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What Does the Bible Really Say about Judging Others?

Updated on January 30, 2014
property of Doug Mataconis
property of Doug Mataconis | Source
Have some tact, please!
Before we delve in too deep, it's important to realize that this can be a very sensitive topic for some people. It's important to be gentle, tactful, and aware of others' feelings!

Welcome to Confusion! Don't stay long!

The verse from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7, in which Jesus says "Do not judge, lest ye be judged" is quite possibly the single most misquoted, misused, and misunderstood verse in the entirety of the Bible!

Even people with almost no scriptural familiarity can be memory-verse masters when it comes to quoting this one line. Usually, it crops up as a last line of defense when discussing controversial matters--sometimes in a hostile way. Don't judge me! In some cases, this verse is used as justification for getting rather nasty and demonizing others as "bigots" and "hypocrites" because they dared to judge.

But whom are we not to judge? "Lest we be judged" by whom? What is exactly being said here? Are we as Christians able to judge others or is any form of judgement off-limits? What does the Bible consider consider to be "judging", anyway?

It's easy to see where lots of people get confused when dealing with this passage. To get a better idea of what the Bible's really saying, we need to do a couple of very important things:

  • Put our personal feelings on the shelf. To get a clearly see of the meaning of this scripture, we need to "cool off" emotionally, take a step back, and read it with objective eyes.
  • Define our terms. It's important to know what is meant by "judge" and "judgement". You'd be surprised how the definitions of words can be skewed from misuse!
  • Get the big picture. Although today's Bible does have numbered verses, these numbers weren't added until long after all Biblical scripture was written. The Bible was never meant to be picked apart verse-by-verse! To get the full story, we need to look at this entire passage in its proper context.
  • Look for clarification elsewhere in scripture. Even though this particular passage is the most frequently quoted about judgement, God's Word has much, much more to say on this issue. Before we rush to a conclusion, we need to see if our interpretation is supported by the rest of scripture.

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So what is does it mean to "judge"?

Judgements are conclusions we reach after careful thought, so naturally, the act of judging (as it's being discussed here) is the process of weighing what we know to make a decision about something or someone.

Now, that's not to say that judgements are good judgments. Sometimes we can be hasty and insensitive when judging--especially when judging people. If you've ever seen someone snicker as a large person walks by, you know exactly what I mean. Sometimes our judgements can be downright hurtful.

However, the act of judging isn't inherently bad. It can be misused, but it's just a neutral process. In fact, it's this very process that we all use to determine what we believe is right and wrong! One man's judgments might lead him to cure cancer while another's lead him to drive the wrong way on the freeway after several hours of binge-drinking. It's all about how we use our ability to judge.

Many times we unfairly attach a stigma to judging--as if we should never allow ourselves to have an opinion. Or worse, that we're somehow guilty of cosmic offense by having an opinion!

But it's not surprising in today's age of pluralism, relativism, and political correctness that judging in any way, shape or form is frowned upon. People just don't want to be wrong...or tolerate other people thinking they're wrong.

Instead of accepting something as right or wrong, a large number of people today hold to a view of "That can be true for you, but this is what's true for me." Sometimes this has totally paradoxical implications. We've become afraid to accept anything as being universally true.

So what's the verdict on judging others? Should anyone ever judge anything (or anyone)? Let's get the full picture from Matthew 7:

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Judging Others - Looking at 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."

Probably the biggest mistake people make when quoting from this passage is not taking into account the second verse in this chapter. It provides all the clarity we need to understand the first verse! I'll show this verse again with my personal notes shown in brackets:

1"Do not judge [others], or you too will be judged [by others]. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged [by others], and with the measure you use [to judge others], [judgement] will be measured to you [by others]."

But Twerk, how can you know this interpretation is accurate? Well, to answer this we need look no further than other scripture. For instance:

  • Romans 14: 10b-12 - For we will all stand before God's judgement seat. 11It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'" 12So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
  • Romans 3:23 - 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • Matthew 12:36 - 36But I tell you that everyone will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken.
  • Hebrews 2:2-3a - 2For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

God's Word makes it perfectly clear that all people have sinned and fall under God's judgement. The statement in Matthew 7:1, however is conditional: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged". We know from scripture that God's judgement is anything but conditional! It's inescapable! The first verse, therefore, cannot possibly mean "Do not judge, or you too will be judged...by God"!

Who, then, is this passage talking about if not God? It's talking about us! People! Each other! Jesus is warning us that if we judge others, others will judge us (as is almost always the case)! He also cautions that the standard by which we judge others is how others, in return, will judge us!

Now that we have this cleared up, let's continue through the passage:

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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 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."

