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James: Judging

The root verb krinô and its cognates form a central lexical concept in James. Krinô is normally translated as “to judge”; its essential meaning is “to separate, distinguish.” For James, the concept is almost wholly negative: he associates it with division and conflict both at the individual and at the community level.

Following are several specific issues addressed by James that fall under the general category of judging.

Judgmentality: Source of Division

In James’ view, human beings do not have the authority to judge one another, and thus all such judging is sinful.

  • Community members should not make judgmental distinctions (diekrithête) between groups within the community, giving preferential treatment to the rich at the expense of the poor. If they do, they are judges (kritai) with corrupt reasoning (Jas 2:4). 
  • Speaking badly (katalaleô) of a brother is equated with judging a brother; speaks badly of the law also judges the law (Jas 4:11). By “law,” James refers to Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah—a teaching that identifies the love commandment as central (Jas 2:8) and emphasizes mercy over strict judgment (Jas 2:12–13). In breaking the law of love by speaking badly of fellow Christians, community members set themselves up as judges over other community members and even over the law of Jesus itself. 

Judgmentality thus cultivates discord. The rich are divided from the poor, and those judging from those whom they judge. To avoid these divisions, James exhorts his readers (especially their leaders who claim to be wise) to follow a wisdom that is non-judgmental (adiakritos; Jas 3:17). 

As an alternative to a harshly critical and judgmental approach to relations with others, James recommends an approach characterized by humility (Jas 1:9), gentleness (Jas 3:13) and mercy (Jas 2:13; 3:17d).

Judging and Division within Oneself

In Jas 1:6, James criticizes the one who does not ask God in simple faith and trust, but rather asks with some kind of divided motivation. Such a one has conflicting thoughts (diakrinomenos, Jas 1:6) and is double-minded (Jas 1:8; dipsuchos). In Jas 4:8, James further parallels the term with “sinners”—“Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The double-minded man is torn between following the way of God and the ways of “the world” (see Jas 4:4). The opposite of the double-minded man is the person of faith, the one who is not divided within himself.

Divine Judgment

Only the Lord is in a position to judge (Jas 4:12; 5:9). The judgment of the Lord, based on the law of freedom, is tempered by mercy, but only to those who show mercy to others (Jas 2:12–13). 

Judging, then, is closely connected with James’ fundamental structuring principle of the contrast between division and integrity (wholeness). Human judgment leads to sinful divisions within the community and within one’s own self. This division is the opposite of divine gift of wholeness (perfection). See →James: Perfection / Wholeness in James.