“Judge not that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37).
“He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7).
“There is one Lawgiver… who are you to judge another?” (James 4:12).
We often hear these verses quoted. We, out of concern, try to reason with one living a life contrary to God’s word, only to have these words directed against us. We turn on a television or radio talk show. A moral issue is being discussed. If the Bible is mentioned, the retort is “Judge not that you be not judged,” or, “He who is without sin… let him cast the first stone.” I think that these must be among the most quoted Bible verses.
Let us consider these verses a bit closer in their context.
1. Matthew 7:1-6. The immediate context concerns hypercritical and hypocritical judging, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye” (Matthew 7:3) “Hypocrite!” (Matthew 7:5).
The immediate context is not forbidding all judging. (a) Matthew 7:5: “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Do not be a hypocrite. Get your life in order. Then, you will be in a better position to help your brother. “Therefore, you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). Do not be like the one who says, “Do as I say, not as I do.” (b) Matthew 7:6: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before the swine.” This is said in the same context. We are to judge some to be “dogs” and “swine.”
There is also the matter of self-contradiction. Those who think Matthew 7:1 forbids all judging, and who are quick to quote this passage to others whom them perceive as judging, are in fact, judging others to be in violation of Matthew 7:1. Consistency, thou art the jewel!
2. Luke 6:37-38. This is the parallel passage to Matthew 7:1. However, there are some additional things I wish to consider.
The immediate context concerns how we treat others. (a) Jesus has set the “Golden Rule” (Luke 6:31). (b) He has instructed that this is to be practiced even towards those who are enemies, an towards those who cannot repay their kindness, or benefit them in some way (Luke 6:32-35 cf. Luke 14:12-14). (c) Finally, He sets forth the principle of reciprocity. That is, in general the way you treat others is the way they will treat you in return. Notice the wording found in the King James Version, “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye hall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven; give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:37-38 cf. Proverbs 11:26-28; Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).
The remote context does not forbid all judgment. (a) We are to discern between right and wrong (Acts 17:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; Hebrews 5:12; 1 John 4:1). (b) We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; 1 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-ff; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 1:10-11; 3:10; 2 John 9-11). (c) We are to judge whether a man is qualified to serve as an elder or deacon (1 Timothy 3:1-ff; Titus 1:5-ff). (d) We are to identify and help those who are in sin (Galatians 6:1-2; James 5:20). (e) We are to “judge not, according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
3. John 8:1-11. History should be considered. The Jews, at this point in time, were being ruled by Rome, and had no legal right to execute capital punishment on their own (cf. John 18:31). The scribes and Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus in a dilemma. (a) If he refuses to allow the execution, they no doubt are going to try to paint him as one who does not respect Moses’ law. (b) If he agrees to her execution, then they no doubt plan to report such to Roman authorities, and paint him as lacking respect for Roman authority.
Moses’ law should be considered. The scribes and Pharisees’ trap was not much of a trap for they had not followed Moses’ law in the matter. (a) The law required two or more witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; Deuteronomy 19:15). One wonders if there were actual witnesses. (b) The law required that both the man and the woman be brought into judgment (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22). Where was the man? Why had they not brought him to Jesus? Was the man one of them? (c) The law required that the witnesses cast the first stone (Deuteronomy 17:6-7). No one was willing to do this. Where there any real witnesses? (d) Why bring the woman to Jesus? Was Jesus an earthly judge? (cf. Luke 12:13-14).
What did Jesus mean when he said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her”? (a) He may have meant “without sin in how this matter had been handled”. They had not followed the law. (b) He may have meant “without sin in the same matter.” (cf. Romans 2:1-3). Had some of them been in sin with her? Or, at least been guilty of the same sin? (c) It certainly does not mean that one cannot condemn another, if one has ever been guilty of any sin. Governments may enforce laws (cf. Romans 13). Church discipline is to be practiced (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3, etc.).
Some seem to think that Jesus simply overlooked this woman’s sin. He did not. He told her, “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
4. James 4:11-12. The kind of judging under consideration here is very likely the kind addressed previously in this book. James 2:2-4: “If there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or ‘sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” Evil judges show partiality (cf. Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 1:17).
Watch the fact that the kind of judging mentioned is connected with being a lawgiver (James 4:11-12). We should not judge others unfairly, or by some self-created unjust standard. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
One commentator added this thought, “The Christian must judge right and wrong on the basis of the word of God. But he must not judge his fellows out of hatred, pride, or some other false motive” [Shelly, What Christian Living is All About (Studies in James, p. 54].