Flogging was a form of punishment that employed a variety of devices to lash the exposed flesh of the victim. The biblical authors describe this grisly business with a variety of Greek and Hebrew terms, each of which has been translated in our English versions in more than one way. That makes this phenomenon a bit more difficult to trace through the pages of our Bible. But we will get the basics by tracing the terms flogging, whipping, and scourging.

In the Jewish culture, flogging employed either an oxtail whip or a strap of leather cowhide that was folded multiple times and attached to a wooden handle. Old Testament law limited the number of strokes to no more than forty (Deut 25:2-3) though that apparently was reduced to thirty-nine as a hedge against violation of this command (2 Cor 11:24).

The Jewish traditional writing offer even more details about the administration of this punishment. People who were flogged were tied in a slightly bent over position with their hands on each side of a pillar. The administrator of the punishment would then tear off their clothing to expose the region of the body to be beaten. Then one-third of the determined number of blows were stuck on the front of the body and two-thirds on the back of the body. While this beating caused physical pain and embarrassment, the Bible is clear that the person flogged should never be degraded to the point of public ostracism (Deut 25:3). Its purpose was to correct errant behavior and attitude (Prov 19:25). Jesus warned his disciples that as they spoke about him and his message, they could expect that the synagogue leaders would use flogging in an effort to punish them and discredit their message (Matt 10:17; 23:34; Mark 13:9). And this is exactly what the apostles experienced shortly after Jesus’s ascension (Acts 5:40). END OF PART 1.

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