So we wonder, how do we understand Matthew 7:1, often quoted at someone else who seems overly rigid in their denunciations of others? “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It is memorable and pointed.
Notice in verses 1-6 there are some judgments made – v. 5 says “You hypocrites” and v. 6 says, “Don’t give what is holy to dogs or cast your pearls before pigs.” So do not “dogs”, “pigs”, “holy” and “pearls” involve judgments?
We think that the structure of the passage is like this
A – v.1 Proverb
B – v. 2 Judgment is reciprocal
C – v. 3 Start with yourself
C’ – v. 4 Start with yourself
B’ – v.5 Removal is reciprocal
C’ – v. 6 Proverb
If this is fair, then verses 1 and 6 are proverbial sayings that together make a balanced teaching. Do not judge in the sense of declaring a final condemnation. but do discern the reality of a situation. The line between judgment and discernment is a fine one.
There is a lot that is reciprocal – that is what is good for the other is good for me. Before I judge others, I should be judged. When I judge, I will be judged.
Like the Hebrew wisdom teachings these are not Laws but proverbial in nature, require considerable care and wisdom in their application. A wooden “do not judge in any manner at all” would not capture the teaching. Since there are situations where judgments need to be made about teachers as is seen in the remainder of chapter 7.
If we follow the chiastic structure to its logical end, the point of the passage is much more about starting with yourself, than it is in not judging at all.