The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Is there a place for retributional justice


In the hardcore infernalist tradition, justice and mercy are seen as two opposites. where justice is all about deserved penalty for sin, and mercy is undeserved pardon for sin. In Universalist beliefs, and other non-fundamentalist traditions, justice is seen as fixing the problem of sin, and setting things right. This usually means that mercy is part of justice, and the eventual goal in seeing beyond the sin.

Yet retributional justice is present in the Old Testament. Like and eye for an eye. I know that in the Old Testament, retributional justice could not exceed the offense committed, or be arbitrary. In contrast to ancient societies, where penalties exceeded the crime, and had nothing to do with the offense committed.

Basically with retributional justice, there is accountability for an offense committed and the person who committed the offense has to accept the consequences of what they did. Like a person who betrayed another would not be entitled to the same trust as before. Or in legal theory, self defense is generally the only accepted form of violence, as it views violence as only just in preventing violence. However, violence would not be seen as appropriate say for revenge.

Yet the difficulty is over whether retribution is just pride and egoism, or manipulation or revenge. With being egoic and prideful, there are two ways of looking at it. On one hand, someone may have committed an actual offense against a person, and may feel that this offender needs to pay for their offense, or not witholding consequences. Or on the other hand, offending anothers quirks.


Anyway, I did a search on Google for “Is there a place for retributive justice Christianity”. One of the artices was from Christian today entitled:
How to Deal with Criminals
One element I found interesting is this:

Baylor University also has a document from the Center for Christian Ethics entitled:
Divine Justice as Restorative Justice
There are some other articles on page one of google. But the ones I have shared have caught my attention.


The Bible says He’s both. Both punitive and rehabilitates. This is what we see in our modern prisons. When you commit a crime you pay the price. Yet they try to rehabilitate the prisoners there so that they don’t commit the same crimes when they get out. At least in a lot of them.

Here Jesus repays with affliction those who have afflicted. This is clearly retribution.

The thing I like about the Christian Universalist (Gerry Beauchemin) in his book (Hope Beyond Hell) is that he uses retributive passages from scripture to support this view. I gave a scripture from the New Testament that God’s justice is indeed retribution. But as Gerry points out it’s not SOLEY retributive. Says Gerry:

According to Gerry it is the testimony of scripture that God’s judgments are also restorative and remedial. This is because the paradoxical mystery of God in how he mixes His mercy with His justice as Gerry points out in the book. The fires of God not only purify they punish as well. God is love and He is driven by His love when He takes vengeance on those in Hell. But His justice is tempered with His mercy.


Retribution is not justice; it is punishment. Justice is fairness to all parties.

I suggest the book Changing Lenses by Howard Zehr, a powerful book that shows among much else, that retributive “justice” does nothing to reduce crime while restorative justice goes a long way toward doing so.

To understand the need for restorative justice rather than retributive “justice” (which is not justice at all) requires a change of lenses in viewing justice it requires a drastic change in paradigms. You can look inside the book, the table of contents and read the first pages free at Amazon:


The requirements of justice are wide and varied and are applied according to the circumstances and dynamics of the transgression. The language of scripture(imo) supports retribution in certain cases. This is evident in the law, which is a shadow of things to come, and in the new testament words of Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John in Revelation.

But if you look at it from a wide view where for some(few stripes) and perhaps most- there is correction that leads to conversion which transforms the inner man…and for some- such as certain predators and egregious defilers and destroyers of human life…there is a measure of retribution(many stripes) that preceeds the transformation in some way. I would say in such cases retribution is corrective in itself, restoring the fear(awe, reverence) of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.

There is just too much new testament scripture(imo) in which translation work alone cannot overturn the idea of retribution completely because the tone of the context just won’t suffer that much abuse and remain intact(again- imo).


Strictly speaking, retributional justice should be remedial justice, bringing the rebel back under loyal tribute. The same underlying meaning figures in the Greek timoria verbs, too.

I’m not usually a person to blame sinful-traditions-of-men for meanings, but this is one of those times I just don’t know how else to explain the total reversal, or rather elimination, of the idea from the meaning.

2 Thess 1:6-8, as mentioned by Michael upthread, is actually an example of this, because in the next verse Paul goes on to explain the purpose is so that they shall come to value/honor the justice of God (which routinely gets badly mistranslated in order to fit an idea of hopeless non-re-tributive punishment instead) even when that justice involves their eonian whole-ruination – using a term that Paul definitely and explicitly connects elsewhere to remedial punishment which he fully expects to succeed. And in one of the OT prophecies being referenced by the language, that turns out to be the result: at least some of those who don’t survive the coming of YHWH come eventually to petition the survivors (who survived by being on God’s side at the coming of YHWH) to be restored to fellowship, and so God cleans them of the filth of their prior murders of the innocent with the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning.

