First in a three part series

Judge Not” or “Do Not Judge” is an often-quoted verse of the Bible – by Christians, pseudo-Christians and non- Christians alike. This is especially true in the today’s neo-pagan, politically correct Western world, where “judge not” has been elevated to the status of the “golden rule”[1]

Similarly, the second half of the verse of Scripture, from which this phrase comes, seems to have been re-hashed into a “get out of jail free” card type idea. But does this verse, Matthew 7:1, say, or mean: “Do not judge AND you will not be judged”?

Modern Usage

More often than not, “do not judge” is now used:

a) by people who dislike having their faults addressed (irrespective of the person or attitude in which it is done), or
b) by people who don’t like having their theology, interpretation of Scripture, or ideology challenged.

Interestingly, the very people saying, “Do not judge,” are themselves judging others or what they have said, and have determined that they don’t like it, or don’t want to hear it. The ‘do not judge-ers’ have judged others and have decided that they are right and their critics wrong. Those who would caution against judging have themselves become judges – making determinations against others.

The fact is, everyone judges. Indeed you are judging right now as to whether what you are reading is true or not, and whether you agree or not!

Pearls, Swine and Dogs

Just five verses after “Do not judge…” (Matthew 7:1), we read:

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces – Matthew 7:6 (NAU).[2]

“What is holy? What are the pearls? Who are the dogs and who are the swine?” How will you decide what is holy and of value (God’s pearls – God’s Wisdom and the Gospel), and who are the dogs and swine? What criteria will you apply? What standard will you use? What JUDGMENT will you make?[3]

Jesus said, “Do not judge” but then goes on to caution us about dogs and swine? Does He want us to judge or doesn’t He?

Warning About False Prophets

Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves – Matthew 7:15.

“Beware of false prophets …” Beware, take note of, or take care regarding false prophets. This implies assessing their prophecies and their fruits (v16-20). Again, such assessment means making a determination, making a judgment. Is this then a contradiction of Jesus’ statement, “Do not judge”? Obviously not. So what then did Jesus really mean when He said, “Do not judge”?


The Greek verb for judge, kri,nw (krinō), can be used for “technical legal decisions, but also more generally for forming judgements and reaching conclusions about both things and people. The verb is not in itself necessarily negative”.[4]

It is only through its use and context that we can determine and understand the author’s intent. How then do we understand, or even apply morals and ethics if we do not judge, even for our own sakes?

When we think of “judging”, we think of one group of people, more than any other – the Pharisees. Pharisees tend to be thought of as legalistic bullies whose sole aim was to ensure that people do “this” and not do “that”. However when we look dispassionately and more deeply at these (supposed) “legalistic henchmen” what else do we see?

Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn [kate,krinen] you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn [katakri,nw] you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” – John 8:2-11.

Jesus notes that the woman was not condemned/judged (kate-krinen) by anyone, and then proceeded to say that He does not condemn/judge (kata-krinō) her either. Nevertheless, Jesus does tell the woman,

“From now on sin no more”, thus making a moral judgement. Had the Scribes and Pharisees not brought the woman to Jesus they could have stoned her to death, based on the law of Moses. One could suggest that in spite of Jesus’ challenge, “he who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her”, she should have been stoned to death for her sin according to Mosaic Law.[5]

If we choose to be picky we could suggest that Jesus failed to fully follow the Old Testament Law by causing her not to be stoned. So, irrespective of our perceptions of the “bad-old Pharisees”, they had the moral integrity to recognise their own sinfulness and walk away, rather than fulfil the law.

For the most part Jesus agreed with the teachings of the Pharisees, but what he did condemn the Pharisees for was:

  1. Thinking that righteousness is obtained solely by following a list of do’s and don’ts.
  2. Being so focused on the leaves (e.g. faithfully counting out seeds to tithe [c.f. Mat 23:23]) that they failed to see the trees (i.e. considering “justice and mercy and faithfulness” [Mat 23:23]).

The Scribes and Pharisees had a tendency to focus on the small details and fail to see the big picture; nevertheless some occasionally got it right.

One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to Him, “Right, Teacher; You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF, is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions – Mark 12:28-34.

When it came to judgment and the Pharisees, Jesus did not say, “Do not judge (period). He said to judge “righteously”.

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

This directive from Jesus was nothing new. In the Old Testament we read:

You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman IN YOUR HEART; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD – Leviticus 19:15-18.

NEXT we will look at Jesus and Morals and the difference between Judging and Being Judgmental – etc.

End Notes:

1. The “golden rule” is the ethical/moral maxim: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (Mat 7:12; Luke 6:31)
2. All Bible quotes in this article are taken from the NAU (New American Standard, Updated 1995).
3. Concerning the teaching in Matthew 7:6, J.C. Ryle writes, “The second portion of these verses teaches us the importance of exercising discretion as to the persons with whom we speak on the subject of religion [i.e. Biblical Christianity]. Everything is beautiful in its place and season. Our zeal is to be tempered by a prudent consideration of times, places, and persons. ‘Reprove not a scorner,’ says Solomon, ‘lest he hate thee.’ (Prov. ix. 8) It is not everybody to whom it is wise to open our minds on spiritual matters. There are many, who from violent tempers, or openly profligate habits, are utterly incapable of valuing the things of the Gospel: they will even fly into a passion, and run into greater excesses of sin, if we try to do good to their souls; to name the name of Christ to such people is truly to ‘cast pearls before swine.’ It does them not good, but harm: it rouses all their corruption, and makes them angry…” J.C. Ryle, Expositional Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), 63.
4. R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew – The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), 274.
5. Consider the incident in Numbers 25:6-8 when, “…one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body”. Consider the command, “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14) in the Ten Commandments and consider the consequences for a virgin given in marriage to be found not to be a virgin – that she should be stoned. Such is the seriousness of the sin under the Mosaic Law.