Jerry C. Brewer
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were experts at finding what they perceived as “loopholes” in God’s Law to rationalize their own sins and entrap the Lord. They attempted this by questioning Him about plucking grain on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8), the washing of hands as a religious rite (Matt. 15:1-9), marriage (Matt. 19:3-9), His authority (Matt. 21:23-46), civil government (Matt. 22:16-21), the resurrection Matt. 22:23-33), the “greatest commandment” of the Law of Moses (Matt. 22:34-40), et al. “There is no new thing under the sun.” Modern proteges of those ancient Pharisees still rationalize their own sins by appealing to what they think are loopholes in the New Testament, like Jesus’ words here:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye: and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5)
Other than John 3:16, this passage may be the only one in the entire Bible that many people know, and it is a favorite to hurl in the face of those who preach the Truth and condemn sin in men’s lives. The retort is usually, “Don’t judge me! The Bible says, ‘Judge not.’” Let’s take a close look at this rationale for men’s sins in our day.
If Jesus had stopped at the end of verse one and never said anything else, the rationale would be valid. But He didn’t. A consideration of the context indicates that He does not condemn all judgment, only hypocritical judgment. In so doing, He used a hyperbole to illustrate the hypocrisy of the kind of judging He meant.
He asked, “…why beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considereth the beam that is in thine own eye?” A mote is, “a dry twig, or straw,” and a beam is from a Greek word with a primary meaning of “holding up; a stick of timber: – beam” (James Strong, Greek Dictionary of The New Testament). There is a vast distinction between the two. The mote is a tiny particle. The beam is as we describe a huge piece of timber today, holding up a wall or ceiling. Thus, Jesus uses hyperbole (exaggeration) to teach a lesson. A person with his eyesight weakened by a six by six beam of wood protruding from his eye approaches his brother and says, “Let me get that splinter out of your eye.” That, Jesus said, is hypocritical.
But, He continues, “first cast the beam out of thine own eye: and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” He does not condemn the man with the beam in his eye for seeing the mote in his brother’s eye. He only condemns the hypocrisy of trying to correct another when a like—or larger—problem afflicts the one doing the correcting. It is not wrong, or hypocritical, to correct another. Jesus was not condemning all judgment on man’s part, but hypocritical judgment. In fact, he commanded “righteous judgment” in another passage: “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). These passages in Matthew and John require judgment. They do not condemn it.
What constitutes hypocritical judgment? Does one have to live a sinless life in order to preach the judgment of God on sinners? When hypocrisy is understood, the answer is a resounding no. The word “hypocrite” means, “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (Strong). Actors are literally hypocrites, and hypocrites are literally actors. They are real persons who “pretend” to be someone else in their performances. James Stewart was not really George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. He was James Stewart, but portrayed someone else. The person with a beam in his eye portrays a person with clear eyesight, but he is not. That makes him a hypocrite. But Jesus did not prohibit him from removing the mote from his brother’s eye. He commanded that he first remove the beam from his own eye and then he would no longer be a hypocrite, pretending he was righteous. A person may commit adultery and try to correct that sin in others’ lives. He is hypocritical (an actor) only if he is still an adulterer. If he has repented and been forgiven of that sin, he is not a hypocrite, and has every right to preach against adultery in others’ lives. Matthew 7:1-5 does not prohibit one from passing any judgment; only that which is hypocritical.
“We’re All Sinners”
And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:3-7).
The rationale for sin that, “We’re all sinners” is based on this passage. The idea set forth is that no one can condemn sin in the life of another because, “we’re all sinners.” When one condemns sin, the reply, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” is usually hurled. That smug retort assumes that Jesus condones sin in men’s lives because all have sinned. This passage does not so teach.
Verse 6 gives the reason for their question to Jesus: “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.” Their intent was not to mete out justice and follow the Law of Moses, but to discredit Jesus. They thought they had Him in a dilemma.
The dilemma they wished to get Him in was somewhat like that of the tribute money. To affirm the binding validity and force of the law of Moses would be to advise a course of action contrary to the Roman law. On the other hand, if He set aside this law it would make Him liable to the charge of breaking this law which would be an aid in killing His influence with the Jews. In one case they would accuse Him to the Romans and place Him under civil authority; in the other they could denounce Him as setting aside the law of Moses (David Lipscomb, A Commentary on The Gospel by John, Edited With Additional Notes by C.E.W. Doris, 1964, Gospel Advocate Co., Nashville, pp. 121, 122).
Adultery was punishable by death under the Law of Moses. “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10). “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel” (Deut. 22:22). Punishment was to be inflicted on both parties to adultery—not just the woman. The validity of the charge had to be established by at least two witnesses, and the law required those witnesses to cast the first stone (Deut. 17:7).
Jesus neither set aside the Law of Moses, nor condoned the woman’s sin. The scribes and Pharisees failed to bring the man to Jesus, who was also guilty of adultery. If she was caught, “in the very act” of adultery, as they charged, then they should have brought the man also. When Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” He invoked the Law of Moses’ requirement that the “hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death.” “He that is without sin among you” did not mean the first stone could not be cast if any of them had sinned in any fashion, but referred to those who had witnessed the adultery. In this instance, the witnesses had to be “without sin” which meant they were not parties to the adultery.
When they tried to entrap Him, Jesus presented them a dilemma. They claimed the woman committed adultery. They said she was caught in the act which they, obviously, had to witness. Therefore, Jesus merely followed Moses’ law, saying the witnesses must cast the first stone at her.
The latter part of this incident is generally used to imply that Jesus condoned the woman’s sin.
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
Jesus was meticulous in His observance of the Law of Moses. He had not been a witness to her adultery and, therefore, could not condemn her to death under the law. His reply that, “Neither do I condemn thee” was in the legal sense. He did not condone her sin, but told her to, “sin no more,” saying that she had, indeed, sinned.
John 8:3-11 does not mean that sin must be condoned because, “We’re all sinners.” It teaches just the opposite. Sin can—and must—be condemned in the lives of all, as Jesus condemned it in the scribes and Pharisees and in the woman taken in adultery.