From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

The root meaning of ‘discipline’ is ‘instruction,’ but in course of time it came to be used for ‘moral training,’ ‘chastening,’ ‘punishment.’ The subject naturally divides itself into two parts: (1) the spiritual discipline of the soul; (2) the ecclesiastical discipline of offenders.

1. The training necessary for the discipline of the soul .-This may be under the guidance of another or under one’s own direction.-( a ) In order to develop and perfect man’s moral nature, God deals with him as a wise father with a child. The benefit of such treatment is pointed out in  Hebrews 12:1-13 (cf.  Matthew 5:10-12). Its final efficacy depends upon the spirit in which it is received. The motive for its endurance must be right, and the end in view must be clearly perceived. The Heavenly Father does more than simply teach His children; He disciplines them with more (cf.  Proverbs 3:11,  Job 5:17) or less severity (cf.  Proverbs 1:2;  Proverbs 1:8;  Proverbs 4:1). If the Author of Salvation was made perfect through sufferings ( Hebrews 2:10; cf.  Hebrews 5:8 f;  Hebrews 7:28,  Luke 13:32), it is clear that the ‘many sons’ must pass through the same process and experience as the ‘well-beloved Son.’ In their case the need is the more urgent, for latent powers must be developed, lack of symmetry corrected, the stains of sin removed, evil tendencies eradicated. Errors in doctrine and action must be transformed into truth and righteousness ( 1 Corinthians 11:27 ff.,  2 John 1:10 f.,  2 Timothy 2:16 f.; cf.  Titus 3:10,  1 Corinthians 5:9-13,  2 Thessalonians 3:6). Body and mind can move towards perfection only under the guiding hand of the Holy Father. Pain and sorrow, frustrated hopes, long delays, loneliness, changed circumstances, persecution, the death of loved ones, and other ‘dispensations of Providence,’ are designed to chasten and ennoble the soul. Character, not creed, is the final aim. Having begun a good work in His children, God will ‘perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ’ ( Philippians 1:6).

( b ) The Christian must also discipline himself. Through the crucifixion of his lower nature he rises into newness of life. St. Paul describes ( Titus 2:12) the negative side as ‘denying ungodliness and worldly lusts,’ and the positive as to ‘live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world’ (‘sobrie erga nos; juste erga proximum; pie erga Deum’ [St. Bernard, Sermon xi., Paris, 1667-90]); see  Romans 12:9,  Titus 2:12; cf.  2 Timothy 2:16,  1 Peter 4:2,  1 John 2:16; also  Luke 1:75,  Acts 17:30;  Acts 24:25. The Christian must put away anger, bitterness, clamour, covetousness, envy, evil-speaking, falsehood, fornication, guile, hypocrisy, malice, railing, shameful speaking, uncleanness, wrath ( Ephesians 4:17-32,  Colossians 3:8-11; cf.  James 1:21,  1 Peter 2:1). Then he must acquire and mature positive virtues. This involves at every stage self-discipline (see  Romans 6:19;  Romans 8:13,  1 Corinthians 9:25 ff.,  Colossians 3:5; cf.  Matthew 5:29;  Matthew 18:9,  Mark 9:47,  Galatians 5:24).

Many elements enter into this discipline of self. Amongst others the following deserve special mention: prayer , ‘the hallowing of desire, by carrying it up to the fountain of holiness’ (J. Morison, Com. on St. Matthew 5, 1885 p. 89); see  Romans 12:12; cf.  Acts 1:14,  Ephesians 6:13,  Colossians 4:2-4,  1 Peter 4:7; cf.  Matthew 26:41,  Luke 18:1;  Luke 21:36. Fasting is frequently associated with prayer: e.g.  Acts 13:3;  Acts 14:23, Did. vii. 4, viii. 1, and many other passages. Ramsay ( St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen , London, 1895, p. 122) speaks of the solemn prayer and fast which accompanied the appointment of the elders, and says that ‘this meeting and rite of fasting, which Paul celebrated in each city on his return journey, is to be taken as the form that was to be permanently observed.’ Sobriety in thought and action is commended ( Romans 12:3; cf.  1 Peter 4:7 [Gr.],  1 Thessalonians 5:6;  1 Thessalonians 5:8,  1 Timothy 2:9;  1 Timothy 2:15; cf.  Sirach 18:30 [Gr.]); watchfulness ( Acts 24:15,  Romans 8:19;  Romans 8:23,  1 Corinthians 1:7;  1 Corinthians 16:13,  2 Corinthians 4:18,  Ephesians 6:18,  Colossians 4:2,  Titus 2:13,  Hebrews 13:17,  1 Peter 4:7,  2 Peter 3:12; cf.  Matthew 24:42;  Matthew 26:41,  Mark 13:33,  Luke 21:36); obedience ( Romans 13:1-7,  2 Corinthians 2:9;  2 Corinthians 7:15;  2 Corinthians 10:6,  1 Timothy 2:1-3,  Titus 3:1,  1 Peter 2:13-14;  1 Peter 3:1,  1 John 2:3;  1 John 3:22); patience ( Romans 5:3;  Romans 8:25;  Romans 15:4,  1 Thessalonians 1:3,  2 Thessalonians 1:3-5;  2 Thessalonians 3:5,  Hebrews 10:36,  James 1:3; cf.  Matthew 10:22;  Matthew 24:13,  Luke 21:19); conflict against error and evil forces and on behalf of the truth ( Ephesians 6:11-18,  1 Timothy 1:18-20;  1 Timothy 6:12,  2 Timothy 2:3;  2 Timothy 4:7 f.,  Philemon 1:2,  Judges 1:3); work ( Acts 18:3,  Ephesians 4:28,  1 Thessalonians 4:11,  2 Thessalonians 3:8-12); almsgiving ( Acts 24:17,  Romans 12:13;  Romans 15:25-26,  1 Corinthians 16:1-4,  2 Corinthians 9:6-7,  Galatians 6:10,  1 Timothy 6:17-19,  Hebrews 13:16,  James 2:15-16,  1 John 3:17; cf.  Matthew 6:19-20,  Tobit 4:7-11); temperance ( Acts 24:25,  1 Corinthians 9:25,  Galatians 5:23; cf.  Sirach 18:30 [Gr.],  Titus 1:8,  2 Peter 1:6); chastity ( Romans 13:14,  Galatians 5:24,  1 Peter 2:11,  1 John 2:16; cf.  Sirach 18:30); meekness ( Romans 12:10,  Ephesians 4:2;  Ephesians 5:2,  Philippians 2:3,  Colossians 3:12,  1 Timothy 6:11,  1 Peter 5:5-6).

