From the standpoint of semantics, condemnation is part of legal terminology. When it is discovered that a crime has been committed, that the law has been broken, the process of investigation may lead to formal charges being levied against a defendant. The process of litigation leads to the outcome, a verdict of acquittal or guilt. The verdict indicates that the defendant is either free from or accountable to the law's penalty for that crime. Thus the result is either vindication or condemnation. Condemnation can refer either to the legal status of liability to punishment or to the actual infliction of that punishment. At times the word is also used in a broader context to refer to negative evaluations of a person by peers or by one's own conscience. This legal process is to some extent the background for biblical language about judgment and condemnation.
In biblical theology, God as creator, redeemer, and lawgiver, is the judge of all humankind. He instituted the family, civil government, and the people of God as institutions governing human relationships. In the Old Testament theocracy God mediated his justice through judges, kings, priests, and prophets. In the New Testament the church's leaders are accountable for administering his justice to the people of God. All this is based on the fact that God has acted to redeem human beings and reveal his will to them. Those who refuse to believe and obey are guilty of breaking his law. Their punishment has already begun and their ultimate condemnation will occur at the final judgment if they do not repent before death.
In the Old Testament rebellion against God began in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3). Our first parents turned away from God's plan, leading to their death and alienation. Yet God patiently bore with his rebellious creatures, and chose Abraham and his descendants to be his special people and mediate his blessings to all nations (Gen. 12). He redeemed Israel from Egypt and gave them a land along with a covenant that set before them the conditions of his continued blessing (Exod. 19-20). God as creator, redeemer, and covenanter stood as judge over Israel and set before them life and prosperity, death and adversity (Exod 34:5-7; Deut 30:15-20). Through his prophets he continued to call Israel to obedience, yet his theocratic rulers frequently neglected his justice by condemning the innocent and vindicating the guilty. Eventually God condemned this miscarriage of justice by sending other nations to carry Israel into captivity. Thus the Old Testament generally stresses the justice of God in punishing sinners during the present life, not the afterlife (but see Dan 12:2). To probe this theme further in the Old Testament, one should study the Hebrew words sapat [שָׁפַט], "to judge, " and mispat [מִשְׁפָּט], "judgment."
In New Testament theology the rebellion of the first Adam with its disastrous consequences of death and condemnation for all humankind is more than offset by the obedience of the second Adam, the Lord Messiah Jesus (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22). Jesus' sinless life and sacrificial death provide the basis for God's giving life and justification to all who believe in him. God remains just in justifying sinners because of the perfect redemption accomplished by Jesus, the sinners' substitute (Acts 13:38-39; Rom 3:21-26). Those who have been made right with God by faith in Christ are not condemned (John 5:24; Rom 8:1-4; Col 2:14), but those who refuse to believe in Jesus are condemned already (John 3:16-18; Rom 1:18-32; Gal 1:8-9). Unless they repent they face the irrevocable finalization of this condemnation at the resurrection and judgment (Matt 25:46; John 5:28-29; Acts 17:30-31; 24:15; Rom 2:5-16; 2 Thess 1:5-10; 2:9-12; 1 Peter 4:4-5, 17; 2 Peter 2:1-10; Jude 4-9; Rev 20:7-14; 21:6-8; 22:12-17). In the meantime, expectation of this eschatological judgment motivates believers to scrutinize their lives so that they will not be condemned with the world (1 Cor 11:31-32). The discipline of the church is also to be carried out with this eschatological perspective in mind (1 Cor 5:1-13).
To summarize, the theme of condemnation is always seen in the Bible against the background of a just God who creates, redeems, and covenants with his people so that they may live out his justice on the earth. Sinners who come to this God in faith are not condemned, but are expected to live together in a community where justice prevails in the vindication of the oppressed and the condemnation of the oppressor.
David L. Turner
See also Hell; Judgment
Bibliography. F. Bü hsel et al., TDNT, 3:920-55; H. Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament; D. Guthrie, New Testament Theology; J. P. Louw and E. Nida, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains; L. Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment; W. Schneider et al., NIDNTT, 2:361-71.