What Does it Mean to ‘Judge Not’?

It's a common caution, but we often misunderstand it.

Last week, Twitter users met ESPN analyst Chris Broussard with a wave of criticism for his comments on NBA center Jason Collins’ sexuality. While thousands used their 140 characters simply to support Collins, some turned to Broussard—a known Christian—with the Bible. The verse they quoted comes straight from Jesus’ mouth and, at only nine characters, is endlessly tweetable: “Judge not.”

When confronted by preachers, protesters and television personalities who offend us, it’s easy to cling to Jesus’ simple command from Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” These words give a sense of vindication to the offended, a chance to expose today’s Pharisees by telling them they have no biblical precedent for their moral evaluations. The verse is popular; on Google, “judge not” gets four times as many searches per month as “for God so loved the world.”

What did Jesus mean by “judge not”?

But if “judge not” means that Christians are to abstain from all moral evaluations, all assessments of good and bad, then Jesus contradicts Himself in the analogy that follows His famous command. After telling the hypocrite to remove the log from his own eye, Jesus instructs Him to take the speck from his neighbor’s eye—a flaw that, without someone’s help, his neighbor would be unable to recognize.

In fact, Jesus’ disciples are frequently urged to make moral judgments: to evaluate false prophets “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), to identify the false teachings of the Pharisees (Matthew 16:6,12) and to point out faults in other believers (Matthew 18:15). If these aren’t judgments, then what are? If they are judgments, then what did Jesus mean by “judge not”?

As a general rule of biblical interpretation, verses should not be read in isolation but in their greater context—including Matthew 7:1 . C.H. Talbert, a religion professor at Baylor University and author of Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making, says that Matthew 7:1 is best understood as part of the overall teaching of Matthew 7:1-12. This section of the Sermon on the Mount includes “judge not” and the speck/log analogy (vv. 1-5), casting “pearls before swine” (v. 6), “ask, seek, knock” (vv. 7-11) and the Golden Rule (v. 12). Several formatting parallels suggest that vv. 1-5 and vv. 6-12 are actually two sections of one unit, all under the theme of judgment, climaxing with the Golden Rule.

The first section (vv. 1-5) warns against judging with too much severity. It opens with a prohibition (“judge not”), followed by a statement of what God will do (judge each person by his/her own judgment of others) and concludes with a practical application (“first take the log out of your own eye”). It’s an exhortation to withhold judgment without first examining oneself; to take the log out of your eye before helping your neighbor with the speck in his. Dr. Talbert, calls this judgment contra severity—a judgment that is prefaced with and tempered by careful self-analysis.

The second section (vv. 6-12) is a counter to the first, and should be read as one paragraph (as opposed to two or three, as in some translations). With a warning not to give what is precious to pigs and dogs (a prohibition), Jesus instructs His followers not to be overly permissive, but to exercise discernment between what is holy and what is profane. “Pearls before swine,” then, is not a disconnected teaching, but a qualifier for Jesus’ earlier “judge not” statement. Jesus’ followers are to judge contra severity, but also contra laxity—with restraint, but not too much restraint.

The “ask, seek, knock” teaching, then, is not another miscellaneous saying, but an extension of Jesus’ admonition to discern between right and wrong. “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” is a statement about what God will do: provide wisdom. Jesus is probably not using this analogy to tell his followers they can get whatever they want if they pray. To say so would be to assume that God never answers prayers in the negative, which He often does (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). Rather, the saying is typical of a Jewish prayer for wisdom, in this case the wisdom to discern between right and wrong. This is a gift that God is happy to give to those who ask (see James 1:5).

Check your eye for logs, clear your mind of assumptions and get ready to listen.

What ties the whole section on judgment together is a practical application: the Golden Rule. “In everything,” Jesus says, “do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” This verse mirrors Jesus’ warning about judgment in verse 2: “For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” The manner in which you give judgment should be the manner in which you would wish to receive it—gentle yet firm, graceful yet truthful, contra severity yet contra laxity.