In  Philippians 4:8 and  2 Peter 1:4-8 there are inspiring directions for this same self-discipline. ‘If there be any virtue, and if there be any praise,’ the brethren are to ‘think on,’ or ‘take account of,’ ‘whatsoever things are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, of good report.’ If men are to become partakers of the Divine nature, and to escape the corruption that is in the world by lust, they must heed the injunction: ‘For this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge temperance; and in your temperance patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness love of the brethren; and in your love of the brethren love’ (see also 1 Corinthians 13 and  1 John 4:16). This will save from idleness and unfruitfulness. They will give the more diligence to make their calling and election sure.

No doubt the expectation in the Apostolic Age of the cataclysmic and immediate coming of Christ led to rigour and austerity of life, which were afterwards relaxed in many places. The moral necessity of discipline is always the same, even though the power of belief in the second coming of Christ in spectacular fashion wanes or departs. After the close of the 1st cent. the development of asceticism and penance became pronounced. The NT gives little or no countenance to the extreme forms that these disciplinary systems assumed.

2. Ecclesiastical discipline .-For self-protection and self-assertion the early Church had to exercise a strict discipline. Its well-being and very life depended upon the suppression of abuses and the expulsion of persistent and gross offenders. In some cases toleration would have meant unfaithfulness to Christ and degradation to the community. The duty of maintaining an adequate discipline was one of the most difficult and most important tasks that confronted the primitive Ecclesia. Jesus Himself gave to the apostles ( Matthew 16:18-19,  John 20:22-23) and to the Church ( Matthew 18:15-18) a disciplinary charter. The Church followed the main lines of guidance therein contained. Only public sins were dealt with in the ecclesiastical courts. Private offences were to be confessed to each other ( James 5:18), that prayer might be offered for forgiveness ( James 5:15,  1 John 5:16), and also confessed to God ( 1 John 1:9). Further, Christians were discouraged from carrying disputes to the civil courts ( 1 Corinthians 6:1; cf.  1 Corinthians 5:12;  1 Corinthians 6:4). ‘Let not those who have disputes go to law before the civil powers, but let them by all means be reconciled by the leaders of the Church, and let them rightly yield to their decision’ (see Clem. Ep. ad Jacob. , 10). The object of ecclesiastical discipline was to prevent scandal and to restore the offender. When private rebuke and remonstrance failed ( Matthew 18:15; cf.  1 Thessalonians 5:14), the wrong-doer was censured by the whole community (cf.  1 Timothy 5:20,  Galatians 2:11). This sentence might be pronounced by some person in authority, or by the community as community. If the accused person still remained obdurate, and in the case of heinous sin, the Church proceeded to expulsion and excommunication ( Romans 16:17,  1 Corinthians 5:2;  1 Corinthians 5:11;  1 Corinthians 5:13,  2 John 1:10). The offender was thrust out from religious gatherings and debarred from social intercourse. To such excommunication might be added the further penalty of physical punishment ( Acts 5:1-10;  Acts 8:24,  1 Corinthians 5:5,  1 Timothy 5:20) or an anathema (ἀνάθεμα,  1 Corinthians 16:22,  Galatians 1:8). Knowing the great influence of the mind over the body, one can readily understand that disease, and even death, might follow such sentences. It was fully believed that the culprit was exposed, without defence, to the attacks of Satan ( 1 Corinthians 5:5).

The whole Church exercised this power of discipline. St. Paul addresses the community in 1 Cor., which is our earliest guide on the subject. Laymen on occasion could teach, preach, and exercise disciplinary powers. In the case of excommunication it was not necessary that there should be unanimity. A majority vote was sufficient ( 2 Corinthians 2:6). It was believed that Christ was actually present ( Matthew 18:20) to confirm the sentence, which was pronounced in His name ( 1 Corinthians 5:4,  2 Corinthians 2:10).

No doubt the procedure followed in the main that of the synagogue, where expulsion was of three types-simple putting forth, excommunication with a curse, and a final anathema sentence. Discipline was designed to be reformatory and not simply punitive or retaliatory. There must be, if possible, ‘rectification’ (see  2 Timothy 3:16, where ἐπανόρθωσις is significantly joined with παιδεία). Repentance is to be followed by forgiveness ( 2 Corinthians 2:5-10,  Galatians 6:1,  Judges 1:22). The penitent was probably received into the Church again by the imposition of hands (cf.  1 Timothy 5:22).

