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There is this famous, often (ab)used phrase "judge not, lest you be judged", which implies -to me at least- that people on the whole, and Christians in particular, should defer from judging other people. The only person/power/entity (whatever you call it) that can pass judgement is God.

This is a belief upheld by most monotheistic religions that I know of. I attended a Catholic school, and remember that one of my teachers was a former daecon.
When he was asked to be a jury member in a big court case, he said he had to decline as he took a vow, which prevented him to pass judgement. Especially in matters that concerned life and death.

I wonder, though, how this affects Christians that did not take the same vows. I mean: "the judge not" bit seems applicable to everyone who adheres to the Christian faith, does it not?
Does being a judge or member of a jury have a whiff of sin about it, as a result?

So my questions are:

  • Can Christians be judges?
  • If so: can they ever sentence someone to death?
  • If not: can't they judge in any matter, or are they allowed to settle domestic disputes or rule in material matters?
  • Is sentencing or being on a jury a sin?
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It's helpful to keep reading that passage: "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you." –  Narnian Feb 17 at 20:47
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There are different KINDS of judgment: some are good, some are bad. Matthew 7:1-2 concerns judging people's motives, and Jesus said not to do it. Another KIND of judgment is spiritual discernment, which Christians are to exercise daily! Likewise, the KIND of judgment involving church discipline is biblical, warranted, and necessary when a church member is "caught in a trespass" and there are two or more witnesses who testify to that fact. The goal of that kind of judgment (e.g., excommunication) is for the sinner to repent and be restored to fellowship with both God and the local church. –  rhetorician Feb 18 at 1:52
    
I blogged about the way people misinterpret this passage of Scripture here You're making the same misinterpretation that others do - You're taking it out of context. the idea that Christians should not judge at all is not consistent with application of Scripture as a whole. Only by taking this verse out of context can you draw that conclusion. –  David Stratton Feb 18 at 3:23
    
@rhetorician: Ok, punishments like excommunication are meant to serve as a sort of retreat and contemplation period. Got that. But then, in the spirit of forgiveness and God being willing to accept those who truly repent and accept Him, wouldn't capital punishment imply that you don't offer all sinners the same chances? If a person dies in sin, he can't do any introspection and repent, that person will die in sin, and thus be dead to God(?) –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 18 at 7:40
    
Capital punishment (CP) is controversial, to be sure. Those who say "But it doesn't deter crime" are patently wrong. The convicted murderer who is put to death by the state is deterred from ever committing another crime! The rub, of course, is that in state-sanctioned CP, occasionally a person is wrongly convicted, which is but one of the risks of any authoritative and God-sanctioned legal system. The sanctity of every human life is precisely why CP exists, and we praise God when a convicted murderer facing the death penalty repents and is forgiven by God. Repentance does not erase –  rhetorician Feb 18 at 8:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Can Christians be judges?

Yes. We are told to judge others within the church. (1 Cor 5:12)

As @CecilBeckham said, we are told not to judge people's hearts/righteounness. (Mt 7:1-2, Lk 6:37) We are also told not to be hypocritical in our judgment (Ro 2:1)

Paul endorses the idea of governmental authority in Romans 13, and says

Romans 13:4 (NASB)
But if you do what is evil, be afraid ; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

We are certainly expected to exercise judgment/discernment. (John 7:24, Lk 12:57)

There's no prohibition (even in sense or intent) in what the Biblical authors say that would prevent anyone from being employed as a secular judge (or even as a Christian arbiter). Judges (in America) do not judge men's hearts, nor do they claim to assign their eternal station. They decide issues of the written law. I can imagine that a Christian judge might have difficulty if the law itself were immoral or required something sinful, but that's an exception, not a rule.

Can they sentence someone to death?

The example in the Old Testament is that the community was a witness against people who had committed a crime worthy of death. Certainly humans were fit to pass this kind of judgment on another.

We are not commanded to do such a thing in the New Testament, but it stands to reason that it is at least justifiable. Paul's statement about the God-ordained authority of the government suggests that punishment is within its rights (even if the rulers are evil or if the laws are immoral—as was the case with the Roman law of the day). He wasn't writing a legal treatise, but was saying that the government isn't wrong to punish us, because they get their authority from God (and I would assert: even if they abuse it).

For the protection of innocent people, it seems like it might be possible for there to be a situation in which execution is the best thing to do. We're (indirectly) told not to murder (Mt 5:21, but murder and killing are not the same, nor was killing ever the subject of the sixth commandment (Ex 20:13), because the Jews were required to pass judgment on their brothers when they had committed a serious offense for which the punishment was death.

Also, in America, judges don't (decide the) sentence of death. That is always a jury trial. One exception might be a military trial—I don't know much about the legal system of the U.S. military.

Is sentencing a sin?

If you're thinking of some specific reason why this might be wrong, you will have to say what it is.

There's not any form of injunction against deciding someone's punishment for a legal infraction. Anyone with authority over another certainly seems to possess the power and right to decide punishment (within their sphere of authority). Parents "sentence" their children, employers "sentence" their employees, teachers "sentence" their students, etc. Sentencing (as a judge or jury member) isn't any more wrong than being a judge or jury member, because it's part of the task assigned to you.

