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Particulars of Christianity:
312 The Church Ethic

Part 1: Biblical Limitations on Judging

Forgiving and Forgiveness
Part 1: Biblical Limitations on Judging
Part 2: The Bible Instructs Us to Judge


Tolerance has become one of the highest virtues of modern society. As it is used today the idea of tolerance centers about two underlying principles. First, it is not our place to evaluate the beliefs or behavior (application of beliefs) of others as good or bad, right or wrong, genuine or false, consistent or inconsistent, appropriate or inappropriate, etc. This is true regarding both individuals and cultures or belief systems. Second, and as a result, we remove any accountability we have to one another in developing correct beliefs and behaviors.

As God's people, we are called not to reflect the virtues of the world, but instead to reflect His godly virtue to the world. But as people living in modern society we cannot help but be influenced by the culture around us. The challenge then is to discern which aspects of worldly culture are the result of our godly influence upon our ungodly society and which aspects of church culture are the result of the influence of ungodly culture upon us (the church). Only by doing this can we sort out what is Biblically correct behavior and model it without accidentally implementing an ungodly, worldly virtue as if it is Biblically compatible or mandated when, in fact, it is not or is even contrary to the Bible.

With regard to tolerance the question then arises, is the modern idea of tolerance compatible with the scriptural view of tolerance? Should the church implement the tolerance that is so popular in our culture these days?

The influence of this modern view of tolerance is perhaps nowhere more evident in the church than in the area of judging. In this regard many Christians of today can be heard to echo the idea that we ought not to judge other people. But, when such a principle is appealed to one must wonder what the source is.

Is the modern Church convinced of the prohibition of judging others because of a strong conviction based on a Biblical understanding of this topic? Or are we simply reflecting the influence of a culture, which seeks to abolish absolute standards of right and wrong as well as to eliminate any accountability to such standards?

If the scripture does compel us not to judge others, then we ought to have a solid grasp of how this rule applies to other areas of Christian life. For instance how does "not judging others" effect our development of Biblically appropriate beliefs and behavior, our accountability to the Word of God, or even our accountability to one another? Perhaps this situation deserves more attention than it is often given in the modern church.

I believe the current Church situation on this matter can be illustrated quite well using a scene from a movie I first saw while in college called "Kingpin." (I am not endorsing this film in any way, just using part of it for the purposes of illustrating my point.) In the film Woody Harrelson's character Roy Munson is trying to get an Amish man named Ishmael (played by Randy Quade) to bowl professionally so they can split the proceeds. (I'm simplifying a little.)

After being initially turned down by Quade, Harrelson's character persists in attempting to persuade him while pretending to be an Amish man himself and joining their community under the fake identity of "Brother Hezekiah." After a short time it becomes apparent that Harrelson does not exactly understand the ways of the Amish and is not really committed to living them out. One of the key indicator's is a scene in which Harrelson's character, "Brother Hezekiah" is assisting in a barn raising. During the procedure, the dinner bell rings and Roy immediately runs off to join the feast. However, his quick departure and the subsequent lack of support on his side of the barn start a chain reaction, which results in the collapse of the entire structure. Needless to say the other Amish men are quite angry with "Brother Hezekiah" and confront him about the incident as he sits happily feasting away.

Upon being confronted about his very un-Amish behavior, Roy (Brother Hezekiah) responds in his own defense with an appeal to the Amish devotion to and knowledge of the scripture. A devotion to and knowledge, which Roy himself does not remotely share. Attempting to defuse the wrath of the frustrated Amish men of the community who seek an explanation for his conduct, he confidently counters with, "You know what the Bible has to say about not forgiving people." The reply quickly returns to him, challenging his superficial commitment to the Amish way of life and the Bible, "Why don't you tell us what it says..." To which, Harrelson (Roy, Brother Hezekiah) replies, "It's against it."

The point I'm making here is that while Brother Hezekiah was right that the Bible is against "not forgiving people," he was also completely ignorant of what the Bible actually said about the subject and how it affected his behavior.

In the same way I find that many Christians, like Brother Hezekiah, know that the Bible tells us not to judge others, but their understanding of the Biblical perspective on the subject is quite deficient. Likewise, their interest in this rule is usually only to excuse their behavior (or perhaps someone else's) from being corrected or identified as inappropriate. And just as Roy used his appeal against "not forgiving people" to attempt to prevent the Amish from confirming that his commitment to their way of life was not genuine, many Christians often appeal to "not judge people" in order to ward off having their lagging commitment to Christ pointed out and rebuked.

Because of this movie I cannot help chuckle when I hear a Christian make such an appeal in defense of their own or someone else's poor actions or lagging commitments. In such cases all I can hear them saying is "You know what the Bible has to say about judging people, it's against it." But if pressed for even a little Biblical support for this claim, many people cannot even scramble to come up with a single scripture reference.