Owing to persecution, the discipline of the Church became more and more simply moral influence. The demand for it was more urgent than aver; but, while some communities remained faithful to this duty, others grew more lax ( e.g. the practice of obtaining libelli ).

See also Admonition, Anathema, Chastisement, and Excommunication.

Literature.-J. H. Kurtz, Church History , Eng. translation, i.2, London, 1891; F. J. A. Hort, The Christian Ecclesia , do. 1897; C. v. Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age , Eng. translation, i.2, do. 1897, ii., 1895; P. Schaff, History of the Apostolic Age , Edinburgh, 1886; E. Hatch, Organization of the Early Christian Churches , London, 1880; A. C. McGiffert, Christianity in the Apostolic Age , Edinburgh, 1897; J. B. Lightfoot. Dissertations on the Apostolic Age , London, 1892; H. H. Henson, Apostolic Christianity , do, 1898; article‘Discipline (Christian)’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics .

H. Cariss J. Sidnell.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

The Old Testament Concept of Discipline . The notion of the discipline of God, and eventually the concept of the community and its leaders effecting God's discipline, derives from the notion of domestic discipline ( Deuteronomy 21:18-21;  Proverbs 22:15;  23:13 ). God is portrayed as a father who guides his child (i.e., the nation, more rarely an individual) to do right by the experience of physical suffering ( Deuteronomy 8:5;  Proverbs 3:11-12 ). Key ideas include "chasten/chastise" ( Leviticus 26:18;  Psalm 94:12;  Hosea 7:12 ), "discipline" ( Leviticus 26:23;  Deuteronomy 4:36;  Proverbs 12:1 ), and "reproof" ( Job 5:17;  Proverbs 6:23 ). While God generally administers discipline to the nation, the community through its leaders is charged with the responsibility to administer the legal code for individuals. This code deals almost exclusively with severe offenses that require the "cutting off" (normally, education) of the offender and gives few details concerning lesser offenses and remedial disciplinary measures. Furthermore, because Israel does not yet perceive itself in the modern (or even New Testament) sense as a religious community within a larger society, it is difficult to detect religious discipline as distinct from the Old Testament legal code. The seeds of accountability among the faithful may be seen in several strands of the tradition: removal from the assembly for ritual impurity ( Exodus 12:14-20;  Leviticus 17:3-9 ); standards for the evaluation of prophets ( Deuteronomy 13:1-5;  18:15-22 ); and admonitions to reprove other adults ( Proverbs 5:12-13;  9:7;  10:10;  19:25 ).

The New Testament and Personal Discipline . The notion of discipline as familial chastisement remains in the New Testament ( Ephesians 6:4;  2 Timothy 2:25;  Hebrews 12:5-11 ). In addition, the concept is derived from Hellenistic athletics of the Christian life as "training" for righteousness (1Col 9:24-27;  1 Timothy 4:7-8;  Hebrews 5:14 ). Akin to these notions is the recurrent promise that instruction, submission to others, and experiences of pain will prepare the believer for greater righteousness and heavenly reward ( Romans 5:3-5; 2Col 5:16-18;  2 Timothy 3:16;  1 Peter 2:18-21 ).

Community Discipline in Judaism and the Early Church . Community discipline was characteristic of Christian groups in the New Testament period. Paul, for example, probably borrowed some notions from Jewish groups like the Pharisees of whose disciplinary procedures he was himself a recipient. These systems of discipline developed during the intertestamental period as reform movements among the Jews, who developed ways to establish and regulate the boundaries between themselves and outsiders.

The Qumran sectaries developed an elaborate system of penalties intended to safeguard the purity and order of the community. This included a formal reproof procedure, short-term reduction of food allowance, exclusion from ritual meals, and permanent expulsion. Rabbinic traditions suggest that the Pharisees commonly imposed a "ban, " a temporary state of social isolation imposed for deviation from ritual purity laws or for heretical views and designed to recall the offender to full participation in the community. The right to put someone under the ban was originally limited to the Sanhedrin, but some time before the destruction of the temple it was extended to groups of scribes acting together. Rabbinic sources are not clear with respect to complete expulsion from Pharisaic communities in the New Testament era, but it is reasonable to assume that unrepentant banned persons and heretics like Christians would incur more severe judgment. Paul himself five times received a severe form of punishment administered by the synagogue for heresy, the "forty lashes minus one" ( 2 Corinthians 11:24 ). The number of lashes was reduced from the forty prescribed in  Deuteronomy 25:2-3 , presumably in order to safeguard against excessive punishment.

lu 17:3-4 may represent the seed of an originally interpersonal "reproof, apology, forgiveness" formula that occurs in expanded form for community action in  Matthew 18:15-17 . The community becomes involved through its leaders when personal confrontation is ineffective; community action in the form of expulsion is a last resort. This deceptively simple formula combines redemptive purpose and caution with firm resolve in the process of community accountability, and it appears to be the basis of later New Testament practice.

Community Discipline in New Testament Churches . There is insufficient material to establish a "program" or "system" of community discipline for the New Testament period or even for the Pauline churches. It is possible, however, to gain some insights into disciplinary practice in the early Christian churches by examining key Pauline texts for evidence of procedural elements, culpable behaviors, and intended effects.

 Galatians 6:1-5 suggests that the first step in correction of an erring believer is personal, private, and gentle (cf. 2Col 2:5-11;   Ephesians 4:29-32;  Colossians 3:12-13;  1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 ). The stress on humility and readiness to forgive on the part of the person who admonishes recalls the teaching of Jesus ( Matthew 7:1-5;  18:21-35 ). The notions of self-searching censure and eagerness to effect heartfelt reconciliation, practically nonexistent in Qumran and rabbinic sources, are pervasive in Paul's letters. Indeed, Paul's disciplinary practices are convincing as remedial rather than punitive measures only to the extent that they are infused from start to finish with a pure desire for the good of the offender.

Some offenses, or the stubbornness of some offenders, require that the wider community of believers and its leaders become involved. The command to "take special note of" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:14 ) those who are disobedient may be understood as a command to "keep written records concerning" such persons (cf. "watch out for" dissenters,  Romans 16:17 ). This formal element, employed at Qumran, may have been appropriate in the case of more serious offenses, especially if the accumulation of witnesses would have a bearing on further action. "Rebuke" or "refutation" is a common term in the Pastoral Epistles, which may pertain more to doctrinal correction by community leaders ( 1 Timothy 5:20;  2 Timothy 2:25-26;  4:2;  Titus 1:9,13;  2:15 ). Either "marking" or "rebuking" on the part of community leaders may constitute "witnesses" as required in the case of divisive persons in  Titus 3:10-11 and in the case of elders in   1 Timothy 5:19 . Paul equates warnings with witnesses when he writes of his impending third visit to the Corinthians ( 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 ). It is not clear whether warnings could be construed as witnesses ex post facto, but this may have been an intentional flexibility designed to avoid the legal elaborations of the Qumran sectaries and Pharisees. It also allowed the apostle and his delegates to "troubleshoot" freely with the immature and often contentious local communities.

A survey of the key passages does not strongly support the view that disciplinary action becomes increasingly centralized and formalized through the New Testament period. Rather, it appears that a pattern exists wherein jurisdiction rises in the community hierarchy according to the severity of the offense. Thus we observe that commonly occurring misbehavior is handled by all believers individually ( Galatians 6:1-5; and parallels ); warnings are administered generally by the community ( Romans 16:17;  2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 ); the factious and elders are disciplined by apostolic delegates ( 1 Timothy 5:19-22;  2 Timothy 2:25-26;  Titus 3:10-11 ); and the most serious cases are taken up by the apostle himself (2Col 13:1-2;  1 Timothy 1:19-20; probably 1Col 5:3-4; cf.  Acts 5:1-11;  8:20-24 ). Admittedly, the evidence is too sparse to insist on a rigid structure. It is equally possible that, as in the case of Qumran, the group acted through its local community leaders when problems were brought to their attention, and higher authorities like Paul or his delegates acted when they deemed it appropriate. As in the case of the witness-warning sequence, a flexible adaptation of contemporary Jewish practice fit the dynamic spirit of the movement and the occasional aberrations of its local leadership.

When an individual did not respond to warning(s) or committed a serious offense, it became necessary to effect social isolation. The expressions used in the New Testament to convey this idea do not specify what is meant.  Matthew 18:17 commands the community to treat the offender "as a pagan or a tax collector."   Romans 16:17 tells believers to "watch out" for wrongdoers; 1Corinthians 5:11,  2 Thessalonians 3:14 enjoin, "do not associate" with offenders;   2 Thessalonians 3:6 commands, "keep away from" the disobedient. First Corinthians 5:11 is more specific in instructing believers not to eat with those under discipline (cf.   2 John 10-11 ). This recollects the Pharisaic ban, under which the offender was cut off socially from all but his immediate family. As in the case of the ban, the individual feels ashamed ( 2 Thessalonians 3:14 ) and, when proven repentant (it is not clear how), is welcomed back "as a brother" ( 2 Thessalonians 3:15; cf. 2Col 2:5-11;  Galatians 6:1 ).

In several instances, it appears that Paul goes beyond measures intended to recall erring individuals to a final expulsion from the community. The key text in this regard is  1 Corinthians 5:1-5 , where Paul responds to a case of incest by commanding, "hand this man over to Satan, " an expression employed similarly in  1 Timothy 1:20 . It is clear that the early church understood the realm of Satan to be everywhere outside the fellowship of believers (2Col 4:4;  Galatians 1:4;  Ephesians 2:2 ) and that Paul's expression here denotes expulsion from the community. That the sentence is reformatory is confirmed by the fact that Paul ends the pronouncement in  1 Corinthians 5:5 with the express intent that the offender's spirit may be "saved in the day of the Lord"; similarly,   1 Timothy 1:20 notes that "Hymenaeus and Alexander were handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme." The phrase in   1 Corinthians 5:5 , "so the sinful nature may be destroyed, " is ambiguous. It almost certainly denotes physical suffering, but it is unclear whether the sufferer's life will be spared by repentance.

