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Bible rethink on corporal punishment gathers pace around the world


Outdated language used to justify corporal punishment of children is set to be removed from new translations of the Bible in Norway.

Church leaders have given the green light to the proposal, put forward by the Norwegian Ombudsman for Children, to replace the word “chastisement” with more appropriate language reflecting its original and intended meaning.

Ombudsman Reidar Hjermann found that children subjected to physical harm, who had contacted his office, believed violence may be authorised by the Bible.

But a statement issued by the Bishops’ Conference of Norway read: “Today the word ‘chastisement’ has acquired a meaning that differs from its original intended meaning. In modern Norwegian usage, the word ‘chastisement’ is virtually synonymous with corporal punishment.

“Today this word is unsuitable for reflecting what is involved when the Bible speaks of parents’ responsibility to raise and guide their children.”

It is hoped the move will spark a raft of similar revisions in other countries.

Peter Newell, Coordinator of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, said: "This is a very positive move by Norway’s Bishops’ Conference.

“Too often we come across the bible being used to justify violence against children, although increasingly the established churches are joining the movement to prohibit and eliminate all forms of violence against children, including all corporal punishment".

Meanwhile, Chris Dodd, Coordinator of the Churches’ Network for Non-violence (CNNV), said: “Jesus gave children status and respect and said they should be treated as human beings. Norway’s Bishops’ Conference affirms children’s human dignity and makes it clear there is no place in Christian parenting for corporal punishment."

In the UK in 2002 forty ‘Christian’ schools, spearheaded by the Christian Fellowship School in Liverpool, attempted to change the law to allow them to use corporal punishment with parents consent.

Their case, which went to the Court of Appeal, argued that corporal punishment was part of a religious doctrine protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Groups, including the religious thinktank Ekklesia suggested that this was bad theology. The schools’ appeal was rejected.

In August last year, the South African Council of Churches also insisted there can be no biblical justification for corporal punishment of children in the 21st century.

Keith Vermeulen, director of the SACC’s public policy liaison unit, said: "Contrary to belief, there is no occasion ever in the New Testament where Jesus promotes physical punishment as a justifiable means of discipline."

He said Christian proponents of hitting children sought to base their arguments on the Old Testament.

However, the Old Testament reflected patriarchy and slavery as the norm, and warfare as a way of solving problems. It was problematic to attempt to transplant that text to a culture three or four thousand years later, Mr Vermeulen said.

The Norwegian Bishops encouraged Churches to take an active lead in combating violence against children. The statement added: “We urge those working in the Church to devote greater attention to violence against children – in their sermons, education and guidance. Men and women working in the Church must point out how such violence represents an infringement of human worth and is in conflict with Christian ethics.”

“In the past, corporal punishment was practiced as a part of bringing up children. Today we know that such methods of punishment are destructive and offensive to children. Many have permanent mental or physical injuries from having suffered violence during their childhood.”

Mr Hjermann welcomed the move. He said: “We feel this is an important signal to the Norwegian people that no authorisation may be found in the Bible to justify any forms of violence against children.”

Ekklesia www.ekklesia.co.uk (This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License)