The Sermon on the Mount is possibly one of the most well known yet confronting passages of scripture in the Bible. It covers so many different topics and yet hardly any of them appear to be linked. Matthew 7:1-12 deals with topics such as judging, prayer and one person’s actions to another. At first glance there does not appear to be much in common between these topics. This paper will look at the context in which Matthew 7:1-12 was written, the audience to whom it was written and what the text says.

The gospel of Matthew was written towards a Jewish audience which can be seen through the establishment of the genealogy in the first chapter (Matt 1:1-17), through the large use of Jewish material in this gospel and from all the links that are explicitly made with the Old Testament (Green, 2000, p.27). The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) consists of “ethical teachings” of Jesus (Drane, 1999, p.159-166). The theme within the Sermon on the Mount is “attitudes and actions” of a disciple (McKim, 1996, p.256). Keener (1999), Wiersbe (2007), and Talbert (2004) suggest that this passage is directed at the “Pharisees who were judgemental (e.g. 9:11; 12:2; 15:1-2) while not practice what they preach (23:2-4)” (Talbert, p.131). France (1985), Phillips (2005), Green (2000) and Stott (1992) view it as an outline for the disciples and followers of Christ to adhere to.

Matthew 7:1-12 can be broken into four points: “[do not] be so critical (v1-5); but be a little critical (v6); ask in prayer (v7-11) and use your imagination (the Golden Rule) (v12)” (Bruner, 2007, p.336). Although Bruner’s outline has been used for this paper, Talbert makes a valid point when he suggests that these verses

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should be divided into two “units” but that these two parts fit together. Unit one (Matt 7:1-6) “focuses on condemnation of another by one who has not used the same spotlight on oneself” and unit two (Matt 1:7-17) focuses “on the discernment necessary for appropriate action to avoid such laxity” (p.133). Thus whilst the first section focuses on the act of not being judgemental lest it be done to oneself, the second section gives the perimeters for the discernment of judging to take place.

Do not be so critical (1-5):
Do not judge others, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the same measure you use, it will be measured to you. France (1985) draws a parallel between these verses and those of Matt 6:14-15: For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you. So just as God will forgive those who forgive others, he will judge those who judge others (p.142). The word judge is found four times in the first two sentences. When translating from the Greek there are three different uses of the word. It can be paraphrased as this: if you all will (command) κρινετε (judge at this at this present time), you will (statement of probability) be κριθητε (judged at one point in the past). For in the same way that you all will (command) κρινετε (judge at this at this present time) others, you will (statement of fact) be κριθησεσθε (judged in the future). Nolland (2005) suggests that it is the “very act of judgement establishes a set of criteria which the one judging must expect to answer (in relation to one’s own conduct) before God” (p.319). This is similar to what is being said in Romans 2:1,3: You, therefore, have no excuse, you who mass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things… so when you, a mere man, pass judgement on them
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and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgement? This does not mean that one is not to judge ever – there are guidelines in the Bible where judgement is permitted – however what is being “prohibited is censoriousness - a critical, faultfinding spirit that prompts us to condemn people without the facts and without remembering our own vulnerability” (Phillips, 2005, p.122). So what Phillips is saying is that the old phrase “do not judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes” is relevant to this text. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? Carson gives the example of the conversation between King David and the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-7 as an illustration of verses 3-5. David commits adultery, has the husband of his mistress killed when she falls pregnant. Nathan comes and tells a story of a poor man and his lamb and a rich man who takes it when he has many of his own. “David is incensed; perhaps some of the force of his wrath arises from his own suppressed guilt. In seething indignation, and quite unconscious of any irony, he asks who this wicked farmer is” to which David is told it is himself. “Somehow, King David, incredibly blind, had been unconscious of the plank in his own eye as he fumed over the speck of sawdust in the rich farmer’s eye” (p.109-110). David is so incensed by what had happened to the poor farmer, pronounced judgement on the rich man, and yet he did not realise he had done a similar thing. However, the issue is made worse here by the act of apparent kindness (Stott, p.178). Stott notes that humans have a “fatal tendency to exaggerate the failings of others and minimise the gravity of their own”. It seems “impossible” so stay “objective and impartial” when comparing ones life to another’s (p.178).

