by Rob Lundberg
Imagine that you receive a letter from a really close friend or relative. As you read the letter, you find that there are a lot of good things you reading. But then you focus on something in the letter, one, two or a few words in a full sentence or group of sentences that really “strike a chord.” You like it so much you go out and market a bumper sticker or a silicone bracelet with just those words. The problem is you took those words out of the context of your friend’s letter! How many of you do that with the Bible?
Well as part of the pastor in me, I want to start a series on passages that believers need to stop taking out of their context. As we go through this, you may not like what we share. Some of you may have been wondering about a passage. No matter the case, whether you like what you read or not, I want you to know that when it comes to interpreting the Bible (hermeneutics) context is everything.
Context is Everything
When we take a text out of its context, we are stripping the meaning of the passage and then we can make it say or use it any way that we want. Not only that many times those applications are usually connoting a wrong meaning.
Maybe you’ve heard it said that text taken out of context makes it a pretext and usually a false one at that. This is true. This is how cults are started. Far too many people try and find one Bible verse and come up with a doctrine but that’s not the way to read the Bible. When we want to take out or interpret Scripture properly, we need to read the previous or the following verse, and then sometimes the entire paragraph to get the meaning. At other times, we need to read the entire chapter in its context, AND sometimes the entire book.
If one takes one verse and uses it to build a belief system, it is highly likely that it is fraught with error. One of the most popular verses that you hear more outside the church context is Matthew 7:1.
The First Victim of Eisegesis. . . Matthew 7:1.
When I use the term eisegesis in the subtitle of this section, I am referring to the reading into a verse, putting one’s own understanding and interpretation toward the passage. This verse passage we are going to look at is Matthew 7:1. Let’s look at a couple of versions of the Bible that present the verse.
Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (NKJV)
Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. (NASB)
You may be involved in a conversation with someone, and it may be on a moral issue. They share their opinion on that issue, to which you counter with something that sounds biblical based. What do you think would be the next thing they rail out at you? “Judge NOT lest you be judged!!” or something more terse. Obviously this is a judgment on their part, but there may be a time to teach the person if they are open to it what the context of their judgmental railing really means. So let’s take a closer look at the entire conversation that Jesus is having here with His disciples.
Digging into the Conversation of Matthew 7:1
What is going on in the passage? This verse is found in the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount. After Jesus says “Judge not, that you be not judged” He goes on further to say in verse 2, “For with the same judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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? 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? 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.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Many take verse 1 and isolate it saying that Jesus is telling us not to judge. But it is totally inescapable not to make judgments. But if there is any solace to this issue, Jesus is not telling the listeners to not judge but to judge others after you have repented of your own faults and sins. It’s like a hypocrite whose having an adulterous affair judging someone who just told a lie. The hypocrite is right that telling a lie is sin but how can he or she judge someone else while they are committing adultery!
It would be ridiculous. Notice that Jesus is saying that the person should first judge themselves to make sure that they’re not committing the same or a worse sin. Only when they “take the speck out of their own eye” do they have any right to correct a brother or sister. Clearly Jesus is saying “take it out” of your own eye first and get your own house in order. The word “judge” in its context is more like condemn. You and I are not to condemn others. However, if a person in the church is openly sinning, then there is Scriptural criteria for putting that person out of the church. So it is very important that we must make a judgment on this. Judging sin in the church is a command when the sin hurts the church (1 Corinthians 5; Matt 18:15-20).
Judging in the Light of False Teaching in the Church
Whenever a false teacher is exposed, because of unbiblical teachings, blatant sin, corruption/greed, or prophecies that don’t come true, they at many times than not find a way to maintain the unquestioning support of their followers by the using Matthew 7:1 out of context of course.
Matthew 7:1 does not tell us, “don’t ever judge anyone ever!” In reading the context of the whole passage, it’s easy to see that this verse is warning against unjust, hypocritical judgment in our personal dealings with others. It’s not about evaluating the teachings that are being taught by a teacher. Christians have been systematically programmed to ignore all Scripture addressing the accountability of leaders. Why? Because their leaders said so. Many believers do the very same thing when it comes to critiquing a false teacher that may be their favorite “ear tickler.” Ironically, the false teacher and their followers end up judging their theological critic. In so doing they are doing exactly that which they are accusing the discerning believer of doing.
So the next time you run into a discussion where someone tells you, “Judge NOT!” Point out to them that they are judging you in the process of their reprimand. Lastly, if you are using Matthew 7:1 as a reprimand to another person making a judgment, I have one thing to say to you. STOP IT!
 This post is going to be the beginning of a series of passages that are used out of context. Some of you who read these posts might take issue with what you read. Let me invite you to defend your positions in the comment section. All I ask is that you keep it cordial and we will do the same.
Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to equip the believer to think and articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel to a confused culture in a chaotic, “brave new world.”
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