"Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged. . ."

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The man who slanders his neighbor in secret
I will bring to silence.
The man of proud looks and haughty heart
I will never endure.
(Psalm 101-from Morning Prayer)

This may be one of the most difficult passages in the entire gospel. As thinking, rational beings, we are built to judge, discern, test, and plumb the depths. Part of the burden of rationality is the necessity of judgment. If this is so, why would Jesus tell us not to use part of our in-born faculty.

I think Jesus has no intention of telling us never to judge anything. Rather, we are never to judge anyone. How does this work in practice? Let me tell you how I try to instruct Samuel in words what this means, and what I am doing in actions to actually try to live it. When Samuel comes home from school and reports on a classmate whom we shall call Tamar, he often says something like, "Tamar was bad today." My response to him is that God created Tamar. Nothing God creates is bad. (I know, there's a loophole there, but I'm talking to a six-year old.) He usually responds "But she made the teacher cry." Or some other report of Tamar's misbehavior. Always I respond, "Then Tamar did some bad things, but that does not make her a bad person." Usually I'll go on to say something about Tamar's family life that tends to precipitate these kinds of problems in a classroom, "Tamar is a very unhappy girl and she chooses to do bad things because they help her feel better when she gets attention. What do you think we should do about that." After the usual panoply of answers which includes, "Call Spiderman," "Mail her to her grandmother so she won't bother the class any more," and others, he usually comes around to, "Maybe we could pray for her and Jesus will make her be better." Theologically perhaps a little totalitarian, but basically on target. So we pray for Tamar.

So what has this to do with operations in the real world? Every person carries within them (or is, depending upon how you view these things) an image of Christ which is indelible no matter how much muck is heaped upon it. No person is intrinsically evil; although I will readily grant that there are some who are so seduced by evil that finding the image of Christ is nearly impossible. However, we start with this premise. From it, we must derive that all persons are capable of redemption. These two together suggest that when we must judge, we should direct our judgment not at the person, "You moron!" (Or worse things as we are driving to work), but at the action. This is incredibly important for me as we are raising a young, impressionable child. I am not allowed to give vent to these judgments (Praise God!), because no matter what my words say, my actions tell Samuel the direction he will take in life. If I spend all of my time judging others in this way, he will do so as well. So, what I do instead (because I still must give vent to my frustration) is that I say, "That person made a very bad choice." Samuel will often ask why and I will explain that in turning left out of the right hand lane across four lanes of traffic endangers not only the person in the car but all of the people who are coming at him. When Samuel himself does not meet my expectations, I say that I am disappointed in how he has chosen to conduct himself. If he says, "I was bad," I always correct that to say, "You did something that was wrong. YOU are not bad, no person is bad."

I know this may seem like an overemphasis on a very minor point, but this minor point is what gives nearly every Christian fits. We spend much of our time using labels that are generally pejoratives. In St. Blogs the term "liberal" in most circles is used as synonymous with mindless, blathering idiot. Jesus informs us that when we pass that judgment we look in a mirror. Before I use ANY label, I would be wise to consider what I am saying precisely. What exactly about liberal ideology is the problem that I want to address, rather than slandering a whole swath of people who hold a great diversity and variety of opinions? A label is a shorthand judgment, either in the negative or in the positive. Many in St. Blogs regard being "conservative" or "Republican" as a patently good thing. I find much in both ideologies as they are currently espoused that is repugnant to the sensibilities of one who holds to the truth of the Catholic faith. So too with "liberal" and "democrat." Now, some of these are labels we give ourselves, for various reasons, and so, in a sense, judge ourselves prior to anyone needing to speak to us. To say that I am a republican will say to someone who holds the opposite ideology, "moron, mental midget, oppressor of the poor." None of these are necessarily true, although they might all be. But why tempt others into judgment?

Eschewing labels is one of the first steps toward abandoning judgment. Further, we can refuse to say anything whatsoever about a person other than the revealed truth that he or she is the image of God and the child of God by adoption, and in general a fallen sinner. We can refuse to identify "moments of sin," instead commenting upon the objective immorality of a given act. I believe Jesus would have no problem with us identifying actions, thoughts, and words as wrong. However, to so identify a person reflects more upon us than upon the person.

People always point out to me that Jesus himself called the Pharisees "whitewashed sepulchers," "hypocrites," etc. To which, I would simply respond, "He who is without sin, may cast all the stones." We stand in no such position, and we are not permitted to follow His lead. We are constrained by the laws He articulated. "Judge not, lest ye be judged," is an inviolable spiritual law. It is like one of the laws of physics. It is a fundamental psychological and spiritual truth: what we tend to judge in others is what we see and hate in ourselves. The judgment may not be unto perdition, and it may not come from God, it may be the pronouncement of our own consciences upon ourselves.

So I encourage everyone to abandon the path of judgment, no matter how difficult it may be. Be aware of idle words for which you will be called to account, and allow your words to and about others to be only words of encouragement, love, and hope. This is one way for us to begin to live the Christian Life, Light, and Hope. Light and Hope can only come from a source that gives them freely, not from one whose gift depends upon meeting certain conditions. In other words, by abandoning our need to judge people we become more Christlike, not less so. In loving without condition, question, or cavil, we serve Him who is the Servant and Master of all.

Judge not, lest ye be judged. To use an old slogan: "It's not just a good idea, it's the law."

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"It is a fundamental psychological and spiritual truth: what we tend to judge in others is what we see and hate in ourselves."

And what we see in others but refuse to judge is what we would see and hate in ourselves, should we look.

I can't say I've found the mean where lies the virtue, but I think we can overstate our inability to know sin when we see it. Some people are bad, however economically we should explain this to six-year-olds, and it's not beyond the powers of the human mind to know this.

The problem with saying something like, "Sure, he shouldn't have murdered his wife, but I can't know that he sinned while doing it," is how smoothly it flows into "I can't know that I sinned while doing what I did." And from there: "And we need to know what we're doing is wrong, so I must not have sinned!"

My guess is the "judging" ye are not to do is an act of passing sentence, not of simple judgment.

That said, the primary purpose of simple judgment must be one's own perfection. If whatever thoughts I direct toward the actions of others -- and on the whole, I like Steven's focus on objective actions; my demurral is on the question of whether we ever can or ever ought to recognize that someone has sinned -- are not directed toward correcting my own faults and guarding against my own sins, then I'm in trouble.

Dear Tom,

I have a number of disagreements with you here but I'll concentrate on the one of interest at the moment.

My guess is the "judging" ye are not to do is an act of passing sentence, not of simple judgment.

Conra this hypothesis I would indicate Jesus's words, "Whenever you say to your brother, "Thou fool" you have committed murder in your heart."

It seems to me that Jesus is clearly indicating that the act of judging is so destructive to the integrity of an individual who is being judged and to the integrity of the judge that it is tantamount to murder. "Thou fool" seems clearly to indicate a judgment, but not a sentence. I would contend that it is in judging a person at all that the chief sin lay. By what lights could we possibly do so, being so much in the dark ourselves.

In the passage I originally quoted, Jesus goes on to say, "How do you say to your brother, remove the splinter, when in your own eye there is a beam." There are two ways to read this, but one of them is certainly, how do you hold yourself so exalted as to presume to judge--which is really only for God.

I think Jesus's proscription against judging is much more universal and exclusive than you suggest here. It may not be as proscriptive as I indicate. Personally, I do not think one can judge the sinfulness of another person, though one can judge the sinfulness of the action--but I think that has to do with me more than with the strict scrutiny and understanding of Jesus's message. But, I think when we play fast and loose with the words and add things that are not in the text, we are playing dangerously. I would say that any judgment of a person is precluded by Jesus's teaching. (And by this I mean judgment of worth, with or without condemnation--I do not mean to imply that one cannot judge whether a person committed felonious actioons).

There are too many texts and suggestions that Jesus completely understood the nature of judgment and its destructive capacity to assume that he was speaking "at large" as it were.



