Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.

In the previous article we examined the prevalent view that we are not to pass judgment on the ideas and practices of others but are to tolerate and approve their ideas and practices. That this view is present even in the church is due to the fact that the church has lost her consciousness of God’s holiness. We evaluated this view as dangerous, godless, and unscriptural.

In this article we will examine the Scripture passages which are pertinent to the issue, in order to understand that God requires judgment of us, and to see from God’s Word how we must, and must not, judge.

It will be helpful at the outset to set forth a few principles which must guide us in our interpretation of Scripture. Knowing and applying these principles should prevent us from coming to a wrong understanding of Scripture’s teachings on this issue.

That the Bible is the Word of God is the most fundamental principle. All Scripture is the Word of God, according to II Timothy 3:16. This means that we will find in the Bible no contradictions, but only the truth, for Jehovah is the God of truth, and His Word is truth (John 17:17). Therefore, we may be sure that we will not find in Scripture some texts which, properly understood, condone intolerance and others which condemn intolerance; rather, we will find the one, consistent truth regarding this matter. Furthermore, because God makes His truth clearly known, we expect that Scripture will state that truth clearly.

A second fundamental principle is that Scripture interprets Scripture. This means that when we examine Scripture to see what it teaches about an issue, we must examine all pertinent passages. If in doing so we find some verses which appear to contradict others, we must first come to an understanding of the easier verse, and then we will be able to explain the more difficult verse in its light.

Third, we must remember that, in order to understand a text of Scripture correctly, we must consider it in the light of its context. A part of Scripture—whether a whole verse, several verses, or part of a verse—cannot legitimately be used to support one’s ideas or actions if the text is not explained in light of its context. The context will often qualify the teaching of the text, by indicating more specifically in what situations a command applies, or how a command is to be carried out.

Our examination of the various Scripture passages which relate to the topic of judging and tolerance will proceed on the basis of these principles. Because the word “judge” and its related noun and verb forms are used many times in Scripture, we will not attempt to examine every text in which they are found. Rather, we will focus on the main passages which are used to support the idea of tolerance, and we will briefly explain a few passages which clearly require that the child of God discern between right and wrong.

Of those passages which are used to support the idea of tolerance, Matthew 7:1 is perhaps the most often quoted. The text reads: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” It is clear that Jesus here forbids judging. The question, however, is whether Jesus forbids all judging, or only a certain kind of judging. Verse one by itself does not give us an answer to this question. Those who quote only verse one to condemn intolerance ignore the context, verses 2-5, and thus assume that the verse forbids all judging and intolerance. However, one who reads verses 2-5 sees that Jesus does not forbid all judging, but only hypocritical judging. The text in its context (Matthew 7:1-5) reads as follows:

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Jesus tells the Jews in verse one not to judge. In verse 2 He gives the reason why they must not judge: the standard which they use to judge others will be the very same standard which others use to judge them. They must not ignore their own sins while condemning the same sins in others. To do this is to judge with a double standard, to judge hypocritically. “Is it not hypocritical to condemn the brother for a little fault, or even to try to help him overcome this fault, when you yourself are guilty of a great fault?” This is the question Jesus was putting before the people.

Notice that the sin of the two sinners (the person and his brother) is the same in two respects. First, it is the same in nature: in both instances a piece of wood was in a person’s eye. Second, it is the same in that both were currently sinning: the piece of wood was in their eye at the moment. The difference between the two faults is only one of size: one is small, the other great. For one whose sin is great to condemn one whose sin is small, yet being the same sin, is hypocritical (cf. v. 5). In other words, a woman who is aborting an eight-month fetus is in no position to rebuke a man who kills a bank teller, and the homosexual is in no position to criticize unfaithfulness in a heterosexual marriage!

Matthew 7:1, taken in its context, does not forbid all judging and intolerance, but only hypocritical judging and intolerance. In fact, it does requires of us that, after repenting of our own sins, we condemn the brother’s sin as sin, and help him turn from it. “First cast out the beam out of thine own eye,” Jesus says, “then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (vs. 5). Jesus commands genuine, not hypocritical, intolerance of sin which the brother commits.

John 8:7 and 11 are also important. The context is the story of the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and was brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. In verse 7, Jesus says to the scribes and Pharisees: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” In verse 11 He speaks to the woman: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” The advocates of tolerance use these words to argue that one should not condemn others, because he is no better than they.

Although we will explain what it means to judge in more detail later, understand for now that when one judges, he gives a verdict: guilty or innocent. After one is judged, he is sentenced: the guilty person is condemned (sentenced to punishment) and the innocent is set free. The point is that judging and condemning are two distinct actions, related but not identical.

Bearing this in mind, notice that Jesus did in fact judge this woman, but He did not condemn her. By telling her, “Go, and sin no more,” Jesus indicates that she did sin. In itself, the Pharisees’ accusation was correct, and Jesus judged sin to be sin. This shows intolerance of the sinful action! Following Jesus’ example, we must tell sinners to show evidence of genuine repentance by no longer committing sin.

