What is the Source of the Phrase ‘Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?’

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I’m certain you’ve often heard the phrase Spare the rod and spoil the child. I know I have.

I’m also certain some of you accept the generally acknowledged source of the phrase as being Biblical. I grew up believing this.

The coiner of the version that we use in everyday speech was Samuel Butler, in Hudibras, the 308-page (paperback) published in 1662.

Hudibras by Samuel Butler

Hudibras by Samuel Butler

The poem was about factions involved in the English Civil War. The quote is:

Love is a Boy,

by Poets styl’d,

Then Spare the Rod,

and spill the Child.

(by ‘spill’, Butler meant spoil – that time’s spelling of spoil)

The precise words were Butler’s although the proverbial notion was much older. William Langland’s The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman, 1377, includes this line:

Who-so spareth ye sprynge,

spilleth his children.

‘Spilleth’ here also means ‘spoils’, as in Butler’s poem. ‘Sprynge’ was used here as a synonym for ‘sprig’, that is, rod or offshoot of a plant.

The English version of the pre-1377 Bible  doesn’t include the line in the form we now use, but it contains a similar thought. In the King James Version, Proverbs 13:24 reads:

  • He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.


The above leads to the fact that caution must be used in disciplining children.

Ephesians 6:4 reads: And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Thus, fathers—and mothers—can and must direct and discipline their children. This may anger the child like we ourselves become angry with someone who corrects us. Eventually, however, appropriate discipline will strengthen us and our relationships.

Wrath is, however, violent anger, rage, fury caused by inappropriate discipline styles that leave a child feeling worthless and inhuman. Wrath results from physically or verbally ‘killing off’ parts of a child through attitudes, verbal putdowns, or physical ‘attack.’

Crossing the line between appropriate discipline and the release of adult anger (anger stemming from the adult’s own insecurities) onto the child creates wrath.

If a child shows wrath,’ ask yourself Why? Chances are, discipline can be changed so as to correct the child but still respect the child as a person.

Which brings us back to the statement spare the rod and spoil the child. It’s one way of saying discipline your child (teach the child how to do things right, how to control himself) instead of punishing the child (using physical means to control the child, teaching the child to respond to external stimuli).


About carolyncholland

In several if my nine lives I have been a medical lab technician and a human service worker specializing in child day care, adoptions and family abuse. Currently I am a photo/journalist/writer working on a novel and a short story. My general writings can be viewed at www.carolyncholland.wordpress.com. My novel site is www.intertwinedlove.wordpress.com.
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One Response to What is the Source of the Phrase ‘Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child?’

  1. Pingback: Blackburn Center Fundraiser: April 2016 | Carolyn's Online Magazine

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