When my boys get into spats we try to focus them on their own feelings, and how those feelings are related to the other's actions. Instead of one saying to the other "You idiot!", you could say "Don't shake the table because when you do it makes my Lego creation fall over and break and that makes me mad because I have to rebuild it." Or something like that. We're trying to get them to recognize the difference between the person and the person's actions, and to accept their feelings as their own.

I agree with you that eschewing labels and idle words is a good start. It's a good exercise for the soul. Hopefully, my words here are not idle, and lead to someone's benefit ;)

Dear Tom,

And I guess I must ask for a clarification by what you mean by "bad." Because this is possibly an instance when there is mere miscommunication going on. I think I would disagree with your statement, but that is based on how I see bad. I can best define it by using analogy. To me bad is the equivalent in moral law of an objective moral evil. I suppose more readily stated it is bad to the bone, beyond redemption bad.

I am guessing that you are meaning something more like "habitually bad" not "bad in essense" or "bad from the start." If the latter is the case, then I withdraw my complaint, but I still steadfastly refuse to refer to another person as "bad." Quite simply, I don't believe I'm qualified to make that judgment, because regardless of how disordered the surface, I cannot tell what is in the heart. You use the example of the man who kills his wife. And on first view, that sounds reasonable. But what if he kills his wife after discovering that she has been feeding him arsenic or thallium for several months with the intent of eventually killing him. One cannot do wrong that good may result, but one can certainly become sufficiently disordered in the circumstances that a blanket judgment on the actions of the man are simply prejudicial. What if he murdered his wife in a disordered state--say while off of medication that prevents profound hallucinations.

This is what I mean by judging the person. You aren't inside, you simply cannot know whether he sinned in what he did. You can however ALWAYS know that the action was sinful. I don't know why it is so difficult to leave the matter of who sins in God's hands, but it seems that it is so for all of us. I think this may have been one of the reasons for Jesus's admonitions.



On calling your brother "Thou fool": That passage in Matthew is concerned with anger toward a brother. It is in calling your brother a fool, not in arriving at the judgment that he is a fool, that one is liable to fiery Gehenna.

The number of fools is legion, as Scripture tells us, and if the wise man is to know how to answer the fool (according to his folly, or not, as the case may be), he must know a fool when he sees one.

If a fool is one who habitually engages in foolish acts, and if an act is foolish if it sacrifices a greater good for the sake of a lesser good (in particular, an eternal good for a temporal good), then I assert it as a fact of experience that we are able to judge foolish acts, and therefore fools. Our judgment is not perfect, nor is it always confident (or even settled), but that does not mean we are incapable of judgment.


You write, "You aren't inside, you simply cannot know whether he sinned in what he did."

And this too I deny. The ability to judge whether someone sins is not always and everywhere operative, but it does operate. Again I appeal to common human experience. Who has never known someone to intentionally harm another person? And yes, a particular actor might be incapable of moral reasoning, so if you insist, I'll change the question to, who has never known someone who, while capable of moral reasoning, intentionally harmed another person?

This ability is, as you imply, very dangerous. The sins of pride and jealousy are real temptations, as is the threat of a merciless judgment upon whoever pronounces merciless judgments upon others. But these risks, and the warnings of Scripture, cannot be used as a basis to deny the existence of this ability.

The Catena Aurea is of notably little help on "Judge not lest ye be judged," but none of the Church Fathers quoted there seem to take the same absolute position as you do.

Dear Tom,

We will simply disagree. You cannot convince me that you can know the heart of a person so well as to say whether or not they have sinned. To say that you know someone has sinned claims knowledge you simply do not have access to. One judges the person, and in doing so condemns them--because the wages of sin is death. One has, in a sense, wished death upon the person in the judgment. I maintain that unless one can search the heart and know all there is to know about the matter, the most one can maintain is that an action is sinful.

