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The Church Ethic
Biblical Limitations on Judging
Forgiving and Forgiveness
Part 1: Biblical Limitations on Judging
Part 2: The Bible Instructs Us to
Tolerance has become one of the highest virtues of modern
society. As it is used today the idea of tolerance centers
about two underlying principles. First, it is not our place
to evaluate the beliefs or behavior (application of beliefs)
of others as good or bad, right or wrong, genuine or false,
consistent or inconsistent, appropriate or inappropriate,
etc. This is true regarding both individuals and cultures
or belief systems. Second, and as a result, we remove any
accountability we have to one another in developing correct
beliefs and behaviors.
As God's people, we are called not to reflect the virtues
of the world, but instead to reflect His godly virtue to the
world. But as people living in modern society we cannot help
but be influenced by the culture around us. The challenge
then is to discern which aspects of worldly culture are the
result of our godly influence upon our ungodly society and
which aspects of church culture are the result of the influence
of ungodly culture upon us (the church). Only by doing this
can we sort out what is Biblically correct behavior and model
it without accidentally implementing an ungodly, worldly virtue
as if it is Biblically compatible or mandated when, in fact,
it is not or is even contrary to the Bible.
With regard to tolerance the question then arises, is the
modern idea of tolerance compatible with the scriptural view
of tolerance? Should the church implement the tolerance that
is so popular in our culture these days?
The influence of this modern view of tolerance is perhaps
nowhere more evident in the church than in the area of judging.
In this regard many Christians of today can be heard to echo
the idea that we ought not to judge other people. But, when
such a principle is appealed to one must wonder what the source
Is the modern Church convinced of the prohibition of judging
others because of a strong conviction based on a Biblical
understanding of this topic? Or are we simply reflecting the
influence of a culture, which seeks to abolish absolute standards
of right and wrong as well as to eliminate any accountability
to such standards?
If the scripture does compel us not to judge others, then
we ought to have a solid grasp of how this rule applies to
other areas of Christian life. For instance how does "not
judging others" effect our development of Biblically appropriate
beliefs and behavior, our accountability to the Word of God,
or even our accountability to one another? Perhaps this situation
deserves more attention than it is often given in the modern
I believe the current Church situation on this matter can
be illustrated quite well using a scene from a movie I first
saw while in college called "Kingpin." (I am not endorsing
this film in any way, just using part of it for the purposes
of illustrating my point.) In the film Woody Harrelson's character
Roy Munson is trying to get an Amish man named Ishmael (played
by Randy Quade) to bowl professionally so they can split the
proceeds. (I'm simplifying a little.)
After being initially turned down by Quade, Harrelson's character
persists in attempting to persuade him while pretending to
be an Amish man himself and joining their community under
the fake identity of "Brother Hezekiah." After a short time
it becomes apparent that Harrelson does not exactly understand
the ways of the Amish and is not really committed to living
them out. One of the key indicator's is a scene in which Harrelson's
character, "Brother Hezekiah" is assisting in a barn raising.
During the procedure, the dinner bell rings and Roy immediately
runs off to join the feast. However, his quick departure and
the subsequent lack of support on his side of the barn start
a chain reaction, which results in the collapse of the entire
structure. Needless to say the other Amish men are quite angry
with "Brother Hezekiah" and confront him about the incident
as he sits happily feasting away.
Upon being confronted about his very un-Amish behavior, Roy
(Brother Hezekiah) responds in his own defense with an appeal
to the Amish devotion to and knowledge of the scripture. A
devotion to and knowledge, which Roy himself does not remotely
share. Attempting to defuse the wrath of the frustrated Amish
men of the community who seek an explanation for his conduct,
he confidently counters with, "You know what the Bible has
to say about not forgiving people." The reply quickly returns
to him, challenging his superficial commitment to the Amish
way of life and the Bible, "Why don't you tell us what it
says..." To which, Harrelson (Roy, Brother Hezekiah) replies,
"It's against it."
The point I'm making here is that while Brother Hezekiah was
right that the Bible is against "not forgiving people," he
was also completely ignorant of what the Bible actually said
about the subject and how it affected his behavior.
In the same way I find that many Christians, like Brother
Hezekiah, know that the Bible tells us not to judge others,
but their understanding of the Biblical perspective on the
subject is quite deficient. Likewise, their interest in this
rule is usually only to excuse their behavior (or perhaps
someone else's) from being corrected or identified as inappropriate.
