Judging Or Correcting Another Person
By Jonathan Mitchell

Just as the religious folks, or traditionalists, of Jesus' seemed to feel it their calling and responsibility to judge, and then correct, another person, so it has continued on into our day. It was for this reason that, in Mat. 7, Jesus gave folks the instruction and directives in vss. 1-5:

1. "Stop separating, dividing-out and making distinctions (or: Do not have a habit of sifting, evaluating and deciding, or judging) - so that you folks would (or: should; can; may) not be sifted, separated-off, evaluated, decided about, or judged.

2. "You see, within and with whatever aspect of sifting to separate (effect of evaluation; result of a discrimination decision; produce of deciding a judgment) you folks are habitually or normally separating, dividing-out, discriminating, evaluating and judging, you will continue being judged (sifted, decided about, etc.). And further, within and with whatever measure or standard you folks are continuously using or applying, it will be constantly used to measure you, and that standard will be repeatedly applied to you (or: = you will receive in the same proportion and manner that you give).

3. "So why are you constantly or repeatedly looking at the speck (splinter of shriveled wood; small piece of straw) - the one in your brother's eye (= the small thing hindering the ability of your friend or fellow to see)! - and yet you are not continuing to fully consider and carefully think about the rafter (beam of wood; shaft of timber) in your own eye?

4. "Or how will you folks proceed in declaring to your brother, 'Allow [me], I can extract the speck (splinter) from your eye' - and now consider as you look! - the rafter (log; beam) [is] within the midst of your own eye?

5. "O hyper-critical one [cf 6:2, above]! First extract (cast out) the rafter (log; plank) from out of your own eye, and then you will proceed to be seeing clearly to extract (cast out) the speck (splinter) from out of your brother's eye.

On offer, in this expanded translation, is a semantic range of the verb "judge," and the noun "judgment." Verses 1-2 advise not practicing this mental or verbal action. I owe the picture of "sifting" to Rudolf Bultmann, for the action of separating the issues or aspects of what a person is proceeding to "judge." After dividing-out the threads of the situation and making what seem to be appropriate distinctions, one then evaluates the evidence, makes a decision, and pronounces a judgment. Humans do this about other people all the time. We read in the Gospels where the scribes, priests and Pharisees did this all the time. The Essenes of the Qumran community did this about the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Ad infinitum. But Jesus tells us NOT to do this. He warns that if we do, we create a reciprocating cycle, and we end up getting burned (pun intended) by thus participating in law-based living.

Verses 3-5 give an example of why we are ill-equipped to deliver others if our own vision is completely blocked. Jesus was, of course, using hyperbole - as usual. We need God's healing and deliverance (the work of the Great Physician) to restore our sight so that we can then be an actual help to others. Jesus was doing this for His followers, and thus did He say, "Blessed are your eyes, in that they can see."

It was the religious folks that He was addressing in this passage. They are identified in vs. 5, "O hyper-critical one." I owe this rendering to Dr. Ann Nyland (The Source New Testament). In Mat. 6:2 on offer is this expanded meaning of the word: overly judging and critical folks (hupokrites; or: those who put texts under close inspection to sift and separate and then give an answer, an interpretation, an opinion; or: those who live by separating things yet who under-discern; or: those who make judgments from a low view; or: those who under-estimate reality; or: perverse scholars who focus on tiny distinctions).

The second through the fourth parenthetical renderings are based upon the Greek elements (morphemes) of the word: hupo-krites. Hupo means "under" of "below," and krites is a form of the word "judge" or "judgment." Nyland's research found that our modern meaning, "hypocrite," has "as yet only been traced back to the 13th century AD" (ibid p 26 n 1). The Pharisees were not "pretenders," or "hypocrites," as we use the word, but they sure were "hyper-critical" folks. In today's Christianity there are many who do the same thing, striving to set other people straight so that they will conform to what is considered by their particular faction to be "pure doctrine," or "orthodoxy." But Jesus told us not to do that to other people. And when our own eyes have been healed, so that we see others with love, then we may be able to help them with their minor problems.

Note that Jesus did not condemn either person. Both the speck and the log got into those eyes against the wills of those in these contrasting situations. Nowhere in this text does it speak about one's "sins," or mistakes. No one tries to get something in his or her eye. The illustration was meant to shout at us: Don't judge other people! If we do, it will only hurt us. It is better to give grace, and show mercy, with empathy.


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