You say, "Who has not known someone who has harmed intentionally?" And I ask, "If revenge is seen as justice and the person is ignorant of the fact that the rule is no longer 'an eye for an eye' how can you judge it sin?" Without doubt, the action is sinful, but has the person sinned, that is, does God hold that person accountable unto eternal death for the action? I cannot know. I can guess--but it is speculative and fruitless. What I can say is that were I to do the same under my present circumstances, then I would have sinned.

This is simply an irreconciliable difference in our approaches. I will not claim sin for anyone but myself, but I will gladly condemn sinful actions. It is not important in my eyes that any person be held up as an example of sin because it does not teach any better than does experience or the Bible the wages of sin. If somewhere in the Old Testament, or even in the New, the inspired writer states directly that someone is in sin (for example, I think this may be stated in the case of Ananais and Sapphira) then I will believe it as a revelation from God. All other judgment, in my opinion, has been forbidden me as regards persons. And because judgment is such a deadly threat, I believe all would be far better off withholding from themselves the "right" or the necessity of judging the sins of others. I'll let God deal with that.

On Matthew--agreed, it is anger that is deadly and is the operative problem; however, with the anger comes the judgment. I say the two form part of a whole reading that forbids judgment of people. Judgment is almost always tinged with anger and superiority. Very rarely do we call a person a sinner in Charity. The great saints may have done so, but when any person of my acquaintance does so, I always feel that part of the motive is a sense of self-justification many get from being able to identify this sin. And yet, I hear those condemning the sins of homosexuality who themselves are engaged in adultery (divorced and remarried)or have had permanent reproductive system alterations that they are perfectly glib about. Yet both are sinful actions--who has sinned and who is held accountable before God? For example one couple I know simply quoted Fr. Curran and a number of other theologians who dissent on the matter of birth control. When I pointed out that these men did not speak for the Church, they asked why not. Rather than escalate what is really a private matter into a major conflagration, I let the matter drop--I would have failed to convince them (I don't argue well) and I would have lost their friendship, which has been instrumental in altering other incorrect, one might say "sinful" viewpoints. Am I to judge that my friends have sinned? They don't seem to think so--and that's where the crux lies in the whole discussion. It is why I can maintain that we cannot know for certain and it is simply better not to speculate.

No, if one can find cause and necessity to judge another's sin and if one can reason that this is a permissable action, then one is free in Christ to do so, I suppose--that's a conversation between the individual and God. I have already stated what I truly believe Jesus means for us to do on this matter, so my defense of it is ended. I think this is a matter for the individual conscience and it will range from my position to yours, and far beyond, and many of them may be correct. Whatever the case, it would not be for me to judge the matter for another individual. I simply present the case for what I believe Jesus wants from me (and from all--though I cannot be sure of the latter, only the former). Now, through time and study that may change. As I pray more I may be otherwise convicted, but I think this moves beyond the realm of reasoning into the realm of conviction and apart from a change of heart through continued prayer, I doubt seriously whether this view will change. However, I am open to God's action in any number of ways. For today, I am unconvinced and will stand my ground. For my part, I will demur as I have too many other things to discuss already.

As to the discussion of fools--I gladly agree to the point of foolish acts, but when we start judging fools, then we had best gaze steadily in the mirror, because everyone of us does foolish things, some constantly, some habitually, come infrequently--but if I catch someone out on a bad streak of three or five out of millions of decisions in a life time, the harshness of the judgment is a further brutality the Kingdom simply doesn't need to suffer. Rather than judging a fool, wouldn't it be simply better to try to show the way to wiser judgments. And if we say, "But they're fools," then haven't we abandoned hope, and for that matter charity? Judgment, outside of the Divine Presence, always, always, alwayd partakes of a lack of charity. It takes an isolated set of events and suggests that they are the paradigm for all action. We tear down in judgment what we should build up in charity. Rather than judging a person a fool, shouldn't that person be helped to realize just how damaging his choices and decisions are? Shouldn't that person be drawn into divine light rather than be judged? What if we had been abandoned to the judgments rather than the charity of others.

And to quote a great southern writer with an intimate calvinist knowledge of sin, "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers."



