Table of Contents
- 1. The word ‘bema’ (judgment seat) is used 12 times in the New Testament but never in relation to an athletic event.
- 2. The word is always used to refer to a judgment of a person’s guilt or innocence.
- 3. The judgment seat is never explicitly connected with rewards
- 4. The judgment seat is explicitly connected with giving an account of one’s life
- 5. Paul actually stood before a judgment seat – so he knows what it will be like!
- Verse List
The following from bible.org is a good example of this crazy, but popular, view:
Both Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:9 speak of the “judgment seat.” This is a translation of one Greek word, the word bema. While bema is used in the gospels and Acts of the raised platform where a Roman magistrate or ruler sat to make decisions and pass sentence (Matt. 27:19; John 19:13), its use in the epistles by Paul, because of his many allusions to the Greek athletic contests, is more in keeping with its original use among the Greeks.
This word was taken from Isthmian games where the contestants would compete for the prize under the careful scrutiny of judges who would make sure that every rule of the contest was obeyed (cf. 2 Tim. 2:5). The victor of a given event who participated according to the rules was led by the judge to the platform called the Bema. There the laurel wreath was placed on his head as a symbol of victory (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-25).
In all of these passages, “Paul was picturing the believer as a competitor in a spiritual contest. As the victorious Grecian athlete appeared before the Bema to receive his perishable award, so the Christian will appear before Christ’s Bema to receive his imperishable award. The judge at the Bema bestowed rewards to the victors. He did not whip the losers.”2 We might add, neither did he sentence them to hard labor.
5 reasons why this view is unsound:
1. The word ‘bema’ (judgment seat) is used 12 times in the New Testament but never in relation to an athletic event.
Although athletes may have received their wreaths at a bema seat in Grecian games, it is never used this way in the NT.
2. The word is always used to refer to a judgment of a person’s guilt or innocence.
With the exception of Acts 7:5 (the word is used here in an unusual manner), beama always refers to one person making a judgment on another’s innocence. The consequence of the judgment was also serious. In Jesus case (Mat 27:19, Joh 19:13) it led to His execution. In Paul’s case it was to determine whether or not he was to be imprisoned.
3. The judgment seat is never explicitly connected with rewards
As already mentioned, the judgment seat was a place where someone on trial was to be declared innocent or guilty. But never is it connected with ‘rewards’.
4. The judgment seat is explicitly connected with giving an account of one’s life
In the practical examples in the Gospels and Acts, the judgment seat was a place where Jesus or Paul were on trial and were given an opportunity to defend their actions. It was not a place where they would receive some special reward.
The passages referring to the ‘judgment seat of Christ’ explicitly tell us what is under consideration – the deeds of our lives.
Rom 14:10-12 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
2Co 5:9-10 ESV So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
5. Paul actually stood before a judgment seat – so he knows what it will be like!
First, both Romans and Corinthians was written by the Apostle Paul. And he had stood before judgment seats on many occasions – he knew what it is like.
Act 25:10-11 TLV But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Judeans, as you very well know. 11 If then I am in the wrong and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges, no one can turn me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”
Paul tells us in this verse what happens when a person stands before a judgment seat – the person is being ‘tried’. And if the person is found guilty, he will be executed.
Mat 27:19 ESV Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”
Joh 19:13 ESV So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha.
Act 7:5 ESV Yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot’s length, but promised to give it to him as a possession and to his offspring after him, though he had no child.
Act 12:21 ESV On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.
Act 18:12 ESV But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal,
Act 18:16 ESV And he drove them from the tribunal.
Act 18:17 ESV And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this.
Act 25:6 ESV After he stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought.
Act 25:10 ESV But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you yourself know very well.
Act 25:17 ESV So when they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought.
Rom 14:10 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God;
2Co 5:10 ESV For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.