What's important to understand here is that at no point is Jesus saying we are never to judge! Rather, he is outlining how to judge so we don't do so hypocritically.

The man with the plank in his eye and the man with the speck in his eye both have the same problem: there is wood in their eyes. This wood is a metaphor for sins.

You see, being that we're all sinning people, we have no right to call someone out for doing the same the things we ourselves do! This makes us hypocrites--living as if our own sins don't exist! When we judge others as hypocrites, we aren't being honest or fair, and will not be met in kind by the judgements of others.

Instead, we are called to be real about our own sins--repenting of them and seeking God's forgiveness--before even attempting to confront someone else of his. Now obviously nobody will ever be perfect, but until we get ourselves right with God we aren't in any position to be telling someone else how they can be doing the same.

This is the prime focus of this passage: hypocrisy. We aren't forbidden to judge, but told not to make hypocrites of ourselves! In fact, an examination of other scripture shows that we are in fact commanded to judge righteously!

  • Amos 5: 14-15a - 14Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. 15Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.
  • Isaiah 59: 8 - 8The way of peace they do no know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace.
  • John 7: 24 - 24Stop judging by mere appearances, but judge with righteous judgement.

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Wait...so God wants us to judge?

God wants us to judge righteously.

The verses above spoke of how we as followers of Christ need to be able to differentiate between good and evil. How can we do this if we never make a judgement? We can't! In fact, the verse from Isaiah tells us that by never defining and differentiating between good and evil, godly living and ungodly living, etc., there is only crookedness, chaos, and unhappiness.

There is a huge difference, though, between judging, and being judgmental. The former is an action, the latter is an attitude. Being judgmental (or having an "attitude of judgment", as is sometimes said) can mean a couple of different things. Sometimes it describes one who is quick to judge others and/or is unfairly critical or harsh. It can also describe one who "looks down his nose" at the person he's judging.

Judging and being judgmental are not co-requisites. In fact, if we're judging the way God tells us we should, we are being the exact opposite of judgmental.

So how can you know if you're judging righteously?

  • Judge based on scripture. God is the only perfect, true, and fair judge. Only he is qualified to determine what is good and what is not. So how can get a God-centered perspective when making judgements? Getting in touch with scripture! Our judgements should be made in compassion, love, and mercy!
  • Don't play favorites. Righteous judgement isn't corrupt. We can't let relationships or personal feelings skew our ability to discern right from wrong. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Period. Making exceptions shows corruption and hypocrisy.
  • Hold yourself to the same standard. It's important that we're also not playing favorites with ourselves--using a standard by which to judge and then considering ourselves above it. This is both wrong and hypocritical.
  • Judge in truth. Get the facts before you rush to a conclusion. If need be, take some time to be in God's Word and pray. God is our go-to source! Don't let your judgements be corrupted by deceit or delusion!
  • Pray. Ask God for the strength to help you judge righteously! Pray that he will give you aid in discerning right from wrong. You're never alone in this!

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Can I pray for you?
Leaning how to stop being judgemental and to start judging righteously wasn't easy for me, and I'm still far from perfect! But I'm still God's work in progress! Let me know if I can be in prayer for you!

A final verdict...

If we, as followers of Christ, are to take up our crosses daily and walk in the footsteps of Jesus, we need to discern between the ways of the Lord and those of the world.

By committing to life in Christ, we are dying to this world. We cannot serve both. We cannot live for both. If we cannot judge righteously, we will not be able to differentiate between good and evil, right and wrong, godly and ungodly living, and we will make ourselves prey to sin.

Our purpose in judging righteously as God has commanded isn't so that we're "right" and can laugh because everyone else is "wrong". If this is your view, you've missed the whole point!

We as Christians are to be living examples of the transforming power of Christ that makes us new--inside and out! We cannot follow where Christ has led, loving good and hating evil when we refuse to accept that good is good, evil is evil, and that the two are not interchangeable!

We should not let fear (whether this is fear of someone disliking us or taking offense or anything else) keep us from judging clearly! By standing for nothing, we allow everything to walk all over us. So stand firm in God's truth!

Have anything to add? Feel free to comment! Otherwise, you can add me on Facebook!

Wishing you all the best,

--TwerkZerker

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    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 3 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Good overview of topic. A subject that truly is often misunderstood and misquoted.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Hi Johan!

      Thanks for reading!

    • The Stages Of ME profile image

      The Stages Of ME 3 years ago

      Great hub and love the pic they are perrrfect and funny. Love the writing and content as well. Very good points to be shared. Thanks and Blessing to you :)

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Hello, Stages Of ME!

      Why thank you! When I found the cat pic I laughed so hard! I appreciate the feedback! Thanks for reading!