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These are rhetorical questions used to get the audience’s attention as well as the obvious size difference between a speck of sawdust and a plank. The Greek word translated speck, καρφος, “stands for small moral defects while its antithesis, [the Greek word translated plank] δοκον, stands for sizable moral defects” (Davies & Allison, 1989, p.671). You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. The image is given of a person who has no way of seeing anything because of their vision is clouded by a plank and yet they wish to point out a minor speck in someone else. With this in mind, it is no wonder that the phrase you hypocrite is used. Nolland notes that the hypocrite here, is not aware of their own hypocrisy however they are still responsible. “The self blindness is a result of culpable failure to perceive how things really are. V.5 makes clear that there is no problem in seeking to help others in their areas of failure. Such help, however, must be based on a realistic assessment of and attention to one’s own situation” (p.320). France offers the suggestion that it could be possible for the hypocrite to be “aware of his own failings but concealing them, it is more likely that he is criticised for failing to apply the same standards to himself that he applies to others… and thus being unaware of the inconsistency of his behaviour; v. 3 speaks of “failing to notice” rather than deliberate deception. It is other people, especially God, who can see the hypocrisy of his self-righteousness for what it is” (p.276). Thus while it is not always apparent to the person, it generally is to the people around them. Stott links the previous five verses with verse six by saying “if we are not to judge others, finding fault with them in a censorious, condemning or hypocritical way, we are not to ignore their faults either and pretend that everyone is not the same” (p.180).

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But be a little critical (6):
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. Pigs in Jewish culture were seen as unclean. In Leviticus 11:7 the pig is declared as ceremoniously unclean. Just by touching the animal, whether they were aware of doing so or not, makes that person unclean and “guilty” (Lev 5:2). But this verse is going deeper than just looking at clean and unclean animals. Carson suggests that the pigs in question were possibly descended from “wild boars” and therefore “capable of certain violence”. The dogs are not domestic pets but rather “semi-wild hounds” (p.112). The scene is set:
A man holding a bag of precious pearls, confronting a pack of hulking hounds and some wild pigs. As the animals glare hungrily, he takes out his pearls and sprinkles them on the street, thinking they are about to gulp some bits of food, the animals pounce on the pearls. Swift disillusionment sets in – the pearls are too hard to chew, quite tasteless, and utterly unappetising. Enraged, the wild animals spit out the pearls, turn on the man, and tear him to pieces (p.112-113).

Metaphors are used in these verses to illustrate the message. The pigs and dogs are referring to certain people with whom the gospel (what is sacred) should not be shared with (Carson, p.113; Green, p.107). The use of discernment is needed. It is not unbelievers, in general, that this text is talking about. Carson suggests that it is to people who are “persistently vicious, irresponsible, and unappreciative” with whom the gospel should not be shared (p.113). France suggests that the dogs and pigs here are talking about the variety of people within the “disciple community, in which weeds grow alongside wheat (13:24-30, 36-43), bad and good together (22:10), and in which there are prophets and miracle workers whim Jesus does not recognise (7:21-23)” (p.277). Regardless of which point of view is held as to the possible meanings of those words, France makes a valid point when he states

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that there is a need to be “discriminating in sharing the sacred things of the gospel and the treasures of the Father in heaven, so as not to lay the m open to abuse but to avoid offering a more specific identification of who are to be regarded as unsuitable or incapable of receiving them (cf. Paul’s insistence in 1 Cor 2:13-16 that only the spiritual can receive spiritual teaching)” (p.277). It is suggested that this verse is used as a connection from the previous text (vs1-5) to the following passage (Keener, p.244; Nolland, p. 323). Keener also notes that “the text sounds like a note of reciprocity to be repeated in 7:12. If 7:6 means something along these lines, it does not allow one to prejudice who may receive one’s message (13:3-23), but does forbid one to try to force it one those who show no inclination to accept it (10:13-16)” (p.244).

Ask in prayer (7-11):
After having issued two statements in the negative form: do not judge (v1-5) and don’t give to dogs… (v6), this statement is in a positive command: do ask, seek and knock. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. The Greek words for ask (αιτειτ), seek (ζητειτε) and knock (κρουετε) are all in the second person, present tense, imperative, active and plural. It is an action that they themselves must make. Carson notes that these commands are “emphatic” (p. 116). The Greek words for given (δοθησετα), find (ευρησετε) and opened (ανοιγησετα) are in the future, indicative. Thus, all believers must ask, seek and knock now and continue to do so but what they receive from their actions will happen in the future and be done to them. There is persistence required in prayer “within the context of the Sermon on the Mount, prayer that is a burning pursuit of God. This is an asking for the virtues Jesus has just expounds; this

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seeking is a seeking for God; this knocking is a knocking at heavens door” (Carson, p. 117). Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! There is a comparison given here between human parents and God. If humans are natural evil and prone to sin, yet give good gifts, who can fathom what God can do? By contrasting between earthly fathers and the heavenly Father, it is bringing to light preconceived ideas of how a parent should act and how this was being applied to God (France, p. 280; Nolland, p.326). France notes “if God is father, his fathering cannot fall short of the commitments of human fathering” (p. 280). The phrase how much more can also be looked at in the negative sense. How much less can the Father in heaven give? Nothing! God is not bound by sin and human failings. “God’s care is of course far more than even the best human parent can give, but it is never less” (p. 280). Talbert suggests that “reading verses 7-11 on context results in seeing the periscope as an enablement of verse [six]. If one needs to discern what is appropriate judging and discerning, ask God for wisdom and he will provide it” (p.135).

