The “judgment seat” or the “bema seat?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

Our King James Bible has come under heavy criticism with especial regards to its term “the Judgment Seat of Christ.” What exactly is the argument, and how much merit does it hold? As they scrutinize the Authorized Version, so we will take this opportunity to judge their line of reasoning.

Here are the two texts we must consider in this matter:

  • Romans 14:10: “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

Some “brethren” have expressed great disappointment in the 1611 King James translators. Allegedly, these scholars were remiss in handling the Greek New Testament text here. How “unfortunate” that they used the word “judgment” when translating these two verses! After all, the term strikes fear in the hearts of people, and Christians should never fear the judgment of God. Textual complaints such as this are unbelievably petty and shallow.

Critics of the Authorized Version have the following “advice” to pass along: “The Greek word for ‘judgment seat’ is ‘bema’ in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. It should be left untranslated. A ‘better’ reading is ‘the bema of Christ.’” To be sure, “bema” is the Greek word. Nevertheless, does retaining the Greek (via a transliteration) really help the English reader?! No, it certainly does not. It makes the Bible intimidating.

One commentator rationalized, “I do not know why the King James translators used ‘judgment’ because that word frightens people!” While he meant well, the brother shows us that he is most unqualified in judging the 1611 scholars. Firstly, with all due respect, they were Holy Spirit-filled men more proficient in the Bible languages than he has ever been or will ever be. Secondly, the King James scholars properly translated the Greek “bema.” “Judgment seat” is a perfectly acceptable rendition. (We will say more about this later.) Lastly, the commentator’s replacement word is most ridiculous. He asserted the translators should have left it as “bema”—a meaningless or nonsensical expression to an English reader. Friends, it may seem bizarre, but this author believes an untranslated Greek word is more terrifying to the English Bible reader than that same mysterious Greek word translated “judgment seat!”

If the King James translators had not rendered it “judgment seat,” then the critics would have surely responded, “Why did they not render ‘bema’ as ‘judgment seat’ in Romans 10:14 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 like they did in most of the other passages it appears?!” See, the faultfinders are never satisfied. The King James scholars are treated most unfairly—and the critics are usually ignorant brethren masquerading themselves as “more qualified” expositors and teachers of the Scriptures. We have to beware of these people, and watch them with a great deal of suspicion.

The aforementioned commentator offered a most convoluted line of thinking. After carping about “judgment” being an inappropriate rendering of “bema” in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10, he said “bema seat” was a superior reading. (Bema seat” is silly terminology because it is repetitious, literally meaning “judgment seat seat” [“bema” itself means “judgment seat,” remember].) He argued we should not look at the Judgment Seat of Christ as the Great White Throne Judgment (and we would agree those are two separate judgments, the first for Christians and the second for the unsaved). However, instead of changing the Bible, we teach and explain the Bible! No confusion will result if the teacher does his job… and the teacher’s job is teaching not retranslating!!!

Moreover, the commentator rightly clarified the “bema” was, historically, where the judges of the ancient Olympics sat to evaluate the performance of the athletes. We would ask him, “Sir, while you will call them ‘judges’ at the bema, you actually think ‘judgment’ is a poor translation in the King James. Exactly what do judges do? Does not their very name imply they make judgments?” Honestly, this is dumb… and he is one of the very people passing sentence on the King James translators for being incompetent!!!

“Bema” appears 12 times in the King James Greek New Testament. It was rendered “judgment seat” 10 times (see list below); the remaining instances are “set his foot on” (Acts 7:5) and “throne” (Acts 12:21).

  • Matthew 27:19: “When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.”
  • John 19:13: “When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha.”
  • Acts 18:12: “And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,….”
  • Acts 18:16: “And he drave them from the judgment seat.”
  • Acts 18:17: “Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.”
  • Acts 25:6: “And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought.”
  • Acts 25:10: “Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.”
  • Acts 25:17: “Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth.”
  • Romans 14:10: “But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
  • 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

Those first eight instances are places where human governmental officials hear cases, look at evidence, and make decisions or render verdicts. Of course, the last two examples are where Jesus Christ will one day sit to judge or evaluate our Christian service. Primarily, the quality of the doctrine we believed, which information motivated our service, will be reviewed and rewarded (1 Corinthians 3:9-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Colossians 3:23-25). For more information, please refer to our “fire” study linked at the end of this article.

We will add this entry from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

“STRONGS NT 968: βῆμα
βῆμα, -τος, τό, (from ΒΑΩ, βαίνω) [from Homer (h. Merc.), Pindar down];

  1. a step, pace: βῆμα ποδός the space which the foot covers, a foot-breadth, Acts 7:5 (for כַּף־רֶגֶל, Deuteronomy 2:5, cf. Xenophon, an. 4, 7, 10; Cyril 7, 5, 6).
  2. a raised place mounted by steps; a platform, tribune: used of the official seat of a judge, Matthew 27:19; John 19:13; Acts 18:12, 16; Acts 25:6, 10, [Acts 25:17]; of the judgment-seat of Christ, Romans 14:10 (L T Tr WH τοῦ θεοῦ); 2 Corinthians 5:10; of the structure, resembling a throne, which Herod built in the theater at Cæsarea, and from which he used to view the games and make speeches to the people, Acts 12:21; (of an orator’s pulpit, 2 Macc. 13:26; Nehemiah 8:4. Xenophon, mem. 3, 6, 1; Herodian, 2, 10, 2 [1, Bekker edition]).”

In other words, “judgment seat” is a perfectly acceptable rendition of the Greek “bema” in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 as pertaining to the King James Bible. We should also highlight Thayer’s textual note. The Critical Text—the corrupt Greek text, the manuscript family underlying most modern English versions—reads “theou” (God) in Romans 14:10 where the King James Textus Receptus has “christou” (Christ). To wit, in modern English versions, the term is not “judgment seat of Christ but “judgment seat of God.” This seems innocuous at first, but upon closer examination, we discover it is quite destructive to the Person of Jesus Christ.

If we keep reading Romans chapter 14, we see the Apostle Paul here quotes Isaiah 45:23 in verses 11-12. The Prophet Isaiah was speaking of JEHOVAH God, but Paul applies the passage to “Christ” (read the King James): “[10] But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. [11] For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord [JEHOVAH], every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. [12] So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”

However, the text in the modern Greek and modern English versions does not allow us to pair “Christ” with JEHOVAH. All we can do is pair “God” with JEHOVAH, for “Christ” (“christou”) never appears in Romans 14:10 in the modern Greek and its modern English translations! Ultimately, this textual alteration causes us to lose this fascinating reference to the Deity of Jesus Christ. We cannot use modern versions here to prove Jesus and JEHOVAH are one and the same. No one can honestly say this was a “minor mistake;” the editors of the modern Greek deliberately changed the Bible to mar the Person of Jesus Christ. (One final note worth mentioning: the “Jehovah’s Witness” New World Translation also follows the modern Greek reading in Romans 14:10—lest they too confess Jesus and JEHOVAH are equal!)

Also see:
» What is the “fire” at the Judgment Seat of Christ?
» Must one be a “King James Bible Pauline dispensationalist” to have eternal life?
» Which belongs in Romans 8:16 and Romans 8:26 in the King James Bible—“the Spirit itself” or “the Spirit Himself?”