Steven, great post - I've been chewing over the same things myself. I've become generally sick at heart with the visceral exchanges of the Democrats and Republicans. Certainly I see Bush as THE alternative to Kerry, however, that doesn't mean I see Republicans as the alternative to Democrats. The general split tho seems to be a secular vs religious split and the language coming forth is discouraging to say the least. Maybe your post will prod me into action on my own blog!

"On Matthew--agreed, it is anger that is deadly and is the operative problem; however, with the anger comes the judgment."

Not necessarily; your interpretation is too strong. As a mathematician, I judge purported solutions to my problems all the time -- and likewise, I judge other mathematicians by the quality of their proofs. I can do this quite dispassionately and without anger.

Christ, in warning us against criticizing the speck in our brother's eye, orders us first to remove the beam from our own. The highly rigorous interpretation you give is often the first one out of the mouths of indifferentists, and by that bad fruit alone, I am convinced that it is a wrong interpretation. I don't think our Lord means that we should never tell our neighbor what is wrong, or judge actions, or even judge people by their actions -- Jesus Himself states: "By their fruits you shall know them." This is not a minor observation; this is a dire admonition about false prophets. Your interpretation seems to exclude any sensible interpretation of judging the fruits to know the person, also to exclude a condemnation of the sort that Paul berates the Corinthians for lacking in 1 Corthinthians 5.12: "Is it not your business to judge those within? God will judge those outside."

I think the more proper interpretation is the more traditional one: we are ALL called to repentance, so it is our duty to admonish one's neighbor -- which requires judgment -- but it must be the judgment of love and mercy, with the charity that comes with the awareness that we are all sinners, and that sin is a horrible disease that destroys us -- not the judgment of an infallible holier-than-thou who doesn't see the beam in his own eye.

Dear Jack,

Your points are interesting and not convincing. First, when you judge work, you're judging action. Secondly, when you judge another mathematician by his work, you are not judging him personallyt unless you dismiss him by saying "What an idiot!" You are judging the integrity of the work. The work is not the person.

So too with "By your works you shall know them." By this we are to judge the integrity of the work and see if it is worth following or whether the person holding that work should be corrected. You may not judge the state of sin of the person. You may say that the work and their ministry is false--but the heart of the person may be well-placed. I can look at Ellen White's work and say that it is false and misleading--my question would be did she sin in doing it? My answser would be, I cannot know.

So too even with the greatest of heretics. I look at Pelagius's conclusions and decide that he was without quesiton wrong. But did he sin in coming to the wrong conclusion? I cannot know--God alone knows. But by judging the work false, I need not judge the person.

Jesus told us "By their fruits you shall know them." And what he said in that is--by the work that you see you will know whether or not they can be followed. He did not say, "By their fruits you will know they have sinned." And this is the centrality of the argument. You have glossed over the fact that I not only say you can judge actions and ideas, you MUST do so. You can judge them sinful without ever saying a word about the state of the person.

When we label a person sinful, our attitude toward them changes, at least it is so for me. A sinful person is a person to be avoided, not a person to be embraced. If I do not judge, then all persons are simply vessels of God--they carry within them the precious image of our Lord.

Judgment of a person almost always carries with it elements of anger and hatred. You say you can judge your mathematical colleagues dispassionately. I would maintain that what you are judging is not the person themselves but the integrity and carefullness of thought that typifies their work. If you are truly judging the person, then you come to the conclusion "This person is an idiot." That judges a person. "This person is mistaken," is a judgement of an idea or a body of work.

I will disagree with you also Jack. I think the better part of valor here is to refuse to judge a person under any conditions whatsoever. Repudiate and revile the ideas, trash the actions, destroy the works--but I will dismiss myself from judging because such judging--regardless of asserverations to the contrary always, always, always colors our too human view of things. I look at Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her modus operandi. Did she spend her time judging the state of sinfulness of the people she was helping? I very much doubt it. So too with all the great saints.

To respond further to Tom who maintained that the Church Fathers say little or nothing on the matter. After thinking about it overnight, I would maintain that at least one group says a great deal--the Desert Fathers. In saying after saying they warn against judging the sins and the state of sin of others. Time and again they make the point that we have enough to deal with on our own, we should not be judging the sins of others.

