Does the Bible give contradictory teachings about condemnation and punishment?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

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Question: Do Romans 8:1 and 1 Corinthians 11:29-31 contradict one another? The first reference says that in Christ there is no punishment or condemnation. The second says that God punishes us. What’s going on?

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be a pleasure to answer your question today. Your profile says that you are a Christian — and Christians should insist upon the truth — so good for you! Just know that God never contradicts himself within the Bible, within his other revelations (like in nature [Romans 1:18-20] or conscience [Romans 2:14-15]) and that no truth contradicts any other truth. If a truth claim does that, then it’s not truth.

Here are the two verses you mentioned. I’ll add a third one that will help me answer your question.

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NIV).

“For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.” (1 Corinthians 11:29–31, NIV).

“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”
(Hebrews 12:6–7, NIV)

The above verses contain three distinct ideas. The problem is that you are confounding them, that is, you are blending and/or confusing their definitions. This is why you see them in contradiction. Condemnation and punishment are certainly related, but if you analyze the propositional content of these verses, you will see they are discrete actions.

So, unless the context forces a logical interaction between them — and that is not the case with these Bible verses — discrete actions have no ontological obligation to act logically with one another. In plainer language, when we consider the definitions of these terms, there is no reason that they must agree with one another on that level. They do not interact unless you structure a statement that forces them to.

Look at Romans 8:1; it is not speaking of punishment or discipline; it is speaking of the final condemnation to hell — a sentence that can only apply to non-believers. Romans chapter 8 starts with the word “Therefore.” This signals that what follows is a conclusion. But of what? Of chapter 7.  In chapter 7 Paul emphasized that the law condemned us. But we who have put our trust in Christ are no longer under the law. This is why a person who is born again by the Spirit of God (John 3:3) can never go to hell. This person is eternally secure because there is “no condemnation” for such a person categorically.

However, this doesn’t mean that believers won’t be punished here on earth; that is what 1 Corinthians 11:29-31 is about. This is about believers — who, although still under the promises of Romans 8:1 cannot be condemned — were acting inappropriately during the Lord’s Supper. You see, we Christians still sin; it’s just that our sins cannot send us to hell.

If God did not punish his children for the sins we commit on earth — while we are on the earth — then he would not be doing his job. Sin is still sin… and God is still Holy. The thing with the Lord’s Supper is that Jesus himself established it as a way for us to remember him. So, it insults him personally when we partake of this ordinance lightly.

Hebrews 12:6-7 speaks to Christian discipline — which is different than both punishment and condemnation. With discipline, God treats us as sons — and rightly so! (John 1:12). Discipline is pro-active whereas punishment and condemnation are re-active. Can you see then how discipline is designed to prevent a Christian from being punished? What this means is that discipline is a function of God’s love, whereas punishment and condemnation are a function of his justice.

Since condemnation, punishment and discipline are three different actions, they cannot be in contradiction. I think you can see how reasonable it is that we Christians — who categorically cannot be condemned — should still be punished here on earth when we behave badly. Furthermore, since God is a Father who loves us, it is reasonable that he will discipline us. But discipline is not punishment; it is the glue that holds families — and therefore society — together.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210412 What’s the deal? Does God punish us or does he not?).

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