Question: "Some have argued that the verses in Proverbs regarding corporal punishment are referring to the punishment of adults and not to children. Can you clarify?"
Let's take a look at a couple of the verses in question:
"Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15).
"Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14).The word translated as "child" these verses is na‛ar (נער), which means "boy" and is used with reference to boys from the age of infancy to adolescence. I doubt very much that any reputable commentary has ever been written that would seriously argue that this refers to an adult rather than to a child.
But consider the words of St. Basil the Great, which unambiguously, and approvingly speak of small children receiving corporal punishment:
"As small children who are negligent in learning become more attentive and obedient after being punished by their teacher or tutor, and as they do not listen before the lash, but, after feeling the pain of a beating, hear and respond as though their ears were just recently opened, improving also in memory, so likewise with those who neglect divine doctrine and spurn the commandments. For, after they experience God's correction and discipline, then the commandments of God which had always been known to them and always neglected are more readily received as though by ears freshly cleansed" (St. Basil the Great, Homily on the Beginning of Proverbs 5, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. IX, J. Robert Wright, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2005) p. 147).St. John Chrysostom recognized that for normal parents, their natural inclination is not to use the rod of correction because of their affection for their children, but that this is why Scripture admonishes them that if we truly love them, we will use it appropriately:
"Spare the rod and spoil the child (Proverbs 13:24). Here there is reference to the people who appear to love their children, but in fact do not; so spoiling is the result of sparing -- not of not sparing. Having children is a matter of no little import: we are responsible even for their salvation. On that reasoning Eli would not have paid a severe penalty. Whereas those who love them correct them diligently -- not casually, but diligently: since nature bids us be sparing, he makes no mention of excess. Hence he says, I instilled affection in you, not for you to harm your loved ones, but for you to care for them; so refrain from inappropriate affection" (St. John Chrysostom, Robert Charles Hill, Trans., Commentary on the Sages, Volume 2, Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 2006, p. 133f).See also:
Spanking: What Saith the Scripture?
When to Spank