Spanking wives among Christians of a past era, was not very rare, and not always hidden. There was a time when not every believer thought they needed to nurture a Mister Rogers image all the time. They understood that Christ’s meekness came with strength. They understood that their roles, whether as husbands and fathers, or as citizen, required strength. They understood that at times confronting evil did not involve sweetness and charity, but boldly calling evil evil, and punishing it. That doesn’t mean they all spanked their wives, but it was neither rare or very hidden. They knew that God allowed a Christian to be firm and hard.
Contemporary Christians attack wife spanking in large part because of their growing liberalism, and because of a splitting of spiritual truths into false dichotomies; such as the splitting of God into the angry God and the merciful God, as if God’s wrath and His mercy were at odds with each other. That angry God, they supposed, was just for the past. Now we have a newer, softer, non-judgmental kind. Christians also flowed with the times as far as humanist philosophies go. They, knowingly or unknowingly, started judging an act by subjective feelings, such as how good it appeared for humanity at the moment, or how warm it made them feel inside. They made the heart of man the ultimate judge, and once you do that, you have little truth outside of opinion and culture. As the culture turned soft on spanking, and heavy on feminism, Christians of little strength flowed along with it. That takes you to the current climate, in which nearly every one feels forced to say that a man has no true authority, and that he may not spank his wife. They are afraid of saying anything else. If they did, they would surely be spanked.
The main contemporary arguments by Christians against spanking fall into a handful of categories, none of which involve an actual biblical condemnation of the practice: one the argument by silence; two, reading into short phrases whatever you want to see in them; and three, a misuse of the nature of love. There are a variety of other odder, and very subjective arguments they use, but from what I’ve seen, these are the main three.
Many will make the claim that the Bible never says that a man should spank his wife. Yet this proves very little. No one claims a man MUST spank his wife according to the Bible, but rather that he has the right according to the authority he has. He is the head of the home and can decide on the discipline. The Bible does not mandate many things which we do and do regularly. The modern practice of the altar call, for instance, is found nowhere in Scripture. Yet that does not make it wrong. You may do it if you wish. The Bible does not mandate bedtime for children in the home either, yet nearly every Christian parent has at least a loose bedtime for young children. They can rightly do so based on their authority. Nor does the Bible demand a husband bring flowers to his wife, but he surely does not sin when he chooses to. So the lack of a “thou shalt spank” commandment regarding wife spanking is not an argument against it at all, nor does it allow Christians to claim you sin by doing it. That would be a totally man-made idea of sin.
Rather, the principles behind wife spanking are all present, as we should expect. The man’s authority is given in Scripture, as is the wife’s obedience. (1 Cor 11:3, Eph 5:22-24, 1 Pet 3:1-6) It is the norm of having authority to be able to discipline those under authority, and we see this with every single biblical authority — God, governments, masters (employers today), and parents. Why would husbands be the only exception to that? We also see that corporal punishment is both instructed or permitted multiple times in the Bible; it is instructed as a civil punishment for certain crimes (Deut 25:2), and it is permitted for slaves/servants, (Ex 21:20-21, 26-27) as long as it doesn’t severely injure them. It is commanded for children. (Pro 13:24) So the use of corporal punishment is clearly what God allows to be used. Therefore, it is a grand assumption to claim spanking is unloving or sinful. It clearly is licit and loving form of punishment.
If the route of arguing by silence doesn’t sound convincing, the opponent of wife spanking may go to a phrase here or there, and then read into that phrase what they desire to see. Perhaps the most common is to say that because men are to love their wives “as their own bodies,” (Eph 5:28-30) he must not be able to spank her. Right? This is a strange form of logic, because the text never actually says that. The text doesn’t say — you may not spank your wife. It commands the husband to love his wife as his own self, or his own body. This is true, and it is the job of a husband to do this. Yet loving your wife as you love your own body in no way precludes spanking your wife. Where’s the logic to say it does? You’d have to read a great deal in there.
If the underlying argument is basically that if you would not spank your own bottom, then you should not spank your wife, that is stretching things quite a bit. Number one, it places a great deal of importance on the word “body” when the basic point is that he should love her as his own self. It does not require he does everything with her flesh that he does with his own flesh. That would be absurd. A man does not make love to his own flesh — I’d hope — but he will make love to his wife. He might pump iron and increase the harness of his own flesh, but might not expect his wife to do the same. He does not follow her into the gynecologist’s office to have the same exam given to his body as to hers. So their reading into this passage is based on a strange literalistic view that doesn’t make sense in practice. A husband does NOT need to do the exact same thing with her flesh as he does with his own. I mean, good grief.
