show disrespect, antisocial behaviour, etc, they all show the patterns what parents thought them. So when someone tries to hit or mistreat a child… think about what Jesus said, that you can only throw a stone at someone, if u are better than them. Also there is some help in the Bible, to parenting. 🙂 u need to discipline and teach them, but u have to do in the way that your child meets Jesus. 🙂 When we follow the guidance of the old testament, we put a rolling amount of sin ono our children, we put them under the cycle of sin, and punishment. This is also in the Bible, and that the only think can break the cycle is Jesus. So when someone hit their children and the child learns from what parents do, if i hit they will hit, if i am inconsistent they will be inconsistent , if I am careless they will be careless, if I am neglectful they will be neglectful… etc… so the only way i can break the cycle is to look up on Jesus and learn the parenting from him.

    People brings the proverbs here, i believe they should understand then that then we can apply more verses of proverbs, e.g. people who got divorced, they should stay single for the rest of their life no matter what… otherwise, they can be stoned to death. 🙂 so hurry up, lets do this then if we should use other verses of the proverbs and the old testament. :s

    I believe that the people who brings those verses in they just cannot get the concept of grace, and that Jesus was the one who fulfilled the law, and that we non’t have to exercise any more, how to punish each other, cos from now one God will look down and see who accepted Jesus’ blood, and who accepted the grace… I am fearful to say… the people who brings the proverbs in… unfortunately does not understand grace, and Jesus’ works and they are not truly cover with his blood, and possibly they had parents who treated them badly with rod… etc, and cos of that they could not see the REAL, LIVE and GRACEFUL GOD, who died for us, who took the rod, and was that punished child whom they were when they were little. 🙁 I wish they will one day understand what God has done for them and their children, and not separating their children from God with their faulty parenting. 🙁

    Sorry for my English. I am not English 😀

  11. Win Rod says:

    Hello,

    To all of you who are for/against physical discipline of a child I would like to point you all to this link:

    http://www.gotquestions.org/spare-rod-spoil-child.html

    Regards,
    Win

    • I’m sorry, I mean to come back to this when I had more time and it never happened. And now I have even less time. I will go ahead and approve your comments so that any of my readers can respond to them and try to come back to really give them the time they deserve later.

  12. Win Rod says:

    Hello again,

    Sorry – I would also like to add to my previous comment: There is growing talk about physical discipline of children being banned, especially in the western world. This push, as far as I am concerned, is coming from some influential people (Doctors, psychologists, University professors) who are atheistic and who are promoting their atheistic views on the rest of the world. They hate God and this is another weapon of theirs (gay marriage being another!) to do away with Biblical teachings. Their’s is an attack on the Bible – although they will not admit it!

    It breaks my heart to see Biblical teachings slowly, by stealth, being done away with. And I wonder how many Christians themselves, indirectly, are contributing to this. No Bibles in Govt. buildings, no Bibles in Schools, no Bibles in hospitals – what next – no Bibles in our homes?

    Sadly, it seems, even devout Christians are falling in line with them – and indirectly helping them win. Open your eyes and see what this world is coming to. Look at the youth gangs on the streets – kids with weapons and guns. I would like to ask a question – Are these kids like this because they were spanked during their growing years – Or – were these kids spared the rod? Make up your own minds on this!

    As for me – I am sure that these kids were never really discplined by their parents (especially their dads) and now they are become a curse to those who wish to dwell in peace. Brings to my mind the verse from Proverbs10:1 – “A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.” Foolishness is in the heart of a child (Pro 15:22) and needs to be weeded out. The rod is one way ….among others.

    When the Lord disciplines us, he is really firm with us – and it hurts. Imagine what it would be like – if – when we sinned the Lord says – “OK! You did so and so. Now I am going to make you stand in the corner for 5 minutes – or “go to your room” – OR – I am going to take away your electricity so you can’t watch TV for 1 day” – Is this the kind of upbringing the Lord himself gives us?

    The Lord could very well speak to us and say “change so and so behaviour”. But would we listen? So, instead he might send upon us, say a certain sickness, to make us change that behaviour.

    His lessons are quite/very painful – and they are an act of love – to mould us into what he plans for us. In the same way we are to discpline our children (spanking included!) – in love – to mould them until they reach the age of sensibility – after that we leave it to the Lord to discipline them and mould them.

    For good advice on how to raise Godly children – please listen to this sermon:
    http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-71/crucial-lessons-for-a-wise-father

    May the Lord Jesus give all of us parents the patience and wisdom we need to raise our children according to His will.

    Regards,
    Win

    • I really appreciate your well thought out comment. I agree on some points but not about spanking. I know that the people who are in jail were not raised with loving and gentle discipline. They were probably spanked or even beaten, or neglected or both. This is not what we advocate. I have explained this many times but I’m sure you don’t have time to read my entire site. I’m sure we agree on more than we disagree. Blessings.

    • Leti says:

      I agree that we as parents discipline our children with love …but then there’s New Testament where Jesus came and died for our transgressions sickness included ..so why would God discipline with a certain sickness when his son died and paid a heavy price for it? God is not going to contradict himself .. Everything bad comes from darkness everything good comes from God.. Let’s get this straight God disciplines with the word And we are to follow his example discipline our children with the word so when they are older they make the right choices because we as parents molded them in the word…

  13. Craig says:

    What is another name for the devil? The Great Deceiver. He says “Hit your child, I’ll remove the bad thoughts out of him. I’ll remove the devil out of your child. It is really not even very hard, you see, all you have to do is swing your arm. You see, reasoning your child into the virtues of Christianity won’t work, for children are sinful. Therefore you must spank.”

Speak Your Mind


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