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Discipline or Punishment: What's the Difference?

Margaret Minnicks has been an online writer for many years. She researches and shares remedies for using certain products for illnesses.


Discipline: Definition

While some people might think there is no difference between discipline and punishment, there is a big difference.

The dictionary says “discipline” is to train or develop by instruction and exercise, especially in self-control. Discipline is the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior. Punishment is the practice of correcting the disobedience.


Discipline According to the Bible

The Bible is quite clear when it tells us that all discipline is necessary for training toward righteousness. No one likes to be disciplined or be the one giving discipline, but sometimes it is necessary to give and to receive discipline.

God expects us to discipline our children and those we love because He does the same thing with us. He teaches and leads His children away from sin and toward holiness through the process called discipline.

According to the Bible, the reason for discipline is to teach and to train for the purpose of making disciples. Through discipline, God wants to instruct His people to live a more pleasing life. Its purpose is to enhance character and to strengthen faith.

We can see the word "disciple" in the word "discipline" because God wants His children to become disciples.

Discipline should not be considered negative. God disciplines us because He wants us to become morally fit for the kingdom. God disciplines us because He loves us and wants the best for us.

The Bible says:

"Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die" (Proverbs 23:13)

"If you are being disciplined, it to so you can produce more fruit" (John 15:1-2).

Do not be misled and think discipline is for children only. Discipline is for everyone, including adults. Adult men and women can be disciplined by their bosses or others in authority at work, school, church, or in one's own community. There are cases in the Bible where adults are taught to be disciplined themselves by having self-control.


Punishment: Definition

The dictionary says a “punishment” is a penalty for a fault, offense, or violation. It is the infliction considered to be retribution for an offense.

The Bible does make a distinction between discipline and the punishment that follows.

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Punishment According to the Bible

Punishment is different from discipline because it is intended to inflict consequences for bad behavior.

Punishment is the penalty for a violation of God’s will. It is safe to say that discipline can come before we act whereas punishment definitely comes after an act of disobedience.

The best way to avoid punishment is to refrain from violating rules that have been given us. If we pay close attention to discipline, then we will not suffer the consequences in the form of a punishment that is the result of bad behavior.

Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.

Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden.

A biblical example of punishment is in the very first book of the Bible when Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden. God told them they could eat from every tree in the garden except the one in the middle. They were not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They did not heed His instruction and ate fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden.

Therefore, they had to be punished by suffering the consequences of being banished from the garden. The woman was punished to suffer pains of childbirth, and the man was punished to work by the sweat of his brow. Had they not been disobedient, there would have been no need for the punishments that are outlined in Genesis 3.

If you are being punished, perhaps you need to repent for some overlooked sin you have committed. First, confess your sin, according to Psalm 51:10. Then have faith that God will forgive your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness, according to 1 John 1:9.

Discipline comes before an act that deserves punishment.


Comes before the wrong act

Comes after the wrong act

Not a negative action

Could be a negative action for the one receiving it

Instruction toward righteousness

Consequence for not abiding by instruction for righteousness

To deter destruction

Result of not heeding instruction

To avoid adverse consequences.

Happens when disciplinary measures aren't followed

Given by human authorities

Given by human authority figures

By the Word of God

God punishes those who do not obey His words.

The practice of training people to obey rules

The practice of correcting disobedience for not obeying rules


Margaret Minnicks (author) from Richmond, VA on June 03, 2018:

DredCuan, thank you for your comments. I especially like what you said about discipline being more of a positive approach for one's development while punishment is more of a negative approach. Well said!

Travel Chef from Manila on June 03, 2018:

For me, discipline is more on the positive approach of developing a positive trait of an individual. While punishment is more on the negative approach.

Personally, I could hardly recall any chance that my parents punished me when I was still small. All I remember is that they will simply tell us the pros and cons of our actions. Actually, they've set themselves as a good example for us since we're kids. Just an example, my dad used to smoke before. But since we started to become grown ups, he decided to quit smoking and told us the consequences of being a smoker. Now that we're old enough, none of us are into smoking.

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