Of course, what I'm saying is that many of us in the Church need to take a look at what the Bible has to say about judging others, about being accountable to one another, and about what God expects from those who claim to be committed disciples of Jesus Christ. To this ends the remainder of this study will seek to examine these matters in a more thorough manner.

A Biblical perspective on judging

The statement that we aren't to judge is quite broad. There are many things that can be judged. We can judge people, judge people's behavior, judge doctrines, beliefs and ideas, and we can judge decisions. So in considering whether we ought to judge we need to consider each of these areas and what the Bible has to say about judging them.

So what does the Bible have to say about judging?

Well, for starters there are approximately 70 verses in the New Testament that deal with judging. That seems like a sufficient quantity to provide adequate instructions with regard to whether we should judge or not. As we take a closer look at these 70 or so verses we will find that they can be categorized loosely as 12 "against" judging and 61 "for" judging, with a few verses overlapping into both categories. The proportion of "for" and "against" here is enough to warrant further examination of this topic and to call into question the axiom that we can't judge others.

We will cover the 12 verses, which provide instruction against judging first and then turn our attention to the 61 verses, which provide instruction for judging.

Verses which limit judging:

1. Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5:22 is not speaking of our judging others per se, rather it is discussing our being angry with our brother. In speaking of our being angry with our brother it commands us not to be angry WITHOUT CAUSE. If we were to take this passage as discussing our judging others, we must concede that it would only prohibit our doing so without cause. By its very nature then this passage would require observance, examination, and a judgment regarding causes.

Since the next two passages are parallel accounts of the same event we will address them together.

2. Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, 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.

Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

3. Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? 40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye. 43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.

These sections of Matthew 7 and Luke 6 are definitely discussing making judgments of others. In the beginning of both sections we see that Jesus first statement is that we shouldn't judge or we will be judged, etc. Can these remarks be taken as a prohibition against judging others altogether? No. There are two reasons for this.

First, Jesus could not have meant that those who don't judge won't be judged or that those who do not condemn will not be condemned. Such an idea would be out of sync with the message of the Bible. Clearly, the world loves to employ this standard. Ungodly people are as eager to not be judged or condemned for their sin as they are willing not to judge or condemn others for their sin as well. The sinner has no problem not holding other's accountable to sin. But a sinner who does not pass judgment on the sins of others will, nonetheless, still be judged of God and condemned.

The clear intention of Jesus' statement here, far from prohibiting judgment, is that it is inappropriate to judge others if we have not first examined ourselves. And secondly, that those with larger issues in the same problem area cannot help those with lesser problems in that area until they first deal with their own problems. Jesus' statement recorded in Matthew 7:5 and Luke 6:42 that we are to "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" implies that Jesus not only expects us to judge, but to judge ourselves first. We are to judge others with the same standards that we judge ourselves with. No double standards are allowed.

The fact that Jesus is not forbidding judging others is further evidenced by the concluding verses of each section. In the closing verses Jesus is discussing false prophets. At the end of these verses Jesus says that we can identify a person by their fruit. This instruction inherently implies that we are to look at the fruit of someone's life, their deeds and actions, and can make an accurate assessment of them by doing so. So we see that in these passages Jesus is instructing us to employ the exact the kind of judging many people suggest the Bible forbids.

Our interpretation of these passages is perfectly consistent with Paul's teaching in Romans 2, our fourth passage.

4. Romans 2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. 2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. 3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

Here in Romans 2 Paul is clearly stating that when we judge others as wrong for their actions we condemn ourselves. Why? Because it is wrong to judge others? No, because in judging them we employ and agree to a standard of judgment, under which we ourselves are also guilty. In no way does Paul prohibit judging in this passage. Instead, he is only building his case that we are all guilty.

We will deal with the next two passages together since they deal with the same issue.

5. Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. 3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

6. Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Here in Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 we finally have our first prohibition on judging. However, Paul's prohibition is not general, forbidding all judging of any kind, but specific. In both passages Paul is forbidding judging other Christians in regard to their continued practice of Jewish holidays and dietary laws. We must note that Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 only prohibit Christians from judging each other in regard to the practice of Jewish holidays and dietary laws and is not a broad-based, all-inclusive ban on judging in general.

7. 1 Corinthians 4:3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. 4 For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.

Here in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 Paul is telling us to judge nothing before its time. It seems like this could be a universal prohibition of judging. But is it? A closer look at these three verses confirm that Paul is addressing things of an eternal nature, whether we be eternally condemned or saved. One's final eternal position cannot be known for certain about a person until Christ returns. We do not know if someone will be saved or not, we will not know before the time comes, when Jesus returns to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Furthermore, we are not to estimate the reward or position that believers may receive when Christ returns as Paul indicates "then shall every man have praise of God."

