November 2nd, 2008

Judge Not Unrighteously

photo credit: darrenjsylvester

A common tactic used by individuals who wish to silence a person making a judgment on a moral issue is to cite the Lord’s own words in their support: “Judge not, that ye be not judged”. The attempt to use these words to prevent any judgment from taking place is not only absurd, but scripturally incorrect.

For starters, one need only look as far as the Joseph Smith Translation which adds context and clarity to the Savior’s words. In doing so, we learn that the Savior instead was telling his disciples to not judge unrighteously. Further, he counseled them to “judge righteous judgment”, in effect instructing them to judge others—but based on the correct moral standard God had given them.

Ignoring this insight, people who try to end a discussion with an appeal to the “judge not” line of scripture evidently advocate a “live and let live policy”, where no individual judgment occurs, and thus each person implicitly condones and supports whatever his neighbor chooses to do. This warped version of the golden rule shirks our responsibility to stand for what is right—instead of advocating doing unto others what we would have them do unto us, we’re told to not do unto others what we don’t want them to do unto us.

Conversely, the Lord would have us act instead of being acted upon—taking a proactive stance to work in righteousness, stand for truth, and spread the light of the gospel. The golden rule has the right idea: we should do good unto others, not simply not do bad things.

Interestingly, the word “judge” itself conveys this lesson:

A careful study of the roots of the words judge and righteous can help us better understand and apply these concepts. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the etymology of the noun judge in Latin is “ju-s right, law + -dic-us speaking, speaker.” Literally, a judge is someone who speaks rightly or someone who interprets the law for people. Because the concept of choosing rightly is inherent in the semantic DNA of the word judge, judgment presupposes righteousness.

The author of this paragraph goes on to make the following commentary regarding righteous and unrighteous judgment:

In other words, unrighteous judgment tends to call good evil and evil good; it substitutes darkness for light and bitterness for sweetness (see Isaiah 5:20). Unrighteous judgment distorts or ignores the truth.

Righteous judgment, on the other hand, honors and upholds the truth. It includes acts of charity, mercy, humility, and justice.

As Elder Oaks masterfully explained, there does and should exist righteous judgment where we interpret words, actions, and principles—both our own and those of others—in light of revealed truth and divine will.

Those who parrot the “judge not” line would rather not be the focus of such a judgment, and therefore argue that no such judgment should take place. To be sure, we are all, in various settings, the focus of righteous judgment. Only when we disobey and deviate from the proper path do we prefer the darkness to light, and loathe the judgment of other people observing our behavior.

The beautiful thing about this principle is its universality: while each of us is counseled to judge righteously, we are also to live our lives in such a way that others’ righteous judgment will see in us the light of Christ—His will, His teachings, His spirit. If ever we find ourselves detesting others’ judgment, then perhaps that is the time to seek the spirit and righteously judge our own actions. After all, we are our own best mortal judge.

9 Responses to “Judge Not Unrighteously”

  1. Adrien
    November 3, 2008 at 8:13 am #

    Lately, people have been using this live and let live philosophy not in random intellectual discussions of what is right, but in debates on whether to make a law that forces everyone to conform to the religious beliefs of others. With the track record of religious institutions to change these beliefs with regard to social practices, it would be better to leave these beliefs within those religious institutions rather than make a constitutional amendment to reflect the state of the church and what it deems to be good.

    I don’t need a law to tell me that being a heroine addict is probably a bad idea. I was provided a decent education and parents who tried to fill in the gaps in that education. If the teachings of the Church, our schools, and our parents did their jobs, we wouldn’t need more and more laws.

    These proposed laws are simply trying to streamline the hard work that goes into raising kids and molding society. The problem is that once you have these new laws, they are hard to undo, which is probably fine for those resistant to change and the people backing the propositions. But I’d prefer that these restrictions be kept to the home, church and schools, where they are more malleable for the times.

  2. Jeff T.
    November 3, 2008 at 12:10 pm #


    Thanks for this good post. Your blog attracts a lot of dissenters, but just know that the actual number of dissenting voices is smaller than it may seem. The dissenters just speak louder.

  3. Adrien
    November 3, 2008 at 2:13 pm #

    Sorry. . . I usually read these at work. Some of my responses may be directly driven by what I do for a living – read someone’s home-run business plan and beat the heck out of it by stressing every little point. So if it gets annoying, I apologize.

  4. Clumpy
    November 3, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    I think that a truly “righteous” judgment is extremely difficult for an individual to make. Any judgment undertaken by a mere mortal such as myself tends to be either incorrect or selective. And I prefer not to judge at all rather than judge incorrectly.

    It’s easy to see if somebody is smoking pot or watching R-rated movies or disregarding the words of a particular apostle, but how many of us are afflicted on a daily basis by pride, the sin scripture explicitly calls the worst of all? Judging somebody for the sake of judging them (meaning that your judgment is unlikely to help them or others avoid the behavior) is probably sinful, as it leads others toward complacency about their comparatively more serious sins.

    That’s why I think most judgment should be internal rather than external. I’ve never been turned by a self-important judger, but I’ve been helped immeasurably by the good examples of others.

  5. JHP
    November 3, 2008 at 3:11 pm #

    Great post, Connor. I think this is something we all need to remember. My parents need to read this; they often tell me I’m being too judgmental about the ladies I date 🙂

  6. Clumpy
    November 3, 2008 at 3:47 pm #

    Man, for somebody as goofy and offbeat as me, I’m pretty hypocritical about judging the “ladies I date”, JHP. Still, is it so wrong to want somebody who makes me want to be a better person?

    Still, it’s a cruel double standard for me not to be the sort of person I’d want to date, for my quirkiness if nothing else.

  7. John C.
    November 4, 2008 at 3:24 pm #

    For me, the issue isn’t judging, because we all do it anyways. The issue is figuring out if I am actually engaged in righteous judgment. That is what God will judge us on, I think.

  8. carborendum
    November 4, 2008 at 8:43 pm #

    I’m sure I’m not saying anything everyone doesn’t already know. But isn’t the purpose of this life to learn how to judge righteously?


    I once had this talk (judging vs. judging righteously) with a girl I had just met. She declared that of course we judge THINGS. But we shouldn’t judge PEOPLE.

    So I said,”OK, marry me.”

    “Uhm, we just met.”

    “Does it matter? If you’re not supposed to judge me, then go ahead and marry me.”

    She backed off her position.

    Since the extent of my relationship with her was the “judgement” thing, and she wasn’t really hot, I wasn’t too keen on marrying her.

  9. Josh Williams
    February 27, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    Your blog attracts a lot of dissenters, but just know that the actual number of dissenting voices is smaller than it may seem. The dissenters just speak louder.

    Jeff, this is an example of “ingroup/outgroup bias,” rather than a statement of demonstrable fact. In other words, this is an impossible stereotype. EVERYONE has their OWN opinion.

    Diversity, esp. diversity of opinions is extremely valuable, it is not a threat to be feared.

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