What Did Jesus Say About Punishment?

Given what is generally preached today about Jesus's message, one would expect the Gospels to include many instances of how God will avenge the saints and punish sinners in hell for all eternity.

An analysis of all uses of words like punish, revenge, etc. in the Gospels shows something quite different though.

Notes (Common to all these pages)

This is one of a series examining what the Gospels actually say about some specific topics:

Copyright © 2024, Ray Butterworth.


Each verse is presented here in two translations, the traditional familiar King James Version, which provides a very literal translation of the original Greek language, and the New Living Translation, which is written in modern English and stresses the presumed intended meaning of the original.

Looking at both literal translations and paraphrases can be beneficial when studying the Bible, especially when the two approaches are in agreement. Studying the text for the purpose of determining what the original authors actually meant, is known as exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture).

Unfortunately, when paraphrasing the intended meaning, sometimes the translators end up including either their personal beliefs or those of their target audience. Studying the text for the purpose of confirming what one already believes, is known as eisegesis (the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one's own ideas).

The Gospels

The four Gospels contain almost everything that was recorded about what Jesus taught.

Two thousand years ago, Jerusalem had Jewish religion, Greek culture, and Roman governance. Each of the four Gospels was written to present Christianity to a different audience.

Revenge and Vengeance

Only two sections in the Gospels, both in Luke, use the words avenge or vengeance:

Luke 18:3–8 And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people,
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
Luke 21:22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. For those will be days of God’s vengeance, and the prophetic words of the Scriptures will be fulfilled.

The Greek words used here, ἐκδικέω (ekdikeō) and ἐκδίκησις (ekdikēsis), have primary meanings of to vindicate one's right; to do justice and …meting out of justice; doing justice to all parties … the sense of requital, and carries with it, etymologically, the sense of vindication.

Requital means providing or extracting compensation.

Vindication means proving that the wrong party was actually in the right.

The modern NLT translation make it much more obvious that rather than talking about punishing sinners, Luke is talking more about making things right for the true believers, compensating them for the tribulation they suffered for his sake.


The word punishment itself appears only once in the Gospels:

Matthew 25:41,46 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

The Greek word used here means correction, punishment, or penalty.

Eternal punishment means that this punishment will be permanent, a final once-and-for-all penalty for those that refuse to accept God's offer of salvation at the end of the Millennium. Those receiving this penalty will be destroyed, burned to ashes, and exist no more.

Notice the contrast with those that will receive eternal life: punishment is not a form of eternal life; it is eternal death and non-existence.

Other related words

The Gospels don't even use words such as:

What Did Jesus Say About Punishment and Revenge?

It's clear that Jesus himself never taught anything like the Pagan myth of conscious immortal human souls being tortured for all eternity, something that is still popularly believed today by so much of Christianity.

Given that Jesus never mentioned such things, it's reasonable to conclude that his Christian teachings on the subject were the same as what was taught by Judaism at the time, that people do not have immortal souls and that a loving God would never deliberately subject anyone to perpetual torture and suffering. Such fantasies have as much to do with Christianity as does Santa Claus and The Easter Bunny.