Judge not, that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)

I have always considered the verb "to judge" to have two meanings: one is to judge in the position of the one having the authority of a judge, that is "to determine the guilt and, if there is such, to determine the degree of punishment". Another one is simply to pass a positive or a negative judgment about someone's actions or words without necessarily having the authority of pronouncing the punishment.

It looks like Matthew 7:1 doesn't imply the first meaning as it doesn't seem likely that Jesus was teaching against the institution of judges.

Thus, the second meaning is left. However, then does that mean that Jesus was teaching that his followers were now not allowed to pass any judgment about whether someone's actions were good or bad?

So, I am a bit puzzled here.

  • I would recommend you to read: biblehub.com/matthew/7-1.htm – Avinesh Nov 7 '13 at 1:24
  • 1
    The verses which proceed this verse shed light on the intent. It appears to address the inability to judge clearly in regards to your brothers faults BEEFORE taking care of your own faults. Judge yourself first and be careful to judge others only through the same judgement you want them to judge you. Greater insight is found in Mt 18:15-19. Individuals have the authority to confront about sin, but the authority beyond that lies with two/three witnesses, then ultimately with the church when discipline is in order. Always the goal is restoration! – user2027 Dec 5 '13 at 0:55
  • Many years ago while still in seminary the professor interpreted the passage as meaning GOSSIP as well as a judicial judgement , So my basic understanding is that GOSSIP is a more honest realistic meaning of the passage of scripture – user3442 Feb 5 '14 at 3:02
  • @Rev.D.E.Hughes, the passage could be seen as a statement of symmetry, as kind of the opposite of "love your neighbor as yourself": you will be treated as you treat others. Note that Mt 7:5 assumes the goal is to remove the speck from your brother's eye; this indicates that gossip cannot be all that is being talked about. – Luke Breuer Feb 8 '14 at 19:16
  • @LukeBreuer - In fact, looks like a valid answer to me. Why not post it as an answer instead of a comment that could be erased by moderators at any time? – brilliant Feb 9 '14 at 7:37
  1. “Judge not, that you be not judged.
  2. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
  3. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
  4. Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
  5. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

v5 makes it clear that the purpose of judging is healing, contra standard Pharisee behavior as outlined in Mt 23:1-4. In v4, Jesus implies that one cannot heal others of a sickness one has, and hasn't been healed of oneself. v3 insinuates, where Jesus later makes it clear, that there is something seriously wrong if you care about problems others have but not problems you have. In v2, Jesus outlines a danger in judging others by a given standard: that standard will be used to judge you. v1, therefore, is a warning to be careful of when and how you judge. It does not mean to never judge.

It is necessary to distinguish between:

  1. discerning between good and evil
  2. condemning

There are a plethora of verses calling us to do #1; a few are Rom 12:9, Eph 4:12-14, 5:17. On the other hand, the parable of the weeds (or of the wheat and tares) in Mt 13:24-30 instructs us to not to uproot weeds and burn them before "the harvest", which seems to be a Second Coming activity. Christians are not called to do #2.

Gal 6:1-5 describes one scenario for speck-removal:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Here we can also see that the point of catching people in transgression is to restore them.

P.S. I say 'us' and 'we' instead of 'Christians'; I can change this if desired.

  • You lost me after 'it does not mean to never judge'. In both Mt 7:1 and 13:24-30 Jesus is clearly instructing us not to judge others, but to restore without judgement. It isn't up to us when we should or shouldn't judge. Most of the other verses you mention don't instruct us to judge but to seek wisdom and prudence in our own actions. As for Gal 6:1-5, these instructions are not to catch people in transgression, but to gently restore them when caught. All labelling of 'good' and 'evil' is an act of judging, and therefore against Jesus' teaching. – Possibility Oct 6 '17 at 6:41
  • @Possibility: What you say would make sense if 'judge' ≡ 'condemn', but I don't think that's the best interpretation. See for example John 7:24 "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." If you want to stick to the synoptic gospels, Jesus tells Simon "You have judged rightly." in Luke 7:43. It is not possible to know whether someone else is "caught in transgression" without using the faculty of judgment. If you prefer, you could use the words 'evaluate' and 'condemn' instead of 'judge', to make things more clear. – Luke Breuer Oct 7 '17 at 20:16

