DON’T JUDGE ME!
How many times have we heard a Christian engaged in sinful behavior assert, “The Bible says you aren’t supposed to judge me!” In all likelihood, that person is referring to Matthew 7:1 (ESV), which reads:
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.
The critical question is: does Matthew 7:1 teach that a Christian is not supposed to render a moral assessment of another Christian’s behavior? The biblical answer is in the negative meaning that a Christian can render a moral assessment about another believer’s conduct. Let’s see why.
THE LITERARY CONTEXT OF MATTHEW 7:1 DOES NOT PROHIBIT A MORAL ASSESSMENT
Let’s face it; the literary context of a text is crucial to a correct interpretation. In their book How to Study Your Bible, [(1994, 2010), Harvest House Publishers, Eugene Oregon] Kay Arthur, David Arthur, and Pete DeLacy write at page 18 [italics in original]:
Inductive study begins with a thorough evaluation of the context. One of the most important principles of handling the Word properly and studying the bible inductively is to interpret Scripture in light of its context. Why? Because context always rules in interpretation.
In the case of Matthew 7:1, the proper literary context comprises verses 1-5, which read (ESV):
1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log 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.
This text reveals that Jesus’ concern is with the hypocritical double standard of the Pharisees. In a future post, I will explain in more detail why this is so. The literary context shows that Matthew 7:1 does not prohibit the moral assessment of a Christian’s conduct.
A WORD STUDY SHOWS THAT MATTHEW 7:1 DOES NOT PROHIBIT A MORAL ASSESSMENT
Oftentimes, a word study of key words is very informative, and that is the case here. A word study of the Greek nouns translated by the ESV as “speck” and “log” shows that Matthew 7:1 does not prohibit a moral assessment. The ESV translates the Greek noun karphos as “speck”, and it means:
a small piece of wood, chaff, or even straw—‘speck, splinter
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 36). New York: United Bible Societies.
The ESV translates the Greek noun dokos as “log”, and it means:
a piece of heavy timber such as a beam used in roof construction or to bar a door, beam of wood
Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 256). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
There is a dramatic contrast between the piece of chaff and a heavy timber beam. This contrast emphasizes Jesus’ concern about the Pharisees’ hypocritical double standard. A word study shows that Matthew 7:1 does not prohibit a moral assessment of a Christian’s behavior.
THE ANALOGY OF FAITH SHOWS THAT MATTHEW 7:1 DOES NOT PROHIBIT A MORAL ASSESSMENT
One very important Bible study tool is the analogy of faith, which teaches that the interpreter must use a clear passage to interpret an unclear passage. One very brief definition reads:
ANALOGY OF THE FAITH. Conferring with other Scriptures to interpret unclear sections by the clear ones.
Swanson, J., & Nave, O. (1994). New Nave’s Topical Bible. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems.
In an article in the August, 2019 issue of Tabletalk Magazine (link: https://tabletalkmagazine.com/article/2019/08/matthew-71/ ), Dr. Timothy Z. Witmer points out other passages that shed light on what Jesus means by judging. John 7:24 (ESV) reads:
24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Jesus’ statement seems to be in the context of His healing of the lame man on the Sabbath. Verse 24 does not prohibit rendering a moral assessment, but any judgment must be based on righteous criteria and not in light of superficial things. One commentator writes:
Jesus concluded by warning His hearers against judging superficially (cf. Deut. 16:18–19; Isa. 11:3–4; Zech. 7:9). Their superficial judgment about what was legitimate activity for the Sabbath had resulted in superficial judgment about Jesus’ work and person. He told them to stop doing that. They needed to judge on the basis of righteous criteria, what was truly right.
Constable, T. (2003). Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible (Jn 7:24). Galaxie Software.
John 7:24 does not prohibit a moral assessment and this text sheds light on the meaning of Matthew 7:1.
Matthew 18:15-20 records Jesus’ instructions about how to approach someone who has sinned against another which inherently implies rendering a moral assessment. Obviously, the offended party must carry out a moral assessment in order to implement the procedure of Matthew 18:15-20. The clear meaning of Matthew 18:15-20 assists with the interpretation of Matthew 7:1. .
In his article, Dr. Witmer also points out Galatians 6:1 (ESV):
1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Like for Matthew 18:15-20, what Paul teaches in Galatians 6:1 implies a moral assessment of a Christian’s conduct.
MATTHEW 7:1 DOES NOT PROHIBIT A MORAL ASSESSMENT
Does Matthew 7:1 prohibit making a moral assessment of someone? No it does not because the literary context shows that Jesus was concerned not with moral assessment per se but with employing a hypocritical double standard. A word study of the words “speck” and “log” reinforces an understanding that Jesus was critical of practicing hypocrisy. By applying the analogy of faith, we can rest in the understanding that Matthew 7:1 focuses on hypocrisy and does not teach a broad brush prohibition against a Christian rendering a moral assessment of another believer’s conduct.
BIBLE STUDY TAKEAWAYS
There are three essential Bible study takeaways. First and foremost, every interpreter must abide by the rule that context governs all biblical interpretations. Second, the Bible student must be willing to look up the meaning of the original word. Third, the interpreter must employ the analogy of faith. This interpretive tool is a solid guard rail to make sure that an interpretation hasn’t “gone off of the rails.”
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