The Bible may be the most-read and most-quoted text in human history — but sometimes the very same lines that are often quoted are sometimes quoted incorrectly. Many of these vital biblical verses or phrases have been truncated, misread, or used out-of-context, and their meaning is subsequently undermined.
One can never forget that every single word that has ever been written exists as text, but must be taken in context with all the other words around it. It must be interpreted with an eye toward subtext, as well.
Jesus is saying not to judge others, right?
Perhaps you have heard these words, or even said them yourself: “Who am I to judge?” This is actually a re-wording of Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” which is itself often quoted and misunderstood, because that phrase as well is taken out of context. Jesus is saying not to judge others, right?
The bastardization of the verse (“Who am I to judge?”) is often used as a kind of shrug-of-the-shoulders at the behavior of another individual. On the one hand, secularists will say this phrase as a way to express a personal distaste for the act without condemning the individual at all. People of faith may use this phrase to indicate that we are all sinners, after all, and God isn’t asking us to judge another individual.
That’s actually not what this passage is about. It’s actually a bad idea to just shrug our shoulders at poor behavior. Jesus wants us to be able to determine what is good and true and what is sinful and in error. This is why context matters. We have to read beyond just Matthew 7:1.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The passage, then, is actually about hypocrisy. The lesson is that we must judge each other by the same standards we use to judge ourselves. Naturally, as humans, we are going to judge others. It can’t be avoided. It’s a human frailty.
What happens when we do something wrong? We often rationalize our behavior, finding some reason to support our action. Yet when that same act is committed by another, we condemn it. That’s hypocritical.
The language is almost comical in Matthew. So for anyone who says the Bible doesn’t have a sense of humor — try telling someone to get a piece of sawdust out of their eye while there’s a two-by-four jammed into your own. The metaphor is clear: You have to see clearly to judge another, so that you are judging that person based on the same standard you hold yourself to. Conversely, how can we judge another if we are blind?
Moreover, what Jesus is teaching is that we simply can never know what is going on in the mind and heart of another, so how can we judge that other person at all? Not only that, it’s a reminder that none of us have lived perfect lives (“sinless perfection”) — so how can we possibly be in a position to judge anybody else?
Lawrence Meyers writes about everything from faith and popular culture to public policy and finance. He is the manager of the forthcoming Liberty Portfolio stock newsletter, and has written three books and over 2,300 articles for websites such as Breitbart, TownHall, and InvestorPlace.