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As far as I know Christianity believes in the fact that we are all sinners. There is a story in john 8:2-11, the store of a women and Jesus which basically means that we cannot punish a sinner because we are not pure ourselves. Many christians also believe in less or no punishment for people who break the law. Mike Huckabee freed a lot prisoners using this principle and thinking that these people will become better men once released from jail.

My question is, Is sin Punishable in Christianity in this world. If yes to what extent, if not, why not?

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Flimzy, fredsbend, bruised reed, David Stratton Jan 6 at 14:43

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I guess I don't follow your logic, but Christians are not against punishment, executed by the proper authority. The incident you mentioned was a mob, not the proper authorities. And it was a lesson in self-righteousness, and forgiveness, not a stand against punishment. –  David Stratton Jul 28 '12 at 3:38
No the question is not about that incidence itself. The question is general. It is based on the fact that we are sinners. Then I have given some references that reinforces that idea that since we are sinners we cannot punish another sinner. The question is broad. –  Learner Jul 28 '12 at 3:42
@JBunyan I know GW bush never cut anyone's punishment, on the other hand other people cut punishment heavily on religious basis. My question is strictly about christianity and not other people. The belief that we are sinner in a popular one in Christianity and Jesus Christ himself choose not to punish the adulterer. Hence my question. –  Learner Jul 28 '12 at 4:14
Relocated my earlier comment, to which Roger's @JBunyan comment is a response, to my more complete response to this question. Specifically, see the "Edit" and "/Edit" section. –  Philip Schaff Jul 28 '12 at 4:31
@Roger I don't mean to denigrate your question, but it is what a philospher would call "mu." It is a question that is too faulty to answer, like "What color is God's skin". I'm expanding that reasoning into an answer below - and I don't mean to be harsh. I appreciate the genuineness of the question. But what it shows is a wrong focus. What distinguishes Christianity from other faiths is precisely is de-emphasis on the rightness or wrongness of an action. Punishment is focused on action. Christianity is focused on belief and love. –  Affable Geek Jul 29 '12 at 0:31

3 Answers 3

This response considers a few different questions, each of which is a variation of your original.

(1) Does the bible teach that the church should punish people who break the laws of the government of the country in which they live?

AFAIK, no; that's up to the government. However, Christians are to obey what are called "the laws of men" when they do not conflict with God's law. For example, the bible prohibits worshiping other gods, but in ancient Rome (through the third century?), citizens were required to worship the state-sanctioned gods. Many Christians who refused to do so were put to death.

Under normal contemporary circumstances, behavioral prohibition that a government would impose are already imposed by the bible. That is, the bible holds Christians (and all people, actually) to a higher standard. So, if one is breaking laws established by what I will call, for our present purposes, any "reasonable" government, then one is likely also transgression moral requirements maintained in the New Testament. See Romans 13:1-7, and Galatians 5:19-21.

Edit: And let's point out, as I did in a comment that has been relocated to here, that the notion that people should not be subject to punishment when they have been convicted by the government, in a fair trial, of criminal activity, is promoted only by a "fringe" minority. Such people can be found in religious organizations and elsewhere, but their beliefs certainly don't represent a widely held doctrine of any tradition that I'm aware of. To the contrary, many, though certainly not all Christians believe in corporal punishment and Just War Doctrine. (See the Roman Catholic Catechism, III.2.2.5.iii, esp. at #2309, for a ref to the latter).

(2) Does God punish Christians for their sins (i.e. transgressions of his moral requirements) while they remain in this world?

Q. 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as blindness of mind,[101][101] a reprobate sense,[102] strong delusions,[103] hardness of heart,[104] horror of conscience,[105] and vile affections;[106] or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures of our sakes,[107] and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments;[108] together with death itself.[109]

For those that prefer scripture references to proofed doctrinal statements, the numbers in brackets are, in the original, links to scripture texts to provide a starting point for further study re what the bible says about the issue.

(3) Does the bible teach that the church should punish Christians for their sins in this world?

  • Jesus definitely has a heart for sinners -- that's who he came here for (see Luke 5:32). And the first century disciples were not all originally men and women of "wholesome character" -- see, for example, just about anything Paul wrote to the church at Corinth (i.e. the books of First and Second Corinthians).

  • That being said, one of the things that is central to Jesus' teachings is that he accepts, even welcomes those who are rejected by everyone else. Christ himself experienced rejection also. A lot of it. See, for starters, Isaiah 53, and Mt 26:40. And then there was the part where he was executed by the state at the urging of the people.

  • There is biblical precedent for the church practice of excommunication, though few churches practice the concept today. See Mt 18:15-20, 1Cor 5:1-13. For a historic example of the practice, one starting point for further study would be to look into The Anathemas of the Second Council of Constantinople.

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The question rests on a premis that is anti-thetical to Christianity. Namely, that Christianity is chiefly concerned with the actions of the individual, rather than his relationship with God. It is akin to asking whether all Germans must eat sauerkraut or if all French women must be thin. There may be a correlation, but there is nothing in the essence of nationality that demands a gastronomic course of action.

