What does scripture have to say about judging?

March 20, 2000; Updated September 5, 2006

Most people who address this topic initially think of, and tend to quote from Matthew 7:1, which says Judge not, that ye be not judged to suggest that we should not judge. This is typically brought forward to challenge those who test the writings, words, and actions of other professing Christians, specifically when concerns are raised regarding whether or not the teaching of these person is sound.

Is this correct? Is this what scripture teaches? Are we to simply teach truth ourselves and ignore what we believe to be error being taught by others? It is important to ensure that we establish by doctrine from the Bible, so let's have a look at what scripture says about judging. First, lets have a closer look at what Matthew 7 says about judging, in the wider context.

Matt 7:1-6
7:1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother's eye. 6 Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
NKJV

Note that the verse goes on after the first verse to tell us how we should judge and the clear message is that we should judge fairly. Matt 7:1 has to be interpreted both in light of the context of the surrounding text as well as the whole of scripture. If indeed God tells us to judge, and gives us the gift of discernment (judging), and then tells us to be careful to judge fairly, then the message is to judge, but judge properly. Jesus further shows this to be consistent with his message in John 7:24, where he says:

John 7:24
24 Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment."
NKJV

If we were not to judge at all, then why would he tell us to judge righteously? Scripture clearly states that some form of judgement is not just acceptable, but necessary because Jesus says that we are to judge righteously. That being the case, it seem important for us to study scripture further to better understand under what conditions we are to judge and what if any situations exist where we are not judge.

Moving forward in scripture, we see further examples where we are told to make judgements:

  • Be not deceived (requires judgment (Matt 24:4, Luke 21:8, 2 Thess.2:3;
    Eph.5:6; Colossians 2:8).
  • Test spirits (to test requires a pass/fail judgement) (John 4:1)
  • Apostle Paul accused the believers at Galatia of being "foolish" and "bewitched" (Gal.2:1), and which caused him to wish that the false teachers would castrate themselves because of their deceptive teaching about circumcision (Gal.5:12).
  • Jesus congratulated the church at Ephesus for rooting out false apostles (Rev.2:1-3).
  • The Apostle Paul says that he "did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears" about the false teachers who troubled the church at Ephesus both from within and without (Acts 20:28-31).
  • John 7:24 Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

If God wants us to judge so much that he gives us the gifts to do so and commands us to judge/discern so that we will not be misled into wrong doctrine, then following the doctrine that says we are not to judge would, by comparison leave us at risk of walking in darkness and unsound doctrine, being led into ignorance of God's truth. Interestingly, you will find that many today who frequently tell us not to judge. Why not? What is there to lose by testing for truth, as the Bereans did, when Paul commended them as being more noble for testing and judging his own words? (Acts 17:10-11).

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