More than just the immediate context of this chapter, the remainder of this epistle seems to rule out interpreting Paul's statement here as a universal prohibition of judging. In the very next chapter we find Paul issuing instructions for judging. This would not be the case if he had made a universal ban on judging just one chapter earlier.

8. 1 Corinthians 5:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

In 1 Corinthians 5 we see Paul make another limited prohibition on judging. In verse 12 Paul tell us not to judge those that are outside the church. This statement is contrasted against his next statement, which expects that we do judge those within the church. Verse 13 confirms that this is the case, wherein Paul instructs the Corinthians to expel a man in their congregation who was sinning. We will cover our judging of those in the church in our next section on Biblical protocols FOR judging. For now we will note that 1 Corinthians 5:12 seems to confirm that we do not judge those outside the church.

But what exactly are we not to judge about those outside the church? Are we banned from any assessment of them? Can we not say at least that they are not saved? Of course we can. The simple act of recognizing that someone is outside the church is judging them not to be in the company of those who are being saved. In saying this we are saying that unless they repent and come to Christ they are on their way to hell as we all were before we repented and came to the Lord.

What Paul is saying here is that we cannot judge the behavior of outsiders with respect to excommunication. We will give some additional attention to the New Testament practice of excommunication in the next section. For now it is simple enough to state that we cannot judge the behavior of outsiders with regard to whether it is appropriate behavior for them as believers because those outside the church are, by definition, not believers. Paul called upon the Corinthians to judge and expel the believer among them for his sinful behavior. But we cannot expel outsiders for sinful behavior, because they are not among us in the first place.

9. 1 Corinthians 10:29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?

A thorough analysis of this passage necessitates a New Testament study of the liberty we have in Christ as believers. (For a look at the liberty we have in Christ as believers please see our article entitled, "Christian Liberty.") For the sake of this article it is sufficient to say that 1 Corinthians 10:29 is not instructing us not to judge, but to not engage in behavior which will cause others to judge the liberty we have in Christ.

10. James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

James 4 is very similar to 1 Corinthians 4:3-5. In it James instructs us not to judge one another. From the phrase "to save and to destroy" in verse 12 we can clearly see that the judgment James is forbidding is judging with regard to our ultimate salvation or damnation, which only the Lord can judge (just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:4).

11. John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

John 7:24 is one of the verses that will appear in both categories. The reason for this is that it presents a limited prohibition on judging in instructing us not to judge according to appearance, while at the same time we are instructed to judging using a righteous standard, not according to our own ideas or righteousness, but according to what God has said in His Word. (Indeed, God's word is the standard by, which we are to judge as we will cover later in the next section.)

12. John 8:3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. 7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

What we see here in John 8 cannot be interpreted as a prohibition of judging. Nowhere in this passage is Jesus is instructing us to ignore or not recognize and identify sin. Instead he himself acknowledges the sinful behavior that this woman was accused of when he tells her in verse 11 to "go and sin no more."

What we do see in this passage is Jesus prohibiting capital punishment, which would've been applied to this woman under the Law. This is consistent with the New Covenant practice, which employed excommunication as a final means of compelling sinners among God's people to turn from sin. Capital punishment for sin was removed under the New Covenant beginning with Jesus' treatment of this situation in John 8. If we can pull anything regarding judging from this passage it is that we are not to CONDEMN (unto death) others for their sins (v.10-11). And this would be consistent with what we've concluded earlier from 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 and James 4:11-12.

If there is any lingering doubt that the above passages DO NOT present a universal prohibition of judging it will be dispelled as we turn to the next section, an examination of the Biblical protocols FOR judging. Once the avalanche of instructions for judging, how to judge and what to judge is established by the remaining 61 passages of this study it will be decisively clear that none of the above mentioned 12 verses can be interpreted as a full ban on judging. If that were the case then the New Testament would be in contradiction of itself, both forbidding all judging and at the same time giving detailing instructions and repeated admonition for the believer to exercise judgment.

Before we move on to the next 61 verses FOR judging, let's sum up the limitations on judging that we have gleaned from the above passages.

Limitations on judging
1. We are not to be angry without cause.
2. We are not to judge one another for whether or not we continue to practice Jewish feasts or Jewish dietary laws.
3. We are not to place final judgment on someone - in terms of salvation or damnation/condemnation.
4. We are not to judge who will be rewarded with a greater position in the kingdom of God.
5. We are not to judge those outside the church, except to judge them as outside the church.
6. We are not to judge hastily, improperly, or presumptuously, and without first examining ourselves.
7. We are not to judge according to appearance, but according to God's standard of righteousness.