So, I think you’ve all heard this one before if you had any exposure with Christianity at all, from Matthew 7:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged.
Alright, so you’ve heard this used in any number of sayings before. In fact, the context in which I’ve heard it most recently comes from either 1. an opponent of Christiniaty trying to use the Bible against a Christian that says “X is wrong” or 2. implemented against other Christians for pointing out doctrinal differences, or Scripture, or any number of similar issues. Now, it rarely gets use in the correct and third sense, which is to make sure that by the measure you judge others (which, hopefully, constitutes a Christian perspective), you also are willing to find yourself under the same judgement.
I imagine I may blow your mind here a little bit, so let’s backtrack a bit. Jesus judged people all the time! Of course, we’re bound to find some confusion here, so let’s go deeper. In John 5:22-23, we see this:
22 For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.
And we can find a host of other verses where Jesus says that he came for the explicit purpose to judge the world by the authority of the Father (John 5:26-27, John 9:39). Even Paul tells us we will stand before the judgement seat of Christ, which I assume means that Jesus judges upon that seat (2 Corinthians 5:10). Yet, at the same time, we find that Jesus does not purport to judge anyone (John 8:15) and that God came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47). Contradictory? Well, not quite. I understand the Bible as a divinely inspired library of books which represent a fully consistent message. If we must harmoize, than we do it in a way that’s consistent with the text presented – use the clear texts to interpret the confusing ones. That’s where we end up with problems in regards to this particular issue, I think.
Jesus does make a distinction between different kinds of judging – I imagine it’s the difference between, say, throwing someone into hell for an offense or calling them out for being hypocrites. One helps, but one casts a verdict on a court case. There’s a large chasm between forming an opinion after carefully considering the facts of a case or passing a verdict based on the facts of the case! Perhaps this will make it clearer: the word “judge” as translated in Matthew 7 seems more akin to “condemn”, although it’s frequently rendered as “judgement”, thereby confusing the lot of us. That isn’t helping the other person, but putting yourself in the place of God when judging in that meaning.
Not the people who knew they were sinners and genuinely bad people, but the Pharisees who judged without following their own standards – in our vernacular, hypocrites. I’d call this a nuance, but a very important one all the same. The problem of the Pharisees in Scripture isn’t that they follow the Law! Jesus isn’t concerned about the “oppression” of the Law; after all, Jesus’ teachings fit right into the historical pharisaical model (resurrection of the dead, etc.). Jesus does call them a brood of vipers repeatedly, among other names (see Matthew 12 and 23 for at least two examples), constantly rebukes them, and has good reason for doing so. We usually interpret this in the sense that we, also, cannot judge anyone for anything, including our own brothers and sisters in Christ.
If that were the case, then we could never solve anyone’s problems. We would, inevitably, judge the addict’s character as such, and thus find ourselves unable to life him/her out of their circumstance. That is not what judging means in the context of Matthew 7, for otherwise the Gospels and Jesus’ frequently (and not flippantly) meted-out judgments in verbal form make no sense at all. So what do we mean, then? Take a look at the often-missed context of Matthew 7:1 above:
2 For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
The common criticism of Christians who pass judgment of any kind comes from verse one…but certainly NOT the verses which lay after it. We find, instead, that judgement comes in the form of criticism, self-improvement, and helping others. To judge in this sense means to show others their faults and help them out – but first, you must fix yourself. It is then, as verse 5 says, that we see clearly to help our brother/sister out of their bind.
However, comitting a sin and then imploring others NOT to commit that sin does not work; not only do you find yourself a hypocrite, but a person failing to employ his/her own advice has zero authority to tell anyone anything about that particular subject. If the other person finds out about your own indiscretions, than how could they possibly trust you on other issues? Getting slapped with the “hypocrite” word does not help. Just look at Matthew 15 and you’ll see this outright. The Pharisees do not follow their own Law while telling others to follow it, and make themselves into fools and hypocrites:
Then some Pharisees and scribes *came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3 And He answered and said to them,“Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,” 6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:
8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far away from Me.
9 ‘But in vain do they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’”
10 After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. 11 It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”
12 Then the disciples *came and *said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” 13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”
When we leave the logs in our eyes, how can we be anything but blind? To confirm this interpretation, let’s take one look at John 7:
19 “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” 20 The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who seeks to kill You?” 21 Jesus answered them, “I did one deed, and you all marvel. 22 For this reason Moses has given you circumcision (not because it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and on the Sabbath you circumcise a man. 23 If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? 24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
It would seem our misunderstanding of these verses come from the frequent use of the same word rather than multiple, or that the English language just doesn’t translate krino‘s multiple nuances very well (that’s a problem with all translation, I imagine). In the end, there’s two extremes – judgment as in condemnation, and no judging of anyone for anything, yet we are called to hit that happy medium of encouragement and help even when confronting others with tough truths.
What do you think about this? Did I get something wrong here? Sound off in the comments below!