Even people who know very little about the Bible are usually familiar with Jesus' saying "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1, KJV). This command is part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount; it is Jesus' most popular saying because our culture values tolerance so highly.

But it is usually ripped out of context and misinterpreted.

Matthew 7:1-5 includes Jesus' warning about trying to take a speck out of a neighbor's eye while ignoring the log in your own eye. In verse five, Jesus makes clear the audience he is addressing: "You hypocrite!" When Jesus says "Do not judge," he is warning people against heaping criticism and condemnation on others without being willing to examine one's own behavior. Clearly the context is one in which some religious leaders were harshly condemning other people while attempting to justify their own sinfulness.

Furthermore, many people are unaware of balancing texts about judging in the rest of the New Testament. These include Jesus' command "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment" (John 7:24, NRSV), and Paul's rhetorical question "Is it not those who are inside [the church] that you are to judge?" (1 Cor. 5:12). Clearly not all judging is forbidden. If that were the case, the church could have no boundaries; the body of Christ would not be a body but a gaseous vapor!

Paul urged the Corinthian church to exclude the man who was living with his father's wife; he ordered them not to associate with people who claim to be Christians but live blatantly sinful lives without repentance (1 Cor. 5). Did Paul simply forget Jesus' command not to judge? Was he unaware of it? That's doubtful. Rather, we should suppose that Jesus meant only to condemn hypocritical judging. When the ...

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To Judge, or Not to Judge
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July 2005

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