Behaviors Subject to Discipline . Doctrinal deviations that create division in the community are a problem for Paul (1Col 1:10-11; 11:18-19; cf.  Hebrews 12:15 ), and the disciplinary measures in Romans 16:17, 2 Corinthians 13:1-2 appear to respond to division caused by heterodoxy (cf.   Galatians 5:2-12 ). The Pastoral Epistles are dominated by this concern and  1 Timothy 1:20 is a clear case in point. The danger of heresy and resultant factions to the integrity of local communities and the movement as a whole is obvious. It is not clear, however, to what extent aberrant views that did not cause splits could be tolerated. Moral deviations are in view in the two most lengthy passages, 2Thessalonians 3:6-15,  1 Corinthians 5:1-13 (  1 Timothy 5:19-22; is ambiguous cf.  James 5:19-20;  1 John 5:16-17 ). The charge that some were "idle" in Thessalonica is taken by many to denote inactivity in expectation of an imminent parousia, but it is more likely that Paul's instruction reflects a social situation typical of a large port city, where many laborers were inactive for periods of time and dependent on patrons. Within the community of believers, some appear to have begun to presume upon the Christian goodness of patrons, and the system was in danger of devolving into freeloading, resentment, and division (perhaps echoed in 1Col 11:18-19). In  1 Corinthians 5 , Paul is obviously concerned about porneia [   2 Thessalonians 3:15 ) who is "greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber" (v. 11 NRSV). The fact that the list is expanded in 6:9-10 with special attention to sexual and property values suggests that it is not random, after the fashion of contemporary moralists, but is consciously directed at the sins of Corinth. These are of course not the only offenses subject to discipline (cf.  Galatians 5:19-21 ), but they are particularly dangerous to the Corinthians. Although the list does not specify the extent of the sin, it does convey a very strict moral accountability. The reason for this ethical rigorism is implied in Paul's allusion to  Deuteronomy 17:7 in 5:13, "Expel the wicked man from among you." The opposite of wickedness for Paul is not cultic purity but holiness in the sense of the Spirit-controlled life of each member of the unified community. Deviation from holiness will retard the growth of the entire body, or "leaven the lump."

Effective Community Discipline . For the individual offender, the New Testament practice is clearly intended to produce repentance in an atmosphere of support and forgiveness. For the community, to hold its members accountable through disciplinary measures will maintain the moral integrity of the group. All of these principles are present at least to some extent in the contemporary Jewish practices that were apparently adapted by the primitive church, albeit in a less systematized form. The unique and potentially potent aspect of the New Testament concept of discipline is the infusion of Christ-like love into disciplinary practice.  Philippians 2:1-5 , although it does not address discipline directly, expresses concisely the principle behind the scattered references on the subject. The incentive of love, the sharing of the Spirit, the humble attitude—that is, the mind of Christis that which makes it possible to hold another person accountable. Thus the key to effective discipline is its reflexive element. The one who holds another accountable is first accountable to be a loving person. When this is true of a community of believers, isolation of an offender will be a compelling remedial force; the community's power to persuade or to punish brings a person back into obedient fellowship. It is the community's ability to demonstrate love in its Spirit-transformed living that constitutes a compellingly attractive force.

Thomas E. Schmidt

See also The Church; Ethics

Bibliography . W. D. Davies and D. Allen,  Matthew 8-18  ; G. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians  ; G. Forkman, The Limits of the Religious Community  ; G. W. H. Lampe, Christian History and Interpretation: Studies Presented to John Knox, pp. 337-61; C. J. Roetzel, Judgment in the Community  ; C. A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians .

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Deuteronomy 11:2

Discipline comes from a Latin word “disco” which means to learn or get to know, a direct kind of acquaintance with something or someone. Discipline refers to the process by which one learns a way of life. A disciple was like an apprentice who was learning a trade or craft from a master. Such learning required a relationship between the master who knew the way of life (discipline) and a learner (a disciple). Within this relationship, the master led a learner through a process (the discipline) until the learner could imitate or live like the master.

In the Old Testament, the covenant relationship between God and His people made Yahweh the Master. Through praise and correction, God led His people. The goal was to bring His people to a kind of maturity where obedience was the rule rather than the exception. Parents, judges, kings, prophets, and wisemen worked with God in teaching His people. Successful discipline resulted in a life pleasing to God. The earliest setting for discipline was the family ( Deuteronomy 6:20-25 ).

The prophets established “schools of the prophet.” Elijah became a master to Elisha ( 1 Kings 19:19-21 ). Isaiah chose some Judeans who would learn his message through living with him ( Isaiah 8:16 ). This pattern was followed by Jewish rabbis. The rabbi would discipline his disciples ( talmidim ) through a procedure of praise and correction. This process enabled the disciples to learn the law. Correction was seldom physical in nature. Reproof or rebuke was the usual form of correction. The goal was an obedient servant of God, who knew and did what God wanted.

Jesus called twelve men to be His disciples. Through His call, He established a master-learner relation with them. As they lived and worked with Him, Jesus disciplined them in His understanding of what God wanted. Such discipline involved both praise and criticism, affirmation and rebuke. Compare  Mark 8:1;  John 21:1 . The success of His mission depended on His training this small group of followers. They would carry on His work after His death and resurrection. The twelve were His apprentices in the work which God called Jesus to do.

The Great Commission places the responsibility for discipling disciples in the hands of the church. The believers are to teach them “to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” ( Matthew 28:20 ). “To observe” is much more than simple knowledge. Observance is to live in obedience to the commands of Jesus. Learning and doing what Jesus wants requires a process, a discipline. Becoming like Christ is the result of the discipline of the Lord Jesus Christ, exercised in and through His church. Hence, churches throughout their history have sought to teach their members the way of the Lord through “church discipline.”

