March 13, 2015 Editor

Punishment and Retribution: An Attempt to Delimit Their Scope in New Testament Thought

WN: I have loved this piece since the first time I read it decades ago! Preparing it as an “Occasional Paper” for publication by Mennonite Central Committee in 1990 led to a longstanding correspondence with Dr. Moule until his death.

An excerpt:

It is likely, I know, that many readers – perhaps most – will find themselves in disagreement with the radical thesis I am about to present. But my hope is that time will not have been wasted – whatever the conclusions reached – because the thesis leads us in any case to ponder, once more, the very heart of the Gospel.
What I offer for your consideration is the thesis that the word “punishment” and other words related to it (especially “retribution”) have, if used in their strictly correct sense, no legitimate place in the Christian vocabulary. The word “punishment” is often loosely applied, it is true, in modern parlance, to suffering inflicted for other purposes – disciplinary or deterrent. But for such inflictions I believe that it is an incorrect and misleading term. Similarly, in many places where the notion of punishment (even if not the actual word) appears in the New Testament, careful pondering shows that what is meant is, again, not strictly speaking punishment. There is no denying, however, that there are further passages in the New Testament where the idea of retribution is most deliberately intended. But here, I would dare to say, the essentially personal character of the Christian gospel is temporarily obscured. In other words, what I want to ask is whether suffering inflicted for disciplinary and deterrent purposes (which are entirely relevant to the gospel) is not too lightly confused with suffering inflicted for the purposes of punishment and retribution, so that the latter have been dragged into a Christian context where they do not properly belong.

Please click on: Punishment and Retribution

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.