Douglas Jacoby, 1990
The following study is useful for anyone who has heard that we should never “judge.” Certainly, a judgmental spirit is wrong and unbecoming of a believer, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all judging is wrong. Quite often, when someone pleads, “Judge not!”, he is exhibiting a defensive spirit — as well as a lack of knowledge of God’s word. The Bible distinguishes a number of types of judging — some good, some bad.
The following New Testament examples are based on the NIV text. Other versions might yield a slightly different list of passages, as would a fuller study of the Old Testament. Note: The original 1990 version of this article did not include XI and XII, which were added in 2004.
I. HYPOCRITICAL JUDGING (Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:1)
This is the kind of judging most people have in mind when they express the judgment that one should not judge. Jesus tells us to get the log out of our own eye so that we can see clearly enough to help our brother. Clearly he expects us to do a certain amount of “judging” — but not hypocritically.
II. DISCERNING THOSE RECEPTIVE TO THE GOSPEL (Matthew 7:6, 10:11+)
It is not unkind to judge who is open to the gospel message and who is not. It’s what is fairest to all — both to the person at hand as well as to others who may be seeking the Lord (7:7).
III. SUPERFICIAL JUDGING (John 7:24)
Get the facts, and know the scriptures. That is the only way to make a right judgment. The person who fails to make a right judgment will make poor decisions, and may even be duped by others more shrewd. The entire book of Proverbs exhorts us to this sort of practical wisdom.
IV. MAKING AN ASSESSMENT (Acts 4:19)
The act of judgment itself is neutral. The usual Greek verb for ‘judge’ or ‘discern’ is krinein. It is not an inherently negative word. It means moving from premises to conclusions; assessing a situation; discerning; etc. In fact, Paul insists that the spiritual man makes all sorts of judgments (1 Corinthians 2:15). That is good.
V. PASSING JUDGMENT ON OPINION MATTERS (Romans 14:1+.)
We must all take a stand on the crucial issues, but it is wrong to judge others on the basis of peripheral matters or non-salvation issues. (In this case, the disputable matter concerns foods.) Of course the apostles expect us to accept the weaker brother, not necessarily to leave him in a state of ignorance or weak faith. Yet the Lord will hold all of us accountable for how we use our freedom of thought and expression, and there are many passages in the Bible reminding us of this truth.
VI. FINAL JUDGMENT (Romans 14:10-12, Acts 10:42)
This is God’s prerogative, and his alone. Sentencing people to heaven or hell is “final judgment.” Obviously, no human has the authority to send any other human being anywhere after death. Further, do not confuse judging in the sense of warning with judging in the sense of sentencing; they are different things.
VII. JUDGING HEARTS AND MOTIVES (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)
This is highly problematic. Yes, out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart, so there may be some clues to what is going on in someone’s heart or mind, and yet Proverbs says that only a person of understanding can draw out the innermost intent (20:5). Paul adds that he does not even judge himself. Let’s not get tied in knots trying to analyze everybody — including ourselves!
VIII. DISCIPLINARY JUDGING (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Church discipline requires that action be taken when serious sin is affecting the congregation. This may include expelling the unrepentant.
IX. JUDGING DISPUTES (1 Corinthians 6:2)
This requires judgment (discernment). The apostle assumes that Christians have the collective wisdom to settle their own disputes — without going public.
X. CRITICAL JUDGING (James 4:11-12)
Grumbling — for example, rich Christians complaining against poor Christians, or vice versa — is wrong. We are not to judge others in a critical, destructive manner. Ephesians 4:29!
XI. INTERPRETING THE SCRIPTURES (1 Corinthians 10:15, 11:13)
We are all encouraged to correctly study and interpret God’s word. This entails exercising judgment.
XII. DOCTRINAL NIT-PICKING (Colossians 2:16)
Some people deny that others are saved on the basis of inconsequential or outmoded doctrines’in this case, observance of the Sabbath or rules about kosher foods. The central teachings of the scripture indicate the core doctrines; not all biblical teachings are equally important, or essential for salvation. This is not to say that we should refuse to ‘draw the line’ when it comes to such key doctrines as, for example, the one body, spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God mentioned in Ephesians 4:3-6.
Forbidden forms of judgment
* Hypocritical judging
* Superficial judging
* Condemning in opinion matters
* Final judgment
* Judging motives
* Critical judging
* Doctrinal nit-picking
Acceptable forms of judgment
* Discerning who is open
* Making a “right” judgment
* Making a general assessment
* Disciplinary judgment
* Judging disputes
* Interpreting the scriptures correctly
So we see that the common plea, “Judge not!” is a gross oversimplification! We all must make many judgments every day. Let’s be sure we are doing it in the right spirit. Judge Not!