Understanding a Passage in its Context - Illustration with Judge Not

A popular phrase nowadays is "Judge not, that you be not judged."(Mat 7:1). To understand it fully, we will need to use the context of the verse. Our understanding of it will be improved if we also lookup similar passages in the Bible and follow the hermeneutic principle of "letting the Bible interprets the Bible".

Last Sunday (1 Dec 2013) Mandarin Service Sermon by Pastor Jack Ng has the title "可以判断,不可论断'. Using Google translate, we get 'You can judge, can not judge'! The correct translation is "Can judge but not prejudge or condemn". Or 'Don't jump to conclusions without investigation". But how can we tell if it is the correct translation or interpretation? We need to apply the hermeneutic principle of context.

It is interesting that Ps Ng started with James 4:11-12 instead of the usual Mat 7:1.

Jas 4:11-12  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  (12)  There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

How does 'speaking evil' tie-up with 'judging the law'? Whose standards are you using to judge?
It is about us using our own standards rather than the Biblical standards and then conclude and say that a person is evil (breaking our standards). When our judgment is based on standards that disagree with the biblical standards we are actually saying that the biblical standards are not good enough or even wrong, and our standards are better. We become the giver of the laws instead of God! But actually, our power and wisdom are limited. We are not God the life-giver and creator of all. Does that me that we cannot judge? No. It does mean that we must judge by using the standards of God, God's laws. We must also be able to see clearly, have a clear understanding of the 5W1H of the events and people. This point is pointed by Jesus in the Matthew or Luke discourse:

See clearly without Biases, Prejudices. Don't be blind. Discovery of 5W1H
Mat 7:1-5  "Judge not, that you be not judged. (2)  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (3)  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (4)  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? (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.

Luk 6:37-39  Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:  (38)  Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.  (39)  And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?

Some people said that a judgment is making an assertion of the 'why', the motivation, the reasons for the action. The motivation is hidden, and we can never be sure. Even if we ask the person involved, we cannot be sure that he is telling the truth! We can only make the most carefully considered inference as to the motive behind the action. A judge is supposedly the wise person trained for doing this job. The punishment given by the judge depends must on his interpretation of the motive of the person concerned. For example, pre-mediated murder and impulse trigger manslaughter have different degrees of punishment.

So, these two passages show us that we can judge well but seeing clearly (finding out and examining all the facts, and making careful inferences as to the motives) and using Biblical Laws or standards. We are not to prejudge and then speak evil of another. Speaking evils can usually be found in gossiping. 

In some cases, the breaking of God's laws can be quite clear to see. Such as stealing or committing adultery. But again, please find the supporting evidence first before the accusation. The devil is the great accuser. See 1 Cor 5:1-5

We can draw the following picture to help us understand this judging issue:

Prejudging is the short-cut process of jumping to conclusions without careful and objective finding out of facts and analysis and often too without following God's standards but one own inconsistent or even double standards.

For more on how to judge wisely, please see :

Lim Liat (c) 3 Dec 2013

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