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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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is the act of pronouncing someone guilty after weighing the evidence.

Old Testament The word appears first in the context of a court of law (Exodus 22:9 ) where a judge hears a charge against a thief and condemns the culprit. Another juridical instance appears in Deuteronomy 25:1 where judges are instructed to hear cases, decide on the issue, and “condemn the wicked.” In Psalm 94:20-21 the writer accuses corrupt judges who “condemn the innocent,” and in Psalm 109:31 he thanks God for saving the poor man “from those who condemn him to death” (TEV).

“Condemn” is also used in making everyday personal judgments as in the Book of Job. Feeling helpless before God's power and righteousness, Job knew that no matter how he tried to defend himself, his own mouth would condemn him (Psalm 9:20 ). He begged God not to condemn him but to explain why He was making him suffer (Psalm 10:2 ). After Job's advisors had had their say, Elihu saw that all three “had condemned Job” (Psalm 32:3 ). Other instances of the word being used in everyday judgments appear in Isaiah 50:9; Isaiah 54:17 .

The more significant use of “condemn” is in connection with God's judgment. In dedicating the new Temple, Solomon prayed that God would judge His people, “condemning the wicked and justifying the righteous” (1 Kings 8:32 ). The writer of Proverbs expected the Lord to condemn “those who plan evil” (Proverbs 12:2 TEV). The psalmist was sure God would not forsake a good man or allow him “to be condemned when he is on trial” ( Psalm 37:33 TEV). On the other hand, the Lord asked Job whether he wanted to condemn Him just to prove his own righteousness ( Job 40:8 ).

New Testament Several Greek words are translated “condemn” and “condemnation” with a progression of meaning from just making a distinction to making an unfavorable judgment. The three-way usage of the word in the Old Testament continued into the New. The law court context is seen in Jesus' prediction of His coming trial in Jerusalem (Matthew 20:18 ), in a remark of one of the men crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:40 ), and in the final vote of the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:64 ).

“Condemn” was also used in Jesus' day in making personal judgments of others. For instance, Jesus said the men of Nineveh would condemn His own unrepentant generation (Matthew 12:41 ); James warned the brethren that teachers were subject to greater criticism (James 3:1 ); and Paul urged Titus to use healthful speech in his teaching to avoid criticism (Titus 2:8 ). As in the Old Testament, God is also the source of condemnation in the New. He was responsible for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Peter 2:6 ), and He condemned sin in human nature by sending His own Son (Romans 8:3 ).

New Testament usage of “condemn” is unique in its reference to the final judgment, especially in John 3:17-19 . A similar teaching appears in John 5:24 . Paul felt that avoiding that final condemnation was a reason for accepting the Lord's chastening in this life (1 Corinthians 11:32 ).

William J. Fallis

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Condemn'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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