That’s nothing less or other than truly re-tributive justice, coming to value and honor the justice of God, even when that justice involves God acting against our sins.


Yes it’s partly remedial but there is an element of retribution. Anytime you REPAY with affliction those who have afflicted and call it just this is retribution. Especially when the text goes on to call it vengeance.

The Greek can mean vengeance or the translators wouldn’t have translated it that way. Moreover, it’s the context and therefore SHOULD be translated that way.

Again it’s the context. Moreover, Paul is telling us that personal vengeance belongs to God. There are ways we are to be like God and ways we are not. My faith is in God to handle my accounts. If justice isn’t done in this lifetime it will be done in the next. In this way I will be loving the way Jesus did while He was on earth as He gave us an earthly example to follow:


I don’t think it follows from the fact that the translators translated the word as “vengeance” that the word can mean “vengeance”. Many translators have been imbibed with retributive justice rather than restorative justice as Jesus practised and taught.

Notice it is coupled with the sentence “The Lord will judge his people.” Do you really think the Lord will judge his people by taking vengeance upon them? That implied condemnation. But we read in John 3:18


Jesus said,

The Greek word translated as “judge” in this verse is the same word that is translated as “condemn” in John 3:18 and John 8:15. Does that mean the Jesus condemns no one?

The Greek word translated as “vengeance” in Heb 10:30 is “εκδικησις.” This word is derived from “εκδικος” which means “out of the right” or “out of the just.” It is my belief that “εκδικησις” ought to be translated as “justice.”
“Justice is mine; I will repay.” To repay is to give justice to all parties concerned. Note the following passage:

Paul is addressing the Corinthians concerning the man who was copulating with his father’s wife. Paul had instructed them not to associate with him. No, not even to eat with him. This was not retribution. This was restorative justice. They weren’t trying to punish that man retributively for what he had done. They were trying to restore the man to righteousness in Christ. And that is exactly what happened. The man repented, and Paul asked them to forgive him, and receive him again in their midst. There was a godly grief in the Corinthians because of the man’s actions. As a church they wanted to clear themselves of the accusations of non-believers. They were indignant concerning the actions of the man. They were alarmed. The longed to see him restored. They had much zeal to carry out this restoration. And finally they had εκδικησις. Was it vengeance they had on the sinner? Not at all. It was justice (fairness) treating him as an outside in order to restore him to righteousness before God. They proved guiltless in all they did. They didn’t participate in wrongdoing themselves, but they did all they could to restore the man, and they succeeded. For he repented (had a change of heart and mind) and was received again.

So how do translators render “εκδικησις” here? Unfortunately some of them still incorrectly render it as “vengeance”. The NASB translates it as “the avenging of wrong.” The ESV translates it as “punishment”. But the Corinthians were not punishing the man (in the sense of “you did this; therefore, you have to receive a severe penalty for what you did.”) Nor were they wreaking vengeance upon him.

The NKJV does better. They translate it as “What vindication!” Justice was done to all parties. The Corinthians were vindicated in that they as a church did nothing wrong. The offender was vindicated in that he repented and was restored.


The word judge means vindicate. It also tells us this in Psalms 135:14

God vindicates His people by taking vengeance on those who have wronged them.

God’s vengeance on our offenders is experienced as relief by us.


I have wondered if retribution is really about justice, or more about pride. Like a kind of desire to preserve the false sense of self disconnected and independent of the rest of the world.


Retribution, in the sense of reaping what one sows, or “With the froward God will show Himself froward” is not a lower, or base response. The wicked learn through retribution. Breaking the potsherds with an iron rod is a part of a process that not everyone needs to experience, because not everyone is persistently predatory or deeply and persistently perverse. If the wicked has a forehead of flint he may be met with a forhead of stone.

If you look at the judgments of God upon Israel, as they fell away, you can see progressive levels of corrective action. First the Lord allowed raiders to plague them, to get their attention as they began to stray. As they began to worship foreign gods and sacrifice in high places and engage in temple prostitution He allowed major incursions by enemies. By the time they were sacrificing children in the fire to Milcom… well, by then he was bringing their works upon their heads in a way that I would call retribution and even vengeance…

God gets angry, but His anger is never closed. It is open ended and remedial… but sometimes it will manifest in the beginning of the remediation as payback to the persistently and egregiously wicked person, city or nation, so they may learn the awe and reverenceof the Lord.

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.

6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11** Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. **12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?** We are not stronger than He, are we**?

Retribution is that which disabuses the “strong” of his opinion of himself. Veangeance is that which brings him face to face with God in the light of his actions against God and men.