Apart from the Gospels, the concept of discipline appears most prominently in the ethical teachings of Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews. Paul admonished the Ephesians to bring their children up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” ( Ephesians 6:4 NAS). Such an education was to avoid the heavy-handed, physical brutality practiced by their pagan neighbors. Discipline was not to evoke anger from the children (  Ephesians 6:4 ). The writer of Hebrews pictures God treating the faithful as sons ( Hebrews 12:7 ). As a loving Father, God disciplines the believing community. Such discipline is evidence of His love because the end result of such action is blessing ( Hebrews 12:10 ).

Discipline, biblically understood, results in blessing. God's people learn how to serve Him. Through praise and correction, their lives are shaped into a pattern of consistent obedience and love. Within “the discipline of the Lord,” expressed in and through the Lord Jesus Christ, one can live the kind of life which is pleasing to God and of benefit to others.

James Berryman

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) Severe training, corrective of faults; instruction by means of misfortune, suffering, punishment, etc.

(2): ( v. t.) To inflict ecclesiastical censures and penalties upon.

(3): ( n.) The subject matter of instruction; a branch of knowledge.

(4): ( n.) The enforcement of methods of correction against one guilty of ecclesiastical offenses; reformatory or penal action toward a church member.

(5): ( n.) The treatment suited to a disciple or learner; education; development of the faculties by instruction and exercise; training, whether physical, mental, or moral.

(6): ( n.) Training to act in accordance with established rules; accustoming to systematic and regular action; drill.

(7): ( n.) Subjection to rule; submissiveness to order and control; habit of obedience.

(8): ( v. t.) To improve by corrective and penal methods; to chastise; to correct.

(9): ( n.) Correction; chastisement; punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.

(10): ( v. t.) To educate; to develop by instruction and exercise; to train.

(11): ( n.) Self-inflicted and voluntary corporal punishment, as penance, or otherwise; specifically, a penitential scourge.

(12): ( n.) A system of essential rules and duties; as, the Romish or Anglican discipline.

(13): ( v. t.) To accustom to regular and systematic action; to bring under control so as to act systematically; to train to act together under orders; to teach subordination to; to form a habit of obedience in; to drill.

King James Dictionary [5]

DISCIPLINE, n. L., to learn.

1. Education instruction cultivation and improvement, comprehending instruction in arts, sciences, correct sentiments, morals and manners, and due subordination to authority. 2. Instruction and government, comprehending the communication of knowledge and the regulation of practice as military discipline, which includes instruction in manual exercise, evolutions and subordination. 3. Rule of government method of regulating principles and practice as the discipline prescribed for the church. 4. Subjection to laws, rules, order, precepts or regulations as, the troops are under excellent discipline the passions should be kept under strict discipline. 5. Correction chastisement punishment intended to correct crimes or errors as the discipline of the strap. 6. In ecclesiastical affairs, the execution of the laws by which the church is governed, and infliction of the penalties enjoined against offenders, who profess the religion of Jesus Christ. 7. Chastisement or bodily punishment inflicted on a delinquent in the Romish Church or that chastisement or external mortification which a religious person inflicts on himself.


1. To instruct or educate to inform the mind to prepare by instructing in correct principles and habits as, to discipline youth for a profession, or for future usefulness. 2. To instruct and govern to teach rules and practice, and accustom to order and subordination as, to discipline troops or an army. 3. To correct to chastise to punish. 4. To execute the laws of the church on offenders, with a view to bring them to repentance and reformation of life. 5. To advance and prepare by instruction.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [6]

The word occurs only in  Job 36:10 , but the Hebrew word, musar, is found elsewhere, and is often translated 'instruction,' and at times 'chastening' and 'correction.' In Job it is God opening men's ears for instruction or discipline. In the N.T. the word παιδεύω is translated both 'to instruct' and 'to chasten,' showing that it is God's care over His saints for blessing. See CHASTENING.There is also discipline in the church. If one be overtaken in a fault the spiritual are called upon to restore such a one.  Galatians 6:1 . If there is sin, it may call for a REBUKEbefore all.  1 Timothy 5:20 . Some may need reproof,  2 Timothy 4:2; and in other cases, as a last resort, discipline may call for 'putting away.' See Excommunication The end and purpose of all discipline is to restore the soul to communion with God and with His saints. Discipline should always be exercised in the 'spirit of meekness,' each one considering himself lest he also be tempted.  Galatians 6:1 .

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [7]

1: Σωφρονισμός (Strong'S #4995 — Noun Masculine — sophronismos — so-fron-is-mos' )

from sophron, lit., "saving the mind," from saos, "contracted to" sos, "safe" (cp. sozo, "to save"), phren, "the mind," primarily, "an admonishing or calling to soundness of mind, or to self-control," is used in  2—Timothy 1:7 , AV, "a sound mind;" RV, "discipline." Cp. sophroneo ("to be of sound mind"), sophronizo ("to admonish"), sophronos ("soberly"), and sophron, "of sound mind." See Mind. Cp. CHASTISEMENT.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [8]

See Chastisement; Self-Discipline

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [9]

(Lat. disciplina, instruction, learning), a term used ecclesiastically to denote the application, in the Christian Church, of rules for the order and purity of the lives of its members; also the body of rules for the government, worship, etc. of any particular Church, enacted by its authority, and generally published in a "Book of Discipline."