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Although Chris Broussard didn’t volunteer his opinion about Jason Collins (he was asked), he may have known airing it publicly may not have been the best way. Though he didn’t resort to anger or bitterness in his comments, he did give them in such a setting and timing that, had their roles been reversed, he may not have preferred.

Yet for those who wish to respond to Broussard’s judgment or another that they find offensive, “judge not” probably isn’t the verse you’re looking for. An alternative may be Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Or perhaps James 1:19: “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” These verses get to the heart of the issue—not condemning one’s judgment in itself, but the manner in which that judgment is expressed.

If you think someone’s judgment is incorrect, regardless of their presentation of it, then by all means, disagree—just do it with accurate biblical citations, not unrelated blanket statements. Don’t resort to saying, “You’re wrong for judging,” but rather, “Your judgment is incorrect, and here’s why.” Note that in order to disagree with someone else’s judgment, you must also make a judgment yourself. And that’s OK. Just make sure to do all the things you would want someone to do before confronting you: Check your eye for logs, clear your mind of assumptions and get ready to listen. “Do not judge by appearances,” Jesus said in John 7:24, “but judge with right judgment.”


Jason Barnes


Jason Barnes commented…

None of us have been given the power to send anyone to hell for what they do or don't do, but I don't think that's what Jesus is saying to us. I think we should judge behavior, and speak out on such things, especially if the door has been opened by the person. A person going public with their sexual preference surely didn't think everyone in the world was going to accept it. I think Broussard was more of a friend than his own family on the matter because they say they accept it, which tells us that he wasn't raised in a Christian home. I didn't say not love him but to stand and I say I accept your gayness is totally unacceptable. Those who are in support of his lifestyle truly aren't his friends, because if they were they would refute with truth. However I do think there is a way to go about it and use gentle speech, I would say get firm and stuff if he was living a life of hypocrisy. I think Brossaurd made it more about himself, we understand that you want the world to know that your a Christian and that's great we should live unashamed, at the same time talk about Jesus, say God is against homosexuality and at the same time say Jesus loves you and desires the best for you!

