What does scripture have to say about judging?
Send Email to Tom Smith
March 20, 2000; Updated September 5, 2006
Most people who address this topic initially think of, and tend to quote from Matthew 7:1, which says Judge not, that ye be not judged to suggest that we should not judge. This is typically brought forward to challenge those who test the writings, words, and actions of other professing Christians, specifically when concerns are raised regarding whether or not the teaching of these person is sound.
Is this correct? Is this what scripture teaches? Are we to
simply teach truth ourselves and ignore what we believe to be
error being taught by others? It is important to ensure that we
establish by doctrine from the Bible, so let's have a look at
what scripture says about judging. First, lets have a closer look
at what Matthew 7 says about judging, in the wider context.
7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye. 6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Note that the verse goes on after the first verse to tell us how we should judge and the clear message is that we should judge fairly. Matt 7:1 has to be interpreted both in light of the context of the surrounding text as well as the whole of scripture. If indeed God tells us to judge, and gives us the gift of discernment (judging), and then tells us to be careful to judge fairly, then the message is to judge, but judge properly. Jesus further shows this to be consistent with his message in John 7:24, where he says:
24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
If we were not to judge at all, then why would he tell us to judge righteously? Scripture clearly states that some form of judgement is not just acceptable, but necessary because Jesus says that we are to judge righteously. That being the case, it seem important for us to study scripture further to better understand under what conditions we are to judge and what if any situations exist where we are not judge.
Moving forward in scripture, we see further examples where we are told to make judgements:
If God wants us to judge so much that he gives us the gifts to
do so and commands us to judge/discern so that we will not be
misled into wrong doctrine, then following the doctrine that says
we are not to judge would, by comparison leave us at risk of
walking in darkness and unsound doctrine, being led into
ignorance of God's truth. Interestingly, you will find that many
today who frequently tell us not to judge. Why not? What is there
to lose by testing for truth, as the Bereans did, when Paul
commended them as being more noble for testing and judging his
own words? (Acts 17:10-11).
We are told in scripture that discernment comes from sound doctrine:
1:1 Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, 3 but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior; 4 To Titus, a true son in our common faith:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ our Savior.
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-- 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.
10 For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. 15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
2:1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience;
And as we see in 1 Cor 12:10, from sound doctrine comes discernment.
1 Cor 12:10
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
One of the gifts of the spirit is the gift
which comes from the Greek diakrisis which comes from the Greek
meaning to "judge" and "between". God thus
gives us, as Christians, gifts of judgement. If it is gift of God,
can it be contrrary to his will for us tojudge? If you say we are
not to judge, you are denying one of the gifts of the Spirit.
Why does he gives us discernment (judgement)? Lets look at Eph 4:11-18:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
17 This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart;
He gave these gifts and leaders who would exercise the gifts to
keep us in sound doctrine and not be tossed to and fro by every
wave of doctrine; and so that we would not longer walk in the
darkness of our own understanding and walk in ignorance. Note
that those who chose not to discern and chose not to hold to
sound doctrine were led away from the truth, though professing to
know God, they in truth deny Him.
I could go on with much more, but I think that that is enough to show that scripture clearly and very specifically says that we are to judge.
So that being the case, are there circumstances where we are indeed told not to judge. For one, we could go back to Matthew 7, which we quote at the start of this article, and we can see that it specifically says to judge righteously; thus we can read from that the reference to judge not means that we are not judge wrongly. that is the first circumstance in which we are not to judge.
We can also see that every circumstance given above where we are told to judge deals with matters of truth in doctrinal matters, or action/teachings of others or ourselves. Lets look at some other verse on judging and see if they give us a different perspective:
11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?
9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
30 For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine; I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people."
2 Tim 4:1
4:1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom:
13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
All of these speak of judging the hearts of men, which, as the following verse say, is the sole responsibility of Jesus.
8 The LORD shall judge the peoples;
Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness,
And according to my integrity within me.
9 Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end,
But establish the just;
For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
4 He shall call to the heavens from above,
And to the earth, that He may judge His people:
5 "Gather My saints together to Me,
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice."
6 Let the heavens declare His righteousness,
For God Himself is Judge.
22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son,
42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.
We cannot discern the hearts of men, and therefore, though we can discern and judge what men do, and discern and judge what men say, we are in no position to judge their hearts.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.