Historically, the most famous verse of Scripture has been John 3:16. It’s like the gospel in one verse. It has been preached, quoted, and memorized more than any verse in the history of the world. Tim Tebow once wrote John 3:16 on his eye paint under his eye during the National Championship game for college football. Following the game, as he was eating supper, it was announced that some 94 million people had googled “John 3:16” during the game.
Long before Tim Tebow stormed the college football field, an eccentric man named Rollen Stewart, popular for his rainbow-colored wig and his “John 3:16” sign. He would position himself in strategic locations for popular televised baseball, football, and basketball games in the 70s and 80s. Rollen Stewart, known as Rock ’n’ Rollen and Rainbow Man, popularized John 3:16 by the use of signs and well planned campaigns.
Today, it seems that another verse is the most quoted verse of our day and it’s Jesus’ words found in Matthew 7 and Luke 6:
“Judge not, and you will not be judged.”
As with any verse in the Bible, you can alter the meaning if you interpret it outside of the proper context and outside of the biblical teaching of that particular subject. In short, the statement by Jesus has become one of the most misquoted and abused verses in the entire Bible.
Jesus Never Taught People Not to Judge Others
In our day, it’s common to hear people begin a statement or a personal confession with the preface, “no judgment” or “don’t judge” or “judge not.” In fact, the LGBTQA+ community often uses the statement by Jesus to condone their lifestyle and to shield themselves from judgment as they engage in hypersexualized behavior that violates God’s design for humanity, marriage, and the family.
It may come as a complete shock, but Jesus never condemned judgment. In fact, he commands that people engage in judgment. The statement by Jesus taken from his famous sermon known as the sermon on the mount. Jesus gathered his followers, apostles, and the growing curious souls from the surrounding communities together where he delivered his sermon with power and authority.
The statement by Jesus regarding judgment is centered on hypocritical judgment that refuses to judge properly. Therefore, to misinterpret Jesus’ “judge not” statement by imposing a meaning that prohibits judgment not only butchers Jesus’ intention, but it likewise proves that we must carefully and rightly interpret holy Scripture. In short, hermeneutics matters. How we interpret the Bible is foundational to the study of Scripture.
When we read a hard statement in Scripture, we must remember that the Bible interprets the Bible. We begin with the small inner circle of the immediate context that surrounds the difficult passage under examination. We ask ourselves some helpful questions:
- What is the overall meaning of the immediate context?
- How does the author use this word or doctrine within this specific book of the Bible?
- How does the author use this word or doctrine within other writings within the canon?
- How do other biblical authors use this word or doctrine?
- How do others use this term or doctrine outside of the biblical canon during this time period?
This will help eliminate improper definitions and faulty interpretations of Scripture in general and will lead directly to the author’s original intention regarding the passage, term, or doctrine under examination. When this practice is followed properly with Matthew 7 and Luke 6, it’s crystal clear that Jesus is not prohibiting the exercise of judgment.
Jesus Taught People to Judge Properly
In the sermon, Jesus condemned improper judgment. The “judge not” statement by Jesus is connected to the immediate context of loving others appropriately and avoiding hypocrisy. Jesus never condemned the exercise of proper judgment. Furthermore, beyond the immediate context, the whole of Scripture teaches us to engage in judgment.
For instance, we find it necessary to engage in judgment on various levels within the Christian life:
- Examining Fruit and Discerning False Teaching: (Matt 7:6; Matt 7:15-20; 2 Peter 2:1-3)
- Practice of Church Discipline: (Matt 18:15-20; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Tim 1:20; 1 Cor 5:3-5)
- Affirmation of Elders: (1 Tim 3; Titus 1)
- Evangelism: (Matt 28:18-20)
As Jesus continues in his sermon, he tells a parable to illustrate his meaning. The parable can be found in Luke 6:41-42:
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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
Notice that Jesus diagnoses improper judgment as hypocritical and then illustrates the proper exercise of judgment. You first begin with your own life. You repent of your sin and then you will be able to properly examine the life of your brother. In other words, Jesus directs his people to engage in judgment. Proper judgment is based on reality rather than perception, fact rather than imagination, and truth rather than falsehood. William Hendriksen writes:
To be discriminating and critical is necessary; to be hypercritical is wrong. One should avoid saying what is untrue (Exod. 23:1), unnecessary (Prov. 11:13), and unkind (Prov. 18:8).1William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 357.
Improper judgment of a person’s intentions and heart, even to the point of condemnation and unrighteous criticism, is forbidden in holy Scripture. We must be people of love and humility. However, we are never to become a passive people of compromise.
We are never to allow people to walk down a pathway of sin because of a misunderstood view of Luke 6:37 or Matthew 7:1. In love, the church is to confront people in their sin with a goal of restoration (see Matt. 18:15-20). In love the church confronts unbelievers regarding their sin in evangelism (which is not sinful). Many people who pursue various forms of sinful autonomy misquote Jesus’ “judge not” statement while demanding a proper execution of justice which involves judgment. The statement must be interpreted properly.
Do not allow people to manipulate you by misquoting Jesus.
|1||William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 9, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 357.|