Monday, June 8, 2009

Don't Judge Me: Part 1 of 4

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” This phrase, spoken by Jesus in Matthew 7:1, seems to be thrown around quite a bit in Christian circles. Here, Jesus is making a case against the hypocrite who tries to “remove the speck” from his brother’s eye, without seeing the “beam” in his own. Jesus warns that “by the standard you judge you will be judged”, thus taking away some of the gusto with which we so gleefully condemn our own friends.

So what’s the big deal with judging, anyway? What does it mean to judge someone? In what manner should we judge those around us? Should we even be judging those around us? Before I offer an answer to the above questions, I'd like to take a look at a passage in James.

James 4:11-12 says,
"Do not speak against one another, brothers and sisters. He who speaks against a fellow believer or judges a fellow believer speaks against the law and judges the laws. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but its judge. (12) But there is only one who is lawgiver and judge - the one who is able to save and destroy. On the other hand, who are you to judge your neighbor?"

James begins this section with an imperative - "Do not speak against one another." He quickly expands this thought into the idea of one who "speaks against" and "judges" a fellow believer. James then goes on to list several reasons as to why this passing of judgment isn't such a good idea.

Part two of this series will take a look at the reasons James lists as to why we are not to "speak against one another".


  1. Expanded Notes:

    I'm a big fan of the NET Bible, and that is the translation I used above for the James 4 passage. The phrase translated in James 4:11 as "speak against" is actually the Greek word "katalaleo".

    According to BDAG this word means, "speak ill of, speak degradingly of, speak evil of, defame, slander". I'm not quite sure why the NET Bible chose to translate this word as "speak against", though they have good company - ASV (American Standard Version), NASB, and YLT (Young's Literal Translation) all followed suit.

    If I was translating this, I would simply say, "speak evil of..." - see KJV, NAB (Catholic Bible), and NKJV. Some translations (ESV, NLT, and RSV) try to get the best of both worlds and translate it as "speak evil against".

    Finally, HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible) chose to translate it as "criticize" and the NIV as "slander".

    I say all this to make the point that "katalaleo" carries a bit more force than simply "speak against". To me, "speak against" doesn't fully communicate the negative spirit of the one doing the "katalaleo"ing.


  2. Hi Jason just a comment about "katalaleo". Technically the word evil is not in the word. The word is made up of two parts. laleo - to speak and kata - Dana and Mantey give the root idea of "down." To speak down is the literal idea. D and M do list "against" as a possible meaning for kata. It seems to be used that way in Acts 4:26.

    There may be good reason to include the idea of evil to help convey the negative idea of down. It draws the negative picture of "tearing down" someone with words. I do think however that "speaking against" is a good translation and very literal.


  3. Hey Dad,

    Thanks for the feedback. I agree, 'kata' can certainly mean 'against', and I agree that it seems to be used that way in Acts 4.

    The reason I didn't go your route, is because of what D.A. Carson says in his book "Exegetical Fallacies". He says,

    "...the root fallacy presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or it's components. In this view, meaning is determined by etymology: that is, by the root or roots of a word." (Page 28)

    In other words, the meaning of a word isn't always found by just combining the two roots together. However, this still doesn't mean that your view is wrong. I have no clue if in this particular case you CAN use the two roots to determine the meaning. (Apparently the NASB translators had a good reason for translating it "speak against") This is why I simply chose to trust the definition given in the Bauer-Danker Lexicon (BDAG) - "speak evil of"

    Not sure how much this ends up changing James''s fun to discuss either way. Thanks again for the feedback - motivates me to do better at reading my Greek NT. I'll be curious to get your feedback once I've posted the whole series.