Limits on Authority for Church Discipline


One of the subjects we can look at in the Word of God to help understand how much authority has been given to church leaders is punishment.  If you have full authority over someone, then you will have the power to punish to ensure that your authority is established.

Admittedly, this is a somewhat unusual way to look at the topic of authority in the Bible.  However, I believe a review of the subject of punishment as it relates to the Body of Christ and ones leading in the Body of Christ is very relevant.

There is one main question to consider that has two facets:

  1. What authority to punish other believers is given to
    • a) other believers (i.e. siblings in Christ),
    • b) ones leading in the church?

There is also an additional question that arose for during the review of this subject

  1. Are ones leading in the church exempted from any types of discipline and/or punishment which are applicable to other believers?

We will look at a few things:

  • What is punishment in the Bible?
  • What types of punishment exist?
  • Are there different levels of punishment in the Bible that are clear enough that we can see enough difference to speak about multiple categories of punishment which may be more or less harsh?

The main purpose of this study is to look for evidence in the Bible on whether ones leading in the Body of Christ have been delegated any special power to punish that is not common to all believers as siblings in Christ.  If there is any delegation of this type of power, what boundaries exist on the level and amount of punishment that is appropriate for ones leading in the Body of Christ which is beyond what is common to all believers as siblings in Christ.


In summary, there are three key points:

  • Punishment is primarily reserved for God the Father to implement with His children.
  • There is very limited authority to implement any form of punishment in the church among siblings in Christ
    • The one clear authority is to turn away or stop fellowshipping with another believer.  This is done as a sibling under the same Father, not as someone who has authority over another person.
    • This authority includes the responsibility to first communicate the area of issue and the area of issue must be valid from God’s point of view.
  • Almost all aspects of punishment in New Testament scripture are written commonly to all believers.  Very little special privilege is given to ones leading in the church.  This is a continuation of the idea of older siblings and younger siblings in the same family under the same Father.

Verse References

  • Matthew 25:46 – And these will go away into eternal punishment (κόλασις/kolasis), but the righteous into eternal life
  • Luke 23:16 – I will therefore punish (παιδεύω/paideuo) and release him
  • Luke 23:22 – I will therefore punish (παιδεύω/paideuo) and release him
  • Acts 4:21 – And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to  punish (κολάζω/kolazo) them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened
  • Acts 22:5 – as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness.  From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed towards Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. (τιμωρέω/timoreo)
  • Acts 26:11 – And I punished (τιμωρέω/timoreo) them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities
  • 2 Corinthians 2:6 – For such a one, this punishment (ὁ ἐπιτιμία/ho epitimia) by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him
  • 2 Corinthians 6:9 – as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, (παιδεύω/paideuo) and yet not killed;
  • 2 Corinthians 7:11 – For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment (ἐκδίκησις/ekdikesis)
  • 2 Corinthians 10:6 – being ready to punish (ἐκδικέω/ekdikeo) every disobedience, when your obedience is complete
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – They will suffer the punishment (δίκη/dike) of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might
  • Hebrews 10:29a – How much worse the punishment (τιμωρέω/timoreo), do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled under foot the Son of God
  • 1 Peter 2:14 – or to governors as sent by him to punish (ἐκδίκησις/ekdikesis) those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
  • 2 Peter 2:9 – then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and keep the unrighteous under punishment (κολάζω/kolazo) until the day of judgment
  • 1 John 4:18 – There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment (κόλασις/kolazo), and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
  • Jude 7 – just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment (δίκη/dike) of eternal fire.

Greek Word Distribution (AV)

  • paideuo (verb) – Strong’s 3811 – 13 occurrences – chasten (6), chastise (2), learn (2), teach (2), instruct (1)
  • ekdikesis (noun) – Strong’s 1557 – 9 occurrences – vengeance (4), avenge+S4060 (3), revenge (1), punishment (1)
  • ekdikeo (verb) – Strong’s 1556 – 6 occurrences – avenge (5), revenge (1)
  • dike (noun) – Strong’s 1349 – 4 occurrences – vengeance (2), judgment (1), punish+S5099 (1)
  • kolasis (noun) – Strong’s 2851 – 2 occurrences – punishment (1), torment (1)
  • kolazo (verb) – Strong’s 2849 – 2 occurrences – punish (2)
  • timoreo (verb) – Strong’s 5097 – 2 occurrences – punish (2)

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