If the basic idea is that a man wouldn’t really want to be spanked, so he shouldn’t want his wife to be spanked, that is purely an assumption. And a very bad assumption to make to begin with. Most men I know understand that if they commit a crime, they should be justly punished. They may not “want” it in the sense of it being desirable, but they know it would be right. They would assent to their own punishment. Is the man who knows he should be punished for committing a crime hating his OWN flesh? Of course not. He just recognizes that the state has a right to punish him when it is just. Likewise, if a man understands that he will punish his wife for doing wrong, he is not hating his wife’s flesh, even though she may not desire the act. He is just recognizing that punishment is right under some circumstances and choosing to use it.
And as a man who believes the state ought to use corporal punishment for certain offenses, would you honestly say that I “hate” my own flesh? I endorse a form of punishment that in theory could be used toward me. Do I hate myself? That’s a strange definition of hate you’d have to have. The man who spanks his wife loves her, just as he loves his own flesh, and he is loving her by correcting her bad behavior, and disciplining her consistently. He is helping her and helping the home. He both loves and protects her flesh.
Last word on loving your wife as your own body: Withholding chastisement from his wife would be very different from how Christ treats HIS own body — which is sometimes with discipline. The Church is multiple times called Christ’s body in the New Testament, so much so that it is nearly a title for the Church. (Eph 1:22-23, Eph 5:30, Col 1:24) In fact the very same verses that teach the man to love his wife that way, connect his wife being his body to the Church being Christ’s body. (vs 30) Yet Christ CHASTISES His body, and sometimes harshly. So obviously loving another like one’s body does not mean you cannot chastise that person, or use physical punishment — Christ punishes His own body, the Church. And His love is perfect.
Perhaps the commonest claim, as well as the easiest to refute, is the claim that spanking your wife is just not loving. How could you spank someone you love? If you spank, you must not love? It is not surprising to hear this from a church culture that sissifies God and sissifies Jesus regularly, as it simply ignores much of what we can know about love, including the love of God. If we take God and Jesus Christ as our perfect example, can we say that God chastises the one that He loves? Does Christ, who leads the Church like a bride, ever spank her too?
We could first go to the examples of God’s beloved in the Old Covenant, which was national Israel. Despite the great and tender love God expresses for Israel, in the Torah and the Prophets, He clearly chastises the one He loves for her betterment. In the case of Israel, God punishes individual saints with punishments such as losing a child, and kings with punishments of terrible illnesses and death. He turns them over to their enemies in individual battles. When their sin has added up, and after many warnings, God punishes national Israel with war, slavery, and captivity. Then He restores her to the land later.
If you’re the type to never be convinced by Old Testament examples, I will quickly and enthusiastically take you to the New. With God’s people represented by the saints and the Church, let’s see how He handles discipline with her. In the case of not being reverent in receiving Communion, Paul warns that many have grown ill or died because of their lack of reverence. Two believers who are dishonest with the apostle, and with the Holy Spirit, drop dead immediately as a result. Jesus, in a parable, promises chastisement for His saints when He returns — He will BEAT the saints who knew more with more blows, and beat the saints who knew less with fewer blows.
Paul also promises chastisement to the Christian, comparing the chastisement of God with the chastisement of a loving father toward a child. So not only is God promising His people they will be chastised, but He compares it to a familial relationship, where corporal punishment was commonly used. We could also look at the very strong warnings in Revelation 2 and 3 of Jesus Christ toward the seven churches; those warnings promise punishments ranging from ceasing to be a church, to suffering illness, and the death of children. Clearly punishment, and even harsh punishment, is not out of harmony with love. It is in harmony with love, and is a valid expression of love itself — love coming in contact with an errant child, and correcting him. God punishes those He loves. Christ punishes His Church. The Lord Jesus is, for lack of a better word, a wife-spanker.
That is also much kinder punishment than God has in store for those who are not His beloved. For those who deny His Son and continue in sin, God will not merely chastise, but will send them to the darkness of hell, where they will suffer torment forever. God’s chastisement of His people is akin to a spanking by a loving man. God’s punishment of the sinners and unbelieving is akin to the electric chair. Two totally different things. But it’s not an execution that snuffs you out, but one that goes on and on, as you suffer apart from God’s grace, hope, and love, all of which you have rejected, and live in torment with the demons forever. God is just. God upholds the good. God’s kingdom is good — and perfect. That is one reason why we all need to be cleansed and made pure — to come into His kingdom, which is lit by the light of Jesus — which is the light of His love.
Those who misrepresent love need to stop. It is not weak. It is not soft. It certainly is warm and gentle most of the time, but it is firm, and when coming in contact with evil or injustice, has the power to stand against it and defeat it. Loving authorities lead for the purpose of love, and loving authorities correct their subordinates with love. A firm hand on the behind is love, fellow Christian. It’s loving to spank. If you do not know that already, that only illustrates the current weakness in God’s people. You need to be strong. You have a role in fighting evil. You have no business ever calling spanking a sin, in marriage or otherwise. Remember this: those who dare to misrepresent the nature of love, misrepresent the nature of God.
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