    • Anthony Moreau profile image

      Richard de Mey 3 years ago from Scottsdale, Arizona

      great insight.. this is something i hope a lot of people read.. and that cat pic.. LOL.. too funnnnny!!!

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Why, thank you, Anthony!

      LOL, I do kinda want to go to Kinkos and print off a massive poster of that cat to hang on my wall!

    • LeslieAdrienne profile image

      Leslie A. Shields 3 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the share..... Happy Hubbing!

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Thanks the read, Leslie! You too, Happy Hubbing!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E. Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I think the key is your first point about judging righteously: "Judge based on scripture." The standard is not what we think is right, but what God says is right. I think that's the clear implication of Paul's discussion of how believers are to judge in 1 Cor 5. And our judging must always be not for the purpose of condemnation, but restoration, as in Gal 6:1.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Very well put, Ron! Thanks for reading and for the insight!

    • Paul K Francis profile image

      Paul K Francis 3 years ago from east coast,USA

      It is natural and important to be able to make judgments and to form opinions but I often find myself judging others as a way to find fault, increasing my own righteousness. After I remove the plank, I see that I do not know enough about them to make a judgment, and what I think is my own righteousness is probably just pride, and the fault I am looking for is probably a fault in myself. Enjoyed reading your hub. Have a great day!

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      @Righteous Atheist

      I can understand disagreement, and I don't mind if people post their differing views in comments on my hubs. In fact, I'd encourage friendly discussion. But what I do not appreciate are sweeping generalizations cast over entire groups of people.

      Your last couple of posts made it rather apparent that you have little interest in posting here other than to cast mass-stereotypes over me and other Christians, to conveniently ignore pieces of what I've said and to take others out of context to "justify" these stereotypes, and being rather judgmental of me and other Christians yourself.

      You are entitled to your views, and respect that. I'm not forcing you to believe anything. But I don't really care if a person is atheist, Christian, the Swedish Chef, or the Queen of England; if he cannot express his views without twisting my words to justify his sweeping generalizations of others out of personal bias, I will not let them be seen here. This doesn't contribute to healthy discussion.

      Think of me as a comment-fascist if you like, but this is my hub. I am czar of my domain. If you can't abide by this, please post elsewhere.

      Have a nice day! :D

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Hi, Paul!

      Thanks for reading and sharing this! I completely agree. Looking for fault instead of seeking truth was something I struggled with for a long time--and sometimes still do! You're absolutely right that sometimes when we take the time to make ourselves right before God first, we realize that we weren't even judging for the right reasons in the first place!

      Blessings!

    • profile image

      Pedat Ebediyah 3 years ago

      Very well done.

      I'd like to also mention that for so-called believers, rejecting righteous judgement (scrutiny, examination, accountability) doesn't set well with the Father.

      I can understand why non-believers are repulsed at the very THOUGHT of being judged. I can also understand why unconverted Christians and babes struggle in so many ways.

      This walk isn't easy, and we have to guard our hearts, keep His Commandments, love our neighbor, and walk in the spirit. Man, oh, man..so much to do..so much responsibility..right?

      Whether we judge or don't judge, HIS Word is always right. Check out what He says here:

      Jeremiah 17:9 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

      Whose heart? The heart of the heathen? The heart of the saint? The heart of a child? The heart of a politician? He doesn't say...the prophet just says "the heart!"

      It (the heart) is deceitful and desperately wicked...who KNOWS what it's capable of? That's what the Bible says.

      So...the remedy is ALSO found in Scripture..

      Proverbs 4:23 Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life

      Our "issues", and to whom we surrender them will determine the way others (in the body, and world) relate to us. So we need to make sure that our "issues" and how to handle them, fall under His charge.

      Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

      I have a hundred scriptures I could quote, but, let's be real. The reason why we suffer scrutiny (sin related) is because we did SOMETHING to provoke it.

      I weigh in on matters of scriptural righteousness all the time. The ONLY standard by which I can even REASONABLY measure is that of His Oracles...or at least, the wisdom of men who submit to His Word.

      This would be another discussion altogether, but the bristling that people (believers and others) tend to do concerning judging usually falls under the realm of doubtful disputations.

      Speaking for myself ONLY here.

      If I'm an unrepentant adulterer I should EXPECT people to talk about me, right? Or wrong?

      If I'm a gossip, if people don't want to have anything to do with me, and they JUDGED me (weighed my actions against their spiritual values) and decided they didn't to fellowship with me...who is to blame?

      If I'm a coward, why should men find me trustworthy?

      If I'm a coveter and my neighbor doesn't want me anywhere near his wife, hey...can you blame him? And if he's asked by his other neighbor and he says, "that guy has poor boundaries , is inappropriate, and hugs a little too long"...what...?

