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.
Judging happens all the time but it can be much easier for a person to accept if you do the judging in a professional way. After all, teachers tell students all the time that they are wrong, but these judgments are accepted because teachers know what they are talking about. If you are going to make a judgement, then try to do it in the way that an expert does.
This is an apologetics blog, so I feel that I should say that when you are trying to talk to someone about apologetics, then don’t talk about their personal lives at all. Just talk about what is true in the real world, or about moral choices in general. I’ve noticed that people get really mad when I say that some behavior is wrong because the Bible says it, so I don’t do usually that. But I’ve noticed that most are open to hearing the evidence for why a behavior is wrong, for example the harm caused by unwed motherhood to children. People are more likely to listen to you if you stay away from judging their personal situation.
Second piece of advice: if you are going to talk about right and wrong, start by showing someone that just because there are differences of opinion on an issue, it doesn’t mean no one is right. If morality comes up as the topic, then I find it easier to first explain that just because people disagree, it doesn’t mean no one is right. What I like to do for this is to bring up something that is affirmed by one religion and denied by another, like whether the universe had a beginning. Jews (for example) affirm a beginning of the universe, Mormons deny a beginning of the universe. Who is right? We have to look to science to decide it. Once we’ve decided it, someone is going to be right, and someone is going to be wrong. You want to get them to see that telling someone they are wrong doesn’t make you a villain. In our case, if the universe had a beginning, and you tell a Mormon why you think it did using science, it’s no defense against you for them to call you “intolerant” for using evidence to show you are right. Sometimes people can be wrong, and they need to tolerate when others tell them they are wrong, even if they don’t agree.
Jonathan Morrow talks about that second point here:
However, true tolerance is usually not what people have in mind when they say people should be free to believe in whatever God (or no god at all) they want to. Here is the simple, but profound point to grasp—merely believing something doesn’t make it true. Put differently, people are entitled to their own beliefs, but not their own truth. Belief is not what ultimately matters—truth is. Our believing something is true doesn’t make it true. The Bible isn’t true simply because I have faith. Truth is what corresponds to reality—telling it like it is.
No point of view is correct just because someone believes it. Beliefs are made true if they correspond to reality. And it’s not “intolerant” to “judge” truth claims that don’t correspond to reality as false.
Finally, you want to get the other person to see that saying someone is wrong isn’t a bad thing – especially if their being wrong is going to get them into trouble. Suppose you tell someone “don’t take a nap on the railroad tracks” because they’ve been doing that. This is a good thing to do. It helps them to not get run over by a train. You’re not forcing them into anything, you’re just giving them information that they can use or not. It’s up to them to believe you or not, but they shouldn’t try to shut you down by saying “don’t judge me”.