Use your imagination (the golden rule) (12):
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, It could be said that this is the key verse in the passage. France calls this verse the “summary of Jesus’ ethic” (p.145). This “rule” is often found in philosophical writing, but usually in the negative form – what you do to others will be done to you. Confucius phrases it “do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire” (p.112). Socrates writes “do not do to others what would anger you if done to you by others” (Poulshock, 2004, p.126).
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Immanuel Kant (2008) wrote: “Act as if the maxim of [your] action were to become by [your] will a universal law of nature” (p.39). This verse is not telling people to do something just because wish it to be done to them; it is calling for a consideration of a person’s feelings and the attitude in which the actions take place. Jesus’ phrasing takes the emphasis of oneself and puts it on the other person. It is a call to think of the other person rather than oneself. “The positive form is thus far more searching than its negative counterparts” (Carson, p.121). Wiersbe believes that this is “one of the most misunderstood statements of the Bible. This statement is not the sum total of Christian truth, nor is it God’s plan of redemption. We should no more build our theology on the Golden Rule than we should build our astronomy on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’”. He suggests that it should be the guidelines by which a person’s attitude should be set towards others, that it “only applies to believers and it must be practiced in every area of life” (p.26). Carson suggests that “such behaviour conforms to the requirements of the kingdom of God, the kingdom which is the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets” (p.121). For this sums up the Law and the Prophets. France (p.282), Nolland (p.328) and Talbert (p.135) suggest that this verse is used to bracket Matthew 5:17 where Jesus said that he came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets. The principle of this golden rule “is so all-embracing that [Jesus] can declare not so much that it is the greatest commandment but that it actually ‘is’ the law and the prophets” (France, p.282). The Law and the Prophets have to do with the Old Testament covenant and the laws that are outlined in the Torah.

When first reading Matthew 7:1-12, it is possible to look at it and assume that it is a group of different statements places

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together with no relative theme. However there is a thread that looks at attitude. A person should not make snap judgements on someone else; they should be considerate of the fact that they do not necessarily have all of the information needed to make an informed decision. But that does not mean that they should not make judgements at all. There is a need to be discerning. By asking God he will provide the ability to discern, but a person should not do to others what they would not have done to themselves. This is the Law and the Prophets. This is what Christ came to fulfil (5:17). The Jews in time of the New Testament were well aware of the religious leaders who walked around believing that they were better than everyone else yet this passage would have been confronting to them. A call to do only to others what one would have done to oneself would have been very confronting, both then and now.

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Archaeological Study Bible: New International Version. (2005). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Bruner, F. D. (2007). Matthew: A Commentary – Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdermans Publishing. Carson, D. A. (1978). Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and his confrontation with the world. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. Confucius. (1979). The Analects. (D. C. Lau, Trans.). Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books Davies, W. D. & Allison, D. C. (1989). A critical and exegetical commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (the international critical commentary, Vol. 1). Edinburgh, U.K: T & T Clark. Drane, J. (1999). Introducing the New Testament. (rev. ed.). Oxford, UK: Lion Publishing. France, R. T. (1985). The gospel according to Matthew: an introduction and commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Publishing. Green, M. (2000). The Bible speaks today: the message of Matthew. (rev. ed.). Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press. Kant, I (2008). Fundamental principles of the metaphysic of morals. (T. K. Abbot, Trans.). Radford, VA: Wilder Publications. Keener, C. S. (1999). A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdermans Publishing. McKim, D. K. (1996). Westminster Dictionary of Theological terms. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text (New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdermans Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdermans

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Phillips, J. (2005). Exploring the Gospel of Matthew (John Phillips commentary Publications. Poulshock, J. (2004). The Leverage of Language on Altruism and Morality. In P. Clayton & J Schloss (Eds.), Evolution and Ethics: Human morality in biological and religious perspective. (pp. 114-131). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdermans Publishing. Stott, J. (1992). The Bible speaks today: the message of the Sermon on the Mount. (2nd ed.). Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press. Talbert, C. H. (2004). Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character formation and decision making in Matthew 5-7. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. Wiersbe, W. W (2007). Wiersbe Bible Commentary NT (Wiersbe Bible Commentaries). Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook. series). Grand rapids, MI: Kregel

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