“Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged”

Brant Gardner

After an aside to the twelve comprising 3 Nephi 25–34, Jesus returns to addressing the multitude. Jesus has been explaining how the gospel ought to determine both our horizontal relationships (3 Ne. 12:21–44) and our vertical relationship with God (3 Ne. 13). Now (3 Ne. 14:1–11) he discusses the intimate connection between horizontal and vertical relationships:

• 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—no doubt intended to be slightly shocking to the audience. It serves as a rhetorical device to present a counter-intuitive statement, one that remains startling even in its written form. The problem, of course, is that we do assume that we should judge—indeed, must judge—yet here is a bold statement that we should not. The resolution of the startling prohibition comes in the paired explanations that follow.

The next two statements have the same structure. In the first phrase, we perform the action. In the second, the same action is performed on 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 how we should interpret the absolute prohibition of “judge not, that ye be not judged,” 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 eternal judgment we will receive clarifies that the statement 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. 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. The term “measure” is perhaps clearer than the controversial term “judge,” even though they are equivalent. We are to be cautious in how we criticize, evaluate, and scrutinize others, since our actions will determine how God criticizes, evaluates, and scrutinizes us. This saying is the conceptual companion to the earlier beatitude: “And blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (3 Ne. 12:7). When we are merciful, we do not judge harshly. Being merciful actually is an act of judgment, but it is characterized by the godly trait of mercy. As we learn this attribute of godhood, God can use our progress toward that attribute as a measure of our character; therefore, he will deal mercifully with us. The way we conduct our horizontal relationships will be the model for the way God conducts our vertical relationship.

The second of these sayings, “with what measure ye mete… ” is known from rabbinic literature. Possibly the saying was fairly well known in Israel and immediately made Jesus’s meaning clearer for his audience.

Vocabulary: Mete is a now-archaic verb meaning “to measure.”

Comparison: The text in Matthew has “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. That verse showed Jesus changing his focus from the multitude to the twelve: “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.” Now Jesus has finished that redirected set of instructions and in verse 1 of this chapter refocuses on the multitude.

Text: The current Book of Mormon chapter break at this point did not exist in the 1830 edition. That edition had a chapter break just before our 3 Nephi 13:25. In the 1879 edition, Orson Pratt arranged these chapters so that they more closely followed the chapters and verses of the Matthew text.

When Joseph Smith worked on his translation of the Bible, he did not specify that Jesus again began addressing the multitude 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. The JST, however, reads: “Judge not unrighteously.” This change certainly captures the spirit of the verse: “Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment. For with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (JST Matt. 7:1–3).

Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 5