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To Judge or Not To Judge, Part 1

What does Jesus mean when He warns us not to judge? Not what most people today think He means.

Hoping for a quiet lunch, I tried the faculty club, but the door was locked and the sign said “Closed for Fumigation.” The only place nearby was the Edge of Night, and it was anything but quiet.

Next to the cashier, a television on a stool was tuned to a dog show. From a couple of wall-mounted speakers, the radio was thumping out the music of some girl band I didn’t recognize. Most of the tables were full. The table talk was the kind where you speak loudly, wave your arms, and pound your fist as often as possible.

I went in anyway. Most of my students say they study under such conditions. Maybe I could learn something.

The waitress bent down to shout, “Whatcha want?”

“A small Stromboli and a cup of strong coffee — make it decaf.” I didn’t think I’d miss the stimulation.

“Y’want plugs with that?”


She pointed to the menu. Ear plugs were listed next to side dishes.

“No, thanks.”

“Whatever you say.” She loitered off.

On the dog show, one of the judges was being interviewed. The girl band had started another song. Nearby, some people were arguing about the Bible. I tried to separate the strands of noise.

Do you feel that in general, the quality of the breed in this country is getting better or worse?

Judge not, that you be not judged.

Shut up

No one said to open your mouth


Better. I think rears are better today than they were a few years back.

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Everybody judging me

Knowing nothing about me


I would like to see fewer dogs that drag the top of their rear feet on the ground when gaiting.

In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.

We are judging dogs, AREN’T WE?



No more bugging


No more judging

Deciding that I’d been edified enough, I tossed off the rest of my coffee, wrapped up my Stromboli in a paper napkin, and rose to pay my bill. At the cash register, someone cannoned into me.

“Why don’t you — Professor T! Sorry, I — ” It was Zack.

“Forget it.” I glanced behind him. “Who’s chasing you?”

“Nobody. I was just fed up, and figured I’d better leave before I lost it completely.”

I looked at his face. It was flushed, as though he’d been working out. “Looks like you may have already. Fed up with what?”

“My friends. Can we talk?”

“Not here.” Outside, we crossed the street and struck off across the Science quadrangle.


“I was, um, having a disagreement with three friends I was eating with. About judging people.”

“So that was you belting out Bible verses like a tent revivalist?”

He flushed a different color. “Some of them. You have to raise your voice to be heard in there.”

“I guess they heard you pretty well, then.”

“They heard my voice all right. Just not what I was trying to say.” He snorted. “See, my friends are Christians, but not spiritually mature.”

I smiled a little. “Not mature about ‘judging’?”

“Exactly! See, I happened to mention a couple of mutual acquaintances, and my friends gave me a look like ‘What are you doing with them?’ I said ‘So what if I hang out with Cleo and Anton? Do you have a problem with that?’ And they said things like ‘Not exactly’ and ‘We’re just surprised,’ but it was pretty obvious that they did. So I said ‘You’re judging them.’ Then Ling said ‘No, we’re not,’ and Don said ‘Maybe we are,’ and Theresa said ‘Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t live without making judgments.’ That rankled, coming from friends who are supposed to be Christians. So I said ‘Judge not, that you be not judged.’ Theresa said ‘Who’s doing the judging now?’, and it went downhill from there.”

We paced another 20 yards.

“What do you want from me, Zack?”

“I want you to tell me how to make it clear to them. That it’s wrong to judge.”

“What is it that your friends have against the other two?”

“Stupid stuff. I know how it looks — ”

“How what looks?”

“A couple of tattoos, a tee shirt, things like that.”

“A tee shirt?”

“Anton wears a shirt that says ‘Got Satan?’ You know, like the milk commercial. On the back it says ‘I’m with him,’ with an arrow pointing down. It’s just a joke. He doesn’t mean it. Did I mention his piercings?”

“You don’t have to.”

“It’s not like you can see them anyway.”

“Then how do you — ”

“They set off security alarms.”

I took a deep breath. “How about Cleo?”

“She got a tattoo of a poisonous serpent crawling from her navel. I know it sounds skanky, but it’s just a joke on her name, like an I.D. bracelet. See, Cleopatra committed — ”

“I get it.”

“They also judge how she dresses. But she doesn’t do it to be sleazy — only to show the tattoo. Well, most of it. Not the — ”

“I understand.”

“She’s really a clean-minded person.”

We left the Science area and turned onto the Humanities quad.

“Zack, where Jesus instructs his disciples ‘Judge not,’ what do you think He means?”

“What is there not to get?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“It means don’t — judge. Don’t make judgments. Don’t sit in judgment. Stop judging people.”

I laughed. “It’s a good thing you don’t write dictionaries. ‘Judging’ means several different things. Wouldn’t it be good to know which one Jesus was talking about?”

“He didn’t say, so He must have meant all of them.”

“In that case, you’re guilty.”

“But I told my friends not to judge. I condemned their judgmentalism.”

“Didn’t you judge that Anton didn’t mean what he advertised? Didn’t you judge that Cleo wasn’t trying to be sleazy?”

“But I wasn’t, like, sitting in judgment.”

“Sure you were. You judged them ‘innocent.’ ”

He considered. “All right. I guess Jesus was forbidding negative judgment.”

“Are you saying He condemned condemnation?”

Zack was flustered. “I guess that would be illogical. But then I don’t know what he meant. How can I tell?”

“Look at the context. A moment later He said ‘You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’ What’s the issue in that sentence?”

“I guess hypocrisy.”

“Good. Another time He said ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.’ What’s the issue in that one?”


“Good. In other places He mentioned self-righteous and presumptuous judgment. But you see that He condemned only particular kinds of judgment, not judgment as such.”

We turned into my own building and threaded the maze toward my office.

“I guess so, Professor T. But we’re all tempted to self-righteousness — right? So isn’t it safer not to make judgments at all?”

“Jesus didn’t leave that option.”

“What do you mean?”

“You didn’t hear the second half of the last passage. ‘Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.'”

“He commanded us to judge? Why?”

“One reason is that without judgment, you can’t find the right path in life. Another is that you can’t avoid making judgments anyway. If you try, you’ll end up making just as many judgments as other people, but hiding them from yourself — like when you judged your friends for judging. Since you have to judge, it’s better to do it with your eyes open.”

He sighed. “OK. But I still think my friends were judging superficially. You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

“Not ever? Do you mean that if a magazine shows a nude on the cover and the label Playboy, you don’t have a clue what’s inside?”

“Well — no. But in that case I don’t know what I mean. Didn’t you just quote Jesus saying ‘Do not judge by appearances’?”

“That doesn’t mean to ignore appearances, Zack. It means not to stop with them. You have to sort them out.”

I fished out my office keys. We entered and sat down. Anyway, I did. Zack shifted on his feet, but remained standing.

“Professor Theophilus — could you teach me — well, maybe not teach me, exactly, but at least get me started — I realize that you have other things to do — ”

“Zack, just spit it out.”

“Could you teach me how to judge with right judgment?”

God forgive me, I hadn’t seen it coming. Zack’s request dismayed me more than I knew how to tell him. I didn’t want to let him down, but he was asking the wrong person….

PART 2: To Judge or Not to Judge »

Copyright 2002 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

J. Budziszewski

Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

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