Matthew 7 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Do Not Judge Others

Jesus declares that the person judging will be judged (v. 1) because judging assumes a divine prerogative; final judgment belongs to God alone, and those who seek to judge others now will answer then for usurping God's position (see also 6:12-15).

God Will Judge Us the Way We Judge Others (7:1-2)

By this point in the sermon, no one who has been taking Jesus' words seriously will feel much like judging anyone else anyway. Still, we humans tend to prefer applying ethics to other people rather than ourselves. (For example, husbands tend to prefer quoting Paul's instructions on marriage to their wives rather than his admonitions to them, and vice-versa. Likewise, I have sometimes listened to a sermon thinking, I wish so-and-so had shown up for church today.) So just in case we have been too obtuse to grasp that Jesus addresses us rather than others in 5:3-6:34, Jesus renders the point explicit in 7:1-5. We are objects of God's evaluation, and God evaluates most graciously the meek, who recognize God alone as judge.

Even if we knew people's hearts, we could not evaluate degrees of personal guilt as if we understood all the genetic and social influences that combine with personal sinful choices in making some people more vulnerable to particular temptations (such as alcohol or spouse abuse) than others. Most important, Jesus warns us that even if we knew people's hearts, we would be in no position to judge unless we had lived sinless lives, never needing God's forgiveness (vv. 3-5; compare 6:12, 14-15).

Many people have ripped this passage out of context, however. Jesus warns us not to assume God's prerogative to condemn the guilty; he is not warning us not to discern truth from error (see 7:15-23). Further, Jesus does not oppose offering correction, but only offering correction in the wrong spirit (v. 5; compare 18:15-17; Gal 6:1-5).

Having right beliefs about judging is not enough. Although Jesus regards scribal and Pharisaic righteousness as inadequate (Mt 5:20), it is not because scribes and Pharisees professed the wrong doctrine on this issue. Most of the sages would have probably agreed with his basic perspective here (compare, for example, Sirach 28:1-3; m. 'Abot 2:5), and even the particular image of measuring back what one measures out (Mt 7:2-as in "what goes around comes around") was proverbial wisdom. Jesus' contemporaries often affirmed his principle and even used the same illustration, but Jesus demands more than agreement from disciples: he demands obedience (vv. 24-27).

We Blind Ourselves When We Rationalize Away Our Guilt (7:3-5)

We rationalize away our guilt but not that of others, and our double standard itself renders our own behavior inexcusable (compare 6:22-23; Rom 2:1-3). A splinter or wood chip in a neighbor's eye might render that person blind, but a plank embedded in one's own eye would certainly render one blind. The image is graphic hyperbole: imagine a zealous Christian walking around with a log protruding from his eye (as if one end of it would even fit!), totally ignorant of his impossibly grotesque state. Just as we would not want a blind guide leading us into a pit (Mt 15:14; 23:16), we would not want a blind surgeon operating on our eyes; only one who sees well is competent to heal others' blindness (compare 9:27-31; 20:29-34).

At a Bible study Joe Bayly once met a former Nazi, a participant in the Holocaust, who complained that had missed a promotion in the army because he objected to social dancing. Bayly remarked tongue in cheek that "Christians were the same everywhere-they weren't afraid to speak out, even against Hitler, when it came to social dancing." Likewise, some conservative Christians who are quick to judge those who do not uphold the Bible's authority have spent little time in personal study of the Bible themselves. If Jesus minced no words with those blinded by religious tradition in his day, we who claim devotion to his cause must beware lest we share more in common with them than with him.

Even When You Are Right, Do Not Impose the Truth on Others (7:6)

This saying seems to make little sense in this context; hence varied interpretations of verse 6 abound. Some think that dogs here are the Gentiles (15:26) and the pearls the gospel of the kingdom (13:45). But Jewish teachers used dogs to represent different things (not just Gentiles) in their parables, and even in 15:26 "dogs" is not wholly negative as it is here (see comment there). Other attempts to narrow the saying's object to prohibiting sinners from the Eucharist (as in Did. 9:5) also go beyond the evidence.

In its most general sense 7:6 was probably simply a wisdom saying like Proverbs 23:9: "Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words" (compare also Syr. Men. Sent. 328-32). Dogs may refer to the wicked or oppressors more generally (compare Ps 22:16, 20; 59:14-15; Prov 26:11). It was also commonly known that stray scavenger dogs-the main kind encountered in the towns of Jewish Palestine-growled at those feeding them as much as at passing strangers (Isoc. Demon. 29, Or. 1). Clearly these are people who do not value what we have to offer them; swine also proverbially lacked appreciation of value (Prov 11:22).

But why did Matthew include this saying here? Some connect the saying to the preceding context by suggesting that it means it is worthless to try to correct (7:1-5) one unwilling to listen. Others note that while we should not judge, some people should be avoided or we must exercise discernment. Yet taken by themselves, none of these suggestions explain the lack of disjunction in verse 6.

Most likely verse 6 provides a transition between the preceding and following contexts. Correcting those who will not receive correction is futile (vv. 1-5; Prov 9:8; 23:9); we should discerningly continue to offer wisdom (or the gift of the kingdom) only to those willing to receive what we offer, just as God does (Mt 7:7-11). In this case the text sounds a note of reciprocity to be repeated in verse 12 (Keener 1993:64). If verse 6 means something along these lines, it does not allow us to prejudge who may receive our message (13:3-23), but does forbid us to try to force it on those who show no inclination to accept it (10:13-16; compare Carson 1984:185; Blomberg 1992:128-29; Hagner 1993:172).

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