Yes, there is, amongst Christians who desire to grow in their relationship with God, a desire to avoid sin, but that is not the point. Christianity is focused on those actions which foster a deeper relationship with God. It is a focus on a personal progression towards perfection - not how to go about punish those who do wrong.

Indeed, and I mean no slight to Islam.SE or Judaism.SE, but just a few minutes look at those sites in comparison to this shows how completely different the focus is. Just about every question on Islam.SE and Judaism.SE can be boiled down to "What is the correct way to perform X." These are ortho-practic beliefs in the extreme. The point is the proper execution of a ritual. By contrast, Christianity is ortho-doxa. It is focused on a right understanding that is evidenced by ortho-practicum - right action. Right behavior (and by extension punishment for wrong behavior) is merely a secondary consequence of the right belief that the Christian faith commends.

A worked example: The Woman Caught In Adultery (John 8)

The story of the woman caught in adultery that you cite (John 8) is an example of this emphasis, and precisely why this question makes so little sense to a Christian expert. In the story, a woman is caught sinning. (Why the man isn't brought here, we don't know; presumably she was not commiting adultery in isolation. But, I digress.) The Pharisees, who understood the purpose of their faith in general and "the Law" in particular, purposely set up a situation to "catch" Jesus in His message.

Jesus' message was one of forgiveness - that any who desired to be forgiven could be.

At the same time, Jesus was not preaching a lax way of living. He had no room for people who would do away with the law. Indeed, as the Sermon on the Mount tells it, Jesus said anyone who just looks at a woman lustfully was guilty.

So, these Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped. By finding a guilty woman, they hoped to force Jesus to equivocate. They expected he would either punish her or else look like he didn't care about morality. If the focus was on the action, then Jesus would have had to react to the behavior in some fashion.

Instead, Jesus turned the tables. He turned the focus back on love. He simply reminded those who would show no mercy that they themselves required mercy. The story says that Jesus simply started writing, and that each one of the Pharisees slipped away, from the oldest to the youngest.

In the end, Jesus says to the woman, "Where are your accusers?" He doesn't say, "Oh, keep on doing what you are doing!" Instead, he simply says, "Go and sin no more."

Punishment is not the point. Perfection is. Punishment is focused on a negative. Sin is the absence of a thing, and Jesus is about a presence. By completely fufilling the letter of the law, Jesus shows that punishment is not the point, but rather that mercy, forgiveness, and growth is.

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+1. A very interesting analysis that shows a depth of insight. Would you be willing to elaborate, however briefly, on the final sentence of the first paragraph of your 'worked example?' While I believe I understand what you mean by the Pharisees 'understanding the purpose of their faith in general,' I'd be interested to hear more. –  Philip Schaff Jul 29 '12 at 1:27

This is a complex subject because the Bible has various angles with 'punishment' so I will only summarize some various heads of them with some limited sample references. 

First Christians, in a sense, are never to personally 'desire the punishment' of others. This is viewed as the sinful desire of revenge in that sense.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool! ’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (NIV Matthew 5:22)

Second, Christians are not to imagine that they have not sinned as badly as criminals or any other man, therefore they should 'not judge' another man in their heart (even if they are a civil judge sending a criminal to jail):

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (NIV Matthew 7:1)

Third, God has established secular government to punish lawbreakers which Christians should submit to and be glad for. It is assumed that government is a secular role and not a church role, partly because the church is always represented as a minority in an evil world:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. (NIV Romans 13:1-3)

Fourth, there is a separation of civil and spiritual in the Bible, and a difference between punishment of sinners by God into death and the death of Christians. The world of government is lowly and carnal and of this world. The governments of the church under Christ is heavenly and of a different world.  Therefore when man puts a sinner to death as a legal government representative from God, God may be ushering that same man into heaven never to suffer punishment again! (Thief on the cross). These worlds are separate by an infinite gulf.  Therefore, when we talk about punishment in this sense these two worlds use them in two widely different ways.

For example a Christian can never be 'punished' by God, technically, in one sense. As every sin has been punished on Christ, God will never in anger for our sin punish us in that sense.  Rather God chastises his children as a loving Father corrects a son to raise him up into a disciplined man.  On the other hand when a sinner dies, the death itself could be considered the first punishing stroke of God's eternal punishing blows into everlasting burnings.

Do you see the wide gulf between worlds? God so dearly loves his children that they can even rejoice in suffering and death. Death and all punishment has been killed and punished in Christ, so we have reason to approach God's throne in boldness and have a strong hope in heaven. In this sense Christians can never be punished for their sins even if punished by employer or state representatives of God.

So you see there are many elements and aspects of  'punishment' in general and in particular in this world below, the world above and in the world to come. Is there punishment for a sinner? Yes and no and in various ways and senses as outlined above.

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