Jack, I would point out that you suggest I read the judging passage too rigorously, I would suggest that you read the passage about fruits and Paul's words too rigorously. Both suggest to me that we are to assess the wisdom and coherence of what we hear and see others do and accept or reject that. We must judge the ideas that come forth from the Church body. Many teach error--but error is NOT sinful--even major error. It is not sin primarily because you must KNOW it is wrong. If you are in error, unless one can show you the nature of the error, you cannot know that you have erred. As in this very discussion--you suggest I err, I suggest you err, and there is no authority that has clearly defined it. I maintain that it is better not to judge people. I know my own heart, if not the hearts of all people, and I know that the least likable, least approachable people I know spend their time in judgment. I know that one of the reasons it took me so long to come to the Church was the spirit of judgment that dominated many of its members--Catholics to some extent even more than my protestant brothers.

Judging people is alienating and antitheticla to fulfilling our evangelical mission. We cannot spread the good news to people that we are constantly judging. I ask you or anyone to offer objective, rational proof of sin outside of the confession of that sin. I would maintain that even some abortionists look upon their work as alleviating suffering, of working for the greater good. They are woefully wrong, dreadfully wrong. Prove to me that they are sinners. This is all I maintain--you can make a supposition but you can never prove outside of confession that a person is in sin. You can show the action to be sinful, you can look in your heart and maintain that you would sin were you to do that same thing, but you have no way of knowing whether another does so. And if you think you have, perhaps you should carefully examine that thought.

Think about it--was Origen in sin when he maintained his universalism? Is it sinful to hope or even to state incorrectly that all are saved in the last days? Does it lack charity in the sense of hope for the best for all ultimately? Certainly it lacks sense. And there is a sense in which it lacks charity--but did Origen sin in promulgating it?

Does a person who strives hard to believe all that the Church teaches but who fails to accept, for example, the concept of a just war sin?

My challenge is simply, prove one example of the state of sin of any person outside of their own confession of the sin.

Why are we so hard-hearted? Why is it so necessary to us to try to judge the state of another's soul? Don't we have enough to do to judge the state of our own?



"The great saints may have done so, but when any person of my acquaintance does so, I always feel that part of the motive is a sense of self-justification many get from being able to identify this sin."

See! Even you can read the hearts of others, Steven. It's not magic.

My point is that we ought not pretend we don't know things we do know, so Jesus' injunction should not be understood in a way that requires us to pretend.

You may spin out hypotheticals about revenge being seen as justice, but I'm not talking about hypotheticals, I'm talking about people I have personally observed plot and carry out acts simply for the satisfaction of hurting another person. I've seen -- heck, I've joined -- people doing wrong things because they were wrong. I don't really have an answer to someone who says, "No, you haven't, because you can't," when I can, because I have.

That said: Yes, absolutely, habitual concern for the sins of others (outside, perhaps, of specific spiritual arrangements) is a vice. Mention of the Desert Fathers is apt. But if "Judgment is almost always tinged with anger and superiority," then judgment is not always tinged with anger and superiority, and contrary to this:

"...if I catch someone out on a bad streak of three or five out of millions of decisions in a life time, the harshness of the judgment is a further brutality the Kingdom simply doesn't need to suffer." --

recognizing that someone is a fool is not necessarily a harsh judgment.

There are idiots in this world, and it does neither the idiot nor myself any good for me to pretend I don't know he's an idiot. For one thing, I will make imprudent decisions if I ignore the fact of his idiocy; for another, I will be less likely to discern my own idiocy if I habitually blind myself to all other idiocy.

Now, substitute "thief" and "thievery" for "idiot" and "idiocy." Then substitute "sin" and "sinfulness."


This is exceedingly frustrating because I do not see the issues being addressed. I make an inference about actions, and you claim that I claim to know someone's heart. NO. and again NO. I have made an inference about their actions, I do not know their heart. I could be wrong!

