One of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible is Matthew 7:1 – “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
It is frequently interpreted to mean something like this: Don’t judge me! Only God can judge what I do, and no one else.
A person who reacts this way doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “judge.”
The Greek word for “judge” in Matthew 7:1 is krínnō. It has multiple meanings including “to discern between good and bad.”
However, this definition cannot be the correct one for this verse.
It would be ridiculous to never form a judgement of someone’s actions or behavior. We can’t be morally neutral all the time.
Suppose a woman discovered her husband was having an affair. Would it be rational for her to say, “Oh, that’s fine, honey. I don’t judge if that is right or wrong.”
If a politician tells a lie or breaks a promise, are we not to judge that as wrong?
If someone stole our dog, should we not declare that to be wrong?
If someone says something racist, are we not to say anything?
If you read two other verses by Christ, He said that we do need to judge:
John 7:24 – “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Luke 7:43 – “You have judged correctly.”
There is a long list of actions that we must be able to judge as wrong. What’s more, there are occasions when we must tell someone they have done wrong, especially if it impacts us personally or has hurt someone else.
A wise person has good judgement; they recognize the difference between right and wrong behavior.
The Correct meaning of “Judge”
To understand the correct meaning of “judge not lest ye be judged” we must consider another definition of the word krínnō.
The word can also mean “to pass sentence on, condemn.” This is a more likely definition, and it is not the same as forming a correct judgement between right and wrong behavior.
Matthew 7:1 might be better translated as “Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.”
When Christ said, “judge not”, it is a warning about condemning someone for what they did. Condemn can be defined as “express complete disapproval of, typically in public; censure.”
If you condemn someone, your words are harsh or extremely critical. You are making a judgement about the whole person based on their actions or behavior.
When we form a judgement about someone, we should always try to separate the person from their actions or behavior. Even if they did something bad, we should not judge them as a bad person unless they are guilty of serious crimes and feel no remorse.
The Context of Matthew 7:1
To understand the correct meaning of “judge not lest yet be judged”, we must also read the verse that follows it.
Matthew 7:2 says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
When we form a judgement about someone’s actions or behavior, we should be careful in choosing our words. The way we speak to others will impact how they speak to us. If we judge people harshly, sooner or later, we will be judged harshly in return.
The wrong way to judge someone is to be extremely critical and to have no compassion or mercy when they have done something wrong.
The right way to judge is to speak to others in the way we would want to be spoken to. This is the Golden Rule. We should speak the truth in love, and sometimes be bold and direct, but never insulting or rude.
When we form a judgement of someone, we need to have humility. If a person has sinned against us, we must remember that we have sinned too. As human beings, we are all fallen; we all make mistakes.
Finally, when we judge another person’s actions or behavior, we must not think we are superior or more virtuous than they are.
Only God can make judgements like that.