And just as Roy used his appeal against "not forgiving people"
to attempt to prevent the Amish from confirming that his commitment
to their way of life was not genuine, many Christians often
appeal to "not judge people" in order to ward off having their
lagging commitment to Christ pointed out and rebuked.
Because of this movie I cannot help chuckle when I hear a
Christian make such an appeal in defense of their own or someone
else's poor actions or lagging commitments. In such cases
all I can hear them saying is "You know what the Bible has
to say about judging people, it's against it." But if pressed
for even a little Biblical support for this claim, many people
cannot even scramble to come up with a single scripture reference.
Of course, what I'm saying is that many of us in the Church
need to take a look at what the Bible has to say about judging
others, about being accountable to one another, and about
what God expects from those who claim to be committed disciples
of Jesus Christ. To this ends the remainder of this study
will seek to examine these matters in a more thorough manner.
A Biblical perspective on judging
The statement that we aren't to judge is quite broad. There
are many things that can be judged. We can judge people, judge
people's behavior, judge doctrines, beliefs and ideas, and
we can judge decisions. So in considering whether we ought
to judge we need to consider each of these areas and what
the Bible has to say about judging them.
So what does the Bible have to say about judging?
Well, for starters there are approximately 70 verses in the
New Testament that deal with judging. That seems like a sufficient
quantity to provide adequate instructions with regard to whether
we should judge or not. As we take a closer look at these
70 or so verses we will find that they can be categorized
loosely as 12 "against" judging and 61 "for" judging, with
a few verses overlapping into both categories. The proportion
of "for" and "against" here is enough to warrant further examination
of this topic and to call into question the axiom that we
can't judge others.
We will cover the 12 verses, which provide instruction against
judging first and then turn our attention to the 61 verses,
which provide instruction for judging.
Verses which limit judging:
1. Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever
is angry with his brother without a cause shall be
in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his
brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever
shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Matthew 5:22 is not speaking of our judging others per se,
rather it is discussing our being angry with our brother.
In speaking of our being angry with our brother it commands
us not to be angry WITHOUT CAUSE. If we were to take this
passage as discussing our judging others, we must concede
that it would only prohibit our doing so without cause. By
its very nature then this passage would require observance,
examination, and a judgment regarding causes.
Since the next two passages are parallel accounts of the same
event we will address them together.
2. Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not
judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall
be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be
measured to you again. 3 And why beholdest thou the mote
that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam
that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to
thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and,
behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite,
first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then
shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to
you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes
of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree
bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth
evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,
neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every
tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and
cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall
3. Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not
be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive,
and ye shall be forgiven: 38 Give, and it shall be given
unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together,
and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with
the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured
to you again. 39 And he spake a parable unto them, Can the
blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?
40 The disciple is not above his master: but every one that
is perfect shall be as his master. 41 And why beholdest
thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest
not the beam that is in thine own eye? 42 Either how
canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the
mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not
the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out
first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see
clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.
43 For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither
doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 44 For every tree
is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather
figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. 45 A good
man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that
which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of
his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance
of the heart his mouth speaketh.
These sections of Matthew 7 and Luke 6 are definitely discussing
making judgments of others. In the beginning of both sections
we see that Jesus first statement is that we shouldn't judge
or we will be judged, etc. Can these remarks be taken as a
prohibition against judging others altogether? No. There are
two reasons for this.
First, Jesus could not have meant that those who don't judge
won't be judged or that those who do not condemn will not
be condemned. Such an idea would be out of sync with the message
of the Bible. Clearly, the world loves to employ this standard.
Ungodly people are as eager to not be judged or condemned
for their sin as they are willing not to judge or condemn
others for their sin as well. The sinner has no problem not
holding other's accountable to sin. But a sinner who does
not pass judgment on the sins of others will, nonetheless,
still be judged of God and condemned.
The clear intention of Jesus' statement here, far from prohibiting
judgment, is that it is inappropriate to judge others if we
have not first examined ourselves. And secondly, that those
with larger issues in the same problem area cannot help those
with lesser problems in that area until they first deal with
their own problems. Jesus' statement recorded in Matthew 7:5
and Luke 6:42 that we are to "first cast out the beam out
of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast
out the mote out of thy brother's eye" implies that Jesus
not only expects us to judge, but to judge ourselves first.
We are to judge others with the same standards that we judge
ourselves with. No double standards are allowed.