Yvonne Lee


Yvonne Lee commented…

Okay, so I know this is an article about finger pointing, how to judge people rightly. It's just that there's something way bigger. Fine and good if you keep all the beams out of your own eyes and help a brother get his speck out of his eyeball. Do that by all means. But because most of the world thinks they are going to go to heaven because of the good deeds they do ~ comparing themselves to themselves, I'd like to comment, seems like an article on Righteous Judging, is a good place to comment. :)
Did you know that God isn't going to accept any of your goodness as your entry into heaven?
Wasn't ALL sin judged at Calvary? People don't go to heaven because of their goodness and likewise, people wouldn't go to hell because of their badness. John 3:18 tells us why someone will end up in hell. "He that BELIEVETH ON HIM is not condemned; but he that BELIEVETH NOT is condemned already, (why?) because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Yes, I want to write about salvation. It's the biggest, most important decision you'll ever make in your life!
According to the Bible, God was reconciling us back to Him. (2 Corinthians 5:19). Back to Him, because we had sinned. Reconciliation is the act whereby God on the basis of Christ's death, has eliminated the cause of hostility between Himself and humanity, making possible a complete and maturing fellowship. (The hostility was caused by sin, and was eliminated by the Cross.) God took the first step in bringing us back to Him. Jesus is that bridge to God. God says, I love you guys so much, (John3:16) just come to me! Come to me through my son, Jesus.
Jesus is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2) Propitiation here, is the atoning sacrifice. Jesus bore in His body the punishment due us for our sin, in so doing He propitiated God, satisfied God's just demand that sin be punished. He's our advocate ~one who intercedes for another. No man comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ.
We're all going to be judged. Just differently. And out of different Books! Those who believe and are trusting in the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and that alone, as full payment for their sin debt, get judged out of the Lamb's Book of Life. (And they aren't going to be judged for any of the sins they committed, because they are under the blood. Buried, gone, can't be found! This judgement isn't going to be some kind of lynch hanging! It's going to be more like a Rewards Ceremony!! God the Father already judged those sins at Calvary).
The rest of you, get judged out of a set of two Books. There's the "Rest of the dead" (Revelation 20:5) And there's "The dead"~mentioned in verses 12-13. Okay I'm not wanting to get into this much detail. Just know, that dead is bad. You don't want to be one of those that fall under The dead or The Rest of the dead. These "Books" according to Revelation, contains the record of every unsaved person's life. Each unsaved person is judged in accordance with his works (Romans 2:6,16), which clearly show that each one is a guilty sinner (Romans 3:9-19) deserving of eternal death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). The Book OF Life contains the name of every person who has received eternal life through faith alone (John 20:31; 1 John 5:11-13). These unsaved people, The Dead ones, are shown that they did not take advantage of the offer of eternal life through faith (Romans 9:32; 10:3). So maybe God's going to be bring up their bad deeds, in order to show them that they have sinned. I don't know. I do know He is just and righteous! He's not just going to throw them into hell without letting them know why!
Personally, I think the deeds of our works, in both cases, (saved and unsaved) are judged to determine, how hot of a hell you'll receive or how many rewards you'll get. I say that, because of the Bible verses that clearly say, it's not about our goodness nor our righteousness that will get us into heaven. (Ephesians 2:8&9) "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."
God says, Come unto me, just as you are.
I'll end with Isaiah 45:18-25, King James version states, Salvation will come only by the Lord. "For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the LORD speak righteousness. I declare things that are right. Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. Tell ye, and bring them near, yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory." He's a WONDERFUL Saviour! He came for one purpose ~ to lay down His life freely for our sins. He was all God and all man. He died, was buried and less than 3 days later, he came out of the grave ALIVE! He sits beside God right now, waiting to come back! He is coming back. Don't let anything nor anyone, not even all the finger pointing hypocrites, keep you from wanting to personally know Jesus Christ as your Saviour!
Saved by His Marvelous Grace!

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

It helps to emphasize the difference between: "Watching" and "Watching out for"

When we honor the distinction between watching others and watching out for them, we’ll be far better postured to avoid wrongful judging. The first is prideful and pharisaic behavior; the second is humble and loving care for the wellbeing of others. This distinction could help us properly obey Jesus’ command, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
(from: http://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/judge-not-lest-you-be-judged/ )



toddotaylor commented…

I think 'judging' is a tough topic for followers. It's far too easy to justify our criticism and condemnation, to say 'we are to judge the sin but not the sinner' but treat people in ways that Christ didn't. It's not our place to press people into changing. There's no joy or compassion to be shared there. Our own relationship to God is restored by grace, not by being argued how wrong we were. Holiness happens as a by-product of our acceptance of this forgiveness and humble walk in friendship with Him.

I love that last thought, to take out the plank, get rid of assumptions and really listen - then to judge correctly. Awesomeness...

Mark Wade


Mark Wade commented…

An excellent article..if I may add…(Strong’s)
Matt 5:25 "Judge" a judge (generally or specifically): - judge.
Matt 7:1 "Judge" Properly to distinguish, that is, decide (mentally or judicially); by implication to try, condemn,
Luk 12:14 But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
In context, it makes sense that Jesus refused to act as judge over earthly matters, but the fact that Jesus pushes back the idea of CONDEMNATION should tell us something.
There is a judge, one judge…Jehovah. The act of judging extends to the idea of condemning. Condemnation will come by the wrath of God in its appointed time. Would we be so bold as to place ourselves in the seat of God?
We are responsible to perform a simple task when it comes to the word, tell it like it is, without condemning, the word itself performs this act in cases of willful sin. If a brother tells me he is gay, I will love him first, then point him to the scriptures that explains that GOD condemns it and I am of no consequence in the matter. Heb 10:26 only solidifies the danger we ALL put ourselves in with willful sin.

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