Judge Not 

Instructions One Judge
Problems Killer God
Evaluate Execution
Law Court


The Lord commanded His followers not to judge:


  • “Judge not, that ye be not judged.
    “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    “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?
    “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 eye.”

  • (Matthew 7:1-5).

Redeemer, Novgorod

One Judge

There are two functions united together in the One who is both Judge and Law-giver:

"There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?" (James 4:12).

"Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:31).

"For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us." (Isaiah 33:22).

Though as regards our heavenly citizenship, the same One is both Judge and Law-giver, the two functions are not one and the same. In well-ordered states, the two functions are separated into distinct bodies performing distinct functions, the legislative and the judicial. The judge applies the law, he does not write it; and the legislator writes the law, he does not apply it.

This hair-splitting would not be needed, except that some people think, when it is said 'Judge not,' that means, 'You shall not repeat what is written in the law-book.' Not only is it nowhere commanded that 'You shall not repeat what is written in the law-book,' the contrary is expressly taught:

"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." (Deuteronomy 6:6-7).

To recite the contents of the law-book, the Bible, is not forbidden, it is required. This is not 'judging.'


Who is the Judge? Not us:

"Another first-century application was to Christian slaves with cruel masters. What if they were unjustly beaten? They must bear it patiently, following in the footsteps of Jesus, who did not retaliate, but entrusted himself and his cause to the just Judge of all. This last point, that the non-retaliation of Jesus was accompanied by a commitment of himself to God, is an important addition. To renounce rights is not to acquiesce in wrongs. The reason we do not judge is that this is God's prerogative, not ours." (Issues Facing Christian Today, John R. W. Stott and John Wyatt, p. 205).

There is one Judge of all the earth:



What is forbidden and what is permitted? To look at another human being and say, 'He is going to Hell,' is to judge him. This belongs to God and not man. The man who has done this has trespassed upon the divine prerogative. Several problems which leap out:

Knowledge Ownership
Future Tense Ingratitude
Lack of Standing


Judgment requires awareness of motive, for which the psalmist looks to God:

"Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide. Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart." (Psalm 26:1)

This knowledge belongs to the Lord:

"But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause." (Jeremiah 20:12).

"I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." (Jeremiah 17:10).

"And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works." (Revelation 2:23).

'Reins' means 'kidneys,' in other words 'inward parts;' the innermost thoughts and feelings. This God knows, we do not. Has a sinner repented, or is he obdurate? At last we will know, because all secrets are revealed, and what was hid in darkness comes forth into the light: "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." (1Corinthians 4:5). Then, and not before, we also will have a commission to judge, because competent at last: "Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?" (1 Corinthians 6:2). As Philo explains,

"Now words spoken openly and deeds done openly are known to all, but the inward thought which prompts them in either case is not known. We cannot tell whether it is wholesome and pure, or diseased and stained with manifold defilement. No merely created being is capable of discerning the hidden thought and motive. Only God can do so, and therefore Moses says 'things hidden are known to the Lord God, but things manifest are known to the Creature' (Deut. xxix. 29)." (Philo Judaeus, On the Cherubim, Chapter V, p. 19 Loeb edition).

We may know, some of the time, what the miscreant did, but whether his pillow was thereafter wet with midnight tears we do not know, God knows. Theodore Parker was mistaken on many points, but he did get off a good line, "I know well enough what is sin; God, only, who is a sinner." (Theodore Parker, Works of Theodore Parker, Kindle location 2265).



Sometimes we mistake our place on the organizational chart and think that we are part of management:

"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. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10-12).

"And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself." (Psalm 50:6).

Some people think that persecution is built into the Christian world-view, because God undeniably works vengeance against those who have offended Him, as in the times of Noah: "If a just and omnipotent God wreaked divine vengeance on those of his creatures who offended him, it was not for man to question the righteousness of his ways, but humbly to imitate his example and rejoice when the opportunity to do so was vouchsafed to him." (Henry C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Volume 1, Kindle location 4279). This is like saying, if a King is justified in executing the treasonous, any one of his subjects is justified in seizing the throne and executing whomever he likes. It is because this function belongs to God, that it does not belong to us.


Future Tense

A situation which is dynamic and changing may be mistaken for one which is static. We are trapped on the time-line like a caterpillar on a twig. Only God sees the whole, only God knows the end from the beginning:

"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure..." (Isaiah 46:9-10).

The tax-collectors and the prostitutes, who are outside now, may be streaming in, and those who now have ring-side seats may be on their way out. The ancient pagans used to say, do not call any man happy until he is dead. What they meant was that someone who seems to be very prosperous (the pagans were very grabby) today might end his days on the torture rack; wait and see how the story turns out before delivering a verdict. The person sitting next to you in church may end up an atheist, screaming curses on his death-bed against the God in whom he does not believe. "Therefore judge nothing before the time."



Of how much worse things have we ourselves been forgiven? If we were to be judged by our conformance to God's law, we would all end up in the same place. The Lord's sacrifice on the cross covered our unworthiness. Reflecting on our own miserable state, we can only beg pardon for others equally down-cast:


  • “The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
  • “But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.
  • “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.
  • “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”

  • (Matthew 18:26-35).