      If my children are foul-mouthed and my neighbor asks his children to come back home when they see mine anywhere near...is he a judgey judger...?

      We should weigh (judge, examine, scrutinize) things that fly in the face of the Father, and we should do so without partiality or malice.

      In this day and age, even when we examine sin pretty please with sugar on top people don't like it.

      So...we should do what the Word says, always and not get caught in the guilt trip of relativism, even that which creeps into the Body of Christ..

      James 4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

      That includes me too. I accept the scrutiny of godly people and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 3 years ago

      Hi Pedat!

      I totally agree! Thanks for your insightful response!

      You're absolutely right: the world doesn't appreciate the mention of sin--no matter how we sugar-coat it. But this is because our broken, sinful natures keep us from wanting light cast on the things we do in the darkness. LOL, I suppose that kind of makes us like cockroaches in a way!

      If we're following Chtist , we should be clinging to the truth! And Jesus never sugar-coated anything!

      Thanks again! Blessings!

    • lone77star profile image

      Rod Martin Jr 2 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Too many judge with ego, which is unrighteousness. We must judge with love, which is of the Father.

      For Christ said that the First (egoist) shall be last, and the Last (humble) shall be first.

      We need to take responsibility for all the evil acts done against us, for in that responsibility we are no longer a victim, and turning the other cheek becomes effortless.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
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      TwerkZerker 2 years ago

      Very true, lone77star! Thanks for the read!

    • profile image

      Ronald D Bruno 2 years ago

      I think the definition needs a little tweaking -- if I may. Judgment, apart from God, as experienced in a courtroom, involves a penalty. I like to say I convict others without necessarily penalizing them, but pointing out their errors, offering advice and correction. While doing this, I must also be willing to receive criticism/ convictions/corrections and maintain a transparent personality to avoid hypocrisy. Granted some may take offense, which they may view as a penalty or mark against them but it really isn't. Unless it is a sin, then it is a mark that they've missed and God's conviction and judgment will certainly follow. We must realize that God uses us to convict/judge others. Iron sharpens iron. Our parents are our the first judges we get a taste of, but we often feel that we did not elect anyone for the job. Sensitivities often get aroused, but we must all learn humility and to allow others to remove that log 0r speck from our own eyes.

    • Pedro Morales profile image

      Pedro Morales 2 years ago

      I like all the care and thought that you placed into making this hub.

      Once I gave a sermon on this same topic and have faced the struggle between feeling hesitant to judge someone and yet seeing the need to do it; thus, I can empathize with your words. We must not be judgmental but we must pass judgment on what our eyes see and our ears hear.

      At certain times also the truth need to be told about certain lifestyles. For instance, the idea that we must not judge the homosexual lifestyle is ridiculous. Homosexuals need salvation, and that requires that their lifestyle is judged by the word of God: they must be clear that they are sinning and not just living like that without any choice.

      You made an excellent presentation by providing the biblical side of both aspects of this difficult issue. We must always pray, as you say in here, so that if we have to pass judgment on anything it is done properly without any superiority complex but in humble recognition that by the grace of God we also sinners have been living more in accord with God's word.

      I guess one of the commentator said it best "our judging must always be not for the purpose of condemnation, but restoration, as in Gal 6:1."

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 2 years ago

      Thank you so much for your feedback, Pedro! Very eloquently put!

      It totally floors me how the Apostle Paul, in the roughly 3o words of a single verse, managed to capture virtually every facet of this issue.

    • Pedro Morales profile image

      Pedro Morales 2 years ago

      Well Paul certainly "floor" us all in many ways, you are not alone. ;-)

    • Beaddoodler profile image

      Jennie Hennesay 2 years ago from Lubbock TX

      Great, insightful article. "Cheery picking" the Bible for tidbits that support our selfish points of view is all too prevalent.

    • TwerkZerker profile image
      Author

      TwerkZerker 2 years ago

      Thanks for the read, Beaddoodler! "Cheery-picking"--I've never heard that one before! I might just borrow that one someday!

      Have a nice day!

    • Beaddoodler profile image

      Jennie Hennesay 2 years ago from Lubbock TX

      OOOPS sorry, that was supposed to be Cherry, not Cheery.

    • profile image

      Mustafa 2 years ago

      I can answer that. There are two rodnus of judging. In the first round it's one judge per category, separating the wheat from the chaff. The best sites from that round move on to the second round, where two judges look at them separately. Their scores are averaged to determine the winner & runners-up.So every nomination gets looked at by at least one judge; the semi-finalists have been looked at by three.And as a last step I disqualify Lee's site because he won this year.

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