I have been thinking about when it comes to retributional justice and I cannot help but wonder if this is a first step on the path of restorative Justice and mercy. On the retributional level, I would say that someone deserves my anger if they intentionally wronged me and never made restitution. But I think that everyone has been treated unjustly and done injustice to others. Another example I can think of is I am politically libertarian, so I do not believe in the use of coercion except to stop coercion. On the level of retribution, I cannot help but think that the only people who deserve to be coerced are those who use coercion on others, while people who do not use coercion in no way deserve to be coerced.


Good thoughts. I think retribution, the causing of pain for no other purpose than to make the person suffer is vile. But, if the goal is to get someone to change their mind, it still might be vile because it is coercive. This is really tricky, because if forcing someone to do something against their will is wrong, how can you ever be a parent? I suppose you could offer two choices woth one being subpar…


I definitely agree that causing pain is evil. Which I find is the importance of restorative justice and mercy. I find more often than not, causing pain exceeds what is just. I remember some commentary on the Old Testament that the laws were highly progressive for the time, because most laws exceeded the demands of justice. Like I remember in the code of hammurabi, damage to property merited some harsh penalty. In politics, I have seen very little has changed.

A more relevant example I can think of with school, on the lowest level it would be just for a teacher to give a C grade to work that has C quality, but it would be unjust to give an F to C quality work. On the restorative level, the teacher would also be just in giving the student tutoring or setting them up with tutoring to boost their grade. Now on the level of mercy, I could see it often necessary to pass a student on a subject that they are not good at, but need the credit to pass, if its a class that is not really necessary.


Yes. It never ceases to amaze me that so many Christians support the practice of taking vengeance upon evil doers in view of the fact that Jesus (who was the exact image of the Father’s essence— Heb 1:3) taught the exact opposite:

But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your coat also. (Luke 6:27-29 NHEB)

Of course, one can justify taking vengeance on one’s enemies by appealing to the instructions that God supposedly gave to the ancient Hebrews. But Jesus revealed the character of God as it actually is, and He not only taught that God was kind to the wicked, but He portrayed it in His own life. Yes, Jesus taught that His disciples would TRULY demonstrate that they were children of God, if they behaved toward wicked people as God Himself does!

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NRSV)



Well said!!!


Certainly Jesus could appeal directly to the instructions (commandments) of God, and there was absolutely no supposedly about it… in fact Jesus contrasts Yahweh’s specific commandment with that of the hypocritic tradition the Pharisees had developed for their own selfish ends, as per Matthew’s record of Jesus’ interaction here…

Mt 15:1-7a Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites!

Thus it was VERY clear, in this regard, WHAT “the commandment of God” was… fortunately Jesus came and did away with the entire “law of commandments contained in ordinances” as per Eph 2:15; Col 2:14.


Mistranslated. Yes, “Honour your father and mother” was a command of God, but Jesus didn’t say that God commanded the Israelites to kill the person who reviles his father or mother. Rather, he indicated that God said, “He who reviles his father or mother, let him die the death.” That’s the way it is translated in the ASV, AV, Darby, Webster, and YLT. The words “let him die” is a single word in Greek in the 3rd person imperative. This was NOT a command to the Hebrews to kill the reviler. Then what was it? It is analogous to a dog owner saying, “If Joe insists on petting that vicious dog, let him be bitten!” It’s the natural consequence of petting the vicious dog. So God is saying, “If a man reviles his father or mother, let him die” indicates that the man’s death is a consequence of his reviling one of his parents. Why would that be a consequence? In those days, there was a lot of violence in Israel, even among families. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a father at the time would kill his son for reviling either his wife or himself.


Ah… the ole’ mistranslation option. :thinking: How is it that when Jesus quotes Moses quoting God it’s a mere “mistranslation” of Jesus’ words… BUT when Moses quotes God with the EXACT SAME phrase/words you declare Moses was in error, supposedly misrepresenting God and getting God horribly wrong, IOW, you have Moses bearing false witness. Thus IF Moses bore false testimony and Jesus repeats Moses you have Jesus doing in-kind — NOT a very satisfactory outcome, but the logical conclusion of this your position.

WHY have you maintained all this time that Moses was wrong… when all you had to do was avail yourself of this latest convenient option and simply say of Moses’ — it’s a bad translation; just as you’re NOW claiming above with Jesus’ words?

Not too believable IMO.


I have found that revenge and retribution are done moreso out of pride than true concern for Justice. I actually found an article that says much of the appeal of revenge is that it is a way of handling shame. Like if someone made us feel small or inferior. I believe Richard Rohr wrote about vengeance and how taking people to court is really about thinking that one can get their dignity back by making the offender pay back what they owe. I find that the root of wanting to take vengeance is to cover up ones own powerlessness, and want to handle tyranny through a fleshly way. Sometimes we may have no choice, such as self defense. In the book “Dont forgive too soon” by the Linn Ministries, the admonishment to turn the other cheek was not about being a doormat, but finding a creative solution to problems without resorting to violence.