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.

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7 Responses

  1. WorldGoneCrazy says:

    Excellent post, WK, as usual. STR also has a good post on this subject: http://www.str.org/articles/the-judgment-on-judging#.UrnQjcKA1ok This set of verses is being widely misused both inside and outside of the Church.

    I might add that a good strong “shame on you” does have its place, and I am seeing much fruit with same. The reason for the fruit, I believe, is that postmodern man does not even accept the fact of sin, so that shame has been nearly eradicated from western societies anyway. Sometimes a little shame makes inroads where calm cool rational approaches may not. It gets to the heart of the matter. Plus, it fits my personality better. :-)

    Merry Christmas!

  2. Tim Carter says:

    “CONDEMN” is condemned.

    What we judge is the most important thing about us.

    Judgment Day will not be about the judgment of Jesus, it will be about the judgment of people.

    • WorldGoneCrazy says:

      Tim, can you expand on your thought “what we judge is the most important thing about us?” I think I know where you are going, but can you talk about application to personal life, witnessing, etc? It’s an intriguing statement, and I would like to learn from it. Thanks!

  3. marshalart says:

    I would make one alteration to your position:

    “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 don’t think that because one struggles with a particular behavior, then it follows that one cannot or should not warn off others who speak of or engage in that same behavior. If the behavior is wrong, it is wrong and to say so is not hypocritical, but merely stating the truth. It is only hypocritical if one is giving one’s own self permission to behave in the manner one then decries in others, or if one will not acknowledge falling prey to the same temptation. This is not to say that one must own up when “judging” the other, but if one is aware of the sinfulness of the behavior but sometimes backslides, it would seem to me that one then has the personal knowledge of its sinfulness and can speak authoritatively against it. However, it would make a better impression to take the other aside and admit to one’s struggle with the behavior. Of course, I’m thinking in terms of judging a behavior, as opposed to judging the person engaging in that behavior.

    • WorldGoneCrazy says:

      This is really helpful, Marshalart – thank you for posting! It is a good reminder to admit that we know what we struggle with is still (wrongful) sin, and admitting it can be a powerful witness.

  4. James Rivera says:

    Thank you so much for your post. It was excellent and to the point. I’ve often had fellow Christians tell me I was to judge mental at times and they always use that scripture. With your permission I will post it on Facebook. God bless you.

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