“What Judgment Ye Judge Ye Shall Be Judged”

Brant Gardner

This saying about the mote and beam is also known from rabbinic literature (John Lightfoot. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmiud and Hebraica. Hendrickson Publishers, 1989, 2:157-8). It is a different way of looking at the same problem approached in the first set of sayings. The nature of the judgment against which we are counseled is the type of judgment we pass on our fellow man. It is human to make comparisons with others, and it is unfortunately human that we may more quickly see the faults of another than those in our own soul. Thus another example is given to reinforce the command that we take care in the way that judge (or measure) our fellow man.

In this case we have the contrast between our ability to see other’s faults, but be blinded to our own. The contrast is exaggerated by reference to the mote and beam. A mote is a speck of something. The essential information is that it is small. Thus when we see a “speck” in someone’s “eye” we are seeing some small fault in them. Of course it does not matter what that fault is. The point is that it is small, and we see it and judge them by it.

The beam, on the other hand, is exactly what it appears to be. It is large. It is obvious. Of course it is impossible, but the point isn’t the possible, but rather the contrast with our ability to see minute problems in other people while being blinded to huge problems in our own actions. These things are in the “eye” because the eye is the thing that actively sees. In the ancient world information was not passively received by the eye, but rather the eye actively “saw” the world. Recall that the eye is the light/lamp of the body (Matthew 6:22; 3 Nephi 13:22), and that this imagery suggests light emanating from the eye.

Thus we see small problems in other people even though our sight is cloudy because of the very large problems we have. As Jesus addresses those of us who see so clearly that to which we are blinded in ourselves, he uses the term hypocrite. The modern meaning of that term is absolutely applicable in this case, but it still had the contemporary meaning of an actor. Therefore, the ancient hypocrite was acting in a way superior to another person, when he had no reason to so act. The notion of the actor highlighted the problem of social interaction that was caused by this type of behavior.

Old World Context: This teaching was an important way to improve horizontal relationships in a world where there was so much potential conflict. In Israel, the opportunities for criticism were numerous. In the political arena one might not be sufficiently indignant with the Romans. One might be too radical in their indignation, and propose violent revolution. In the religious arena, one might not perform the purity laws well, as the Pharisees dictated they should be done. One might believe that the Pharisees went too far. One might follow the rabbi Shammai, or one might follow Hillel. There were multitudes of ways that differences existed, and those differences could create internal contention. Jesus was teaching the people that while differences could and did exist, we could be merciful in our treatment of others and their differences. In Israel it was not only a heavenly survival strategy, but a pragmatic earthly one.

Book of Mormon Context: The Nephites in Bountiful had undergone a tremendous calamity, and in the aftermath of that calamity had probably become more united as a people. The effect of such dramatic conditions on a group of people is that they tend to be more tolerant of differences in favor of the ability to provide greater communal healing. The sad and most recent example of this is the upsurge in patriotism following the tragedy of September 11, 2002. As with the tremendous destruction endured by the Nephites, that tremendous social destruction served to galvanize and unite the will of a large country.

Nevertheless, in spite of the probable current tolerance among the Nephites, they had previously endured religious persecution not many years prior, and the lesson would be an important reminder of the dangers that come from unrighteous judgment and intolerance. 

Textual: There are no changes from the Matthean text.

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon