First, Jonathan Merritt argued that Christians who use corporal discipline were embracing an unbiblical false gospel of spanking, harming their children, and that “It must stop”. He advocated Michael Eric Dyson’s position that the “rod” in Proverbs simply refers to a shepherd’s staff and calls for “guiding” children. I responded here.
And now, Merritt links to Rachel Stone’s article that embraces William Webb’s argument against corporal discipline using what Webb refers to as a redemptive movement hermeneutic.
— Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) October 1, 2014
Webb is an anti-spanking advocate but he rejects the initial position Merritt advocated. He contends that suggesting the “rod” in Proverbs refers simply to “guiding” is absurd. He writes, “These anti-spankers wrongly drag material from one context into another just because they share the same word. . . . scholars rightly argue that the rod is an instrument used in bodily discipline to hit the child” (Corporal Punishment in the Bible, 44-45). Webb argues against corporal discipline from the opposite direction of what Dyson contends. Webb contends that Proverbs is exclusively calling for violent beatings with the “rod.”
One thing is clear Jonathan Merritt does not have a biblical position on the issue of corporal discipline. He is simply against it and will embrace any argument to oppose corporal discipline—even contradictory ones.
Below Tom Schreiner effectively refutes William Webb’s argument against corporal discipline:
Finding the same words for the punishment of slaves, criminals, fools, and children does not justify lumping the texts together in an indiscriminate manner. Despite Webb’s protests, he fails to perceive the genre differences between regulations in the Torah and proverbial statements. As already noted, he does not clearly recognize the redemptive historical nature of the Torah. And he merges and mashes together different genres of literature in drawing his conclusions. Proverbial statements are of a different nature than legal material, requiring insight and reflection in terms of application. They shouldn’t be equated with punishments in legal contexts, for it seems rather heavy-handed and hermeneutically lead-footed to conclude that since physical punishments are mentioned in the same texts they must have been understood in the same way. Webb seems to think if one recognizes that proverbs require discernment in application, then one will endorse his view. But how does that follow? I would argue that such a principle means that wisdom and prudence should be applied in understanding Proverbs, which means corporal punishment for children is not administered in the same way it is applied to law-breakers and adults. Nor is it evident, just because both fools and children are flogged, that the punishments would be of the same nature and to the same extent. Again, such readings are mechanical and forced, failing to see what anyone with wisdom in ancient Israel would see: There is massive difference between adult fools and children. Using the same word for children and fools does not mean they are in the same category! It seems to me that the wise application of what we find in Proverbs is well represented by those Webb criticizes: Dobson, Mohler, Wegner, Grudem, and Köstenberger (Read the whole review here).