Do Christians believe that criminals should be punished on Earth by state authorities?

If so, why are they not satisfied with the promised divine punishment in afterlife?

  • Not sure that I follow your second question. Dec 14, 2012 at 22:33

2 Answers 2


The basis is that God ordained it. The Books of the Law prescribe specific earthly punishments for earthly crimes as well as establishing the fact that these are sins that carry eternal consequences.

The idea of an earthly government, which executes judgement is established in several parts of the Books of the Law, but an interesting, specific set of guidelines for an organized government is given in Exodus 18:

1Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people, how the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.2Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Moses’ wife Zipporah, after he had sent her away,3and her two sons, of whom one was named Gershom, for Moses said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.”4The other was named Eliezer, for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

5Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was camped, at the mount of God.6He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.”7Then Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, and he bowed down and kissed him; and they asked each other of their welfare and went into the tent.8Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had befallen them on the journey, and how the LORD had delivered them.9Jethro rejoiced over all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians.10So Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD who delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of Pharaoh, and who delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.11“Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; indeed, it was proven when they dealt proudly against the people.”12Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

13It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening.14Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?”15Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God.16“When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.”

Jethro Counsels Moses

17Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you are doing is not good.18“You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone.19“Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God,20then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.21“Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.22“Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.23“If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.”

24So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said.25Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens.26They judged the people at all times; the difficult dispute they would bring to Moses, but every minor dispute they themselves would judge.27Then Moses bade his father-in-law farewell, and he went his way into his own land.

There is simply no reason to assume that Christ's offer of forgiveness from sin in the eternal has anything to do with doing away with earthly consequences for sin.

Added to that, the fact remains that for the most part, earthly punishment for crimes is a matter of civilian government, not the Church. (Yes, there are exceptions, and we'll leave arguing about those exceptions, such as some of the inquisitions, for another forum/question).

As for why governments have authority from a Christian perspective, you need not look any further than Romans 13:1:

Romans 13:1: King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.) Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.


Beyond this is the fact that fear of punishment is a deterrent. If you've ever seen mob mentality, or riots that occur when government authority breaks down, you can see that authority is in and of itself, good, and necessary for maintaining order and safety for the "good" citizenry.

  • An important point is that God delegates authority (as shown by the Romans reference), even from the beginning (Gen. 1:28--the command to rule over lesser creatures). The question is similar in a way to "Why evangelize when God could speak the Gospel directly and will save whomever he chooses to save?" part of the answer being that Christians have been given the honor of being ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). It seems a ruler who rules justly declares the glory of God much as the heavens do in their majesty.
    – user3331
    Dec 15, 2012 at 1:50

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it. (Cf. Leo XIII, Immortale Dei; Diuturnum illud.) The foundation of such authority lies in human nature. It is necessary for the unity of the state. Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society. 1899 The authority required by the moral order derives from God:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Rom 13:1-2; cf. 1 Pet 2:13-17.

and here

1909 Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defence. 1910 Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.

I believe that The Fourth Commandment "Honor thy Father and Mother" can be extrapolated to Honor authority.

From Wikipedia on the Fourth Commandment

Thus, the fourth commandment's responsibilities extend to the greater society and requires respect for "legitimate social authorities". The Catechism specifies "duties of citizens and nations", which Kreeft summarizes as: "Obedience and honor" to "all who for our good have received authority in society from God". "Payment of taxes, exercising the right to vote and defending one's country". "An obligation to be vigilant and critical", which requires citizens to criticize that which harms human dignity and the community. "A duty to disobey" civil authorities and directives that are contrary to the moral order. "To practice charity", which is a "necessity for any working family or society"; it is the "greatest social commandment" and requires people to love God and neighbor. "To welcome the foreigner" who is in need of security and livelihood that cannot be found in his own country. "An obligation for rich nations to help poor nations", especially in times of "immediate need". "An expectation for families to help other families".[55][64]

It is not a dissatisfaction with the promised divine judgement, it is the governing authority's role from God to "ensure as far as possible the common good of the society."

  • It seems this post does not answer my question. I did not ask why Christians believe that the authorities are necessary. I was asking why such authorities should punish for sins (rather than rule by some other principle, such as sermon or showing example by their own behavior, or rely on divine intervention or containing the criminal until he redempts).
    – Anixx
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:45
  • I think the longer post was necessary to establish a connection between government and its authority over people. It derives its ability to punishment from God in order to ensure as far as possible the common good of society. This is not necessarily a punishment for all sin.
    – Andrew
    Dec 14, 2012 at 22:52
  • "and those that exist have been instituted by God" line like this make me see that maybe some kings did have an influence in re-writing some parts. Otherwise God instituted the conflict between world powers.... Dec 15, 2012 at 1:10

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