I. Church Discipline .

(I.) In The Early Church . The first rule of discipline in the N.T. is given in  Matthew 18:15-17 : "Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." Here the aims are

(1) the reformation of the offender; and, that failing,

(2) the purification of the Church. The method is,

(a) that the offended person takes the first step, and, that failing,

(b) a small Church committee acts; and, in case of their failure,

(c) the Church is called in, and the obstinate offender is cut off from fellowship. The apostolical discipline is illustrated by the case of the incestuous person ( 1 Corinthians 5:1-11). Here Paul excommunicates the offender,

(1)  1 Corinthians 5:3, stating his own judgment concerning the offense and its perpetrator;

(2)  1 Corinthians 5:4, stating that he acts "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;" and,

(3) associating with himself the whole body of the Corinthian Church, acting also "with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Compare De Wette and Stanley, in loc.; Schaff, Apostolic Church , § 122; Coleman, Apostolic And Primitive Church , chapter 5).

In  1 Corinthians 5:12 he implies that the "judgment" lies with the Church, "Do not ye judge them that are within?" He enjoins strict separation from immoral professors of religion:  1 Corinthians 5:11, "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one no not to eat." In the case of the incestuous person the exercise of discipline brought penitence; and the apostle (2 Corinthians 2) exhorts the Church to "forgive and comfort him," and restore him to fellowship. On the apostolical discipline, both as to doctrine and morals, compare also  2 Thessalonians 3:6;  1 Timothy 1:20;  2 John 1:9-11 : "He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed, for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." The exercise of discipline (1) by reproof, (2) by censure, (3) by excommunication, was kept in the hands of the Church as a whole (not of any special class or order in the Church), during its earliest and best ages. See a summing up of the evidence on this point in Coleman, Apostolical And Primitive Church , chapter 5. '"The primitive Church never pretended to exercise discipline upon any but such as were within her pale, in the largest sense, by some act of their own profession, and even upon these she never pretended to exercise her discipline so far as to cancel or disannul their baptism. But the discipline of the Church consisted in a power to deprive men of the benefits of external communion, such as public prayer, receiving the Eucharist, and other acts of divine worship. This power, before the establishment of the Church by human laws, was a mere spiritual authority, or, as St. Cyprian terms it, a spiritual sword, affecting the soul and not the body" (Hook, Church Dictionary, s.v.). On the so-called secret discipline of the ancient Church, (See Arcani Disciplina).

As to the exercise of discipline, it seems clear "that the action of the laity was requisite, as late as the middle of the third century, in all disciplinary proceedings of the Church. By the beginning of the fourth century, however, this cardinal right, through the operation of causes which have been briefly mentioned, and which may be more fully specified hereafter, was greatly abridged, and shortly was wholly lost. This fact illustrates the progress of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. While the right of the laity is yet undisputed, the power of the bishop begins at first to be partially asserted and occasionally admitted, the people occupying a neutral position between submission and open hostility. But from disuse to denial, and from denial to extinction of neglected privileges and powers, the descent is natural, short, and rapid. From about the middle of the fourth century, accordingly, the bishops assumed the control of the whole penal jurisdiction of the laity, opening and shutting at pleasure, the doors of the Church, inflicting sentence of excommunication, and prescribing at their discretion the austerities of penance, and again absolving the penitents, and restoring them to the Church by their own arbitrary powers. The people accordingly, no longer having any part in the trial of offenses, ceased to watch for the purity of the Church, connived at offenses, and concealed the offender, not caring to interfere with the prerogative of the bishop, in which they had no further interest. The speedy and sad corruption of the Church was but the natural consequence of this loose and arbitrary discipline. Nor was it to be doubted that this was one efficient cause of that degeneracy which succeeded" (Coleman, Apostolical and Primitive Church, chapter 5). "This transition changed essentially the relations of the officers to the members of the Church, and the conditions of Church membership. The officers of the Church, instead of receiving authority and office from that body for their service, claim authority and commission from God for the exercise of their functions. They are now the rulers; not the servants, as at the beginning they were, of the Church. A union with the Church by a public profession is a transaction not so much between the Church and the professing Christian, as between him and the bishop. The contracting, covenanting parties are the bishop and the believer. The sovereign authority of the Church is merged and lost in that of the priesthood. Ecclesiastical discipline naturally resolves itself into a system of penance administered by the priesthood, in whom alone authority is vested for the punishment of offenses" (Coleman, Ancient Christianity, chapter 22).

II. In the Middle Ages, and in the Roman Church, the system of penitential discipline, for the treatment of persons confessing their sin, grew up into full proportions. (See Penance); (See Penitential Discipline). In the Roman Church, and among some Protestant writers, the word discipline, standing alone, implies only penitential, and not punitive discipline.

III. In The Modern Church . The exercise of punitive discipline in the modern Church is found to be impossible, or nearly so, in state churches. In the Church of England, and the Protestant state churches on the Continent of Europe, it is almost unknown. Where citizens, as such, are ipso facto Church members, to punish the Church member is to affect a man's citizenship.

On the other hand, in Free churches, whether in Europe or America, discipline by reproof, censure, suspension, or excommunication is not only possible, but is actually practiced very generally. The following passage contains principles on which the Free Protestant churches of modern Christendom generally act with regard to discipline.

