Debate over the meaning of "rod" is irrelevant
By Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf
September 20, 2006

Aside from the debate about the meaning of "rod," and the questionable legitimacy of the claims re: 1) Solomon's extraordinary wisdom, and 2) Solomon's having been responsible for all of Proverbs, the larger question is that of biblical proof-texting.

Hitting kids has always been a favorite sport of the so-called Christian right. It makes them feel important, righteous, strong, authoritative, and firmly in control. If you can't fare well intellectually, socially, or competitvely in adult society, you can always salve your ego by terrorizing and brutalizing children. The Christian right, in fact, takes a questionable cultural axiom (namely, that children need to be hit to be controlled and/or taught respect) and goes thumbing through the Bible to find some kind of support for their ethic. Aha! Here it is in Proverbs! Then they attribute all of Proverbs to King Solomon (questionable) whom the Bible says was a leader of great wisdom (actually, the Old Testament is, at best, ambivalent about Solomon) and who undoubtedly spoke for God. They conveniently overlook Solomon's introduction of foreign gods (through foreign wives), his grandiose building projects using indentured Israelites, his stratification of Israel's society, and the behavior of his sons. This is biblical prooftexting par excellence. One could use the same method to justify slavery, adultery, polygamy, the stoning of unruly children, the death penalty for those who eat pork, and infanticide. All biblical proof-texting is an illegitimate use of the Bible. It rejects the collective witness of Jesus of Nazareth and the New Testament writers for the sake of defending a very secular practice. In the end, this is blasphemy.

All this is to say that the debate over the meaning of "rod" is irrelevant. Even if it could be shown unequivocally that "rod" has more than one meaning, the Christian right wouldn't buy it. Likewise the debate over 1) Solomon's wisdom, 2) whether Solomon authored Proverbs, and 3) whether the Proverbs prescription has Godly authority is irrelevant. The only question that matters is this: Should folks who call themselves Christian leaf through the scriptures of the Old Testament to find a text that seems to defend a practice that Jesus would have considered abominable? My answer, and that, I think, of more thoughtful Christians, is a resounding NO.

Rev. Thomas E. Sagendorf is a United Methodist Pastor, now retired, residing in Hamilton, Indiana.


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