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In the Old Testament particularly, punishments for sins were severe. Death was the punishment for striking or reviling a parent, for blasphemy, for Sabbath breaking, for witchcraft, for adultery, for rape, for incest, for kidnapping, for idolatry (Exod. 21:15,17; Lev. 24:14,16,23, Num. 15:32-36). Capital punishment was by stoning (Deut. 22:24). Romans introduced beheading (Matt. 14:10) and crucifixion (Mark 15:21-25). Other forms of punishment were being sawed apart, cutting with iron harrows, stripes, burning, and by the sword. Punishment in kind was a common principle (Exod. 21:23-25).

The New Testament suggests a less brutal approach to punishment. This is primarily based on Christ's procuring forgiveness for man by bearing punishment for sin (Acts 2:38; 10:38-43).

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Everlasting Punishment

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Everlasting punishment is taught in Scripture for those who reject God's love that is revealed in Christ (Matt. 25:46; Dan. 12:2). In Matt. 25:46, the word aionion (translated "everlasting" and "eternal") applies to the destiny of both the saved and the lost. The final place of everlasting punishment is called the "lake of fire" (Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15). It is also called "the second death" (Rev. 14:9-11; 20:6).

"Hell" in Scripture translates Hades, the unseen realm where the souls of all the dead are. Gehenna is the place of punishment of Hades. Paradise is the place of blessing of Hades (Luke 16:19-31). The reason for eternal punishment is the rejection of the love of God in Christ (John 3:18,19).


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Throughout the Bible it is insisted that sin is to be punished. In an ultimate sense God will see that this is done, but temporarily the obligation is laid upon those in authority to see that wrongdoers are punished. The lex talionis of Exod. 21:23-25 is not the expression of a vindictive spirit. Rather it assures an even justice (the rich and the poor are to be treated alike) and a penalty proportionate to the crime.

Two important points emerge from OT usage. The verb used in the sense of "punish" is paqad, which means "visit." For God to come into contact with sin is for him to punish it. Of the nouns used, most are simply the words for sin. Sin necessarily and inevitably involves punishment.

In the NT "punishment" is not as common as "condemnation," which may be significant. To be condemned is sufficient. Punishment is implied. The removal of punishment is brought about by the atoning death of our Lord. It is not said in so many words that Jesus bore punishment, unless bearing our sins (Heb. 9:28; I Pet. 2:24) be held to mean this. But that his sufferings were penal seems clearly to be the NT teaching.

L Morris
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

C. Brown, NIDNTT,III, 98ff., H. Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment; L. Boettner, Immortality; H. E. Guilleband, The Righteous Judge: A Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment; J. Schneider, TDNT, III, 814ff.


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The New Testament lays down the general principles of good government, but contains no code of laws for the punishment of offenders. Punishment proceeds on the principle that there is an eternal distinction between right and wrong, and that this distinction must be maintained for its own sake. It is not primarily intended for the reformation of criminals, nor for the purpose of deterring others from sin. These results may be gained, but crime in itself demands punishment. Endless, of the impenitent and unbelieving. The rejection of this doctrine "cuts the ground from under the gospel...blots out the attribute of retributive justice; transmutes sin into misfortune instead of guilt; turns all suffering into chastisement; converts the piacular work of Christ into moral influence ...The attempt to retain the evangelical theology in connection with it is futile" (Shedd).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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