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For Bible Study Nerds

“Do not judge…”

These words of Jesus that open Matthew 7 have been a source of confusion—and antagonism—for centuries. The problem seems to be that many of us misunderstand the distinctions between similar Greek terms that mean different things.

Anakrinō (“to discern”) is a general term that means “to investigate…to examine, scrutinize, question.” It’s a verb that happens outside of a courtroom, a search for truth that may be in preparation for a trial, but also happens when no formal, legal proceeding is imminent. This type of discerning effort is lauded in the Bible. For instance, Paul prayed for Christians in Philippi to grow “in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern [anakrinō] what is best” (Philippians 1:9-10). Additionally, Acts 17:11 praises the people of Berea because they “examined [anakrinō] the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Unsurprisingly, then, anakrinō is NOT the term Jesus used in Matthew 7:1.

Krinō (“to judge”) is the word Jesus used in Matthew 7. This is a verb that means “to pronounce judgment” and “to assume the office of a judge.” It’s a specific term that refers to a courtroom-style setting where a defendant is either convicted or exonerated. It carries with it both the ability to act (“pronounce judgment”) and the legal authority to enforce the action (“the office of a judge”). In Jesus’ context, it refers to the coming eternal judgment of a person’s soul.

Speaking primarily to the practices of Pharisees and overbearing religious leaders, Jesus condemned a hypocritical attitude of judgment (krinō) toward others that exceeded the otherwise praiseworthy attempts at discernment (anakrinō). He railed against anyone presuming to have authority to “assume the office” of Judge over the souls of his creation. As God incarnate, Christ alone holds that authority—and he intends to keep it.

In practical terms, then, we are to anakrinō our hearts out, seeking to know and understand truth as it relates to our daily lives of service—but we are never to assume that gives us the right to krinō our fellow sinners to hell or other spiritual punishment. We’d be wise to follow the Apostle Paul’s wisdom in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5:

“My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”

 

Works Cited:

[VCE, 171, 336]

 

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