What does "You shall not judge" mean?

by Matt Slick

Jesus said in Matthew 7:1, "Do not judge so that you will not be judged." Many unbelievers quote this verse when Christians say that homosexuality is a sin, or that adultery is wrong, or tell someone that a person might not be a Christian if, for example, he denies the resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:14). But what do Jesus' words actually mean? Is He saying that we can't say anyone is wrong about anything or that someone is not a Christian or that a person is in sin? Considering that the Bible has many verses condemning sinful behavior, we have to consider Jesus' words more carefully. Before we do that, take a look at these verses that show it is okay to make spiritual judgments.

  • 1 Corinthians 2:15, "But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one."
  • Galatians 5:19-21, "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."

In 1 Cor. 2:15 the word "appraises" is ἀνακρίνω, anakrino. It means, "This word means 'to investigate,' and is used of judicial investigation, especially prior to the hearing proper."1 The verse immediately preceding it says, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised," (1 Cor. 2:14). So, spiritual things can be judged by Christians.

We see this when Paul talks about various sins in Galatians 5: 19-21 and makes a judgment that those who practice these things will not be saved. He says something very similar in 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10. Also, consider the following quote.

 " . . . realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers 10 and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted," (1 Tim. 1:9-11).

Since the Bible does not contradict itself, what's going on? It would seem that Jesus is talking about rash unwarranted judgments, not those judgments that are of sound consideration. This makes sense when we see what judgments Jesus made on people.

  • Matt. 7:5, "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."
  • Matt. 23:33, "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?"
  • Luke 11:40, "You foolish ones, did not He who made the outside make the inside also?"
  • John 8:44, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father . . . "
  • John 8:55, "and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I shall be a liar like you, but I do know Him, and keep His word."

So, Jesus would not be contradicting Himself. He made spiritual judgments as did Paul the Apostle. But when we make judgments, they need to be according to Scripture and not arbitrary judgments. Here are some commentaries on Matt. 7:1. 

  • "The context makes it clear that the thing here condemned is that disposition to look unfavorably on the character and actions of others, which leads invariably to the pronouncing of rash, unjust, and unlovely judgments upon them."2
  • "1–5 warn against criticizing other people without considering how open to criticism we ourselves may be; be judged may well refer to God’s judgment, as well as that of other people. But v 6 indicates that there is also a right kind of judgment which the disciple is called on to exercise (cf. also vs 15–20)."3
  • "Jesus did not prohibit judging of any sort, as verse 6 makes clear. Rather, He warned against judging others in way that we would not want applied to ourselves. To judge another person in a harsh spirit is to take on a role reserved only for God. Only the Lord can see beyond the outward appearance to underlying motives and causes in a person’s heart."4
  • 1. Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–.
  • 2. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments. On spine: Critical and explanatory commentary. (Mt 7:1). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  • 3. Carson, D. A., R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, eds. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
  • 4. Cabal, Ted, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen, Paul Copan, J.P. Moreland, and Doug Powell. The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.