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Judging and Judgment

When evangelicals state that they reject homosexual practice and the possibility of same-sex marriage, they are often accused of judging others and told that this is not a Christian attitude. Didn’t Jesus himself tell us not to judge? We are pointed to his words ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ in Matthew 7:1. Sometimes James 4:12 is also used: ‘… who are you to judge your neighbour?’ 

Do these verses really prohibit all judgment? Many ‘accepting’ Christians indeed suggest that the Bible forbids all human judgment, but I will argue that this is not so. As F.F. Bruce writes, 

Judgment is an ambiguous word, in English as in Greek: it may mean sitting in judgment over people (or even condemning them), or it may mean exercising a proper discrimination. In the former sense judgment is deprecated; in the latter sense it is recommended.¹


The common Greek verb used here is krinō (‘to judge’) and the related nouns (‘judgment’) are krisis and krima.² The New Testament also contains other compounds with krinō (anakrinō, diakrinō and katakrinō and with krisis: anakrisis (examination), diakrisis and katakrisis. Clearly krinō is the most common of these words and can refer to various types of judgment in various circumstances.

The noun krisis (judgment) is closely related to the verb krinō and is mainly used of final condemnation from God for sinners (e.g., John 5:24, 29). One of the exceptions is found in John 7:24, where a form of judgment is committed to believers. Likewise, the noun krima mainly refers to the final punishment in judgment; the few exceptions are Romans 11:33 and 1 Corinthians 6:7. The word katakrima is the noun form of the verb katakrinō and likewise, it is always negative, relating to a guilty verdict, condemnation and even execution.

The less common verb dokimazō involves the process of examination followed by a conclusion, which requires judging; it occurs in Luke 12:56, 14:19, Romans 1:28, 2:18, 12:2, 14:22, 1 Corinthians 3:13, 11:28, 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:8, 22; 13:5, Galatians 6:4, Ephesians 5:10, Philippians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 5:21, 1 Timothy 3:10, 1 Peter 1:7 and 1 John 4:1.


So let us see how krinō is used in New Testament ethics:

  1. In Acts 15:13-28, James uses the same word krinō as did Jesus in Matthew 7:1: ‘Therefore I judge (krinō) that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God (19) … For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things (28).’ James determines God’s will by logical inference from the Scriptures and the facts. For similar use of (ana)krinō see also Acts 4:19-20, 16:15, 17:11, 1 Corinthians 10:15 and Hebrews 5:14 (diakrisis). These passages suggests that Matthew 7:1 is not a general prohibition against all forms of judgment.
  2. Believers are called upon to judge themselves (Romans 14:22-23 and 1 Corinthians 11:31-32) and to judge situations correctly (John 7:24). 
  3. In Romans 3:7, 1 Corinthians 10:29 and Colossians 2:16 Paul corrects various people who were ‘judging’ him or his readers, but he does not correct the fact that judgment was made or even that the judgment was negative; he merely corrects the basis of the judgment.
  4. Paul criticises the Corinthians’ reluctance to execute judgment and it is worth quoting much of 1 Corinthians 5:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: a man is sleeping with his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? 3 For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. 4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. … 11 I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’

Using the same word that Jesus used to prohibit judging (vs. 3, 12, 13), Paul orders the Corinthians to ‘judge’ the unrepentant brother and to ‘not even eat with such a person’. He even criticises them for not having already judged and acted. 

Other words

We also find texts requiring a public judgment in Matthew 18:15-17, Romans 16:17, Ephesians 5:11-12, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 and 1 Timothy 5:20. Nor does Paul use krinō in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, but his words clearly imply some judgment of others. If Matthew 7:1 is taken to be a general prohibition, then we would be prohibited from making such distinctions in our treatment of people.

The only judgments we humans are not qualified to make are those about eternal destiny –see 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, where the Corinthians are instructed to ‘judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes’. We can’t run ahead of God’s eternal judgment because we can’t work from that perspective, except where God has already told us what he will do (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; John 3:5; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 3:14-17). 

No judging?

I conclude that wise judging is a common practice in the New Testament, commended by most of its authors and Jesus himself. Our Lord most certainly did not prohibit all human judgment in Matthew 7:1. As R.T. France writes about this verse, 

Judge (krinō) often carries the connotation ‘condemn’, and it is in that sense it is used here. The use of our critical faculties in making value judgments is frequently required in the New Testament, as in vv.6 and 15-20 of the present chapter. There may be a place for verbal rebuke and even stronger measures: 18:15-17. This passage, however, is concerned with the fault-finding, condemnatory attitude which is too often combined with a blindness to one’s own failings.³

One of the first readers of this article aptly commented: ‘I wonder what kind of pastors we would be if we did not keep the flock away from danger. All shepherding surely requires judgement of one kind or another.’ 

  1. F.F. Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1983, rpt 1998) 87.
  2. Much of the material here is taken from study_judge.html and https://www.insearch Both sites were compiled by Trevor Bowen and first published in 2014. At the bottom of these pages it says: ‘All other content is hereby released to the public domain, and therefore, may be freely copied and distributed without inquiry. However, it would be appreciated if you provided a link back to our site. All material on this site is informational only and provided “as is” without warranties, representations, or guarantees of any kind.’ I have abbreviated and edited this material that together ran into 50 pages A4.  
  3. R.T. France, Matthew (Tyndale NT Commentaries; Leicester: IVP, 1985) 142.

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