Word of the Week
February 5, 2022
Krinō: Judge Me when You are Perfect
Do not judge lest you be judged.
Isn’t it interesting how many people with virtually no knowledge of the Bible can quote one verse: “Judge not lest you be judged.”
Tolerance used to mean, “I respect you even though I disagree with you.” But that’s no longer sufficient. Unless you are willing to agree with a person’s position, you are stamped with the label “bigot” or “hater.”
Go so far as to suggest that something is wrong, and you’ll get a knee-jerk response: “You say that ___ is wrong? Didn’t Jesus say, ‘Judge not’? How bigoted can you be?”
Most people who use this argument have never looked closely at what Jesus actually said. We can throw light on the conversation by helping them understand what he was teaching. Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the Greek word he used for “judge.”
Matthew 7:1 uses the Greek word krinō for “judge.” It is a common word (used 114 times) and it comes with an assortment of related words built on the same base. The root meaning is to scrutinize and evaluate something.
A basic principle of word study is that words have multiple meanings, and that is the case with krinō. It covers a wide range of value judgments.
- It can mean “to prefer something, to treat it as especially meaningful.”
Paul pointed out that some people regard one day as more important than the rest, while others regard every day alike (Romans 14:5).
- It can mean “to reach a decision.”
After Paul appealed to a hearing before Caesar, the Roman governor decided to send him to Italy (Acts 27:1).
- It sometimes functions as a legal technical term: “to be involved in court proceedings.”
This could include the person bringing a lawsuit (Matthew 5:40) or the person who was on trial (Acts 23:6).
- It could refer to handling administrative affairs, “to judge” like the judges in the book of Judges.
Jesus promised that his disciples would one day sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
- It can mean “to form an opinion.”
When Simon the Pharisee gave his answer to one of Christ’s probing questions, Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.”
- It can mean “to express a (usually negative) opinion about someone or something, to criticize.”
Jesus told his hearers, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon and you will be pardoned” (Luke6:37).
- It often refers to judgment or condemnation by God.
Jesus announced, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him” (John 3:17). This usage often includes both a guilty verdict and the punishment that results.
What a variety of ideas! Krinō can cover everything from choosing a method of transportation to issuing a death sentence!
A second basic principle of word study is that a word has only one meaning in a particular context. Our task is to examine the context carefully and use our sanctified common sense to determine which meaning appears in this verse.
Obviously, Jesus was not warning against all kinds of criticism or evaluation in Matthew 7:1. Almost immediately, he instructs them, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). How could you act on his words without evaluating people to determine whether they fit in the “dog” or “swine” category? Only a few verses later, he warns, “Beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). You can only obey this command by “judging” their character and message.
What was Jesus talking about?
He had just been attacking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Even though they were the most scrupulous of all in observing the minutia of the Law, their internal attitudes failed to match their external façade of righteousness. They were known for condemning the behavior of anyone who failed to conform to their tight standards. They were constantly critiquing others, even as they fell short of Christ’s standard of holiness.
Jesus was not outlawing all discernment and moral judgments. He was condemning those who placed themselves on a pedestal as the models of morality while their hearts were full of evil attitudes. There is nothing wrong with stating the truth about right and wrong, as long as the standard is God, not us. He alone has the right to set moral standards. When we confront someone, we need to communicate God’s standards, not our opinions – and we must do it with respect out of concern for their eternal welfare.
This word is an excellent illustration of the two foundational facts about words: (1) Words have multiple meanings; and (2) A word has one meaning in a particular context.
Because words have multiple meanings, the first step in studying a word is to find all the possible shades of meaning that it might have. The easiest way to do this is to consult a Greek dictionary or lexicon. You can find the information you need in Bible software apps like Bible Hub or Blue Letter Bible.
Because a word has one meaning in context, the second step in studying it is to figure out which meaning is in use in the verse you are studying. The easiest way to do this is either to consult a commentary, or to meditate on the verse yourself, paying careful attention to the verses before and after it.
Q – Matthew 7:13-14 in the King James Version mention the “strait gate” and the “narrow way.” Did Jesus use more than one word for “narrow” in these verses?
A – Yes, he did. In verse 13, he instructs his hearers to enter the kingdom through the “strait” gate, using the Greek word stenos. Verse 14 says, “The gate is stenos, and the way is narrow (thlibō) that leads to life. Strait is not the same thing as straight; it is an older English word that means a narrow place that few can go through at one time. We see it on maps to describe narrow sea passages like the Strait of Hormuz. The narrow (thlibō) path or way comes from a verb which describes something that squeezes you. In classical Greek, it was even used to describe pressing grapes. When I read this passage, I am reminded of a childhood visit to Crystal Cave in California’s Sequoia National Park. As we moved through the cave, we reached one spot named “Fat Man’s Misery.” It was a tight spot, one that you had to squeeze through. As Jesus says, his kingdom is not easy to enter. You have to come in the way He prescribes.
When Jesus calmed a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee, he spoke two Greek words that silenced the gale. Next week we will take a closer look at those two words to understand what was really happening.
©Ezra Project 2022