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Well, "is sentencing a sin" I do have a particular situation in mind. Like you said: it's the jury that sentences people to death. This means that the jury members are put in a position where they can/are expected to decide on life and death. The latter being a bit of a no-no. So being a judge or jury member is most of the time, but what if the prosecution is requesting the death penalty. Shouldn't a Christian jury member refuse to make this decision on moral grounds? –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 17 at 14:16
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@EliasVanOotegem What arguments do you have for the assertion that capital punishment is wrong (for a Christian)? –  mojo Feb 17 at 15:47
    
In the Old Testament, God specifically commanded the death penalty: In Exodus 21 and 22 God commands the death penalty for at least 4 crimes: murder, kidnapping, assaulting your parents, and bestiality. It can't be evil if God specifically commanded it. The New Testament does not include lists of civil laws like the OT, so does not have similar commands, but there is no indication that they are abolished. In Acts 5:9 Peter pronounces a death sentence on Saphira for lying to the church. (He doesn't kill her himself. But then neither does a jury member.) –  Jay Feb 18 at 6:15
    
@mojo: Well, the idea of capital punishment, as discussed here (jury decides) is, AFAIKT, contradictory to Mat. 5:38-39, John 8:7, Mat. 6:15, and perhaps Rom. 12:14 (turn the other cheek, without sin, throw the first stone, not forgiving other men's trespasses == God won't forgive you), do not repay evil with evil. Of course, the last bit is subject to debate: Saying the death penalty equates to murder is a bit... off, I guess, but I maintain that a life for a life sounds too much like a tooth for a tooth, which Jesus clearly said wasn't right –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 18 at 7:33
    
Add to that the death penalty, in most Christian countries is applicable to crimes and in accordance to a law that is not a Biblical law. Even murderers should be given the chance to repent (1 John 1:9). Capital punishment deprives them of this chance so in a way, the death penalty, in the western world, is not in accordance to scripture. (PS: I'm not for a moment going to imply that we change our laws, if it weren't obvious before: it is my personal belief that the death penalty should be abolished) –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 18 at 7:44

The command you quote is from thee different Gospels:

Matthew 7:1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.

Luke 6:37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

John 7:24 Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.

In each of these cases the subject Jesus was addressing was in the judgment of another's righteousness.

In Exodus chapter we find that on his father in law's recommendation Moses appointed Judges for disputes among the people, and that began the reign of the Judges of Israel, and God only ended that judgeship when the people demanded a King.

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So, just to get things right: if someone commits a crime, the act of finding/proclaiming the accused guilty, if based on that persons motives and actions is allowed, right? What is righteous is, of course, self-evident (morals, do not onto others... etc). But God ended the judgeship when people demanded a King? A quick canter through the wiki leads me to believe that the Kings then acted as judges (most famoulsy: Solomons verdict). correct? –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 17 at 12:12
    
Oh, and 1 question still remains (that's why I didn't mark this answer as accepted): Death sentences. The Bible tells us we can't decide when another person dies, yet the old testament does contain a rather impressive (and even worrying) list of capital offences. How does this fit into the Christian doctrine? –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 17 at 12:15
    
And in case you take my comments as provocation: I don't mean to be a cynic, or spark a pointless debate. Like I said: I was brought up Catholic, any (seeming) inconsistencies (eg capital punishment) were put down to old vs new testament, historical matters (societies in biblical times being different and all that). What I am trying to do, is understand how other schools of thought (other sects) approach these matters... how they reconcile the entirety of the Bible, including its frankly un-Christian parts, with their faith... just wanted to clarify where I am coming from –  Elias Van Ootegem Feb 17 at 12:21
    
@EliasVanOotegem I do not take your comments any way other than needing clarification of my answer. I am not a Catholic and therefore cannot comment on Catholic beliefs, only what I know about my version of the Bible, which is the King James translation.Take a look at Numbers 15:32 through 36, if it is included in your Bible. that is an incident where a man gathered sticks on the Sabbath and God told Moses that everyone was to stone the man to death and they did so. As far as how that was modified by the New Testament, That must be approached from a Denominational standpoint. –  Bye Feb 17 at 18:44
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@EliasVanOotegem I forgot to address your first comment, about Judges in Israel, what God ended was the succession of judges over Israel, not the judging of Israel. –  Bye Feb 17 at 19:38

Can Christians be judges? Yes we are called to be judges, but not according to the law.

Romans 2:1 NKJV

Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

What then are we to judge?

Matthew 7:15-20

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Why we are to judge that is for another question.

If so: can they ever sentence someone to death? Yes.

Acts 5:1-11 NIV

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

If not: can't they judge in any matter, or are they allowed to settle domestic disputes or rule in material matters? We where called to settle domestic disputes and rule in material matters.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8 NKJV

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life? 4 If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren? 6 But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!

7 Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8 No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!

Is sentencing or being on a jury a sin? No.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 NKJV

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

1 Timothy 1:20 NKJV

of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

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