Is Rash Judgment Sinful?
One of the alarming trends that has been repeatedly highlighted over the past few years in American society has been the increasing number of non-Christians and Christians alike who are quick to believe unsubstantiated claims. If the supposed “experts” say something, if the media reports it, or if enough people believe something, regardless of the evidence for or against it, many will accept it as true. Be it belief in a flat Earth, belief in evolution or an old Earth, disbelief in Creation or the global Flood, “blind” faith in God or an unbiblical religious doctrine, or the hasty attacks of individuals or organizations by “Cancel Culture” assassins,1 people are increasingly willing to throw caution to the wind and, like sheep, believe something without question or, at the very least, little question. Such behavior is to be expected as our society moves farther and farther away from valuing truth and closer and closer to doing what simply “feels” right to a person (cf. Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6; Proverbs 12:15). However, that mindset is dangerous and unbiblical. How so?
Arguing that something is true merely because a highly credentialed person—an “expert”—adheres to the position is a logical fallacy known as “appeal to authority.”2 Historically, those considered to be the “authorities” of a subject have often been wrong (e.g., John 7:47-48). Sound reasoning would restrain a person from drawing a conclusion until sufficient evidence has been provided to substantiate the conclusion.
Similarly, it may be true that most scientists have bought into the hoax of evolution, as was the case when scientists believed in geocentricity or that blood-letting was an appropriate prescription for curing ailments, but the number of believers in a certain idea does not prove the idea to be true. Does the fact that much of the world throughout history has believed in the legitimacy of sinful slavery prove abusive slavery to be moral? Arguing in such a way causes one to fall victim to yet another logical fallacy—the ad populum fallacy (i.e., appeal to the majority).3 What the majority believes and what the experts believe is irrelevant in determining the truth. The Bible warns against making judgments based upon such flimsy, incorrect reasoning (cf. Exodus 23:2; 1 Corinthians 1:26; 1 Kings 22:5-23).
The importance of having sufficient evidence in arriving at truth cannot be overstated. In the field of philosophy, there is a general rule that is followed if a person wishes to be rational: the Law of Rationality. It says that one should only draw those conclusions that are warranted by the evidence.4 In other words, one should only believe what can be proved and demonstrated to be true.
Many within Christendom seem unaware that Scripture endorses and commands adherence to the same obvious axiom. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Bible explicitly prohibits having a “blind” faith (i.e., coming to believe something without adequate evidence). Scripture incessantly makes the point that we should come to a knowledge of the truth based on the evidence that has been provided to us. As did the “fair-minded” Bereans of Acts 17, God wants us to search for evidence that substantiates a claim before blindly believing it (vs. 11). Since many false teachers (i.e., liars) are in the world, He tells us to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits” before believing them (1 John 4:1). Unlike fideism (i.e., blind “faith”)—which pits itself against reason5—Paul believed in establishing truth by reasoning from the evidence (Acts 26:25). In fact, Jesus told His audience not to believe Him if He did not substantiate His claims with evidence (John 10:37). “Doubting Thomas” was not in error for failing to have a blind faith. Rather, he was in error for having been witness to more evidence of the truth than nearly anybody who had ever lived or ever would live, and yet he still disbelieved, requiring even more direct, observational evidence than he had already received (John 20:24-29).
The “blind faith” idea is unbiblical, and that truth applies to more than how one arrives at those religious views in which he believes. It applies to how we arrive at any conclusion in life. “Test [prove—ASV] all things [examine everything carefully—NASB]; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). It applies to anything which we believe. Rather than blindly believing what someone tells us about, for example, a religious idea or a person, the Bible enjoins diligent study to arrive at the truth, emphasizing that most people will not be willing to engage in the soul-saving, diligent pursuit of truth that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14). To most, then, religious truth will be forever elusive.
Making rash judgments about what we decide to believe can be fallacious, is irrational, and, most importantly, is unbiblical. Besides the many passages cited above that enjoin the necessity of using sufficient evidence to arrive at conclusions, rash judgment about others violates the Bible’s teaching about assuming one’s innocence until he is proven to be guilty.
In Deuteronomy 19:15, God, through Moses, gave instruction concerning how Hebrew courts were to determine guilt when an alleged crime was committed. “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” Jesus re-affirmed the procedure in Matthew 18:16 with regard to how Christians are to sort out their differences. Paul re-affirmed the principle in 1 Timothy 5:19 with regard to how members are to bring accusations against wayward elders in the Lord’s Church.6 The implied situation, of course, is one in which an accused person has either denied guilt or has not even had an opportunity to deny or confess guilt, and where guilt/innocence cannot be determined through “diligent” inquiry, searching “out the matter” (Deuteronomy 17:4; 13:14). The timeless principle which God implemented throughout Scripture, then, forces His followers not to convict (either in a court or in their minds) any such individuals of wrongdoing without enough legitimate evidence.
Consider: based on God’s law, what would happen in Old Testament court situations where only one witness came forward to accuse another person of wrongdoing? The verdict for the person was to be “not guilty” or, more specifically, “not established guilt.” Notice, then, that it is God’s will that a person is to be presumed (or treated as) innocent in such cases, even if the person is actually guilty! In terms of human action/response to such situations, God would rather a wrongdoer “get away with murder” than for humans, with our limited knowledge, to punish an innocent person.7 The shedding of innocent blood is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 6:17). As He said through Solomon, “to punish the righteous is not good” (Proverbs 17:26). “Keep yourself far from a false matter; do not kill the innocent and righteous. For I will not justify the wicked” (Exodus 23:7).
In Matthew 5:22-26, Jesus addresses how brethren should handle conflict, stating in verse 22 that “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” In other words, a person should not allow himself to think ill of his brother if he does not have a legitimate—that is, proven—reason to do so, else His disfavor is “without cause.” The “accused” should be assumed to be innocent in our minds. We should “give him the benefit of the doubt” and think the best of him, in the same way we would want to be treated by others (Matthew 7:12). After all, love “hopes all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), rather than assuming guilt. As society moves farther away from a Christian, biblical mindset, we should expect to see less biblical love to be manifested, including how gracious we are towards those who may have wronged us.
A Christian must be extra careful not to judge someone as guilty without sufficient evidence. It is notable that under the Law of Moses, in court settings, bearing false witness against another (whether intended or not) would result in the same punishment for the witness that the accused would have received due to his testimony—including execution (Deuteronomy 19:18-19). Question: is it important to God that His followers not rashly and incorrectly draw conclusions about others?
Jesus, of course, was no stranger to being unfairly and rashly accused of sinful behavior. From condemnation of His eating with sinners and tax collectors (Matthew 9:10-11), to violating the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24), to not encouraging His disciples to obey the elders’ traditions in washing their hands before eating (Matthew 15:2), to various healings which He conducted on the Sabbath Day (e.g., Luke 13:12-14; Matthew 12:9-148), to His claims of being equal with God (John 5:17-18), His jealous enemies were quick to jump to conclusions about His behavior and accuse Him of being sinful and even blasphemous. Instead of considering His sound refutation of their arguments and the preponderance of miraculous evidence that established the truth of His message (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-49) and proved God’s sanctioning of His behavior (John 5:36-37), His closed-minded, irrational, hard-hearted critics would ultimately kill Him due to their refusal to draw conclusions warranted by the evidence.
In John 5 we find one of the instances of Jesus healing an individual on the Sabbath day, resulting in an escalation of the Jewish leaders’ hatred towards Him and desire to execute Him. In John 7 Jesus directly addressed their incorrect interpretation and application of Sabbath regulations (vss. 22-23) and proceeded to get to the root of their error: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (vs. 24). Jesus told His critics not to believe something merely because of how it appears to be on the surface. Instead, humbly acknowledge that some things are not as they seem at first. Then, dig deeper. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but, instead, get your facts straight before deciding guilt.
“But we wouldn’t want the guilty person to go free, right?” True, but who says such a person will ultimately go unpunished? In the end, our just God will ensure that any guilty person will be punished. In some cases, however, it is not our place to implement justice (Romans 12:19; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 32:35). In God’s sight, if we do not have enough evidence to prove guilt and implement discipline, it is not our place to do so. God’s rule is that, if there is going to be error in implementing judgment, humans should err on the side of the innocent.
It is easy for us to be arrogant, thinking that our personal judgment or opinion about something is sufficient to establish it as “basically” true, even when we do not have all the necessary facts to warrant that belief. We would, no doubt, acknowledge that others need all the facts, but apparently not us. We may not consciously tell ourselves so, but we pridefully, tacitly believe that our “exceptional” intuition is beyond that of those around us. We are not, however, omniscient. As weak and fallible humans, we need sufficient facts to be sure we are right and, even then, may still be wrong.10
What should we do, then, when we hear a negative story in the news or on social media about a politician, a suspect in a crime, a police officer, or a belief that seems to be held by “most” people—not a jury conviction, but mere stories or claims? How should we respond when someone is accused of sexual misconduct by the media? What about when we see video footage or pictures that seem to prove guilt at first glance (but which can be doctored or spun to support a narrative)? Should we assume that individual to be guilty—until proven innocent, simply because the media, an expert, or a friend said that the person is guilty? Should a person be considered innocent until claimed to be guilty or, rather, until proven to be guilty? Are allegations sufficient evidence to prove guilt? No, a person must dig deeper, gathering sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion. After all, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). We should never forget that Jesus would have looked guilty to many people. His actions were witnessed by more than an individual with a camera phone. Hundreds of people witnessed His alleged “Sabbath-breaking” actions and “blasphemous claims,” but since they did not have all the relevant facts, they were not in a position to judge His guilt.
The remaining option that is available to us if we cannot gather sufficient evidence to determine the truth: stay out of the matter, postponing judgment about the person or subject. Is it possible that many of us have “learned to be idle, wandering about from house to house [e.g., through social media], and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which [we] ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13)? As Peter said, “But let none of you suffer…as a busybody in other people’s matters” (1 Peter 4:15). Are the duties assigned to us by the King of the Universe not enough to keep us busy virtually every moment of our day as His subjects? Have we noticed that the world around us is spiritually ablaze and in need of the cleansing blood of Christ that His subjects are charged with disseminating?
Imagine how different the world would be if we were willing only to draw those conclusions that are warranted by the evidence. What if scientists did not blindly accept naturalism, despite its popularity: the unobserved, unproven, and unprovable Big Bang, molecules-to-man evolution, and a billions-of-years-old Universe? What if they actually considered all of the evidence rather than ignoring the powerful evidence for God and biblical Creation? What if politicians and government officials gathered sufficient evidence before making decisions that would affect entire countries and even future generations? What if people gathered sufficient evidence before rashly making assumptions about others simply because of their skin color? What if people gathered enough evidence about the situation before condemning a police officer who used deadly force against a citizen? What if Americans gathered enough evidence before blindly believing what the biased media and politicians claim about someone, proceeding to “cancel” them before they have even been fairly heard and tried? What if Christians gathered enough evidence before thinking ill of and attacking their brethren? What if people gathered everything the Bible says on a subject before coming to premature conclusions (e.g., “faith only”)?
If the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”11 had been followed, Stephen would not have been stoned (Acts 7), Paul would not have persecuted Christians (Acts 8-9), and Jesus would not have been crucified. But consider: if we lived at the time of Christ, would we have been any different than the masses who followed the crowd, believing whatever they were being told, instead of testing all things and holding fast only to those things that are good/true (1 Thessalonians 5:21)? If it is our tendency to make premature judgments about others, why would we rashly assume that we would not be among those who rashly consented to Christ’s crucifixion? After all, Jesus looked guilty on the surface. A smart phone was not necessary because, once again, hundreds witnessed Him with their own eyes “working” on the Sabbath. The majority believed He was guilty, and the religious experts/scholars whom the people trusted had judged Him as worthy of death. So, should Jesus not have been executed? Would I have been among those in the mob seeking to execute Jesus as well, or would I have been like Nicodemus who recognized the need for more evidence before conviction should be made (John 7:50-52)?
Bottom line: according to Scripture, a person should be presumed to be innocent until proven to be guilty. A Christian should humbly acknowledge his limited knowledge and tendency to make mistakes and, when sufficient evidence is not available to determine the truth on a subject, give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s what God expects.
1 E.g., rash accusations against others of being racist, sexual abuse allegations, suggestions about police brutality, panic about COVID, the efficacy of masks, or adamancy about the necessity of others taking certain relatively new vaccines.
2 “Appeal to Authority” (2019), Logical Fallacies, http://www.logicalfallacies.info/relevance/appeals/appeal-to-authority/.
3 “Fallacies” (no date), The Writing Center: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/fallacies.html.
4 Lionel Ruby (1960), Logic: An Introduction (Chicago, IL: J.B. Lippincott), pp. 130-131.
6 Cf. 2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:19; John 5:31ff.; 10:37; Concerning judging guilt for murder, specifically, see Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; Hebrews 10:28; Revelation 11:3; Matthew 26:60.
7 Even in the case of two or three witnesses, an innocent person could still be condemned. The witnesses, however, were to be carefully vetted (Deuteronomy 19:18) to make sure they were legitimate and reliable, making convictions of innocents less likely (assuming the court was not already biased against the accused, as in the case of Jesus’ “trial”).
8 Dave Miller (2015), “Did Jesus Break the Sabbath?” Reason & Revelation, 35:56-59, https://apologeticspress.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/1505.pdf.
9 Dave Miller (2003), “Modern-Day Miracles, Tongue-Speaking, and Holy Spirit Baptism: A Refutation—EXTENDED VERSION,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/modern-day-miracles-tongue-speaking-and-holy-spirit-baptism-a-refutation-extended-version-1399/.
10 E.g., in cases where we unknowingly have insufficient evidence or misinterpret the evidence.
11 Dave Miller (2018), “Presumption of Innocence,” Apologetics Press, https://apologeticspress.org/presumption-of-innocence-5622/.
Is Christianity Logical?
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