Is Judging Always Wrong? A Closer Look at Matthew 7:1
By Eric Johnson
Are making judgment calls always wrong? If not, is it wrong to critique what Christians believe to be doctrinal error? A common proof text used by Mormons who insist that their church is above criticism is Matthew 7:1, which says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." "Why do you judge?" is an admonishing question we have heard countless times asked by those who believe that religious criticism is shameful and "unChristian." They add, "The Bible says that you should mind your own business."
There are seven points that ought to be considered in relation to this passage.
- The context should dictate the interpretation. Matthew 7:1-6 is part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is speaking against hypocrites. Indeed, he used a clever analogy of the log and speck. "Thou hypocrite," verse five reads, "first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." The point of Matthew 7:1 was to guard your judgmental opinions, especially when you were guilty of far greater.
- The Greek word for "judge" is the Greek verb "krino." The same word is used in John 7:24, which reads, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." The religious leaders of Jesus' day stressed the outward appearance, judging on what they could see in regards to cleanliness and the outward observance of the letter of the law. Jesus turned the tables on them constantly, pointing out that while they may have looked good on the outside, inside they were filled with "dead men's bones" (Matthew 23:37). Indeed, they were the subjects of Jesus' ire throughout the Gospels (i.e. Matthew 3:7; Luke 18:10ff; John 8:44).
- The Matthew 7:1 principle is taught in other places in the Bible. Romans 2:1 says, "Therefore thou are inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest does the same things." John 7:54-8:11 shows how Jesus condemned the men, many of whom may have been guilty of having sex with the harlot themselves, in the very hour they were judging her. Isn't it amazing that they dropped their stones when he told them, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her"?
- Did Jesus really mean you should never point out sin and hard-heartedness? If so, was He Himself being hypocritical when he judged the religious leaders and other sinners? Was Paul guilty when he judged Peter (Galatians 2:11-21) or when he condemned such people as the Judaizers in Galatians or the pagans and Jews in Romans 2? In fact, what right did he have to make it a habit to preach the gospel in places like the Jewish synagogues and on Mars Hill in Athens?
- There is a difference between judging in an unrighteous manner versus proclaiming righteous judgment. Jude 3 commands us to "earnestly contend for the faith." This might even mean telling people that there is only one way to God through a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As Paul said in Galatians 4:16, "Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?"
- It needs to also be pointed out that it is not the Christian's job to sit in eternal judgment of anyone else. That job is left to God alone through the man Jesus Christ (John 5:24; Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16). It was never intended in this life for the believer to sit in judgment of others, including fellow believers (Romans 14:10; James 4:12). A future day of eternal judgment is certain to take place (2 Cor. 5:10; Heb. 9:27; 2 Pet. 2:0, 3:7; 1 John 4:17).
- Isn't the Mormon who improperly uses Matthew 7:1 guilty himself of the very sin he is accusing the Christian? Certainly the Mormon believes that his position is correct (that people should not speak out against Mormonism), but what right does he then have to tell others that what they are doing is also wrong. Is this not passing judgment? Indeed this is a certain contradiction, and if his interpretation of Matthew 7:1 is correct, then there is condemnation falling right back on such a person's head.
With the above points taken into consideration, perhaps those who feel it is wrong to make judgment calls should be more cautious before attempting to use, or rather misuse, Matthew 7:1.