I have often heard that imperative or command, and so have you (Matt. 7:1-5 and Luke 6:37-42). It’s supposed to end all debate. It seems at first glance to make Christianity beautiful, but for the thinking person, it falls into disrepute; how the imperative is thrown around seems unrealistic and foolish.
After all, in the future believers will judge the world and even angels (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
But is confusion about the command the full and final story?
Let’s do an old fashioned Bible study to figure things out.
If readers would like to see the verses in various translations, they may go to Biblegateway.com and type in the references.
To begin, we need to guard our own hearts. If we condemn – in some contexts the same Greek verb can function for condemn or judge – but we practice the same vices without realizing it, then we’re really bad off. We’re morally blind to our own sins and faults.
However, we are called to judge in certain contexts.
If you’re a parent, you’re called upon to settle a fight between your kids.
If you’re a boss, you need to evaluate your employees.
If you’re a judge in a court of law, you are definitely called to try the facts and reach a just verdict from all of the evidence.
If you’re a teacher, you have to grade your students’ papers.
If you’re about to marry someone, you must think, consider, prefer, and select him or her.
If you’re about to buy a car, you must reach a decision about the best deal that fits your needs.
According to the Bible, all of these judgments are permitted.
BDAG, an authoritative lexicon, offers these definitions of the common Greek verb krinō (114 times in NT), depending on the context (pp. 567-69).
1. “To make a selection, select, prefer” (Rom. 14:5a);
2. “To pass judgment upon (and thereby seek to influence) the lives and actions of other people”;
(a) “Judge, pass judgment, express an opinion about” (Mt. 7:1a, Mt. 7:2a; Luke 6:37a; John 7:24a, John 8:15);
(b) “Especially pass an unfavorable judgment up, criticize, find fault with, condemn” (Rom. 2:1abc, Rom. 2:3; Rom. 14:3f, Rom. 14:10, Rom. 14:13a, Rom. 14:22; Col. 2:16; Jas. 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 4:5. 1 Cor. 10:29);
3. “To make a judgment based on taking various factors in account, judge, think, consider, look upon” (Luke 7:43; Acts 13:46, Acts 16:16, Acts 15:19, Acts 26:8; 1 Cor. 10:15, 1 Cor. 11:13; 2 Cor. 5:14);
4. “To come to a conclusion after a cognitive process, reach a decision, decide, propose, intend” (Acts 3:13, Acts 16:14, Acts 20:16, Acts 21:25, Acts 25:25, Acts 27:1; Rom. 14:13b; 1 Cor. 2:2, 5:3, 7:37; 2 Cor. 2:1; Ti. 3:12);
5. “To engage in a judicial process, judge, decide, hale before a court, condemn, also hand over for judicial punishment”;
(a) Human court (Luke 12:57; Luke 19:22; John 7:51, John 18:31; Acts 13:27, Acts 23:3, Acts 24:6, Acts 24:21, Acts 25:9, Acts 25:10, Acts 26:6; 1 Cor. 5:12ab);
(b) Divine tribunal (Matt. 7:1b, 2b; Luke 6:37b; John 5:22, 30, John 8:15b, John 8:16, John 8:50; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Tim. 4:1; Jas. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:17; 4:5; Rev. 6:10, Rev. 11:18, Rev. 20:13); tribunal may be occupied “by those who have been divinely commissioned to judge: the twelve apostles judge the twelve tribes” (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30); the uncircumcised judges the circumcised (Rom. 2:27); believers are judges of cosmos (1 Cor. 6:2ab)
We haven’t even discussed related verbs and nouns: krisis, anakrinō, diakrinō, diakrisis, krima, and kritikos (etc.). All these are permitted in certain contexts. The only one we have to be careful about is katakrinō, which means condemn, and is used almost exclusively (18 times in NT) of God and human judges, but often with injustice on a human level (Matt. 20:18, 27:3; Mark 10:33, 14:64; John 8:10; Rom. 2:1, Rom. 8:34).
To sum up, we are allowed to judge in certain contexts, but we can’t pass hasty, permanent guilty verdicts on our neighbors, as if their life story has been completed and can never be redeemed.
We can’t pigeon-hole him and keep him there. And it’s about a wrong attitude.
Only then is it appropriate to exclaim, “Don’t judge!”
But in countless other areas we are supposed to judge and even commanded to do so.