With sin it is even more complicated. You must not only know their heart but know their knowledge. AND you CANNOT know that, no matter what you claim to know.

You say there are fools in the world--there may well be--but who are you to say so? I say people do foolish things. I see these and I choose to avoid them?

Tell me how you manage to get around the direct prohibition judge not lest ye be judged? How does one justify flying directly in the face of so bald a commandment. How does one get by removing the beam in your own eye before removing the splinter in your neighbor's?

These are the points I keep coming back to. Judgment of another individual is simply wrong. We are told baldly we aren't to do it by the highest authority of all, and yet, I see we reinterpret it to mean that Jesus didn't really say not to judge, he meant not to sentence. If he meant that, then why didn't he say that? It would have been as easy (and he did so with the woman caught in adultery) to say, "Do not pass sentence on others--do not condemn others to hell. . . " etc. But His words are not that, they are 'Judge not lest ye be judged." I don't see how one can justify judging under those circumstances, and particularly when one cannot search the heart but merely infers from outward appearances. If you do not know for an absolute certainty that one has met all three of the criteria necessary for an action to be a sin, then you may not say that the person has sinned, you may only say the action is sinful.



"But His words are not that, they are 'Judge not lest ye be judged.'"

And if plain English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us!

There are minor points on which we might come to agreement, but it would be a shame to spoil an issue on which we do genuinely disagree.

Dear Tom,

But didn't you accuse me of defying the plain meaning of scripture when I questioned whether we could know whether St. Peter sinned? I think the plain meaning of scripture is even more evident here than there--it is after all spelled out. With St. Peter you interpret tears in the aftermath to indicate contrition and knowledge of sin, and I interpret them somewhat differently; nowhere does it state anything nearly so plainly as this Here you seem to say that I should take the plain meaning (no where explicitly stated) that St. Peter sinned and I should avoid the very obvious (albeit translated meaning) here. The reductio ad absurdum of this argument comes down to the fact that as Jesus did not speak English and we cannot rely upon the plain meaning of translation, we should not try to interpret scripture at all. This is fearfully close to two great evils in philosphy John Dominic Crossan's "Jesus Seminar" and Postmodern interpretation. Surely you aren't suggesting that we cannot take the literal meaning of what Jesus says and understand it in those terms? Am I misreading? I honestly believe I am, but I cannot otherwise figure out what you might mean by this.here?

And yes, we do disagree here. I also recognize that my interpretation sits at one extreme of the spectrum (better for those of us prone to judging), and yours somewhat closer to a mid line (for the stronger brother capable of more freedom), and there are probably others that would say things stronger yet--perhaps meant for the saints alone. But this spectrum of disagreement is a wonderful things because it exposes the way the Holy Spirit speaks to individuals as they read and instructs them as each individual needs. Perhaps your teaching is fine for most people, but there are a great many who might benefit greatly from heeding the admonition more closely.

Thanks for writing so much. This has been an exhilirating and interesting discussion.






Merriam-Webster Online offers eight definitions of the verb "to judge." Which one is closest to the plain meaning of the word as used in many English translations of Matthew 7:1?

I don't know from Koine Greek, but the words used in that verse are "krinete" (~"judge") and "kriqhte" (~"be judged", though I may have these backward), which are also used in Mt 21:21; Mk 11:29, 11:30; Luke 6:37, 12:57, 22:68; John 7:24, 8:15; Acts 13:46; and 1 Cor 4:5, 5:12; Jas 2:4, 5:9.

I think the other usages -- see in particular Mk 11:29-30, where the word is used in a phrase translated as "Answer me," and 1 Cor 4:5, where St. Paul explicitly refers to the Lord coming in judgment upon all -- denote the "to sit in judgment on" sense of "to judge," rather than the "to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises" sense.

Someone who knows Greek can correct me, of course.

What you are saying is, by and large, certainly excellent (and tried and true) spiritual advice, but again I am not persuaded when you tell me I can't do something I have done.

Dear Tom,

1. The question is not so much whether you have done it, but

(1) is it licit to do so?