It was a call for hypocrites to examine themselves, and thus be qualified to judge others. Paul calls us to examine our hearts before taking communion. Revelation shows Christ judging the new churches for "budding sins" before He goes and judges the fullgrown sins in Jerusalem (hence the reference to Balaam and Jezebel in Rev. 2-3 and the false prophet and harlot in later chapters). Jerusalem failed to judge herself and take refuge under Christ's wings, and was thus judged. Judgment began, and still begins, at the house of God. If we are governed by God, that is, humble, then we are fit to govern, and He will exalt the Church. Examining oneself makes one qualified to be a judge. Adam failed and was given no greater responsibility. Noah was faithful and was given the authority to execute people if necessary, because he was a just man. Jesus is warning the Pharisees that they will be judged for their hypocrisy. They are like Lamech (70 x 7 vengeance) instead of like Jesus (70 x7 mercy). The Pharisees were not qualified to judge others because they failed to judge the same sins in themselves.

  • "It was a call for hypocrites to examine themselves, and thus be qualified to judge others" - I am a bit puzzled by this. I guess by examining oneself everyone will see that he is not an will never be qualified to judge others, isn't? If so, then does it mean that humans are forbidden to judge others at all in this verse? – brilliant Nov 7 '13 at 6:58
  • I replied but will edit it into the answer. – Mike Bull Nov 8 '13 at 1:18
  • Thank you, but I am afraid it's a bit too abstract. How far should I (or any other man) go in examining myself in order to be qualified to judge? Examining oneself seems to me to be an endless process as long as we possess sinful flesh. And another question is this: If I see a sinful act in someone, which I admit I myself often commit, does that mean that I have no right to say that that act that that man is committing is a sin? Shortly put, can I call someone's sin a sin even if I myself don't deny having it? – brilliant Nov 8 '13 at 5:06

Merriam-Webster lists six definitions of the verb 'to judge':

  1. To form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises
  2. To form an estimate or evaluation of; esp. to form a negative opinion about
  3. To hold as an opinion, guess, think
  4. To sit in judgement on, try
  5. To determine or pronounce after inquiry and deliberation
  6. Govern, rule - used of a Hebrew tribal leader (merriam-webster.com)

All definitions of the verb 'to judge' imply a certain fallibility in the act. We form an opinion, an estimate or evaluation, and then we determine or pronounce. Whether we have come to our conclusion after inquiry and deliberation, through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises, or simply by guessing, whether we pronounce our judgement or simply hold an opinion in our minds or between our friends - the point is that our inability to know with absolute certainty makes every judgement subject to error.

Because there is always a chance that we could be mistaken, misinformed or missing vital information, then each time we judge someone else, we invite judgement by others on the accuracy of that judgement, as well as the fairness of how we have treated that person in the circumstances. This is the nature of human judgement, with or without authority.

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.

3 “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? 4 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. (NIV Matthew 7:1-6)

When we judge to form an opinion about or to evaluate a person or their behaviour - even without having the authority to pronounce punishment, but with the best of intentions - our thoughts, attitude and behaviour towards that person changes. To evaluate is to determine value: are we better, more righteous or more deserving than they are? When we do this we ignore the plank in our own eye. Verse 3 describes this forming or holding of an opinion - to 'look at the speck of sawdust', whereas verse 4 describes our attempt to correct someone's behaviour of which we have formed a negative opinion - offering to 'remove the speck' for them.

