Hebrews 12:5-11 How Does God Chasten His Children?

By J.T. Smith

In this article we want to examine the context of He-brews 12:5-11 where the word “chastise” is used a number of times. Also, we want to note the definition of the word “chastise” as well as a number of other words used in these passages.


Many have the idea that the Lord punishes people for some terrible wrong done by causing a member of their family to die; by causing great financial losses; or generally just making another case like Job out of their lives. However, though there is a possibility that God may allow things to happen to us as they did Job, I find no evidence that Job’s calamities came about as a result of some terrible wrong he had done. In fact, when we read the first chapter of Job we find God saying just the opposite. He was commending Job as a good, God-fearing man, and said, “there is none like him in the earth” (Job 1:8). Thus the idea of terrible calamities brought upon men for some dastardly deed done is erroneous. What then is meant by chastisement?

Definition of Terms

The word “chastise” comes from the Greek word paideia and means, “Education, training up, of children, instruction, discipline, correction, chastisement. To educate, instruct children, Acts 7:22; 22:3; To be taught, learn, 1 Timothy 1:20; To admonish, instruct by admonition, 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 2:12. To chastise, chasten, 1 Corinthians 11:32; 2 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 12:6, 7,10; Revelation 3:19” (Bagster’s Analytical Greek Lexicon, 299). “The whole training and education of children. What-ever in adults also cultivates the souls, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing the passions; hence, a. Instruction with aims at the increase of virtue: 2 Timothy 3:16” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, 473).

Other word studies could be cited. However, I believe a careful study of the definition of the word, and also of some of the passages cited, will show that God’s chastisement involves much more than retribution for wrongs committed. I do not mean to leave the impression that God’s chastisement is not retributive, for it in fact is. However, I deny calamities that come upon all men are designed by God for that purpose. Let me give you an example of what I have just stated.

Just suppose that two six-year-old boys are in the yard playing. They live next door to each other. One boy’s family are all Christians. The other’s are not. The boys are playing ball. The ball goes into the street. Both boys run after it. Both are hit by an automobile and killed instantly. Is God chastising both families? Has everyone in both families done something so terrible that God has to use such measures to get them “in line”? I think not.

First of all, Paul said in Hebrews 12:6 that God “scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (italics mine for emphasis, jts). Thus Paul’s explanation does not fit the case in point. One family, who lost a child, was not made up of the sons of God whom God receiveth. The truth is that God does not place a wall around a Christian and his family and exclude them from normal catastrophe.

All chastisement brought upon us today by God is that which is a direct result of our association with him and his word. It either comes about as (1) affliction from those who oppose us because of our teaching Christ and Christianity; or (2) from the teachings of the Bible itself which reprove and rebuke us for the things we engage in which are contrary to the doctrine of Christ.

Four Different Categories

Chastisement, according to the definition of the word, may be educative, preventive, corrective and retributive. As we observe these different categories, we are brought again to the realization that this involves the en-tire spiritual education of a person, and not just a “whipping” for some wrong done.

Goals To Be Reached

Let’s begin with verses 10-11 of Hebrews 12. Notice the ultimate goal that we will reach as a result of “enduring” God’s chastening. Paul points out that no chastisement is joyous at the time. In fact, he says, it is grievous. The same thing was true with our own fathers who chastised us (verse 10). If it was nothing more than saying, “You can’t go out and play until you get your homework,” it was grievous to us at the time. However, our fathers in the flesh did this in order that we might get the formal education we needed; and in order to teach us a lesson  there is a time for all things and work comes before play. Paul says God has an ultimate goal for us. “. . . that we might be partakers of His holiness” (verse 10). That we might “yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11). The way to reach this goal is to be “exercised thereby”  that is by enduring the chastisement brought upon us.

This word “exercise” in this passage is an interesting word. It is from the Greek word gumnazo and means, “To train in gymnastic discipline; hence to exercise in any-thing, train to use; discipline; 1 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 5:14; Hebrews 12:11; 2 Peter 2:14” (Bagster’s Analytical Greek Lexicon, 83). Paul is simply showing that our earthly fathers disciplined us to get the required results. As God’s children if we will “endure” the physical and mental exercises given to us by God and not “faint” (quit assembling and worshipping as some of the Hebrew brethren had done), when we are “rebuked” of him, we can acquire the desired results of being “partakers of His holiness,” and “yielding the peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

Educative Discipline

In Acts 7:22 we read, “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.” The word “learned” in this passage is from the Greek word that is translated “chastise” in Hebrews 12. Also, Paul said in Acts 22:3 that he was “brought up at the feet of Gamaliel and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of our fathers.” The word “taught” in this passage is a derivation of the word translated “chastise” in Hebrews 12.

And finally, the very familiar passage, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “the Scriptures are profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness.” Again the word “instruction” is a form of the Greek word paidian. Hence, our spiritual education involves instructive discipline.

Another part of our education is brought to us by God in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise, “The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). But James says that it is for our benefit. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2-3). As with the Hebrew brethren, persecution may mean trials both by word and deed. In fact, that is the very lesson taught these brethren.

The larger context of Hebrews 12:5-11 goes back to Hebrews 10:24ff. They had forsaken the assembling of themselves together. The reason, Paul implies, is because they, in the very beginning of their endeavor to live the Christian life, were willing to “endure a great fight of afflictions.” They “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods.” However, the implication is that they had “fainted” and were not “enduring” in the good fight of faith. Also, Paul points out in Hebrews 12:1-3 that Jesus had resisted unto blood. He chides them by pointing out that they had not been persecuted to this point, of resisting unto blood, as had Christ and others of the Old Testament mentioned in chapter 11. He implies that in their failure to persevere they had “despised the chastening of the Lord and had fainted” under the weight of that which could have made them strong. God, according to verse 10, always has our best interest in mind and allows us to be tried in these ways for our benefit.

Preventive Discipline

Persecutions may also be preventive. Whatever Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, it appears to have been given for preventative purposes. Paul said, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (2 Cor. 12:7). Paul states both at the beginning and the end of this passage the purpose for this “thorn in the flesh,”  “lest I should be exalted above measure.” Thus this was given Paul as preventive discipline.

Retributive and Corrective

When we sin today, God has made provision for us to be “rebuked.” “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority” (Tit. 2:15). The Scriptures are to be used for “reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). “Them that sin rebuke before all that others may fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). “Preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). If this does not work, God has still another plan which is a little harsher. “Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5:5). Paul expressed it in other words in 2 Thessalonians 3:14. “And if any obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him that he may be ashamed” (cf. 2 Thess. 3:6).

And finally, “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19-20). The word “learn” in this passage is a form of the same word that is translated “chastise” in Hebrews 12, and literally means, “they may be taught” not to blaspheme.


We have found that the “chastening of the Lord” in the New Testament involves the entire process of “bringing up children.” In fact, Paul uses it just that way in Ephesians 6:4, “. . . in the nurture.” This expression is from the word paideia which in Hebrews 12 is translated “chastise.” It tells of the efforts of earthly parents to chasten us. It also tells of the Heavenly Father who seeks to cause us to be holy, even as he is holy. And as we have shown in this article, by the definition of the word and a study of it in context, the idea is “the whole training and education of children” that we may be “partakers of His holiness” and “yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

Guardian of Truth XL: 4 p. 12-13
February 15, 1996