The fact that Jesus is not forbidding judging others is further
evidenced by the concluding verses of each section. In the
closing verses Jesus is discussing false prophets. At the
end of these verses Jesus says that we can identify a person
by their fruit. This instruction inherently implies that we
are to look at the fruit of someone's life, their deeds and
actions, and can make an accurate assessment of them by doing
so. So we see that in these passages Jesus is instructing
us to employ the exact the kind of judging many people suggest
the Bible forbids.
Our interpretation of these passages is perfectly consistent
with Paul's teaching in Romans 2, our fourth passage.
4. Romans 2:1 Therefore thou art inexcusable,
O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou
judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest
doest the same things. 2 But we are sure that the judgment
of God is according to truth against them which commit such
things. 3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest
them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt
escape the judgment of God?
Here in Romans 2 Paul is clearly stating that when we judge
others as wrong for their actions we condemn ourselves. Why?
Because it is wrong to judge others? No, because in judging
them we employ and agree to a standard of judgment, under
which we ourselves are also guilty. In no way does Paul prohibit
judging in this passage. Instead, he is only building his
case that we are all guilty.
We will deal with the next two passages together since they
deal with the same issue.
5. Romans 14:1 Him that is weak in the faith
receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. 2 For one believeth
that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3 Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not;
and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for
God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest
another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or
falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make
him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another
esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded
in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it
unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord
he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord,
for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord
he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. 7 For none of us liveth
to himself, and no man dieth to himself. 8 For whether we
live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto
the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.
9 For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived,
that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. 10 But
why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought
thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat
of Christ. 11 For it is written, As I live, saith the
Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess
to God. 12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself
to God. 13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more:
but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or
an occasion to fall in his brother's way. 14 I know, and
am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean
of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean,
to him it is unclean. 15 But if thy brother be grieved with
thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him
with thy meat, for whom Christ died. 16 Let not then your
good be evil spoken of: 17 For the kingdom of God is not meat
and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy
Ghost. 18 For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable
to God, and approved of men. 19 Let us therefore follow after
the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one
may edify another. 20 For meat destroy not the work of God.
All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who
eateth with offence. 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor
to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth,
or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have
it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not
himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth
is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever
is not of faith is sin.
6. Colossians 2:16 Let no man therefore judge
you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or
of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Here in Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16 we finally have our
first prohibition on judging. However, Paul's prohibition
is not general, forbidding all judging of any kind, but specific.
In both passages Paul is forbidding judging other Christians
in regard to their continued practice of Jewish holidays and
dietary laws. We must note that Romans 14 and Colossians 2:16
only prohibit Christians from judging each other in regard
to the practice of Jewish holidays and dietary laws and is
not a broad-based, all-inclusive ban on judging in general.
7. 1 Corinthians 4:3 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. 4 For I know nothing by myself;
yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the
Lord. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until
the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things
of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts:
and then shall every man have praise of God.
Here in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 Paul is telling us to judge nothing
before its time. It seems like this could be a universal prohibition
of judging. But is it? A closer look at these three verses
confirm that Paul is addressing things of an eternal nature,
whether we be eternally condemned or saved. One's final eternal
position cannot be known for certain about a person until
Christ returns. We do not know if someone will be saved or
not, we will not know before the time comes, when Jesus returns
to reward the righteous and punish the wicked. Furthermore,
we are not to estimate the reward or position that believers
may receive when Christ returns as Paul indicates "then shall
every man have praise of God."
More than just the immediate context of this chapter, the
remainder of this epistle seems to rule out interpreting Paul's
statement here as a universal prohibition of judging. In the
very next chapter we find Paul issuing instructions for judging.
This would not be the case if he had made a universal ban
on judging just one chapter earlier.
8. 1 Corinthians 5:12 For what have I to do
to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them
that are within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth.
Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
In 1 Corinthians 5 we see Paul make another limited prohibition
on judging. In verse 12 Paul tell us not to judge those that
are outside the church. This statement is contrasted against
his next statement, which expects that we do judge those within
the church. Verse 13 confirms that this is the case, wherein
Paul instructs the Corinthians to expel a man in their congregation
who was sinning. We will cover our judging of those in the
church in our next section on Biblical protocols FOR judging.
For now we will note that 1 Corinthians 5:12 seems to confirm
that we do not judge those outside the church.
But what exactly are we not to judge about those outside the
church? Are we banned from any assessment of them? Can we
not say at least that they are not saved? Of course we can.
