Question: Does the Bible teach that there will be degrees of punishment and reward after
Answer: Yes it does, and in several ways. Is a jaywalker worthy of the same penalty as a
rapist? Can we not easily see the difference between first degree, premeditated murder and an
accidental killing, or manslaughter? Would anyone seriously argue that these should be penalized
the same? If we can understand that distinction in earthly, criminal law, why do some people have
such difficulty understanding it with regard to God’s law?
Usually, the reason one crime is punished more severely than another is because it is more
serious in nature. It involves some evil or malicious intent, which gives to the action a heightened
importance. Although ignorance of the law is no excuse, a person who unintentionally breaks a
local is rightfully considered less culpable than a person who deliberately sets out or plans to do
Jesus recognized this distinction in his discussion with the apostles regarding faithful and
unfaithful servants, (see Lk. 35-48). Explaining the distinction between intentional versus
unintentional disobedience, Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his lord’s will, and made not
ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and
did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes, (Lk. 12:47-48a). Note that ignorance
is no excuse, but the penalty is less severe.
Jesus gets down to the true reason for this distinction in the last part of verse 48: “To
whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of
him will they ask the more.” With greater knowledge and opportunity comes greater responsibility.
Thus, the person with more ability, more talent and resources provided by God, is held to a higher
standard. God expects us to use what he has given us. And the person richly blessed by God who
spurns or misuses such gifts, will be punished more severely than the person who had less.
This reasoning was also evident in the law of Moses, and was developed throughout the
Mosaic Age. Manslayers were considered worthy of less punishment than were murderers. Persons
who accidentally killed someone were less culpable than those who deliberately killed someone
whom they had previously hated, (see Josh. 20:1-6).
The same principle applies with respect to rewards. In the parable of the pounds, Jesus taught
that those who produced more return for the master would be given a greater reward, (see Lk.
19:11-27). A servant’s hard work does not go unnoticed by the master.
– by Robert C. Veil, Jr.
Bible Questions & Answers