The Biblical Teaching on Judging
About the only sin that our culture recognizes anymore is that of “judging” others. Pope Francis’ now infamous “Who am I to judge?” taken grossly out of context by the maggots in the media, only shows how desperately large sections of our society are trying to set themselves as beyond all moral reproach. What follows is kind of long, mostly because I have included a number of complete references to Scripture regarding judging. It will be worth your while to read them.
Due primarily to biblical ignorance, as well as a general moral cowardice that is pervasive in our politically correct culture, there is a gross misunderstanding as to what the Bible really teaches, and what is required of us as Christians regarding making judgments on the actions and behaviors of ourselves and others. Typically, this is played out when a specific behavior is called into question. Some examples might include:
A family member or friend moves in with his/her boy/girlfriend and is living a life of fornication. Or someone we know is drinking too much and acting generally irresponsibly. If someone comments that this situation is sinful or otherwise wrong, the defense on the part of the guilty parties is, “It says in the Bible not to judge! How dare you judge me!” Or it may be the case that someone sees another engaging in some kind of sinful or otherwise destructive behavior, but sits idly by saying to him/herself, “Well, I suppose I should have said something, but who am I to judge? I’m certainly not perfect, so who am I to cast the first stone?”
The real question to be answered is, Does God really intend us to use His Word as an excuse for our own sinful behavior? Do God’s teachings instruct us to stand by, saying and doing nothing, as our brothers and sisters go down a road of destruction? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says in its totality about judging others and what the act of judging really means.
When most people erroneously cite the Bible regarding judging, they are referring to verses like the following:
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)
But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God…Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this--not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way. (Romans 14:10, 13)
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)
And there is the famous line from Jesus in John 8:7, when the woman is caught in adultery, and Jesus says, “Let the one of you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.”
The problem with using verses like those above to justify one’s own disordered behavior or one’s own cowardice in standing by while someone else engages in disordered behavior, is that it does not tell the whole story as to what the Bible says about judging. Consider, for example, the following from the Old Testament:
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. (Leviticus 19:14-16)
Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me. When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself." (Ezekiel 3:17-21)
Those who fear the Lord will form true judgments, and they will kindle righteous deeds like a light. (Sirach 32:16)
It is clear by these passages, that God expects us to judge. He expects us to judge fairly, and furthermore, according to what God revealed to Ezekiel, if we stand idly by, saying and doing nothing, while others destroy themselves because of their sins, God will hold US responsible. It may be worthwhile to consider our own final judgment by God. Part of that judgment may very well be God pointing down into the abyss of hell and saying to any one of us, “Do you see my son/daughter down there suffering the torments of hell for all eternity??! Remember when you could have said something to him/her? In fact, I gave you many chances to be my voice and bring him/her back. And now (s)he is lost from me for all eternity! How I loved him/her so!” Now imagine trying to make your defense saying, “But Lord, You said in the Bible that we aren’t supposed to judge one another!” Will that satisfy God?
But some so-called “Bible Christians” will wrongly assert, “While it is true that this is in the Bible, it is in the Old Testament. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus did away with the Old and ushered in a New Covenant.” That line of thinking is itself wrong, since Jesus Himself said,
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18).
So now let’s see what the New Testament says about judging:
Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? (1 Corinthians 6:1-3)
Here, St. Paul is telling us to get used to judging, since in heaven (assuming we make it) we will sit in judgment over all lesser creatures, such as the angels.
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
This is like Ezekiel’s prophecy. There is a promise made by God to the person who brings a sinner back. The only way anyone can turn a sinner from the error of his way is to first judge that way to be erroneous, and then try to convince the sinner of that fact.
Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
This is the rest of Jesus’ teaching on judging from Matthew 7—the part that most people leave out. Far from being an excuse for sinful behavior, it is a challenge to the would-be follower of Jesus to have one’s own moral house in order, so that we can be worthy and credible agents of Jesus in helping others to get back on the road of righteousness.
It should be clear from these passages of the New Testament that the likes of Jesus, St. Paul, and St. James, consider judging the actions of others to be an integral part of the life of the Christian. It is not optional, and it is certainly not forbidden! Jesus and St. Paul even say that if people don’t shape up and repent, that the Christian should have nothing more to do with such a person.
Taken as a whole, the Bible is challenging us to something very sublime and very difficult. We are to use the mind and intellect that God gave us to make wise, prudent, and just judgments on the actions of ourselves and others. We are to be filled with the love of Christ so that when we admonish and correct others, they know that we are doing so out of genuine love and concern for them and their salvation, and not out of a desire to belittle them or prove ourselves superior. We are commanded by God to have our own moral house in order so that when (not if!) we correct someone else, what we say will be believable and backed up by our actions. We are all also called to the humility that will leave us open to accepting correction from others without getting defensive. In Catholic theology, this is called “fraternal correction,” and without a doubt requires much more courage and moral fiber than what many cite from the Scriptures to defend their own immoral behavior and/or moral cowardice.
If after doing all of this, the person who has strayed from the good path refuses to repent, then what happens? Again, we appeal to Jesus and St. Paul:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [vulgar language, fornication, greed, impurity, and idolatry cited in vv. 3-5] the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be associated with them.” (Ephesians 5:6-7)
“After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who is causing divisions, since you know such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)
How does the Christian determine what is immoral and who not to associate with unless (s)he judges such a person’s actions?
In simplest terms, if someone refuses to repent and correct their evil ways, both Jesus and St. Paul say to throw them out, and have nothing more to do with them. Why? The first reason would be so that such a person who has received correction in a true spirit of Christian charity will see the consequences of his/her actions, seriously reconsider them, hopefully repent of them, and then be re-integrated back into the Christian family. This is the theology and motivation behind excommunication. How- ever, in the case of the recalcitrant soul who simply refuses to come around, there is a strong biblical tradition for removing such a person from the community for the community’s good in much the same way that a cancerous tumor is cut out of someone’s body in order to save their life.
It is a false reading of Scripture, based on tragically flawed ideas from the likes of Marty Luther and Johnny Calvin that each believer is equipped by the Holy Spirit to interpret the Bible on his/her own, that has given rise to such perversions of Christian teaching, not the least of which is the warped understanding as to what the Bible teaches about judging. As Catholics, we should know better.