One day, while driving to class during my work toward an accounting degree, I was listening to someone on a radio call in show who made the point “Now, I’m a Christian but I can’t go saying that homosexuality is a sin.” I knew what was coming next. I’m sure you do, too. “God tells us not to judge.” Of course, she couldn’t quote the verse or its associated reference, but she was dead certain that God told us in the Bible not to judge. It used to be that it was non-Christians who loved that verse because they could throw it back in the face of some Christian who was calling their behavior sinful as a kind of almighty trump card to whatever theological argument they may have had.
The sad part is, for so long the church has suffered through biblical illiteracy where the average Joe in the pew expects the person in the pulpit to have all the answers rather than being able to give a solid testimony and a defense of his faith. However, as the caller on the radio points out, it’s not just non-Christians who quote or cite that verse. There are Christians, or those who profess to be Christians, who believe that it is not our job to call people to repentance from sin. They use this same verse to justify theological wishy-washiness or to avoid confrontation with those who oppose the Bible and its doctrine. However, if one actually studies what this verse says, it is pretty clear that we don’t have to check our spines at the door when confronting sin from a biblical perspective.
First of all, we need to think carefully about what chapter 7 verse 1 actually says and means. I suggest one way to do that is to examine what the verse does not mean. Let us observe that the word translated “judge” in this verse is the word “krino”(2919). The word means to choose, distinguish, separate between things but does not imply anything about quality. In other words, it’s not necessarily used to describe judging something as bad or wrong although it can be used for that purpose. Now, this word could be used of a judge rendering decisions in a legal matter or someone judging a work of art. It has a fairly wide semantic range. Therefore, it is imperative that we look at the context to help us interpret this correctly and, as I suggested, decide first of all what this does not mean.
Now, let’s look at the immediate context of the verse. In chapter 6, Jesus calls for His audience to judge their own motives when they fast, pray, and give charitably (6:1-18). He calls for them, after they have removed the log in their own eye, to help their brother with the speck in his eye a few verses later in this chapter (vs. 3-6). In a more abstract sense, He calls for them to judge false prophets by their fruits (v 16). Therefore, from the immediate context it seems that Jesus is not forbidding people from making judgments. In fact, in those verses, He is commanding them to do so. Now, granted it’s a different word but they will have to perform the same sort of mental evaluation to discern good from evil as they would to judge it—they would examine the evidence and draw a conclusion. I would say, then, from the immediate context we are given, Jesus is not saying that His followers are forbidden to judge.
However, what about the broader biblical context? Does the bible elsewhere tell us that we as Christians are forbidden from judging? Tune in next time.