A black and white close-up shot of a worn, weathered whip lying on an ancient, thorny vineyard floor, evoking the painful symbolism of flogging in biblical times.

What Does “Flogged” Mean In The Bible?

Flogging is a form of physical punishment that is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to what flogging means in the biblical context: Flogging refers to being whipped or beaten, typically across the back, as a form of punishment or to extract information.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the biblical meaning of flogging in detail. We will look at the original Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “flog” or “flogging”, examine various flogging implements and methods, overview several key flogging incidents, and discuss the larger biblical context around the use of flogging as a punishment.

The Original Hebrew and Greek Terms for Flogging

The Hebrew Words

The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. There are several Hebrew words that are translated as “flog” or “scourge” in English translations:

  • Soot – This word refers to striking or beating in general, and is often used for flogging.
  • Lakahat – This word means to strike or smite someone.
  • Nakah – One of the most common words meaning to strike, smite, or scourge.

Some examples of these words being used to refer to flogging include:

  • Proverbs 19:29 – “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools.” (Nakah)
  • Isaiah 28:15 – “Because you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge shall not reach us when it passes by, For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.'” (Soot)
  • Job 9:23 – “When a scourge brings sudden death, He mocks the despair of the innocent.” (Soot)

The Greek Words

The New Testament was written in Greek. Two main words translated as “flog” or “scourge” are:

  • Mastigoo – Meaning to scourge or flog, it is used for instances of severe beating and whipping.
  • Phragelloo – Also meaning to scourge or flog. This term emphasizes the brutality of the beating.

Some examples include:

  • Matthew 27:26 – “Then he released Barabbas for them; but after having Jesus scourged (phragelloo), he handed Him over to be crucified.”
  • Mark 15:15 – “Wishing to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged (phragelloo), he handed Him over to be crucified.”
  • John 19:1 – “Pilate then took Jesus and scourged (mastigoo) Him.”

As we can see, the original languages contain several terms that can be translated as “flog” or “scourge.” These words depict the brutalbeatings that took place, reminding us of the suffering Jesus endured for us.

Though difficult to read about, they give us a window into the reality of Christ’s sacrifice.

Implements and Methods of Flogging in Biblical Times

The Flagellum Whip

The flagellum whip was one of the most common implements used for flogging in biblical times. It consisted of several leather cords or thongs attached to a handle. Pieces of bone or metal were often tied into the ends of the cords to inflict maximum pain and injury.

This multi-thonged whip is what was likely used during the flogging of Jesus before his crucifixion (John 19:1). The flagellum was a brutal tool that tore the skin and flesh, causing profound bleeding. Victims were often left with permanent scarring or disabling injuries.

The Rod or Staff

Rods or staffs were also commonly used for flogging and corporal punishment in ancient Israel. These were often simple wooden rods, sticks, or staffs that were used to beat an offender. For example, Exodus 21:20 speaks of a slave owner being punished if he strikes his slave with a rod and the slave dies.

Proverbs 10:13 and 26:3 also mention the rod as an implement of beating and correction. The rod could inflict bruising and welts, but was less severe than the flagellum whip. Still, it was a tool designed to inflict pain and punishment.

Other Implements

Other implements used for flogging in biblical times may have included branches from trees, switches, the stocks, hooks for tearing the flesh, and scourges. Scourges were likely similar to the flagellum whip but with fewer thongs.

The purpose of using these tools was to inflict intense pain, bruising, and lacerations on the victim. Flogging was intended to publicly punish, humiliate, and discipline. It was not a mild form of correction. Serious injury or death sometimes resulted from the brutal beatings.

Flogging Methods and Procedures

Flogging in biblical times usually involved the victim being tied or bound to a post or frame so they could not move away from the blows. The number of lashes was prescribed according to the offense. For example, Deuteronomy 25:2-3 limits flogging to 40 lashes to avoid exceeding and injuring the victim further.

However, this limit was not always followed as seen during the flogging of Jesus. The victim’s clothing was removed exposing the back, buttocks, and legs – the common target areas. The flogger stood behind or to the side to inflict intense blows and lacerations on the victim.

Flogging was public to increase shame and make examples of offenders. Victims often experienced lasting trauma and disabilities from the brutal beatings. This cruel practice was an integral part of the biblical justice system.

Key Biblical Incidents Involving Flogging

The Flogging of Jesus

One of the most well-known biblical examples of flogging is the flogging of Jesus before his crucifixion. According to the Gospels, Jesus was brutally flogged by Roman soldiers at the order of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:26, Mark 15:15, John 19:1).

This severe flogging was intended to punish Jesus and weaken him before his crucifixion. The soldiers scourged Jesus, likely with a flagrum, a Roman whip containing bits of bone and metal that would have torn his flesh.

Despite the intense pain and blood loss, Jesus endured this flogging as part of God’s plan for salvation.

The Flogging of Paul and Silas

The book of Acts describes how Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison in Philippi after casting a spirit of divination out of a slave girl (Acts 16:16-24). This illegal flogging and imprisonment outraged Paul, who demanded an apology from the city magistrates for flogging Roman citizens without a trial.

Paul’s insistence on justice showed that flogging was a grave offense with legal implications. God eventually used this injustice to bring salvation to the Philippian jailer and his household (Acts 16:25-34).

Old Testament Examples of Flogging

There are several examples of flogging prescribed or carried out in the Old Testament law and narratives:

  • The Law of Moses set a legal limit of 40 lashes for flogging, to prevent excessive blows (Deuteronomy 25:1-3).
  • David’s general Joab executed King David’s order to have Uriah the Hittite struck down in battle, after David essentially had Uriah flogged and left to die (2 Samuel 11:14-15).
  • The prophet Isaiah graphically described the Messiah as receiving stripes from flogging, prophecy fulfilled by Jesus (Isaiah 53:5).

These examples portray flogging as a harsh means of punishment and restoring justice in ancient Israel. The Old Testament Law sought to limit excessive flogging, highlighting God’s mercy even under the Law.

The Broader Biblical Context Around Using Flogging as Punishment

Flogging and Mosaic Law

Flogging was instituted as a punishment in the Mosaic Law provided to Moses by God. According to the laws in Deuteronomy 25:1-3, the number of strikes from flogging could not exceed 40, helping prevent overly harsh injury to the guilty party.

Flogging originated as a substitution for the death penalty, giving people an opportunity to learn from mistakes and change behavior.

Flogging as Judgment or Divine Punishment

The Bible contains instances of flogging used both as formal punishment under Mosaic Law, as well as divine discipline from God. The latter occurs especially among God’s chosen people in the Old Testament.

For example, in Isaiah 10:26, God declares that just as he used Egypt to discipline Israel in the past, he would now use Assyria to “wield against them a whip as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb”. This metaphorical language points to flogging as a frequent form of judgment.

Limits Placed on Flogging

While the Mosaic Law instituted flogging, biblical principle also places limits on excessive or unjust use of this punishment. According to Jesus in Luke 12:47-48, punishment should be dispensed in proportion to the level of responsibility held by the guilty party.


While a common punishment, biblical principles did impose limits on excessively harming offenders.

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