The simple act of recognizing that someone is outside the
church is judging them not to be in the company of those who
are being saved. In saying this we are saying that unless
they repent and come to Christ they are on their way to hell
as we all were before we repented and came to the Lord.
What Paul is saying here is that we cannot judge the behavior
of outsiders with respect to excommunication. We will give
some additional attention to the New Testament practice of
excommunication in the next section. For now it is simple
enough to state that we cannot judge the behavior of outsiders
with regard to whether it is appropriate behavior for them
as believers because those outside the church are, by definition,
not believers. Paul called upon the Corinthians to judge and
expel the believer among them for his sinful behavior. But
we cannot expel outsiders for sinful behavior, because they
are not among us in the first place.
9. 1 Corinthians 10:29 Conscience, I say, not
thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged
of another man's conscience?
A thorough analysis of this passage necessitates a New Testament
study of the liberty we have in Christ as believers. (For
a look at the liberty we have in Christ as believers please
see our article entitled, "Christian
Liberty.") For the sake of this article it is sufficient
to say that 1 Corinthians 10:29 is not instructing us not
to judge, but to not engage in behavior which will cause others
to judge the liberty we have in Christ.
10. James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another,
brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth
his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the
law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the
law, but a judge. 12 There is one lawgiver, who is able to
save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?
James 4 is very similar to 1 Corinthians 4:3-5. In it James
instructs us not to judge one another. From the phrase "to
save and to destroy" in verse 12 we can clearly see that the
judgment James is forbidding is judging with regard to our
ultimate salvation or damnation, which only the Lord can judge
(just as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:4).
11. John 7:24 Judge not according to the
appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
John 7:24 is one of the verses that will appear in both categories.
The reason for this is that it presents a limited prohibition
on judging in instructing us not to judge according to appearance,
while at the same time we are instructed to judging using
a righteous standard, not according to our own ideas or righteousness,
but according to what God has said in His Word. (Indeed, God's
word is the standard by, which we are to judge as we will
cover later in the next section.)
12. John 8:3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought
unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set
her in the midst, 4 They say unto him, Master, this woman
was taken in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses in
the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but
what sayest thou? 6 This they said, tempting him, that they
might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with
his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself,
and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let
him first cast a stone at her. 8 And again he stooped
down, and wrote on the ground. 9 And they which heard it,
being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one,
beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was
left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus
had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said
unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no
man condemned thee? 11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus
said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no
What we see here in John 8 cannot be interpreted as a prohibition
of judging. Nowhere in this passage is Jesus is instructing
us to ignore or not recognize and identify sin. Instead he
himself acknowledges the sinful behavior that this woman was
accused of when he tells her in verse 11 to "go and sin no
What we do see in this passage is Jesus prohibiting capital
punishment, which would've been applied to this woman under
the Law. This is consistent with the New Covenant practice,
which employed excommunication as a final means of compelling
sinners among God's people to turn from sin. Capital punishment
for sin was removed under the New Covenant beginning with
Jesus' treatment of this situation in John 8. If we can pull
anything regarding judging from this passage it is that we
are not to CONDEMN (unto death) others for their sins (v.10-11).
And this would be consistent with what we've concluded earlier
from 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 and James 4:11-12.
If there is any lingering doubt that the above passages DO
NOT present a universal prohibition of judging it will be
dispelled as we turn to the next section, an examination of
the Biblical protocols FOR judging. Once the avalanche of
instructions for judging, how to judge and what to judge is
established by the remaining 61 passages of this study it
will be decisively clear that none of the above mentioned
12 verses can be interpreted as a full ban on judging. If
that were the case then the New Testament would be in contradiction
of itself, both forbidding all judging and at the same time
giving detailing instructions and repeated admonition for
the believer to exercise judgment.
Before we move on to the next 61 verses FOR judging, let's
sum up the limitations on judging that we have gleaned from
the above passages.
Limitations on judging
1. We are not to be angry without cause.
2. We are not to judge one another for whether or not we continue
to practice Jewish feasts or Jewish dietary laws.
3. We are not to place final judgment on someone - in terms
of salvation or damnation/condemnation.
4. We are not to judge who will be rewarded with a greater
position in the kingdom of God.
5. We are not to judge those outside the church, except to
judge them as outside the church.
6. We are not to judge hastily, improperly, or presumptuously,
and without first examining ourselves.
7. We are not to judge according to appearance, but according
to God's standard of righteousness.