(2) have you done so with absolute confirmation of your inference from a source outside of yourself?

(1) is under debate. If (2) is true, then other questions come to the fore:

(a) were you able to do so absent knowledge of the person's moral intelligence and formation of conscience?

(b) by what means do you know you were correct?

If applied in a modern situation, you can find that you are correct in conversation with another. If applied to St. Peter, I ask, how can you KNOW and convincingly show that your conclusion is correct this side of heaven?

So, certainly we CAN do it, the question under debate I rather thought is whether one ought to or whether it is a place we are told not to tread.

2., As to judgments--let's look at the six I find under judge transitive verb--(1) to hear and pass judgment on as in a court proceeding--eliminating the court proceeding, this sounds like a reasonable interpretation. (2) to determine the winner or a contest or to settle--I doubt Jesus was much concerned with the winner of contests and how we determined them; (3) to decree--rather unlikely; (4) to form an idea, opinion or estimate about any matter--again, seems unlikely; (5) to criticize or censure--almost certainly; (6) to think or suppose--unlikely; (7) (jewish history) to rule. Not the one I think Jesus is likely to be using.

I don't think it's too much tho think that either 5 or 1 is reasonable in this context and as they can overlap (outside and even inside a courtroom) it is hardly impossible to say which is more like. I would contend that 5 is probably the closest. Although I would read it as "to pass judgment on, criticize, and censure." All three would be included as a combined meaning.



You cannot convince me that you can know the heart of a person so well as to say whether or not they have sinned.

Wanna bet? I'm a mother. I sin on a basic level every day. It's amazing how that stain of original sin gets really set isn't it? And here's the gist of it. I KNOW without any doubt what my kids know, and what they don't know, what they understand and what they don't understand and I also see the techniques they use to cheat, lie, steal and rationalize... and we're just talking about newly baked chocolate chip cookies here!!!

It's not impossible to know Steven. In fact the longer I live, the more experiences I have, it gets disturbingly easier and easier.

A fascinating read by the way is the life of The Cure D'Ars, St. John Vienney who was truly given the gift (or the curse depending on your point of view) to see the heart of a man at first glance. He saved many souls by just pointing that out too, and surprisingly that's why people flocked to him in the confessional- they thirsted to really know the truth of their own sinfulness.


You seem to have missed my basic point, so I'll try to state it more clearly: the foundational assumption of Christianity is that we are all sinful. And so Jesus' main point is that we not judge as if we were in God's place -- NOT that we not judge at all.

I'm not making a judgment on people's sinfulness based on their heresy -- heresy is frequently intellectual, not of the will. (Here I reveal myself to favor the traditional Dominican view, instead of the traditional Franciscan view.)

I find it disconcerting that you appeal to Jesus' "direct prohibitions", when of course you disobey many of Jesus' "direct prohibitions" all the time, without incurring sin -- don't you call your confessor "Father"? Don't you recite long prayers in public, at least at Mass? Don't you accept ashes on your forehead when you beging the Lenten penance?

Anyone who spends even the smallest time studying Jesus' sayings realizes that if you take more than a very, very few of his "direct prohibitions" seriously, you won't be able to live your life. Jesus uses hyperbole and excessive prohibition to get his point across, not in order to debilitate completely all courses of action.

It seems to me that the Jerome Biblical Commentary agrees with me; it puts it thus: "In adult life we cannot escape the obligation to make some judgments even on the moral character of others. Parents, fiancÚs, employers, civil judges, church admininstrators, etc. all have this duty. Jesus' teaching warns against usurping the definitive judgment of God, who alone sees the heart. By contrast, our judging must be tentative, partial, and inadequate... But wherever possible, we should try to mind our own business and not meddle in others' ... [Verses 3-5] contain a warning against hypocritical judges, which, however, presupposes some judging of others as necessary."

I'll post this in the renewed argument as well...




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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 22, 2004 7:22 AM.

Prayer Requests--22 June 2004--St. Paulinus of Nola, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher was the previous entry in this blog.

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