While Jesus did judge the woman, He did not condemn her. She could go free; she would not be put to death. The gospel for penitent sinners is: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). This message Jesus gives the woman: Jesus would Himself be condemned for her! He would bear her punishment, that she might go free!

Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees exposes their hypocritical judgment in the matter. (Their primary purpose, of course, had nothing to do with the woman; it was to trap Jesus in His own words. Yet Jesus knew that the Pharisees prided themselves in their self-righteousness, and responded in light of this fact.) The Pharisees, Jesus reminds them, were also guilty of sin, and specifically of adultery, whether in the act or in the heart. Because they also were not free from sin, they were as worthy of death as she was. So, by wondering what judgment she ought to have received, they revealed their own hypocrisy and wrong motivation.

John 8:7 and 11 teach us how to deal with others who sin. Verse 11 teaches us that we must desire the sinner’s repentance; verse 7 teaches us that we must not do so hypocritically, with wrong motives, or in an improper manner. The passage does not mean, however, that we must never hold each other accountable for our sins (that is, judge sin to be sin).

One more passage which is frequently quoted is the one in which we are commanded to love one another. Actually, many passages in Scripture give this command. John 13:34 is one of them. There we read: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”

What is love, and what does love involve? Love is a bond of friendship, which manifests itself in seeking the good of the other person. This might mean seeking the other person’s bodily good: if he is hungry, thirsty, cold, or naked, we must take care of that person’s physical needs. It could also involve seeking the person’s spiritual good. If he or she is walking in a way that is contrary to God’s law and thus displeasing to the Lord, we must seek to turn that person from his or her sinful way, in love for that person.

In John 13:34, Jesus does not command everyone to love. The command comes to His disciples—the twelve men whom Jesus specially chose to follow Him during His earthly ministry. The command did not even come to all of the twelve, but only to eleven of them. One of them, Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus in his hatred for Jesus, was not present. That the eleven disciples were the ones to whom Jesus spoke is significant. As Jesus loved these eleven, they must love each other! The command does not mean that all men must love all men; rather, it means that in the church (represented by the eleven disciples), the saints must love each other as Jesus loved the church, giving Himself for it.

Such love does not rule out intolerance of wrong ideas or actions on the part of fellow saints. True love seeks the salvation of the fellow saint. Thus true love seeks to turn the saint from his or her sins (James 5:20).

Another passage which, although apparently not used by advocates of tolerance, might seem to support their position is Romans 2:1-3, which reads:

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?

The “man” whom Paul addresses must be understood to be every man and any man. Paul, having explained in the last part of chapter 1 the sins to which the world gives itself over (note the context!), now says that each and every man who condemns these sins, while doing the same things himself, is inexcusable. We can expect God’s judgment upon us, if we live in the same sins which we condemn in others! Paul’s point is also to warn against hypocritical judging—a warning which we all need. However, the text does not forbid us to judge rightly!

Other passages of Scripture positively command us to judge. One passage which clearly does so is John 7:24. This is set in the context of Jesus’ discussion with the Jews who question His doctrine, and have accused Him of having a devil (John 7:20) and of breaking the Sabbath day by healing a man on the Sabbath (John 5:1-16). To them He says: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” By saying “Judge not,” Jesus does not mean to forbid judging as such, but to forbid a certain manner of judging, as the positive part of this verse makes clear. We may judge, but when we do so we must judge righteously.

Outward, superficial judgment—that is, judging simply on the basis of what appears to be the case, without knowing all the facts—is rash, unfair, undiscerning judgment which is contrary to the ninth commandment of God’s law. God hates such judging. Righteous judgment is carried out using the law of God as the standard by which to discern whether what appears to be the case actually is the case.

I Corinthians 5 is an important chapter as regards the positive duty of judging. First, in verse 3, Paul states under the inspiration of the Spirit that he has passed judgment on a member of the church in Corinth who was living in the sin of fornication. His judgment was “to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” This is a bold judgment on his part.

Second, in verses 9-13, Paul reminds the saints of their duty to judge people that are within the church, as to whether or not they are obeying the law of God. Those who claim to be Christians and are members of the church, but who are also judged to be impenitently disobedient to any commandment of God’s law (cf. vv. 9-10, which is not an exhaustive list) must be excluded from the church’s fellowship. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, tells the church not to tolerate impenitent sinners.

Other passages also indicate that it is our responsibility to judge. Jesus asks the people in Luke 12:57, “Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:23, saying: “ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” It was their duty, according to the law, to judge—but they had failed in this duty. Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians would “abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment” (Phil. 1:9). He tells the Corinthians, “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say” (I Cor. 10:15).

Some passages of Scripture seem to forbid judging, while others clearly require it. Studying the contexts of those which seem to forbid judging, we find that judging itself is not actually forbidden, but a wrong kind of judging. God hates hypocritical judging! But God loves righteous judgment on the part of His children. That He loves it is clear from the fact that He commands it, and has given His law as a standard by which to do it.

It is, therefore, the Christian’s duty to judge. This duty will be set forth positively in the next article.