I have often heard claims from moderate Christians and non-religious people trying to defend the Bible along these lines:
“Jesus says to not judge. That’s an important and positive message!”
Now I don’t have an inherent problem with people forming opinions and judging others’ behavior. We all do it, and to a certain extent it is important to do so if we make an effort to have a sensible basis for our opinions.
But most non-religious people and religious moderates misunderstand this part of the Bible. They seem to think it means that Christians should not form opinions of others’ behavior or try to change that behavior; or even that it is religious license to act however one wishes.
If this was really such an explicit idea, then why would so many of the most devout Christians be the most judgmental? Why would it not even be listed as one of the commandments Jesus mentions must be followed in Matthew 19:16-19? And what would it actually mean to never judge anything? To have have no opinions on what is right or wrong? That you could never condemn someone’s actions as immoral or harmful? Truly, the “Don’t judge, period” misinterpretation of Jesus’ word just doesn’t make sense even in theory.
And it doesn’t hold up in light of the text either. As fundamentalists will point out, the Bible does not teach that believers should not judge . Rather, it teaches how to judge. This includes not judging hypocritically or according to someone’s standard other than God’s standard set forth in the Bible. The Bible actually describes judging as important within the Christian community.
Let’s look at the most famous passage about judging which most of the confusion stems from. In Matthew 7, Jesus says,
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
That seems pretty clear at first, and most people call it good and stop reading right there. But consider the specific reason he mentions, that the same measure of judgment will be used against you. If people would read the full context of the verse, they would see that Jesus explains himself in the very next lines:
“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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You 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.“
This is the command to not judge hypocritically. It is repeated in Luke 6 and utilized by Paul in the beginning of Romans 2 where he condemns the hypocritical practices of fellow Christians in Rome.
The command to judge, and instruction on how to do so properly, is also found elsewhere in the gospels. In John 7, when Jesus is criticized for healing a man on the Sabbath, his response in verse 24 was to explain why his actions made sense according to current righteous practices, and say that they should,
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge [by] righteous judgment.”
Here he was teaching to not judge prematurely, and instead consider the situation and how it should be judged according to God’s word.
The concept of judging and correcting behavior is also emphasized in Paul’s letters. One famous example that is commonly cited by Christians is 2 Timothy 3:16 which reads,
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.“
And in the Old Testament, Proverbs 14:12 expresses a fundamentally important sentiment still central to Christian doctrine:
“There is a way which seemeth right to a man, but the end of it [is] the ways of death.”
But what of the command to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’? That is one of Jesus’ most famous sayings in the gospels, and many people today believe it means to not judge or rebuke others’ behavior. But that is not what the Bible teaches. Quite plainly, in Luke 17:3, Jesus tells his disciples,
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”
In this case, judging is actually commanded, and forgiveness is conditional upon the violator’s admission of wrongdoing.
The way in which this judgment is compatible with loving your neighbor becomes clearer when you can see the origins of the phrase. In Jesus’ time, what Christians now call the “Old Testament” were in fact the Bible. And Jesus along with the gospel writers made a number of references to that Bible in the gospel accounts. “Love thy neighbor as yourself” derives from Leviticus 19:17-18:
“Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” (we will ignore that this directly contradicts verses like Leviticus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 10:24-26 that order people to kill sinners)
Thus to “love thy neighbor” means to indeed show them kindness, but part of that kindness includes keeping them free from sin by correcting their behavior. When people examine the Bible, we must remember to not inject our own views and meanings of things into the text. We must accept the meaning of the authors’ ideas the way we can discern they meant to them.
So devout Christians obviously believe in having strong opinions of other’s choices and behaviors. In fact their entire religion is built on it. The following are Biblical ideas and passages that are clearly in favor of judging:
- Both the Old and New Testaments contain lists of immoral behaviors, and the religion centers around the punishment for participating in them, and a requirement to follow Jesus in order to become righteous.
- Jesus himself declares in Matthew 12:30-32, “He who is not with me is against me…” and in Luke 10:16, “He who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
- Matthew 23 depicts Jesus delivering a complete tirade against Jews whose practices he disapproved of, issuing personal attacks such as found in verse 33: “You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of fire?”
- In Revelation 2:6, Jesus mentions his harshly critical opinion of one Christian sect that he believed had become too pagan and impure according to his doctrine: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.”
- Ephesians 5:11 calls upon Christians to criticize and avoid behavior considered wrong: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].”
- Romans 14:23 declares that “…everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
- New Testament doctrine claims that all who believe differently have turned against God and are evil. This message is expressed in Galatians 1:9, “I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.”; in John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him (Jesus) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”; in 1 John 4:3, “But every person who doesn’t declare that Jesus Christ has come as a human has a spirit that isn’t from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that you have heard is coming. That spirit is already in the world.”; and in the epistle to the Romans, Paul cites Old Testament scripture when he makes a severe judgment of nonbelievers: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless.”
- Believers should not even associate with those who do not follow the faith or do not follow it properly. This is made clear in passages like 2 Corinthians 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” as well as in 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”
- Jesus compares believers who don’t follow his behavioral prescriptions closely enough to servants he labels “wicked” and will be violently killed by their master. In Matthew 24:28-51 he says, “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- And the ultimate point of the religion is the belief that God will purge the world of unbelievers on the Day of Judgment for their “wicked” choice to keep their own religious views and practices. As jesus says in Matthew 10:15, referring to any town whose people do not accept his teachings: “Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”
I hope this has helped you see a fuller, clearer picture of the Biblical view of judging. I certainly do not wish for anyone to actually adopt these Biblical views. My purpose is just to show what the Bible really says and means so that we don’t continue deceiving ourselves about its true nature, and people will understand why my opinion of the Bible is what it is.