Biblical Foundations of Law Series 3: Punishment

The Biblical Foundations of Law studies are intended to provide you with accessible Bible studies on topics of interest to law students and professionals who are seeking to understand the law from a biblical perspective.

After reading the brief scriptural passage (perhaps with a couple of different translations available in the group to add nuances of meaning), use the questions as prods for discussion. Please add your own questions, because the concerns and interests of each study group are different. In some cases, leader's notes are provided to help guide the conversation.

Some discussion "Do's":

  1. Do resist the temptation to make Bible study a mere intellectual inquiry or to parade your finely tuned analytical skills.
  2. Do provoke each other into finding concrete ways to apply and incorporate scriptural insights into your lives.
  3. Do commit yourselves to encouraging each other to stick to these commitments through friendship and prayer.

We're grateful to the Christian Legal Society for sharing these studies with us.


The purpose of this study is to examine principles of punishment with an eye toward thinking through some fundamental principles of the criminal law. This is, again, good practice as you get into the habit of evaluating the law by biblical principles.

This study is based in part on the Jeff Tuomala’s article, The Value of Punishment: A Response to Judge Richard L. Nygaard, 5 Regent U. L. Rev. 13 (1995).


Read Romans 3:25-26

  1. What is Paul saying about the atonement in this passage?
  2. What was God's "demonstration of justice"? Note: Professor Tuomala says that "the supreme demonstration of the principles of justice is found in the doctrine of the atonement. The Christian doctrine of atonement is of singular importance for theories of punishment, as it is the judicial archetype of the way in which God deals with sin and crime." What do you think of this statement?

Read Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24

  1. Consider the atonement. Was Christ "punished" for our sins?
  2. Does this tell us anything about the justness of punishing those who do wrong?

Read Romans 13:3-4

  1. If the civil magistrate is God's agent and minister of "justice," should he look to atonement as a model of how to deal with crime and wrongs? Why or why not?
  2. What might that entail with regard to punishment? What about rehabilitation? Should rehabilitation be the primary goal of the criminal law? Why or why not?
  3. Are there biblical limits to the use of punishment? What are they? (Consider, for example, Deuteronomy 25:1-3, which seems to indicate at least two important limits, and examples of limitations on the jurisdiction of the power of the state to punish in matters delegated to the church or family).

Read Mark 7:15-23

  1. What is the root of crime?
  2. Does this have any bearing on modern principles of the criminal law that you may have learned in class?

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