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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Punishment (2)

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PUNISHMENT

1. God’s punishment of sin.—For the sufferings of Christ for sin, see Atonement: the present article is concerned only with the punishment of men. The Gospel teaching on this important subject can be briefly summarized in a few paragraphs:

(a) The fact of punishment.—This fact is involved in certain explicit statements of our Lord Himself (Matthew 13:41-42; Matthew 25:46, John 15:2; John 15:6), and clearly suggested in more than one of His parables (Mark 12:9, Matthew 13:30; Matthew 22:13-14, Luke 13:9; Luke 13:22 ff.). It is further implied both in the recognition of God’s wrath upon men (John 3:36) and of a consequent difference in their destinies (Matthew 13:41; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 25:46, John 5:29), and in frequent references to Gehenna (Matthew 5:29; Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:43-48, Luke 12:5) or to the place of outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30). So serious may this punishment be, that death would be a preferable alternative (Mark 9:42); and, unrestricted to individual transgressors, it may fall also both upon cities (Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:21; Matthew 23:38) and upon nations (Matthew 21:43-44; Matthew 23:35; Matthew 23:38). The principle of punishment was illustrated in our Lord’s action (Mark 11:12 ff., Mark 11:15 ff. ||) as well as inculcated in His words’.

(b) The expression of punishment.—God’s punishment of men for sin, the fact of which is thus recognized by the Gospels, finds expression in different ways, (α) Our Lord seems to hint that even in the conditions of a man’s present life the penalty of sin may sometimes be perceived. At least it would appear that in certain cases He allows that a connexion exists between sin and physical sickness (Mark 2:10-11 || John 5:14). Nowhere, however, does He approve the view, which emerges in the OT, that a similar explanation accounts for the presence in the world of human sorrow. (On the contrary, sorrow even becomes, in His esteem, a ground for rejoicing [Matthew 5:4; Matthew 5:10-12]). Apart from these vague suggestions of a physical penalty, the Gospels recognize both a present and a future punishment of sin. (β) There is a sense in which a man’s judgment, and hence his punishment, is immediate. And not only is this true in that his sin involves remorse (Matthew 26:75; Matthew 27:4-5, Mark 6:16), but also because his very attitude to Christ automatically enriches his personality or issues in its impoverishment (John 3:18-19; John 9:1; John 9:11-12, Matthew 25:28-29, cf. Luke 2:34). (γ) There is a second sense in which a man’s judgment lies in the future (Matthew 13:41-43; Matthew 25:31 ff. and frequently). A discussion of the punishment resulting from that judgment does not fall within the scope of the present article, and the reader is therefore referred to the separate study on Eternal Punishment. Here it will suffice to observe that, whatever be its accidents, the essence of punishment will consist in banishment from the presence of Christ (Matthew 7:23; Matthew 25:41); and that it will be marked by varying degrees of severity (Mark 12:40, Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:22; Matthew 11:24, Luke 12:48), each of us by his own use of opportunity providing his own criterion (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 7:1-2; Matthew 10:33, Mark 4:24).

(c) The aim of punishment.—Punishment may be conceived as either disciplinary or retributive in its purpose. Our Lord Himself, in all probability with deliberate intent, made no unmistakable pronouncement on the meaning of the doom of the rejected. All that we can do, therefore, is to deduce from His words certain general considerations bearing more or less closely on the end that punishment has in view (α) On the one hand, the teaching of the Gospels confirms the verdict of our own moral sense, that so long as there is any hope of a sinner’s recovery, the reformatory element must at least be prominent in the transaction. Inasmuch as judgment is self-acting (John 3:19; John 12:31), it inevitably accompanies God’s gift of His Son (John 3:18; see Westcott, in loc.); yet we are specifically taught that not judgment but salvation is God’s deepest thought for mankind (John 3:17; so Matthew 18:14, John 6:39; John 8:11, Luke 15, cf. also John 5:24). It is in keeping with this that of the two words denoting ‘punishment,’ κόλασις and τιμωρία, distinguished in classical Greek as respectively remedial and penal in their purpose (so Plato; see Trench, Syn. § vii.), it is the former that is preserved in the report of Christ’s teaching (Matthew 25:46). That the classical shade of meaning is retained in the NT is signified by the suggestive use of κολάζεσθαι in 2 Peter 2:9, where the punishment precedes judgment, and therefore could scarcely yet be retributive. (β) On the other hand, the terms in which Christ refers to punishment (e.g. Matthew 18:35, Luke 20:47 etc.) would seem to forbid us to reduce it to the mere equivalent of discipline; and He Himself, in speaking of sin that has no forgiveness (Mark 3:28 ||, cf. Mark 14:21 and 1 John 5:16), distinctly implies a punishment that is retributive in character. The proportion in which these two elements in the Divine punishment of men are combined, is beyond our knowledge. Human analogies can merely give us vague hints, every analogy being to some degree imperfect, and therefore to the same degree misleading. Instead of seeking to dogmatize on what does not at present fall within the sphere of our understanding, it would seem wise to confine our conclusions to two broad principles:

(i.) The punishment of the sinner is such as Love can inflict. If God is Love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16), there can be no act of His which is not an expression of His nature. Sometimes Love reveals itself as tenderness. Sometimes it reveals itself as wrath (cf. the striking sequence of verses in Matthew 10:28-29; Matthew 21:13-14); for if sin is more than a fiction, the measure of God’s love for the sinner will determine the severity of His anger against his sin. Indeed, the surest proof of the punishment of sin is to be found in the love of God. It is only something less than love that would palliate evil in the life of the loved one. If, therefore, punishment is an expression of Love, it will contain the elements of discipline and retribution in such proportion as Love demands. What that proportion is we cannot say: we must be content to leave ourselves in the hands of Perfect Love.

(ii.) Hence, too, it follows that the duration of punishment will be such as Love requires. It seems reasonable to expect that as soon as a sinner becomes forgivable, the retributive aspect of punishment is at an end, and discipline alone remains; and that when discipline has utterly failed to reclaim a man, it in its turn must give place to simple retribution. Of the precise point at which either crisis is reached we have no knowledge. In one place our Lord appears to hint that it may be beyond the grave (Matthew 12:32), but, as we have already seen, He gave no clear guidance in the matter. Again, we must be content to leave ourselves in the hands of Perfect Love. (On the nature and purpose of punishment, see Moberly’s valuable chapter in Atonement and Personality, ch. i.)

2. Forms of human punishment.—(a) Among punishments mentioned as of general imposition are several which demand no detailed treatment. Such are decapitation (Mark 6:27, Matthew 14:10), drowning (Mark 9:42, Matthew 18:6), incarceration (Mark 6:17, Matthew 5:25; Matthew 18:30, Luke 23:19), and hanging (Matthew 27:5), inflicted, according to Jewish custom, only for idolatry or blasphemy, and then only after the victim had already been put to death in some other way (Edersheim, LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] ii. 584). With these, too, may be classed the less familiar penalties of precipitation (attempted in the case of our Lord, Luke 4:29) and of mutilation (διχοτομεῖν, Matthew 24:51, Luke 12:46). Stoning (Luke 20:6, John 8:5, cf. Matthew 21:44 || and Matthew 23:35 ||) was imposed for many offences, including the unchastity of a betrothed maiden, idolatry, and blasphemy. On one occasion the Jews sought to inflict it on our Lord Himself (John 10:31). See art. Stoning. For excommunication, see art. s.v.

(b) The two prominent forms of human punishment inflicted upon Jesus were those of scourging and crucifixion. Scourging, used among the Jews as a penalty for debt (Matthew 18:34) or for offences of a religious character (Matthew 10:17; Matthew 23:34), was also the customary precursor to Roman crucifixion. The Roman scourge was of leather thongs, weighted with bone or some form of metal. The victim’s suffering was so intense that it frequently led to death before the capital sentence proper could be carried into effect. According to His own prophecy (Mark 10:34, Matthew 20:19, Luke 18:33), our Lord was subjected to this cruel instrument of torture (Mark 15:15, Matthew 27:26, John 19:1). It was inflicted by Pilate in the hope that it would satisfy the passion of the Jews and render the crucifixion unnecessary (Luke 23:22; see Westcott on John 19:1). For the details of our Lord’s crucifixion (Mark 15:22 ||, cf. Galatians 3:10-23) and their significance the reader is referred to the special article under that heading. Christ foretold this form of death for other witnesses to truth (Matthew 23:34, and probably John 21:18) as well as for Himself (Matthew 20:19; Matthew 26:2, Luke 24:7, John 12:32-33).

H. Bisseker.

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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Punishment (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/punishment-2.html. 1906-1918.

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