What did Jesus mean when he said, “Judge not?” By Jack Kettler
Matthew 7:1-3 and Luke 6:37 are passages of Scripture that are routinely misinterpreted. To some, the verses are understood, as a ban against stating, that any action can be called sinful or wrong, since doing so would mean, “judging” someone. How do we understand these Scriptures? Do the Scriptures elsewhere qualify this seeming ban on making judgments? If not, how could a magistrate do his job?
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence, and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.
From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia – Judging Judgment:
Often in the Old Testament for “to act as a magistrate” (Exodus 18:13; Deuteronomy 1:16; 16:18, etc.), justice being administered generally by “elders” (Exodus 18:13-27), or “kings” (1 Samuel 8:20) or “priests” (Deuteronomy 18:15); applied to God as the Supreme Judge (Psalms 9:7,8; 10:18; 96:13; Micah 4:3, etc.; Psalms 7:8 “Yahweh ministereth judgment,” vividly describes a court scene, with Yahweh as Judge).
Often in the New Testament, ethically, for
(1) “to decide,” “give a verdict,” “declare an opinion” (Greek krino);
(2) “to investigate,” “scrutinize” (Greek anakrino);
(3) “to discriminate,” “distinguish” (Greek diakrino).
For (1), see Luke 7:43; Acts 15:19;
for (2) see 1 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3;
for (3)see 1 Corinthians 11:31; 14:29 m.
Used also forensically in Luke 22:30; Acts 25:10; and applied to God in John 5:22; Hebrews 10:30. The judgments of God are the expression of His justice, the formal declarations of His judgments, whether embodied in words (Deuteronomy 5:1 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) “statutes”), or deeds (Exodus 6:6; Revelation 16:7), or in decisions that are yet to be published (Psalms 36:6). Man’s consciousness of guilt inevitably associates God’s judgments as declarations of the Divine justice, with his own condemnation, i.e. he knows that a strict exercise of justice means his condemnation, and thus “judgment” and “condemnation” become in his mind synonymous (Romans 5:16); hence, the prayer of Psalms 143:2, “Enter not into judgment”; also, John 6:29, “the resurrection of judgment” (the King James Version “damnation”); 1 Corinthians 11:29, “eateth and drinketh judgment” (the King James Version “damnation”). H. E. Jacobs (1)
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3)
“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)
From Barnes’ Notes on the Bible on Matthew 7:1:
“Judge not … – This command refers to rash, censorious, and unjust judgment. See Romans 2:1. Luke 6:37 explains it in the sense of “condemning.” Christ does not condemn judging, as a magistrate, for that, when according to justice, is lawful and necessary. Nor does he condemn our “forming an opinion” of the conduct of others, for it is impossible “not” to form an opinion of conduct that we know to be evil. But what he refers to is a habit of forming a judgment hastily, harshly, and without an allowance for every palliating circumstance, and a habit of “expressing” such an opinion harshly and unnecessarily when formed. It rather refers to private judgment than “judicial,” and perhaps primarily to the customs of the scribes and Pharisees.” (2)
As seen from Barnes, Jesus was not saying that we should not evaluate whether someone’s choices are immoral. Jesus is talking about narcissistic judgment, not righteous judgment. Practicing discernment involves evaluating or judging. For example, “but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Thessalonians 5:21 ESV). Some translation use “prove” instead of “test.” Proving or testing involves making a determination, in other words, making a judgment. We are sanctioned and commanded to make biblical judgments. Making a judgment is to be done with humility, not arrogance.
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
In this passage, Christ is most certainly responding the accusation from the Jewish leaders that He was a Sabbath-breaker. Nevertheless, an application that can be drawn from this passage is that we must not judge regarding people by their outward appearance.
If all judging is forbidden, how do we understand the following Scriptures?
“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6).
Following these instructions requires the believer to recognize who the “dogs” and the “swine” are. This is a judgment of determination. Likewise, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Again, this is a judgment. In addition, “So then, by their fruit, you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). We are fruit inspectors. We are to examine. We are to discriminate between the good and bad.
Church Discipline requires making judgments:
“Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
In the Matthew passage, Jesus lays out the process for discipline with these words, “if thy brother shall trespass against thee.” So from the initial confronting the brother with his error privately and then taking the matter before the whole church if the brother neglects to hear the matter involves a series of judgments. If the brother fails to hear the church, then excommunication may happen. Excommunication also is a judgment.
In addition, Paul underscores the church’s responsibility to judge its members:
“To deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” (1Corinthians 5:5-7)
From Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on 1Corinthians 5:7 we learn:
“Purge out therefore the old leaven, … Meaning either the incestuous person, whose crime might well be compared to sour “leaven”, and be called old because of his long continuance in it; whom the apostle would have removed from them; this is properly the act of excommunication, which that church was to perform, as a quite distinct thing from what the apostle himself determined to do. The allusion is to the strict search the Jews made (g), just before their passover after leaven, to purge their houses of it, that none of it might remain when their feast began; which they made by the light of a lamp, on the night of the fourteenth of the month Nisan, in every secret place, hole, and corner of the house: or this may be an exhortation to the church in general with respect to themselves, as well as this man, to relinquish their old course of sinning, to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man”, Ephesians 4:22 the same with the old leaven here; it being usual with the Jews (h) to call the vitiosity and corruption of nature , ‘leaven in the lump.’” (3)
As seen from Gill, purging out the old leaven requires a determination or judgment.
Synonyms for judging:
Analyzing, criticizing, critiquing, evaluating, examining, investigating
There is nothing wrong with the above words. The actions in the above synonyms can be done sinfully or righteously.
When Jesus says not to judge, there is specific context to his teaching. Jesus is condemning rash, self-righteous, and unjust judgments, not judgments altogether. The larger context of Scripture as seen above bears this out as seen in cases of church discipline and proving and testing what is good and discernment when false prophets and teachers are plaguing the church.
Jesus in Matthew 7:1-3 and Luke 6:37 is not contradicting other places in Scripture that involve people making discernments. It is obvious from the larger context of Scriptures that the Matthew and Luke passages are not blanket condemnations of making judgments.
Those who take the Matthew and Luke passages as absolutes:
First, saying the Matthew and Luke passages forbid all judgments, cannot be maintained because as seen above it is inconsistent with the totality of Scripture.
Second, the individual who says, “It is wrong to judge” is making a judgment against those who judge because it is a self-refuting contradiction.
Making false judgments is a violation of the Ninth Commandment!
Westminster Larger Catechism: Questions 143-145:
Q. 143. Which is the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment is, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?
A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and the good name of our neighbor, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth; and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever; a charitable esteem of our neighbors; loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name; sorrowing for and covering of their infirmities; freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces, defending their innocency; a ready receiving of a good report, and unwillingness to admit of an evil report, concerning them; discouraging talebearers, flatterers, and slanderers; love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth; keeping of lawful promises; studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.
Q. 145. What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, outfacing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of the truth or justice; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, detracting, talebearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstructing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vainglorious boasting, thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves or others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicion; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any; endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration; breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.
Judgment and Humility
“Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” (1Corinthians 6:3)
“Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.” (James 4:11)
1. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘JUDGING,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 1777. Albert Barnes, THE AGES DIGITAL LIBRARYCOMMENTARY, Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, Matthew, p. 121.
2. John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, 1Corinthians, (Grace Works, Multi-Media Labs), 2011, p. 9.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM