Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Did Jesus really teach that it is wrong to judge others?

Great post by Matt at MandM on an often misunderstood verse.

Here’s the passage in question, Matthew 7:1-5:

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?

5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Most people only quote the first verse, but they don’t look at the rest of the verses that come after.

Here’s what Matt has to say about those other verses:

The phrase translated in the NIV as, “do not judge, or you too will be judged,” was originally written by Matthew in Koine (a Greek dialect). The Interlinear Bible gives the literal translation here as, “do not judge that you be judged.” In other words, do not judge others in a way that leads one to put oneself under judgement.

[…]One is not to judge in a way that brings judgment on oneself. The reason for this (“for”) is that the standard one uses to judge others is the standard that one’s own behaviour will be measured by. Jesus goes on to illustrate, with a sarcastic example, precisely what he is talking about; a person who nit-picks or censures the minor faults of others (taking the speck out of their brothers eye) who ignores the serious, grave, moral faults in their own life (the log in one’s own eye). His point is that such faults actually blind the person’s ability to be able to make competent moral judgments. This suggests that Jesus is focusing on a certain type of judging and not the making of judgments per se.

In fact, the conclusion that Jesus does not mean to condemn all judging of others is evident from the proceeding sentences in the above quote. Rather than engaging in the kind of judgment Jesus has condemned one should “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” In other words one should try to rectify the serious moral flaws in one’s own life precisely so one can assist others with theirs. One needs to avoid hypocrisy in order to make constructive and effective moral judgments about others. This would make no sense if Jesus meant to condemn all judging by this passage.

This is something I actually try to do, and it’s easy. Before you open your mouth to judge someone, you have to look at your own life and make sure that you don’t do the thing you’re condeming.

I try not to say anything about individual people at all, but just talk about behaviors in general that are harmful. I don’t ask people if they do any of those behaviors. If they try to tell me about their bad behaviors, I tell them that their personal lives are not up for discussion, unless they explicitly ask me to comment on their specific case. So, instead of saying “you’re bad!”, I say “this behavior is bad and here’s why”. And I make sure I don’t DO that behavior before I declare it as immoral!

I hear this challenge about Christians being too judgmental all the time from non-Christians. If you do, too, then you should definitely click through to MandM and read the whole thing. There’s a logical element, a common sense element and a hermeneutical element to this problem, and all are discussed by Matt. He’s a sharp guy, you’re bound to learn something new that you can use.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. ECM says:

    EVERYBODY is “judgmental” (just like EVERYBODY is biased)–it’s part of being human–and I really wish people would just get off their high horses about such things.

  2. Stephen says:

    Wintery,

    This entry is coming at the perfect time. I’m giving a talk on Tuesday at my CHurch on Truth in an Age of Unreason. I’ll be challenging the practice of fashioning a Designer Jesus according to our individual tastes. This Bible verse is sure to come up, when I talk about peoples’ desire to eliminate the doctrine of Hell or in the context of pluralism…Thanks!

  3. Gregory Lewis says:

    Not sure I agree with the sentiment here. There are lots of things I want to recommend (giving to charity) and condemn (lying, generally speaking) even if I fail to live up to my own commandments on these things. I think people can say ‘XYZ is bad’ even if they do XYZ. They just shouldn’t be self-righteous about it.

    Likewise, I don’t see whether it matters whether you do the *particular* thing in question you are condemning. I’m actually very good at truth telling – I can’t remember the last time I lied. But I don’t think that means I have somehow a particular ‘right’ to preach about the virtue of truth telling over someone who does lie often. After all, I go wrong in lots of other ways, if not in that particular way, so I still shouldn’t be self-righteous and consider myself to ‘have standing’ to condemn XYZ. I don’t know.

  4. As pointed out, Christians are always to judge teachings (1 Cor. 10:15), as well as the fruits (behavior, etc) of false teachers (Matt. 7:15ff). Jesus does indeed tell us to judge the speck, but only after judging ourselves.

    But we are called to judge rightly/righteously (Lk 7:43; Lk. 12:57; Jn 7:24), to judge all things (1 Cor.2:15), to judge other believers’ behavior (1 Cor. 5:11-13), including passing judgment via church discipline. We are to correct a wrong-doing Christian, which requires judging (Gal. 6:1), and we are to even judge the elders (1 Tim. 5:20) to hold them responsible. And we will be judging angels! (1 Cor. 6:2-3)

  5. […] DID JESUS really teach that it is wrong to judge others? …. […]

  6. mike singer says:

    This is a fantastic post WK.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this and the link to Matt at MandM.

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