Lack of Standing

In the central conceit of Fritz Lang's classic movie 'M,' the child-murderer, played by Peter Lorre, stands trial before a courtroom filled with criminals. Pick-pockets and second-story men are his judges. But any human court of law is a courtroom full of criminals presiding, for the moment on furlough, but soon enough expected to give an account:

"There is one basic reason why we have no right to judge anyone else; and that is that we ourselves are men under judgment. . .There was a rabbinic saying: 'Let not thine imagination assure thee that the grave is an asylum; for perforce thou wast framed, and perforce thou wast born, and perforce thou livest, and perforce thou diest, and perforce thou art about to give account and reckoning before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is he.'" (William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, p. 187).

We are all sinners, none of us meriting acquittal by our own virtue:

We are not righteous enough to judge.


Killer God

Some people are appalled at the transformation visible in Jesus, gentle, meek and mild, when He returns in the book of Revelation:

"This ['Left Behind'] is a horrific vision of Jesus and of God. This is the 'killer God' and the 'killer Jesus.' God and Jesus are going to 'get us' unless we believe the right things, try to live the right way, and seek forgiveness for our shortcomings." (Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 12).

God has always been a 'killer God:'

"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand." (Deuteronomy 32:39).

It is tendentious and ungrateful to focus on God's act in ending our lives without emphasizing also that every second of life we enjoy is an unrecompensed gift from Him and Him alone. When He judges in the end, He is judging His own creation, not people who somehow willed themselves here:



Christians are commanded not to judge. Yet are not these same people, solemnly instructed not to judge, the most censorious human beings on earth? Some people think so: "One must not let oneself be led astray: 'Judge not,' they say, but they consign to hell everything that stands in their way." (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, The Portable Nietzsche, edited by Walter Kaufmann, p. 621). There is an innocuous sense of the word 'judge' in which it means something like 'weigh,' or 'evaluate the evidence.' Not only does the Lord not intend to forbid 'judging' in that harmless sense, He tells His listeners,

"If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day? Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (John 7:23-24).

This 'judging' is not to condemn a man to Hell, but to sift and evaluate a matter.

Neither is it 'judging' to recite the contents of scripture. Christians do not look to usurp the Law-giver's seat. When it is not a question of secular law but God's commands, then He alone delivers them, and they listen and make a note of them. When we repeat His commands after Him, we are only doing as instructed. This is sometimes misunderstood, for example by gay-rights activists, who repeat the Lord's command to "judge not" as if it left us in a moral fog, unable to guess what the Lord wanted us to do or not to do. They confuse 'legislating' with 'judging;' God legislated, very clearly; we abstain from judging, not because the law-book is unclear, but because the task does not belong to us but to God. Any time they would like to know what the law-book says, we will be happy to tell them.

It was the Lord Himself who said, “Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” (John 14:6). Since both this instruction and the command not to judge come from the same source, it is counter-productive to suggest you cannot obey the Lord's injunction while also believing His teaching. Jesus expects both belief and obedience.



The Lord is the judge of the world:

"For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth. He shall judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with His truth." (Psalm 96:13).

Although at the end we will share in His commission, we are not yet so endowed and empowered. There is nothing more commonly heard from the voices of irreligion than condemnation against God, for judging the peoples of the earth and finding them wanting. Entire nations He has seen fit to blot out, and some people just will not stand for it:

  • “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
  • (Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Part I, Chapter VII - Examination of the Old Testament).

No doubt Thomas Paine, who went to France expressly to participate in that nation's Revolution, found the guillotine so much more humane. Dr. Guillotin's invention is indeed a humane execution method, but once these people who are so much kinder than God got it humming, it was hard to stop. It is noteworthy that the crimes of which he wishes to accuse God, were all committed by himself and his fellow revolutionists, who treated the non-conforming part of the nation with great vindictiveness, carrying out mass killings in those regions suspected of insufficient revolutionary fervor. It is difficult to make the case that man is fully competent to carry out judicial executions, but God is not:


Law Court

Some readers object, the Mosaic law of the Old Testament incorporates an entire civil law code, complete with instructions to those appointed to serve as judges, to judge justly:

“Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s.’” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17).

Is this a contradiction between the Old and New Testaments? Commenting on unfortunate sermon topics, Charles Spurgeon remarked, “Most manifestly idiotic was he who selected 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,' for a sermon before the judges at an assize.” (Spurgeon, Charles H.. Lectures to My Students (p. 82). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.) 'Idiotic' sounds harsh. Truth to tell, the Mosaic justice system was not a smashing success, leading even rabbis to admit it could have been handled better,

"They taught: Forty years before the Temple was destroyed they took away the right to judge capital cases and in the days of Shimon ben Shetach they took away the right to judge monetary cases. Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said: Blessed be the All-Merciful for I am not wise enough to judge." (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin, 1b).

Still, it is remarkable that this high title, of 'judge,' is shared by God and man. One of those so denominated, fully deserves it: