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November 16, 2009


I suppose sometimes people quote this verse wanting to ban all judgement and thinking the verse agrees.

Most of the time, though, I think people quote this verse wanting to say 'live and let live, no harm done, ease up' and thinking the verse agrees.

There are a couple of temptations for Christians to resist when this happens.

The first is the desire to avoid discussing what the misquoter actually means: 'live and let live, no harm done, ease up'. It's uncomfortable to say Not only does the Bible not mean that there but your attitude here is at odds with Christianity. but maybe that's the way it is.

The second is the desire to catch someone in the act of self-refutation even when they aren't refuting themselves. It's fun perhaps, but it's wrong.


Both this verse and the other verse "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." have acquired new meanings. That's just the way it is. The dictum Never read a Bible verse... needs to be qualified: ...if you are aim to know what the Bible means by that verse. Letters change their sounds. Words and statements change their meanings and not just the Bible. These changes are both made and resisted for the purposes of communication. There's no correct meaning but there is meaning in a given context.

RonH - Find my tone inappropriate? Please let me know.

"There's no correct meaning but there is meaning in a given context."

Your words have acquired new meanings. Glad to see you agree with everything Greg said.

Care to elaborate, Dan?

Is there a correct meaning to the statement "there is no correct meaning"? Crud.


Yeah, there is. There is the meaning I had when I wrote it and which you receive (I think).

That meaning is correct in that context. Somewhere down the road it's possible (but not likely in this case) that my words will be reused out of that context and understood widely to mean some other thing.

If that happens I can from a practical point of view only say That's not what _I_ meant!.

This might not make people stop but I'm spitting into the wind if I try to stop my words from being reused to mean something different - the opposite even - from what I meant. The most I can hope to do is tell people about the difference between my meaning and the new interpretation.

Another thing about this is that, in general, the truth of each of the the multiple meanings is independent of the truth of the others. The first one might be true and the second false or vice versa. Both can true. Both can be false.

I'm not saying I like this. It just is what it is.

BTW, I don't think what I'm saying is even controversial, let alone self-refuting as you and Dan seem to think. See second temptation above.


I think this comes down to hermeneutics. Personally, I try to subscribe to "authorial intent" in all possible scenarios and to the extent that it is possible to do so.

Certainly, RonH, someone could use your words and make them sound like they meant something different, but essentially at that point, I would think that those thoughts are their own. If they want to continue to cite YOUR words, then it should be incumbent upon them to honestly seek to understand YOUR meaning.

After all, words are nothing more than a means for communicating ideas. The same words used in a different way or a different context communicate a different idea. When we look at scripture, it would seem (to me, anyway) that the IDEAS are the important things that we're trying to get at and we're using the words to understand those ideas.

But then, I suppose someone with a different hermeneutic would probably feel differently and have an explanation for their own method of interpretation. :-)


I would tweak one thing you say just a bit: If they want to follow me they need to figure out what I meant.

If they think my words mean something else and/or they sound cool they might do just fine using my words. If people have forgotten me and what I meant, this might work. This would be a person with no hermeneutic - a pretty common type.

BTW, seems like you could say my original comment was promoting "authorial intent": don't misinterpret someone just because they are misinterpreting someone else.


Ah, every unbeliever's favorite verse! It never fails to amaze me how often people who mock Christianity and/or want nothing to do with it love to spout off this worse. (Not having a clue as to what it means, of course.)

RonH- this line of thought seems rather like a rabbit trail, yes? Greg's obviously talking about what the Bible means, and it doesn't seem like you really dispute his interpretation. At least, you haven't really talked about that. Let's apply a little context and not run off into little curiosities.


I'd apply Greg's point even more widely than just the Bible. Context helps uncover meaning. So no dispute with Greg there.

I did dispute the idea that whenever someone misquotes Do not judge so that you will not be judged , they are refuting themselves. Usually they're not. They likely won't know how to defend themselves against the accusation. Don't take that to mean they are guilty of it, though. More likely they are unacquainted with the concept of self-refutation.

I'd suggest another approach which is also promoted by Greg: Ask What do you mean by that? Or, you could even suggest an interpretation of what they mean: So, your saying 'to each his own' or something. Is that right?


Hi RonH.

Are you suggesting that we might be setting up a straw man ourselves by accusing them of something of which they are unacquainted, and therefore we are also become lacking in charity?

I sometimes find myself becoming so absorbed in the refutation that I begin to lack charity, and is this what you're implying in your first post?:

"The second is the desire to catch someone in the act of self-refutation even when they aren't refuting themselves. It's fun perhaps, but it's wrong."


I think I understand what you're getting at. It sounds like what you're saying is that when someone (perhaps a non-Christian...but not necessarily) quotes this passage, the idea behind what they're saying is not a self-refutation...though the words themselves are.

This based on the fact that many people will not really fully think about how it would be self-refuting and THEY think it means something like "to each his own" and so when they say "do not judge or you will be judged" what they're really meaning is the "to each his own" even though they are not consciously aware that the words spoken do not really translate into the meaning they intended.

Is that pretty close to what you're getting at? Or have I further confused the issue?


Yes, I guess you could call it a straw man. Imagine someone says 'judge not...' about, say, some person's lifestyle and you say: Do you mean we shouldn't have courts or laws? I doubt they will say Yes, that's exactly what I mean because it's not what they mean. They will probably say What? They are probably voicing what they think of as a warm and fuzzy approach to life - not a formal system of thought.


Yup, pretty close. I'd also say it's great to point out how the words can be self-refuting. A little Philosophy 101. But this can be done without hanging the fallacy on them.


None of what I'm saying precludes presenting or describing the context of the verse in the Bible and pointing out that it doesn't mean what they seem to think it means.


"But this can be done without hanging the fallacy on them."

I agree. People tend to get defensive otherwise and that probably won't get them closer to Christ.

Can str give us the embeded code for these videos, so we can re-post to our own blog?


I'd see a problem hanging a fallacy on someone innocent of that fallacy whether they get defensive or not and whether it gets them closer to Christ or not.

What do you think?


Jeremy, they all end up on the STR YouTube page, so check back there. It will be up there eventually.

Thanks for the clarification, RonH.
Your post was helpful!

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