None of us is infallible. But readers seem keen to eke out some kind of permission from the bible that will enable them to judge others. We think that surely there must be some instances where it is necessary to judge or evaluate a person's character or behaviour. Matthew 6 appears to give that permission - as long as we have taken the plank out of our own eye first. But the act of judging is what put the plank there in the first place. When we judge others, we demonstrate our own conceit, and we deceive ourselves into thinking we are better than we are. Paul also points this out in Galatians:

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. (NIV Galatians 5:26 and 6:1-5)

This instruction to "watch yourselves, or you may also be tempted" is often misconstrued to mean: don't get too friendly with these sinners, or you might be tempted to sin with them, but this interpretation is contradicted too often by Jesus' example in the presence of those whom others have labelled 'sinners' to be acceptable (Matthew 9:9-13, 11:19, Mark 2:13-17, Luke 5:27-30, 7:34, 15:1-3). Instead it means to watch that you are not also tempted yourselves to judge that person who has been 'caught in a sin' . This might not make sense to some readers - how can we determine that they've been caught in sin without first judging them? But the judging in this passage has been carried out by those who have 'become conceited', not by 'you who live by the Spirit'. Jesus backed this up again when he was tested with a woman accused of adultery, saying:

"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone" (John 8:7).

Jesus was teaching his followers not to pass any judgement about whether someone else's actions were good or bad, whether a speck of sawdust in the eye or the act of adultery. He instructs those who choose to judge others to examine their own actions, their own thoughts instead. Because we can't be certain the judgement we make is actually right, and in the end we can control only our own thoughts, words and actions.

But if we cannot judge them, then how are we supposed to 'restore them'? To this question, I'm sure Jesus would reiterate, as he did in Matthew 7:3, why are you so intent on this small permission you have found to 'restore' others, when you have so much to correct in yourselves first?

To restore is not to correct, but to forgive. Jesus restored the woman 'caught in the act of adultery' in John 8 by refusing to condemn her, saying "Go now and leave your life of sin." He restored the sinners and tax collectors in Luke 15 by welcoming them and eating with them, and in the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and the prodigal son that follow, he demonstrates how we, too, should restore those who have been 'caught in sin' by others.


"I have always considered the verb "to judge" to have two meanings: one is to judge in the position of the one having the authority of a judge, that is "to determine the guilt and, if there is such, to determine the degree of punishment". Another one is simply to pass a positive or a negative judgment about someone's actions or words without necessarily having the authority of pronouncing the punishment."

Right, and then there is to be judged, which in the context of Jesus' teaching, condemnation by God.

And which He speaks about here:

Matthew 7 1:-5

1 Judge not, that you may not be judged, 2 For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you [yourself]. 3 And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye; and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? 4 Or how sayest thou to thy brother: Let me cast the mote out of thy eye; and behold a beam is in thy own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Clearly He means condemned (by God), since 'Don't judge someone's soul in case they (the implication is) mistakenly or rightly judge yours.' This would be meaningless. People falsely judging you as to your standing with God isn't an "or else" situation—it's not a 'danger' to avoid, as is clearly implied.

Judgement can be the active judging of others—which can mean pronouncing a legal sentence, or a moral judgement of their soul(with the implication of hypocrisy, since all are sinners).

Or it can be being judged (passive—recieving judgement from civil authorities or God, as to the soul—since this is speaking about moral offences, it is speaking of God). This is shown to be the case when He says directly after in the form of the 'explanation' (γὰρ—"for/since"):

For with what judgement you mete, it shall be measured to you [yourself].

In case it should be thought to be unclear, consider what He said just prior:

Matthew 6:14-15

14 For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. 15 But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.

cf. James 2:13.

This couldn't be much clearer (I'm not sure how it would even be linguistically possible). Divine judgement is meant.

Luke 6:37, the parallel to this passage, makes this explicit:

Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.

cf. James 5:9.

Thus He is speaking about judgement of souls—judging their standing before God because of their outward appearance or seeming conduct.

Since He says in conjunction with this ("Judge not, lest thee be judged"), that you will be judged by God, and if you are judging others, you may expect to be judged yourself according to that standard (and you would be a "hypocrite" were you to expect to judge others, but not yourself by your standard with which you judge—he knows they would and so goes ahead and calls them "hypocrites"). Therefore, He is saying, leave judgement to God, and thank Him that you are given mercy.

This is not to say that you are not to pronounce that sin x will lead to Hell to someone living in sin x openly and actively and who is openly unrepentant. Jn 7:24; cf. 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Cor 2:15-16; 4:3-4; Wis 7:5-6.

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