Submitted by Cindy Kunsman
How many know more about “Biblical chastisement” than the Hephzibah Girls? They have intimate knowledge of the beliefs that many hold concerning the curative and saving power alleged to come through aggressive physical discipline. Some realized Biblical chastisement while pinned down against a chair. Some were held down flat on the floor in the “blue room,” their faces pressed into the carpet, thick with the stench of the urine that they or another girl passed because their last session of “chastisement” had been so severe, causing them to lose control of their bladder.
The Hephzibah Girls also know well those sermons that teach the curative and soul cleansing power attributed to such chastisement. Ron Williams zealously attempted to sanitize them regularly, apparently making them less disgusting to God in his mind, as they were certainly disgusting to Williams. I wonder if they ever wondered about the contradictions in the “Biblical” messages when they sang Nothing But the Blood of Jesus or as they memorized a chapter of Scripture that talked about redemption in order to avoid more chastisement? Did the loving sacrifice of the Lamb cleanse them, or did Ron Williams do it by attempting to beat, starve, and shame sin out of them at his suburban gulag? Exactly how did people like Williams come to the conclusion that physical punishment redeemed the soul?
Because we draw religious meaning and systems of belief from a document that was written in a now ancient culture in several foreign languages that are no longer commonly spoken, special care and consideration must be paid when discerning the meaning of Biblical text.
Perhaps nothing more clearly exposes the error of the lack of consideration in Ron Williams' approach to the study of the Bible more clearly than does the subject of “chastisement.”
To him, chastisement means love, but the only type of "love" that Williams believed that the residents at Hephzibah House merited was chastisement, delivered through his particular methods of cruel punishment. Somehow, Williams believed that the Hephzibah Girls were damaged beyond all hope of the the soul-cleansing power of God through faith in Jesus, and God needed him to take charge over whom he attributed with very little value. In effect, he taught that God was not powerful enough to cleanse certain sins to make all people new creations in Christ, but he was powerful enough to do it himself through the rod. Whatever sin sent a girl to Hephzibah House put them on God's list of those who were beyond the power of the Blood of Jesus.
Ron Williams never taught this to the girls as Hephzibah House, but his was not the only way of interpreting the meaning of Scripture to develop an orthodox (or “right thinking”) about what what the Bible meant to communicate. His tradition taught a literal interpretation that was limited to only an English KJV translation and a modern day person's understanding of what they could understand from that translation, ascribing their own preferred meaning to the writing. Though Williams violated his own standard from time to time to bolster his own opinions and interpretations about what the Bible meant to say about a topic, Williams believed that the original language in which the Bible was written was less meaningful than his preferred English translation. His tradition pays little attention to the concerns of language translation limitations, colloquial understanding of expressions at the time that the Bible passages were written, the historical context, and the cultural practices of the day when the original work was created. Some even call this type of limited view of Scripture as a biased “English Translation Theology.”
A modern English understanding of 'chastisement' versus the Greek term of paideia
Rather than depending upon an appropriate understanding of the original word used, many like Williams interpret the meaning of the word “chastisement” from the English translation only, very likely relying upon the superficial and convenient interpretation of his own Bible teachers. Many modern Christians fail to consider the primary use of the term in the context that the author of Hebrews used it (as did the Apostle Paul in reference to raising children). They are either ignorant of the original text, or they choose to set aside their skill and training in the study of the Bible, preferring the interpretation of chastisement as advocating aggressive physical punishment instead.
In the third installment of the Lambs of Hephzibah House podcasts that Jeri Massi produced, she introduces an interpretation of the term “chastisement” as Paul (and the author of the Book of Hebrews) used it in the language and culture of their day. Jeri explains that many improperly use only a modern English biased understanding of the word, pointing out the specific term in Greek from which the word “chastisement” derives, the Greek term of paideia. (You may link HERE [to the pdf download] to listen to Jeri discuss the term paideia at 4 minutes and 40 seconds into the podcast.)
Jeri also recently expanded upon this concept on her blog.
Regrettably, “doing wrong” takes on an elastic meaning, and stories of children who are beaten for spilling milk. . . .Christian Fundamentalism fails to take into account that the parent holding the rod of correction is also a sinner: entirely as sinful as the child, in fact. . .
Paideia as “chastisement” or “chastening,” the translation has lost the original sense of the word. . .
The teacher (or father) in the tradition of Paideia viewed himself as passing on something vital to his child. The heritage of Athens, the first democracy in a land of tyrants, the home of great heroes and brilliant minds, was glorious and unequaled. Paul is making this comparison consciously. Alone of all religions and nations upon the earth, we know that God has loved us so much that He became a man and died for us, His people. Our kingdom is a noble and glorious kingdom, which we pass on to our children. Proponents of harsh and continual corporal punishment teach that the aim of discipline is to break the will of a child (a remedy not found in Scripture and condemned by Paul in Ephesians 6:4), but Paul is saying that you raise a child by appealing to him as a future ruler with Christ, calling upon him or her to show the great virtues of one who will receive a noble kingdom. . .
[Continue reading HERE.]
Please visit her blog and read the entire entry which is rich in detail, describing the New Testament's intended meaning and usage in several passages under the New Covenant, passages used by Fundamentalist Christians to develop and justify child discipline practices and corporal punishment. These interpretations focus on punishment as opposed to process of nurture and rigorous training that the original usage of the term conveyed within the society of that day. They miss the deeper meaning of the noble and stately aspects of the Christian Faith, a tradition that far exceeds understanding of chastisement as merely striking a child for mistakes and wrongdoing in the pursuit of performance and a works-based perfection through the traditions of men.
To the girls at Hephzibah House, because of the severe abuse that was inflicted up on them which was meant to debilitate them, many have come to believe what Ron Williams wanted them to believe: that he spoke infallibly for God. If you peel back the contradictions in his message, very much of his message did not come from God at all. He took his own prejudices and he very wrongfully misused the Bible, the Apocrypha, and extra-Biblical religious dogma to make it seem as though he was not only accurately speaking for God but that he was his own type of God as the despot over Hephzibah House. Sadly, he deceived many people into believing this as well, and he is probably deceived about it himself to this day.
His religious tradition taught him inadequate methods of understanding the Bible and preferred all kinds of personal preferences and gender biases. There are many other devout, real, “Biblical” Christians who are not liberal and who honor the authority of the Bible, and they reject both Williams' methods of study and interpretations on matters such as this. You can reject these biased interpretations, too. In fact, you should.