On one hand, I see some verses, in which Paul encourages the believers to judge:

For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? (1 Cor. 5:12)

If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.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? (1 Cor. 6:4-5)

On the other hand, there are also verses in the same epistle, in which Paul tells the believers not to judge:

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.For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come (1 Cor. 4:3-5)

Can anyone, please, explain this apparent contradiction?


3 Answers 3


Short Answer: Paul wanted the Corinthians to address blatant immorality in the congregation, and to be able to work through legal disputes within the context of the Church, but he didn't want them going around criticizing people and fault-finding.

Words have a semantic range, so it is always important to look at what the author was attempting to communicate by reading each statement in context. Let's look at what Paul is talking about in each of these cases.

1 Corinthians 5:12 In Context

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. -1 Corinthians 5:9-13

Paul had previously written to them instructing them not to associate with immoral people. What he meant was that they should not associate with so-called "Christians" who were living immoral lives. What is in view here is not simply a person who stumbles here or there, but a person whose life is marked by some form of immorality. Well, the Corinthians were apparently confused by this instruction, and thought that he was telling them not to talk to non-Christians. His response here is: "of course that's not what I meant!" He points out how absurd that thought is by asking a rhetorical question: What do we (Christians) have to do with judging the lives of non-Christians? Nothing! But we do have a responsibility to recognize a person in the church who is living an immoral life and respond appropriately. In this context, "judging" refers to recognizing when a so-called "brother" is living a life of immorality. Christians are commanded to "judge" in this sense.

1 Corinthians 6:4-5 In Context

Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? -1 Corinthians 6:1-6

Here Paul is talking about lawsuits, and taking your brother in Christ to court. He was outraged to find out that Christians in Corinth were dragging their brothers in Christ into secular courtrooms instead of settling their disagreements within the Church. In this context, "judging" refers to settling disputes between Christians. Christians ought to be willing to "judge" in this sense as well.

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 In Context

For this one it helps to know a bit of historical context (largely determined exegetically from a thorough reading of both 1 and 2 Corinthians.) The Corinthian church, which had been planted by Paul and served by Paul for many years, had fallen victim to false apostles who were essentially self-exalting extortionists. The Corinthians really liked these men who honored themselves and ripped off the church, but the more they listened to these false apostles, the less they thought of Paul and his companions. So many accusations had come forward from the Corinthians about Paul and his inadequacy as an apostle. So Paul had to put a lot of energy into explaining to them that he was in fact a credible apostle, and they were looking for the wrong kind of fruit in his life. You don't want a man who exalts himself and abuses the church, you want a humble servant, commissioned by God, who can bring the truth that Christ preached and who has a life that shows that he lives by that truth. Against that backdrop, here is the immediate context of the verse:

Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. -1 Corinthians 4:1-5

What Paul is saying here is that he is a servant and a steward, and that his responsibility is to be faithful with what has been entrusted to him. He goes on to say that it doesn't really bother him at all if they want to scrutinize his life, because he's not aware of any glaring spiritual problems in his life. He concludes by exhorting the Corinthians to knock it off and stop criticizing him! He reminds them that the Lord is the One holding him accountable, and that the Lord will bring all things to light one day. They don't need to play "accuser of the brethren," or "adversary," or "fault-finders"... God is watching and God will bring all things to light. In this context, "judging" refers to critiquing someone's life. Christians need to be careful not to sit in God's seat in this matter.


Paul wants the Corinthians to stop scrutinizing his life and trying to find fault with him. He also wants them to stop ignoring blatant immorality in their church, and to stop taking their brothers to court instead of resolving disputes internally. Throughout the book he is urging these Christians to love each other and stop treating one another (and him) so terribly. It is terribly unloving to play the "fault-finder" in someone's life. It is also terribly unloving to overlook blatant, ongoing immorality in a person's life (both to that person and to the congregation.) It is also terribly unloving to drag your Christian brother into a secular courtroom instead of working things out in the context of the Church. So there is no contradiction here. Love one another and don't do nasty things. That's the theme throughout all of these passages. What makes it confusing is that the KJV uses "judge" in a whole bunch of different ways, and when we see the same word, we sometimes think it's the same concept. But a careful reading of the context will almost always resolve such alleged contradictions.


The following comments add very little, if anything, to Jas 3.1's fine answer. They may, however, have some relevance to the "judgment phobic" culture in which we live today in America.

