Jesus, John, and Judgment: A Survey of krinos in the Gospels

     The primary word translated “judge” or “judgment” in the New Testament is the word krinos which is pronounced “krinos.”  Joseph Thayer describes the word as “a separating, a sundering, separation, selection; a judgment opinion or decision given concerning anything.” (1)  Most all leading lexicons of the Greek New Testament will concur with this definition.  This is the implied idea in the New Testament when we read the word “judgment.”  In the last article that I wrote regarding judgment in the Old Testament, we discussed the word “shaphat.”  What we discovered was that “shaphat” like “krinos” carried the similar meaning of separation. (Please see Ezekiel 20-22:  A Study of Old Testament Judgment)  This brings congruency between the Testaments.  This continuity of linguistic ideas is paramount in the understanding of scripture.  The English definition of judgment may not exactly represent what is intended by the Greek and the Hebrew.  Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language defines judgment as:  “The act of judging; the act or process of the mind in comparing its ideas, to find their agreement or disagreement, and to ascertain truth; or the process of examining facts and arguments, to ascertain propriety and justice.” (2)  There are some obvious pitfalls to this definition when it is imposed upon the biblical text.  The English definition has little to do with the establishment of God’s order like the Hebrew “mishphat.”  It has little to do with separating the holy from the unholy as “krinos” and “shaphat” implies.  The English seems to deal with judgment as an exercise of the mind that an individual makes based upon their own examination of facts.  Mishphat, krinos, and shaphat carry the similar idea of an individual using their experience to make a determination but the Greek and Hebrew have the idea of making that judgment based upon God’s order of the universe and not man’s order.  The English definition leaves things open to the individual subjective opinion of what is right and wrong.  Meanwhile, the biblical terms separate right and wrong under the umbrella of God’s established order.  There is a difference and Jesus will describe that difference to us.  The reader will notice in the title that this is a study in all of the gospels of the use of judgment.  However, the title also singles out the gospel of John.  The reason for this is that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, only deal with judgment in terms of the “day of judgment” which will be examined at the end of the article.  The bulk of material given to us comes from John who seems to make it his personal aim to explain Messiah’s idea of judgment.  This article is an examination of this theme.

    Any examination about Jesus and judgment should begin with how He, Himself, describes the way that He judges things.  He states, “By myself, I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but Him who sent me.” (John 5:30)  Jesus is giving us some key insights into New Testament judgments that being, “He hears!”  He only makes judgments from what the spiritual influence of God’s heavenly established Mishphat revealed to Him.  This was not Him making a determination out of His own best thinking.  His judgments came as a direct revelation from the eternal realms of Heaven where right and wrong are determined by God’s established mishphat. (That being, love.)  Because Jesus doesn’t judge out of selfishness He can be trusted to “judge.”  He states, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.” (John 5:22-23) and again, “And He has given him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:27)  The method of judgment that Jesus was using was to place Himself under the influence of the heavenly realms and this put Him in a position to judge righteously and not selfishly.  Jesus gives us an example of this later on in the gospel.  He states, “Jesus said to them, ‘I did one miracle, and you are all astonished.  Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath.  Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?  Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.’” (John 7:21-24)  The English definition of judgment seems to be the “modus operands” of religious leaders of the Jews.   Messiah is calling them back to “krinos” according to God’s established “mishphat.”  A similar exchange takes place in John 8.  It states, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.  But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am no alone, I stand with the Father, who sent me.” (John 8:16)  Jesus reiterates that His judgment comes under the influence of God.  Additionally, He tells us that this same insight is available to others.  He states, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (John 8:39)  The irony of this statement is clearly evident.  Those who were supposed to have spiritual insight into God’s mishphat were completely ignorant of it while others who shouldn’t have such insight do indeed, have it.

The final statement from John comes from chapter 12.  It states, “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and doesn’t not accept my words, that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day,” (John 12:47-48)  Two interesting observation from this passage.  First, Jesus primary mission was not to “judge.”  He makes this clear in this passage and in previous passages that we have examined (John 8:16).  His primary purpose was to bring about salvation to all mankind.  However, when there arose occasions for Him to make judgments, He made the correct judgment by hearing from the eternal realm through the Spirit.  This allowed His judgment to be true and unbiased as it was not rooted in selfishness.  Secondly, once Jesus had revealed the heavenly purpose behind His mission that information was now available and folks were held accountable for it.  This is not Jesus fault.  His job was to present truth.  Then individuals will make “judgments” upon the truth that He presented.  He was not responsible for their reaction to His truth.  His job was only the distribution of it.  So likewise, it is with all of us who share His gospel.

The Day of Judgment

     The synoptic writers go out of their way to mention the Day of Judgment.  It is mentioned in Matthew 10:15; 11:22 &24; Luke 10:14, among other places.  If we break this word down, it would be the “Day of Separation according to God’s Mishphat”.  Jesus gives us an example of how this definition describes the day.  He states, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’” (Matthew 25: 31-34)  Again, we see here that judgment is the separation of what is clean from what is unclean.  The distinction between what is holy and what is not.  At the last day, it will be mankind which will be separated.

Judge Not?

     One cannot leave a discussion about Jesus and judgment without discussing the “judge not” passages that are found in Matthew and Luke.  “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.   For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure yahoo use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)  “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you sue, it will be measure to you.” (Luke 6: 37-38)  Clearly the passages caution against passing judgment.  Equally, it stands to reason that there will be times when God will call upon us to judge certain things.  Following Jesus example, He did not come to judge and neither should we.  Our responsibility is the same as His.  We are called to present truth and not to judge someone’s response to that message.  We are not called to pronounce judgment upon individuals.  At the same time, there are clearly times when the heavenly realms will influence the people of God to exercise some judgment to discern what is clean versus what is unclean.  To separate what is unholy from what is holy.  In these instances, we are to act as Jesus acted and ‘listen.”  What we “hear” is how we judge.  Judgment for the Christian is not something that is produced inside the mind of the believer.  It is given to them as an instruction from the heavenly realm.  What we hear, is what we speak.  Anything else, is to speak about things that we may not have extensive knowledge about.  Hence, we should reserve judgment.  The way that we implement this is the way that it will be implemented towards us.  We are the ones who set the standards for ourselves by the way that we act in love towards others.

1. Joseph Thayer, Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament

2. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language.

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2 Responses

  1. Mt. 7:1 is indeed often used to say we should not judge at all. Yet the following context, 7:6, talks about not giving “dogs” what is holy (which requires judging who are “dogs” and separating oneself from associating with them as “holy,” “clean”). In 7:15 Jesus warns against false prophets who seem to be “sheep” but are (judged to be) actually hungry “wolves” (“dogs”). So making judgments here are again important.
    I think Jesus’ word against judging in 7:1 is best understood in the following verses, 7:3-5. It has to do with seeing a small speck (sin) in a “brother” (a fellow disciple) and judging that brother or sister as “unclean,” unholy, as not a true member of the family. Such a judgment could lead to they themselves being judged as not part of the family, because they are “murdering” a true “brother” (over a small sin). Such words against a brother are also in mind in 5:22, where a word of condemnation (“you fool”) against a brother could lead the one judging to be judged in hell.

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