"Godly discipline has ever been regarded as one of the notes or marks of a true Church. Our Protestant forefathers charged the Church of Rome with being greatly wanting in this, and scarce deserving the name of Church by reason of such want. Discipline relates to the laws of any society, and the penalties of disobedience. All institutions must have laws in order to good government. Christ's kingdom has its laws and penalties. Many of them were expressly appointed by Christ himself. Others, in conformity with the same, have from time to time been added by the Church. To obey the powers ordained of God, whether civil or ecclesiastical, when exercised according to his revealed will, is a bounden duty. Ministers, at the time of their ordination, promise faithful obedience to those who are placed over them, and who exercise their authority according to prescribed rules. A due respect also is required to their godly admonitions and judgments. This obedience and respect are to be shown not merely to those with whom we may agree in sentiment or sympathize in theological views, but to those also from whom we differ; and this may be done without any improper sacrifice of Christian liberty or right of private judgment. As to the rules and regulations of the Church, whether the observance be specially required by rulers or not, the true Christian will hold himself bound to render it. He will not select such of them as he most approves, or as most accord with his doctrines, and scrupulously observe these, making such observance a test, and denouncing those who differ from him; but, he will resolve to obey them all, out of respect to the authority enjoining them. And yet, since God himself, preferring mercy to sacrifice, allows even his holy Sabbath to be violated as to its letter, and sacrifices and offerings to be withheld, So a wise discretion has ever been conceded to God's ministers in the observance of inferior rules, or in regard to things become obsolete, having due reference to times, places, and circumstances. Wherever such discretion has not been allowed or exercised, the result has been that men have strained at the gnat and swallowed the camel; have tithed mint, anise, and cummin, and neglected the weightier matters of the law. It should always be remembered that, as the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath, so rubrics and canons were made for the Church, and not the Church for them" (Bishop Meade, True Churchman).

In Presbyterian churches, discipline is exercised by the Session (q.v.), an appeal lying to the Presbytery, and thence to Synod and General Assembly. In the "Form of Government" of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (book 2), the general principles of discipline are laid down as follows:

" I. Discipline is the exercise of that authority and the application of that system of laws which the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed in his Church.

II. The exercise of discipline is highly important and necessary. Its ends are, the removal of offenses; the vindication of the honor of Christ; the promotion of the purity and general edification of the Church; and also the benefit of the offender himself.

III. An offense is anything in the principles or practice of a Church member which is contrary to the word of God, or which, if it be not in its own nature sinful, may tempt others to sin, or mar their spiritual edification. IV. Nothing, therefore, ought to be considered by any judicatory as an offense, or admitted as matter of accusation, which cannot be proved to be such from Scripture, or from the regulations and practice of the Church, founded on Scripture, and which does not involve those evils which discipline is intended to prevent.

V. The exercise of discipline in such a manner as to edify the Church requires not only much of the spirit of piety, but also much prudence and discretion. It becomes the rulers of the Church, therefore, to take into view all the circumstances which may give a different character to conduct, and render it more or less offensive; and which may, of course, require a very different mode of proceeding in similar cases, at different times, for the attainment of the same end.

VI. All baptized persons are members of the Church, are under its care and subject to its government and discipline; and when they have arrived at the years of discretion, they are bound to perform all the duties of Church members.

VII. Offences are either private or public, to each of which appropriate modes of proceeding belong."

In Congregational churches, discipline is administered by the Church. For the principles and methods of Congregational discipline, see Punchard, View of Congregationalism (1844), 177 sq.; Dexter, On Congregationalism (1865), 259 sq.

In the Methodist Episcopal Church an accused member is brought to trial before a committee of not less than five, who shall not be members of the Quarterly Conference. In the selection of the committee, the parties may challenge for cause. The pastor presides at the trial. If the majority find him guilty, the pastor executes the sentence of expulsion. Appeals are allowed to the Quarterly and Annual Conferences (Discipline, part 3, chapter 1).

In the Constitutions of the Reformed churches of America (German and Dutch), the principles and rules of discipline laid down are very similar to that of the Presbyterian Church above cited. See Constitution of the German Reformed Church (1854), part 3, page 32; Constitution of the Reformed Dutch Church of North America (Philippians 1840), chapter 4, page 32. Literature . On the discipline of the ancient Church, see, besides the authors already cited, Bingham, Orig. Ecclesiastes book 16, chapter 1; Schaff, Hist. of the Christian Church, 1, § 114; Neander, Church History (Torrey's), volumes 1 and 2; Barrow, On the Pope's Supremacy, Works, 3:232 sq. (N.Y. ed.); and the references under (See Penance); (See Penitential Discipline).

On Church discipline in general, see Hooker, Ecclesiastes Polity; Watson, Theological Institutes, 2:572 sq. (N.Y. ed.); Dwight, Theology (New Haven, 1836), 4:386 sq.; Walker, Church Discipline (Boston 1854, 18mo); Hill, Pastoral Function in the Church (Lond. 1855. chapter 1); James, Church-members' Guide; Porter, Compendium of Methodism (N.Y. 12mo); and works on pastoral and practical theology generally. (See Book Of Discipline); (See Excommunication); (See Ecclesiastical Polity).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [10]

dis´i - plin ( מוּסר , mūṣār ): In the King James Version only in  Job 36:10 , where it refers to moral discipline, the strenuous cultivation of the righteous life; the Revised Version (British and American) "instruction." the Revised Version (British and American) in  2 Timothy 1:7 has "discipline" for a Greek word ( sōphronismós ) meaning "sobering"; in  2 Timothy 3:16 margin, for Greek paideı́a , "instruction." In classic Greek paideia means "education," mental culture. Through the influence of the Septuagint, which translates the Hebrew mūṣār by paideia , the meaning of "chastisement" accompanies παιδεια , paideia in the New Testament. Compare  Hebrews 12:5 ,  Hebrews 12:7 ,  Hebrews 12:8 ,  Hebrews 12:11 . See Chastisement; and for ecclesiastical discipline see Church .