To Judge or Not to Judge: That Is the Question

  452 views

One of my regular readers asked me to reflect on the whole issue of judgment in the church. His starting point was Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” How can we make sense out of this whole business about judging—a word used often in the New Testament and sometimes in opposite ways?

Wow! Big topic. Years ago I wrote a 250-page ThM thesis at Calvin Seminary on “The Idea of Excommunication: An Analysis of the Biblical Passages,” and that thesis dealt with only one form of judging. Guess I cannot cover the topic in a few hundred words, can I? But I will say a few things, and let my readers continue the discussion.

Personally, I think the best place to start reflecting on this issue is 1 Corinthians 11:27–32, because Paul speaks there of four levels of judging, and each level uses a different Greek word (though I want to say upfront that this issue cannot be solved simply by word study; words occur in context, and context determines nuances of meaning; moreover, the same words can have different meanings in other passages). The first word is διακρίνω. In 11:29 Paul calls us to “discern the body of Christ.” Since Paul does not add here “the body and the blood of Christ, he is probably encouraging the Corinthians to reflect on what attitudes they held relative to other members in the body of Christ, the church. In Corinth, we know, certain members of the church (i.e., the elite) were looking down on other members (i.e., the poor and the slaves) in the manner in which they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Paul has some harsh words to say about that type of behavior. Note that the verb διακρίνω is repeated in the “if clause” in 11:31.

The second level of judging occurs in 11:28, where Paul uses the verb δοκιμάζω to encourage the Corinthians “examine themselves” in their relationship to Jesus Christ and in the meaning of his sacrifice on their behalf (symbolized in the elements of the Lord’s Supper). Do they perceive that Christ’s sacrifice was for all of God’s people equally? Do we realize that we all stand needy before the cross with empty hands, asking for his forgiving power in our lives? Do we love the Lord and what he did for us, and do we love the church? It is significant that these first two levels of judging require us to look at ourselves. We would get much further in our spiritual lives if we spend our time looking at our own hearts and lives rather than the lives of others.

The third level of judging is expressed by the verb κρίνω, which can easily happen if we are not consistently and regularly examining ourselves but “judging” others instead. If we are not discerning ourselves, we will come under God’s disciplinary judgment (κρίνω, which occurs again in 11:32, where it refers to judgment done by the Lord in order to educate us [παιδεύω]). Some examples of such judgment by God are given in 11:30 (“that is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep”). There are other ways, of course, that God can use to educate us; he uses both his Word and our experiences in life to speak to us for our spiritual growth. Note that if we do consistent διακρίνω and δοκιμάζω, God will not need to use his κρίνω.

The final level is in the last part of 11:32, the verb κατακρίνω. This is the strongest verb among these four, and it means “to condemn.” If we fail to judge our relationship to Jesus Christ accurately and if we fail to listen to God’s nudging education in our lives, the end result is eternal condemnation. I don’t like to talk about hell, but that is what this verb implies. God doesn’t like to talk about hell either, for “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Well, this is a start. Lots more could be said and I leave that up to you.

Posted in:
Image Credit

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

This is great, Verlyn!  Four different words used to describe various aspects of judging.  Discerning (recognizing ), judging ourselves, being judged by God, and being condemned...   Lots to think about.   I will think about this some more, but I will make a comment about the first instance you mentioned, diakrinon, "discerning the body of Christ".   In the context of this passage, I understand the action being discussed is "eating without waiting for anyone else".   This may be due to divisions, pride, arrogance, selfishness, carelessness, etc., and so the Lord's supper is not really happening, because they are not remembering what Christ has done, and so do not discern or recognize the body of Christ, ( a dual conotation) which is the people of God ( next chapter, same passage, I Cor. 12).   If we don't remember Christ's sacrifice of his body for all, including for the chief of sinners, then we won't recognize the believers as being the body of Christ. The emphasis in this passage seems to be on discerning the people (body) of Christ.  This context is rounded out in verse 33, when it says that we should wait for each other (share, be considerate, value all parts of the body...)  and then verse 34 has the word, "judgement", again.  Interesting, "judgement" is used for a seemingly superficial action, eating at home if you are hungry and can't wait for others.  

Your explanation makes sense to me so far. 

Jesus was simply telling us not to be judgmental in our relationships with others, but He does want us to judge, to be discerning. For example, we are to be able to know the wolves from the sheep. And if we are not to cast pearls before swine, we need to discern what he meant by the swine. 

Many people quote this verse because they don't want anyone to tell them that they are a sinner and they need Jesus. 

Good points made by Don J.  Sometimes we pull out very convenient scriptures, don't we? 

  With regard to Verlyn's point about discerning the body of Christ, I have pondered a bit more.  Some versions translate that as recognizing the body of Christ.  I'm thinking that the action is actually not about self reflection but is about knowing and recognizing the body of Christ.  Yes, that does have implications for how we treat the members of the body, which is the main thrust of this passage.  But, the real problem is that some Corinthians were not recognizing the body of christ, but only looking at their outward human appearance with outward social conditions.  As John 7:24 says, "stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly".  They were forgetting that these people were the body of Christ;  they were judging these people, but with the wrong criteria.   To judge these other christians means to recognize them as saved repentant fellow believers, since they confessed Christ as Lord and Saviour.

Are "krino" and "diakrino" gramatically related?  I get krino - to judge, and diakrino - to judge thoroughly (back and forth). 

Yes, krino is the basic verb, and diakrino has a prepositional prefix (and katakrino does as well). It is always difficult to predict how a prepositional prefix changes the meaning of the verb. Does it intensify it? Does it change direction (as kata-krino definitely does)? Only usage and context can tell.

The whole issue of judging, especially when it involves the church, is a complex one. My personal thoughts, even with respect to judgment in the church, is that we have a responsibility to discern whether a person's behavior and/or lifestyle  is consistent with the standards outlined in Scripture. We do not, however, have the right to determine whether a person is going to heaven or hell. If a church council ever felt it necessary to excommunicate a member, they are not making a determination about that person's soul. They are, however, saying that this person's lifestyle does not measure up with what the Bible reveals as the basic ,lifestyle expectations of someone who is a covenant child of God. Only God truly knows if that person is truly his child. Excommunication is exactly what it says: ex-communion (outside the communion of the visible church). (I prefer the word "disfellowship,' which is exactly the same term but using the Greek prefix "dis/dys" instead of a Latin prefix "ex"). In other words, we merely remove a person's name from the membership list as a warning to that individual; we do not cast them out of the kingdom of God.

Although many more passages in scripture mention God being the judge, and that we should judge ourselves,  A couple of passages that talk about the necessity of judging others, or judging between others in the church are found in I cor. 5 and 6.  It would also seem there are two aspects to this judging.   One is discernment of what is obedience to God or not obedience to God.   The second aspect is to judge an appropriate consequence to disobedience.   I corinthians 5 talks about quite a severe consequence for an obvious rebellion.   But I Cor 6 mentions judging in the sense of settling disputes.   These disputes seem often to be personal disputes maybe about business or property, but perhaps could also include disputes about how we are to live in obedience before the Lord.   The focus seems to be on actions requiring judgement, not on condemnation for eternal judgement, which is God's job, not ours. 

I Corinthians 5  "It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.  God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.”"    

I Corinthians 6:2-4  "Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves?  Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life.  If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church?"