“Judge Not That Ye Be Not Judged”

Brant Gardner

There are three sayings here:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.

With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

The first is a declaration. It is succinct and abrupt, and no doubt intended to be slightly shocking to the audience. It serves as a rhetorical device to present a statement that would be puzzling or otherwise startling to the audience, a capacity it has retained even in its written form, given how often it is analyzed or explained. The problem, of course, is that we do assume that we should judge, and yet here is a bold statement that we should not. The resolution of the startling prohibition comes in the paired explanations that follow.

There are two statements that both follow the same structural arrangement. In the first phrase we are the actor performing the action. In the second clause, that same action is performed upon us. The actions are expressly made equivalent, and causally linked. Therefore, as we judge, we are judged. As we measure, we are measured.

To comprehend precisely how the absolute prohibition of “judge not, that ye be not judged” is to be understood, we must understand the causal example. We are warned not to judge because the way we judge will form the way we are judged. The horizontal and earthly context in which we judge becomes the model for the vertical and heavenly way that we are judged. Understanding that the ultimate “danger” of our earthly judging is the nature of our eternal judgment helps us understand that while the statement is startlingly inclusive; “judge not,” it is not intended to preclude all judgment, but rather to ameliorate necessary judgment. No matter what we do in life, we cannot avoid judgment from God. Our lives will come before the bar of God to be judged. That must happen. God will not, cannot, avoid judging us. Similarly, we cannot avoid, and should not avoid, certain judgments in this life. The problem is not the fact of judging, but the manner of judging.

This relationship between manner and act is replicated in the second explanation of the saying. Taking the perhaps controversial term “judge” out of the equation, the context is made clearer when we speak of measuring another. The judgment and the measurement are linked as equivalent. We are to be cautious in the way we criticize others, in the way we scrutinize others, in the way we consider other people. The reason is that our actions will determine the way God criticizes, scrutinizes, and considers us. This saying is the conceptual companion to the Beatitude from earlier in this Sermon:

3 Nephi 12:7

7 And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.

When we are merciful, we do not judge harshly. The act of being merciful is actual an act of judgment, but it is one that is tempered with the Godly trait of mercy. As we learn this attribute of Godhood, God can use our progress toward that way of being as a measure of who we have become, and therefore mercy may be applied to us.

The second of these sayings, “with what measure ye mete…” is also known from rabbinic literature. (John Lightfoot. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmiud and Hebraica. Hendrickson Publishers, 1989, 2:157) It is possible that the saying was fairly well known in Israel, and that when it was attached to the statement on judging it made the context and meaning of that statement immediately clearer for Jesus’ audience.

Vocabulary: The word mete is an archaic verb indicating to measure.

Textual: The Matthean text for verse one has simply “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” The second verse has no changes. The additional text in the first verse is the pair of the inserted text in 3 Nephi 13:25. There the insertion moves the focus away from the multitude and toward the apostles only: “And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he looked upon the twelve whom he had chosen, and said unto them: Remember the words which I have spoken. For behold, ye are they whom I have chosen to minister unto this people.” The sayings about not taking though for food or clothing are then addressed to the twelve. At the end of that set we return to focus on the multitude with the inserted text for verse one here.

The current Book of Mormon chapter break at this point did not exist in the 1830 edition. The chapter was broken earlier, just before the change in focus of 3 Nephi 13:25. This shift in focus back to the assembled saints was a continuation of that chapter. The recutting of the chapters came to more closely follow the chapter and verse of the Matthew text.

When Joseph Smith worked on his translation of the Bible, he had a slightly different reading of these verses. First, he kept the focus on the disciples. He did not need to replicate the refocusing of the Book of Mormon because he had used a different solution to Matthew 6:25. In that verse the context was still missionary work, but the missionary work was expanded to all disciples, not just the twelve. In the JST there is a difference in the text, however. The “judge not” phrase is modified to “judge not unrighteously,” which certainly captures the spirit of the verse.

JST Matthew 7:1-3

1 Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.

2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.

3 For with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon