Monday, July 29, 2019

Judging Others

Jesus said, or at least two gospels attribute the saying to him: “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1; Luke 6:37). The saying is a Q tradition, but it may have been attributed to Jesus in error by the later Christian community. Paul (Rom 2:1) and James (4:12) employ the idea of not judging others without making any reference to Jesus, and the idea of not judging others is found in rabbinic traditions. Hence, the concept may likely have been derived from Israelite and/or Christian wisdom. The Jesus Seminar voted that it was not a saying of Jesus.1 On the other hand if Jesus did prohibit judging others, as the writers of the gospels report, then he failed to follow his own advice, for the gospels depict him judging the intentions of others rather harshly. For example:

But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against people; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in (Matt 23:13; compare also: Matt 16:6, 12; 23:2-7; 23:13-33; Mark 8:15; Luke 11:39-44; 12:1).

The verse quoted above (Matt 23:13) was printed in grey in the Five Gospels, meaning that the saying itself should likely not be included in a databank of Jesus sayings, but one nevertheless might make use of some of the content for determining who Jesus was. Perhaps the most graphic saying as to how the gospel writers thought Jesus regarded the Pharisees is the harsh depiction of the Pharisee in the story of the Pharisee and the toll collector (Luke 18:10-14).2

            Making moral judgments about others is something that a wise person must inevitably do to survive in life. For example, even Jesus was thought to have denied that Caesar’s government was supported by God (Mark 12:17)3 and he insulted King Herod (Luke 13:32).4 Judging others is something we will all do living in a society that has not succeeded in eradicating the presence of grifters, “confidence men,” charlatans, cheats, swindlers, dishonest businessmen, scammers, “snake oil salesmen," and others who prey on the gullible and unsuspecting for whatever reason. I define “sitting in judgment of others” as evaluating their skill, competence, reputation, character, and honesty.5 We are particularly called upon to judge those who run for political office, but also used car salespersons, grocers (did they set their scales a bit too heavy, perhaps?), physicians, attorneys, baby sitters and even ministers (you will recall the numerous cases of child abuse involving Catholic priests, among others).

            In our society one cannot take everyone at face value, but is required to dig deeper and even question the motives of others. For example, one must weigh this question upon receiving a solicitation for money on the phone: is the person on the other end of the line being duplicitous or honest? Can I trust the attorney I have consulted about a legal matter to rigorously represent my interests in court? Can I simply trust that a particular charity soliciting funds from me will actually do what is promised or should I first judge their record and validate how they spend the money? All of these in my view are moral issues, and I have a moral obligation to act with integrity in my engagement with society.

            It would be nice if we lived in a perfect world, but alas we do not. The world is a threatening place. Even Jesus said: “be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16 RSV; my translation: “be as sly as snakes and simple as pigeons”; compare Gos. Thom. 39b).6

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

1See Funk and Hoover, Five Gospels, 153-54.
2This saying is printed in the Five Gospels in pink (p. 369), meaning that Jesus probably said something like this statement.
3As Paul did for example (Rom 13:1-7).
4Funk and Hoover, Five Gospels, 348-49. Luke 13:32 is colored grey; the Fellows found it plausible, however, that Jesus “may well have said something of the sort found in this verse.”
5I never worry with the intentions of others, for we can never know another’s intentions even should they tell us what their intentions are. Judging someone’s intentions is all guess work.
6Hedrick, Many Things in Parables; see pages vii-1x, for a discussion of the saying. The saying is colored in Pink in the Five Gospels, p. 169.


Jim said...

Re: Judging Others


The subject of judging others is certainly worthy of discussion and both necessary and critical to our own and humankind's well being. Your frank discussion included this necessity and the results of our judgement on our well being.

I have no disagreement with any observation, opinion, or judgement you drew, but I would like to make one distinction about human judgement of other humans.

Our judgments should be directed primary on the validity, accuracy, effectiveness, righteousness, equality, i.e. overall human well to likely result from the action, thought, position, etc. made by any individual or group.

I would suggest more reluctance on judging the integrity, character, motivation, and even the human worth of the individual's or group's action, thought, position, etc.

An example of such an approach of human judgement might be to say President Trump's recently proposed & approved and the Republican Congress' approval of a large federal income tax cut has been primarily detrimental to 80% of the nation's most economically disadvantaged citizens well being and rewarding only about 20% of the nation's most wealthy citizen's well being.

I would be reluctant to say those that approve the measure did so because they were without exception greedy, wealthy, immoral, unethical, criminal, inhuman, gangsters with little apparent human character.



Elizabeth said...

Good Evening Charlie,

Yes, when making a personal decision for yourself it is important to evaluate the "morality" of the people with whom you are transacting. (I don't know if that is a word) It involves you and the person/persons who will be providing service to you as an individual or to you as part of a collective body. It is your own personal decision and solely involves the criteria which you deem "moral."

1) No one is 100% moral or 100% consistent... Nor does anyone place the same morals on the same level of importance. It's all subjective. Perhaps you believe everyone should have the same values and morals that you do, in the same level of importance... Do you get to decide what other people's morals should be, or just your own?

2) For example- compassion and conscientiousness... Which is more important? What about liberty? Who has the moral high ground when it comes to liberty: The shepherd who saves a lamb from the jaws of a wolf... Is he protecting the liberty of the little lamb who wants to live? Or is he denying the liberty of the wolf who wants to eat? What is the moral thing to do? (This example of moral relativity was discussed by Abraham Lincoln in a book I am currently reading)

3) I have a question about Pharisees and it is not related to judgment... I just wanted to know why the Old Testament never mentions any talk of Pharisees. (Or does it??) Why do they suddenly appear in the NT gospels out of nowhere?

With regard to making moral judgments in order for you make a personal decision- whatever works for you and provides the necessary criteria to move forward is totally appropriate. However evaluating the morality of other individuals' or groups of individuals' own personal decisions is none of your business. We all have to make personal decisions and whatever "morality" is required does not involve anyone else other than the person making that decision... Especially when it comes to voting. If you want to condemn the decision someone made about a political vote, that's your privilege. But condemning the morality of the person who made it is not healthy or wise. "You will never be happy or successful in life if you seek to make other people feel wrong." I hope that makes sense and I hope it doesn't sound too preachy... Many thanks as usual! Elizabeth

Anonymous said...

I couldn't resist commenting. Very well written!

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Would you be willing to comment on how one or more of the following Jesus' sayings support or don't support what you have to say about judgment?

"Give to everyone who begs from you." (Luke 6:30)

"If you have money...give it to someone from whom you won't get it back." (Thomas 95:1-2)

"What merit is there in loving someone who loves your enemies." (Luke 6:32, 35)

"...the master of a slave let him go and canceled his 10 million dollars...that same fellow collared a fellow slave who owed him 100 dollars...he threw him in prison when he couldn't pay...the master heard about it and threw the first slave over to the torturers until he paid back everything he owed." (Matthew 18:23-34)

"Take the timber out of your own eye, and then you'll see well enough to take the sliver from your friend's eye." (Matthew 7:3)

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed silently, "Thank you God that I'm not like everyone else..." The toll collector stood off by himself and muttered, "God have mercy one me sinner that I am,"...the second man went back to his house acquitted..." (Luke 18: 10-14)

"Forgive and you'll be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)

"When you're about to appear with your accuser before the magistrate, do your best to settle with him on the way...lest the judge turn you over to the jailer..." (Luke 12:57-59)

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth,
I am addressing your last paragraph first, but that answer also addresses your first paragraph in part.
My decision to vote differently from someone else is at the same time a criticism and judgment on others who voted differently than I did. In America people have a right to vote differently than I do, but that does not excuse them from my criticism for what I may consider their unwise, or ill considered, or misinformed, or stupid vote. In America I have the right to sit in judgment on political parties or candidates for what I may consider their immoral positions and actions in governing.
There were no Pharisees until the New Testament period. The sources are Josephus, the New Testament, and rabbinic sources.
I can only decide what my own morals will be. Within limits I get to decide what my children's morals will be--at least until they reach their majority. As a voter I am called upon to cast votes that in one way or another will decide community morals. If I am a legislator I help make some laws that decide what the morals of the community will be.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you Charlie... I do have one other question regarding Pharisees that you may or may not be able to answer: Why did the Pharisees emerge only in the New Testament period? It seems like there's more "debate" amongst the New Testament apostles than the Tanach priests/ prophets. Does it seem like there was more arguing between Paul & the disciples and Jesus & the Pharisees than what we see in the "Old Testament?" It just seems like the NT is full of disagreement about what the real Gospel should be and what the Law should be (Torah observance). Any thoughts? Elizabeth

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Gene,
Here are my thoughts on the passages you mention:
Luke 18:1-14 I find to be an example of judging others.
Matt 7:3 seems to be an example of judging others but only when you have your own house in order.
Thomas 95:1-2 is an example of judging others.
Luke 6:30 seems to be an example of discriminating in that you do not give to every beggar but only to those who beg from you. I do not find the others to be related to the action of judging others.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Elizabeth:
The Pharisees belong to a later stage of Judaism other than what is reflected in the Israelite traditions of the Hebrew Bible.
I find that there are likely more disagreements reflected in Hebrew Bible than are found in the New Testament--if for no other reason than there are more texts in Hebrew Bible than in the New Testament.