Thou Shalt Not Judge?

Low angle view of a mature judge pounding while sitting with book in the courtroom

“Thou shalt not judge” is perhaps the most misconstrued and abused phrase in history. Let’s consider the Biblical verse that appears to be behind this colossal morality challenge.

Matthew 7 goes:

“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. 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. Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

Does that mean we will not tell a smoker that it is better he quit or he is at greater risk of debilitating illness and death? Or that we will not avoid him? Does that mean we should not advise a cheating spouse against the filthy habit and advise them strongly about the risks of STDs, extra marital or extra-relationship pregnancy and the moral and psychological implications on all parties? Or that we should embrace and help spend a thieves loot and not tell a crook or gangster to change their ways to protect those they hurt and steal from? Or that we should not advise a morbidly obese individual about healthy eating and getting help? And likewise, since “judging” is a neutral word, does that also mean we cannot praise and commend a good act or behavior? What do we really understand “not judging” to mean? Not being able to call what is bad, bad and praise what is good as good?

Before we dissect Matthew 7, let us consider what “judging” means. Does judging mean commenting, critiquing and rebuking or something else? The truth is that judging and the judicial process involves praise or condemnation with witness(es) and consequence. If we rebuke a friend in private, we have not judged them but simply advised them against an immorality. The same rebuke becomes judging of we do it in front of one or more third-party witnesses with expected consequences. Then and only then can we be said to have judged. So if someone advises you against an indecency, immorality or criminality, they have only rebuked you and not judged you. They have done what a true friend should by advising you to better your ways. If they chastise you in the presence of others, then and only then have they judged you.

Robert Meyer writes in Orthodox Today,

“The very idea that all judging is wrong, is an illegitimate synthesis between Christianity, moral relativism, and the contemporary perspective on ‘tolerance.’ These ideas have been wedded together to conjure up witch’s brew of self-contradictory sophistry.”

He goes further,

“Now that is very different from telling someone that they shouldn’t dare to call anything wrong. In fact, such reasoning will ultimately lead to calling evil good and good evil. This is because evil cannot be called evil, since such labeling is judgmental. Good is considered evil, because those who are endeavoring to do good by calling something else wrong, are guilty of judging. How could any court of justice operate if all judgment without exception were considered wrong? All criticisms of anything would have to be withheld on the basis that such critiques are judgmental in nature.”

Indeed by not “judging” and by rather castigating those who “judge,” we have exonerated the guilty and judged and sentenced the righteousness seeker.

Interestingly, verse 5 of the passage in Matthew actually tells us to judge. It goes, “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.” In essence it is telling us to remove any larger immoralities we may have before going ahead to judge our brothers and sisters. You do not expect a gang leader to judge a petty thief. Of course, if we are plagued by massive sins, we should not be at the forefront of making recommendations to others whose ways are much better than ours. Not surprisingly, in verse 6, a judgment is made with people referred to as “pigs and dogs” who we are advised to avoid.

And then looking further in the very same Bible, we are not just told but strongly commanded to judge!

1 Corinthians 6 goes:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.”

The world will keep on going to the dogs if we do not step up and judge our brothers and sisters. It is time for a re-education of our kids and selves. We need to remind each other to emphasize reminding each other of good and rebuke each other to emphasize the rebuking of each other against bad.