Christians are to use good judgment in the appropriate circumstances, whether the context is church discipline, or the context is applying wisdom and discernment to a given situation, individually or corporately.

Christians are not to be judgmental by thinking we can make judgments about people without bothering to gather the facts about them in a biblical manner, such as by enrolling the testimony of one or more witnesses, for example (see Mt 18:15-17).

None of us has the ability to see into the heart of another person in the way God does. To attempt to read a person's true motives is a very risky business, and for this reason Jesus warned us not to judge, unless we are willing to be judged by God as strictly as we judge others (Mt 7:1-5).

As an aside, unbelievers today, I have found, are much too quick to say "You Christians are so judgmental! Didn't Jesus tell you not to judge?" This is not to say their accusation is never without merit.

A Christian, for example, who is strongly opposed to abortion under any circumstances might unwisely and un-lovingly accuse an unmarried teen of being a murderer when she chooses abortion over carrying the baby to term. Such a Christian may in fact deserve the "judgmental" label and is in the wrong, I suggest.

A better approach would be for the Christian above to refer the teen to a pregnancy crisis center run by Christians who will treat her with the love, compassion, and respect she deserves. Oh, and let's eighty-six the name calling.

On the other hand, exposing the darkness that is in the world by shining the light of God's word on it is not necessarily being judgmental, but it may in fact be the right thing to do (see Eph 5:6-21, especially v.11), provided it is done in a Christ-like and Holy Spirit led manner. Jesus, for example, did not rail against sinners with words of condemnation, but He did come down hard on hypocritical religious folk who should have known better, but didn't. (See Matthew 23:13-33, and Jesus' eight "woes" against the scribes and Pharisees.)

  • 3
    Your answer didn't just add "very little". In fact, it added a lot. It made me think now that we, as Christians, should definitely be ready to call sin a sin, however, we should be twice careful when it comes to a particular person. In fact, if we are not forced to pass a judgement on someone particularly, than we better refrain from doing that.
    – brilliant
    Commented Nov 24, 2013 at 13:13

When applying "to judge" or "not to judge" is not as simple as putting it into a box. Many good points are made in many commentaries as amoral people love to use "do not judge" because Jesus came not to judge" as they ignore the other half of Jesus second coming will come to judge. Jesus judged the first time mostly against the hypocrites. But we all have been hypocrites at some point of our life and to different degree of intensity, most of us are blinded by our own hypocrisy. When "Christians" get angry because they are being verbally chastised by another Christian, many time it is the "Christian" who is too proud or arrogant to see his or her shortcoming. If Christian can not edify another "Christian", then there is no need for fellowship because fellowship is to build up another like faith believer, even if it comes to chastisement. Sadly, most cultures teaches us that we cannot edify/correct someone who is older or those who have greater authority than us. But yet, it is clear that Nathan, the successor to prophet Samuel, was much younger than King David as Nathan rebuked David's huge sin as David thought that his position and authority was above being rebuked. If David did not have a godly heart, he would have arrested Nathan when rebuked. Matthew 18 is a good illustration about judging another brother. However, Matthew 18, like every other scripture can be twisted and warped to perversion to be used against someone else, such as ex-communication or dis-fellowship someone because it goes against 1 Peter 4:8 and 2 Peter 3:9 and many other scriptures including 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.

If one is to turn to the blind eye and not judge, then eventually it becomes a standard (tradition) lifestyle of sin. For example, Catholics added many practices into their worship including praying to apostles and using the rosary (idolatry). Nobody had the courage to protest against such practice when introduced because of fear of being punished or ostracized or because of a lukewarm attitude or because they we lacking in being reminded of the scripture. Consequently, those practices became a tradition like the pagan and the ancient Babylonian which Jesus hated in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 illustrated. Not to judge have devastating effect on the future generations as they are "programmed" to believe and support a lie and that is not worship God in truth and in spirit - John 4:24. All of these idolatry practices by churches turns a "Christian" to believe in their own lies and lures their heart and faith away from God (the Creator) and worship the creation instead as King Solomon, the Wisest man ever, from God.

  • Welcome to the site @Paul. Answers on this site (or network or that matter) cannot include derogatory accusations against a particular brand of Christianity you disagree with (i.e. accusations that they are 'idolators' and live "a lifestlye of sin" and are "like the pagan"). Please stay on topic. Commented Mar 17, 2018 at 15:40

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