The misunderstood 11th commandment: Thou
shall not judge
Robert E. Meyer
Regardless of the level of theological sophistication, we can always be
sure the critics "know" one thing: The Bible says that we should not judge
one another. Anyone who would do so is clearly being un-Christian. Such
obtuse reasoning is employed against Christians who offer a negative
commentary on certain cultural trends, behaviors or lifestyles. Still, I
wonder how many people have taken this concept to its logical conclusion?
John 3:16 (NLT) "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal
Matthew 7:1 (NLT) "Stop judging others, and you will not be judged."
We now hear that in our modern times, John 3:16 has been replaced by
Matthew 7:1, as the most often quoted scriptural passage. This is clearly
because we have taken the focus off of what the Creator has done for us,
and placed it on the creatures do for themselves. We have taken the
emphasis off of grace, and have instead made the approval of moral
pluralism the quintessential virtue of the age.
The very idea that all judging is wrong, is an illegitimate synthesis
between Christianity, moral relativism, and the contemporary perspective
on "tolerance." These ideas have been wedded together to conjure up
witch's brew of self-contradictory sophistry.
Christianity has traditionally viewed "tolerance" through a prism of
scriptural precept that parallels the garden variety dictionary
definition. The scriptures say things like, "Love endures all things," and
"As much as it depends on you, live peacefully with all men." The
traditional definition is that "tolerance" is graciously enduring those
who you disagree with.
Today, "tolerance" has been reconstructed to mean something entirely
different. Essentially it means that all ideas, lifestyles and truth
claims, are deemed equally valid. Christian author and speaker Josh
McDowell refers to this phenomenon as "negative tolerance"(permission)
versus "positive tolerance" (approval). One can readily see how this new
definition of tolerance circles back to the claim made about judging. If
nobody has a superior moral position, then nobody has the standing to
"judge" anything in terms of ethical hierarchy.
But does the use of Matthew 7:1, as a stand-alone quotation, bring
contextual justice to the point Jesus is making? Of course not. Later in
the passage, Christ refers to certain people unable or unwilling to
assimilate spiritual things. He refers to them figuratively as "pigs" and
"dogs." That sounds a bit like judging to me! In the book of John, Jesus
talks of rendering a "righteous judgement," rather than none at all. The
point was never that we should not make moral judgments, or employ an
ethical hierarchy in being discreet about evaluating "right" and "wrong."
The idea was that there should be no "double-standards." We should not
judge others by a standard we would not want to be judged with ourselves.
This is how we avoid "judgmentalism" and cronin fault-finding. We are
exhorted to correct our own hypocrisies before reforming the world.
Now that is very different from telling someone that they shouldn't dare
to call anything wrong. In fact, such reasoning will ultimately lead to
calling evil good and good evil. This is because evil cannot be called
evil, since such labeling is judgmental. Good is considered evil, because
those who are endeavoring to do good by calling something else wrong, are
guilty of judging. How could any court of justice operate if all judgment
without exception were considered wrong? All criticisms of anything would
have to be withheld on the basis that such critiques are judgmental in
Christian apologist Greg Koukl offers us the perfect antidote to this
apparent logical dilemma. He says that we must be egalitarian in terms
persons, but elitist in reference to ideas. That principle is embodied in
the old ecclesiastical adage that we are to hate the sin, yet love the
sinner. This is a perfect expression of "righteous judgment," but it is a
posture that would be condemned today as grossly judgmental. And yet in
effect, is it any different from saying, "We support the troops, but
oppose the war(We have concern for the person, but disapprove of the
cause)?" The latter position is assumed to be accepted as valid without
question, despite the fact that the former is seen as intolerant.
Last year an editorial writer to my local newspaper made a preposterous
claim. He declared that the only hope for the peaceful co-existence of
mankind, was that each of us must accept and respect the other guy's
truth. We can't be dogmatic and say the other guy is wrong. But in
articulating such a standard, the writer himself is engaged in judging,
not to mention being dogmatic. Applying Koukl's axiom to this situation,
we might say that all people deserve respect because of their unique
position as reflecting the image of God. But in the process of evaluating
the cogency of ideas, the writer clearly is confused, as he seeks to
reconstruct the term "truth," by making it tantamount to opinion.
The idea that we can never judge about anything is patently absurd. To say
that we can never judge is to wander aimlessly. The scriptures tell us
that we should reprove each other, speaking the truth in love. What our
society lacks is righteous judgment. What we have an abundance of is
knit-picking and indifference. Neither of those two alternatives promotes
justice and righteousness.
Who is Jesus?