Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Is the Judgement Bar Self-Service?

Posted by nhilton on April 2, 2007

During a Gospel Doctrine lesson on Matthew 7, including the teachings on judging righteous judgements, a comment was made that at the final judgement “we will judge ourselves.”

Judgement Bar

This is a common Mormon thought.  Does this philosophy liberate us, condemn us, confuse us?   Is this thought shared by other religions?  Is it accurate?  Why?  Why not?  If it isn’t accurate, where did it originate?  As a teacher, how would you moderate a comment like this in your classroom?

28 Responses to “Is the Judgement Bar Self-Service?”

  1. m&m said

    This is a viewpoint I don’t particularly care for, although I can understand why people might go in that direction.

    If I had such a question, I might ask the person to clarify, ask for a few thoughts from the class, and use a couple of scriptures like the following (I include many for my own sake…like having them in one place if I need them. :) ):

    Romans 14:10
    …for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

    2 Corinthians 5:10
    10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things [done] in [his] body, according to that he hath done, whether [it be] good or bad.

    2 Nephi 9:15
    15 And it shall come to pass that when all men shall have passed from this first death unto life, insomuch as they have become immortal, they must appear before the judgment-seat of the Holy One of Israel; and then cometh the judgment, and then must they be judged according to the holy judgment of God.

    3 Nephi 28:31
    31 Therefore, great and marvelous works shall be wrought by them, before the great and coming day when all people must surely stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;

    Mormon 3:20
    20 And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil;

    Mormon 3:22
    22 And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.

    Mormon 6:21
    21 And the day soon cometh that your mortal must put on immortality, and these bodies which are now moldering in corruption must soon become incorruptible bodies; and then ye must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ to be judged according to your works and if it so be that ye are righteous, then are ye blessed with your fathers who have gone before you.

    Mormon 7:6
    6 And he bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead, whereby man must be raised to stand before his judgment-seat.

    I have a hard time envisioning us being the judges at Christ’s judgment seat. Consider also the last phrase of the BoM, referring to Jehovah as the “Eternal Judge of both quick and dead.”

  2. Robert C. said

    Here are a couple scriptures BrianJ listed which might be construed to mean that we will judge ourselves (note the reference to more scriptures in #3 and #4 in that thread). Also, here are a couple other scriptures on this notion of judging ourselves.

    I tend to think that at Judgment we will be “forced” to come into God’s light and see all of our sins “as they really are.” In this light of truth, we will not be able to deny our guilt if we have not repented, and this recognition will be one and the same as God’s judgment of us. Thus I think both views are correct, though saying “God will judge us” has a certain practical effectiveness that saying “we will judge ourselves” does not have, which is why I think we see the former stated more explictly and frequently in scripture.

  3. robf said

    Thanks for the cartoon. Have to admit when I first read the title of the post, I was wondering more about final judgement as a cash bar. Of course, the Medievel church showed us with indulgences that the whole cash bar thing wasn’t going to work out very well.

    But on a more serious note, I think the whole pick a number and wait for your case to come up type of imagery with the final judgement is probably not that helpful. I mean, it would be a very, very long service line!

    This might be another case of a gospel principle that we haven’t really thought much about beyond the “baby stories” level.

  4. BrianJ said

    Great cartoon! I’ll just second what Robert said: I read the “we judge ourselves” scriptures as saying that we will be totally convinced that God’s judgment is perfect. So I still see God as The (capital ‘T’) judge.

    A related question I have is this: some scriptures say that Christ is the judge. Others suggest that he is our advocate before the Father (see here). So which is it: Is Christ our lawyer or our judge? Are we judged by Christ or by the Father?

    (I recognize that my question is flawed, though I’m not sure what to do about it: making distinctions between what the Father’s actions and the Son’s actions conflicts with the idea that they are ‘one’ always.)

  5. nhilton said

    How do you read 1 Cor. 11: 31? Does this mean we’d be lenient with ourselves vs. the righteous and possibly condemning judgement imposed by God? And does this imply that since we’d exercise improper judgement on ourselves, that we won’t be our own judge?

  6. BrianJ said

    nhilton: I read 1 Cor 11:31 as saying that if we would consider our own guilt now (and, by implication, repent) that we would be able to avoid condemnation (judgment) later. Consider some other translations:

    NET: But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged.

    NIV: But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.

    NLT: But if we examine ourselves, we will not be examined by God and judged in this way.

    MSG: If we get this straight now, we won’t have to be straightened out later on. (I always enjoy reading the MSG translation, even if it is often rather “loose.”)

  7. Huh. I’d heard that MSG is bad for your health….

    How would I respond as a teacher? Quite simply: “Where in the text we are reading are you finding that?” The point of getting together in the classroom is not to bring together the philosophies of men and then mingle that with scripture, but to bring together so many people who are willing to consider the revealed texts.

    This is not unlike the question of “doctrine” generally: do we have doctrine? I don’t think we do. We have texts and the Spirit. To spend a whole hour in a SS classroom talking about a particular doctrine is to misunderstand (it seems to me) the nature of our religion.

    But anyway….

  8. BrianJ said

    Joe, #7: Very, very good points.

  9. nhilton said

    Brian #6, I see “if” the conditional clause here to your reading of the passage. Does this prerequisite determine who our judge will be? i.e. IF we’ve repented then we judge ourselves & IF we haven’t repented God judges us?

    Joe #7, I like your invitation to the class to give a reference but have you REALLY demanded that of your students ON THE SPOT? I, myself, can hardly access a scripture that comes to my mind, especially if I’m paraphrasing it, when I’m the teacher. If I challenge someone to find the supporting scripture NOW to what they’re suggesting I’m afraid a spirit of contention would arise.

    In fact, I toyed with doing just what you suggest during the GD class that instigated this post. However, the Spirit restrained me and I think I said something like, “That’s a common thought within the church but I think greater study is required before we can definitively say we judge ourselves.” Anyway, I tiptoed around the issue letting the class know it was a gray area. My main concern was the tone in which the comment had been made, implying that judgement was going to be a very comfortable experience since it would be “self inflicted” and something we shouldn’t fear or get all uptight about. I don’t read scripture to give this impression about the judgement, but rather something we should “fear” enough to influence our daily living.

    And, Joe, just what do you mean by that last paragraph. I’ve re-read it several times & seem to be missing your point(s). Are you saying that we SHOULDN’T use a whole class to discuss a particular doctrine? Why not? I spend a great deal more time considering a specific doctrine on my own, what’s wrong with 30 minutes devoted to something like, faith, or baptism, or repentance, etc? And what is the “nature of our religion?” What does your first line mean? “Do we have doctrine?” Of course we do, otherwise we wouldn’t teach or sit through a Gospel Doctrine class. It’s not titled “Gospel Speculation.” How is having texts & the Spirit contrary to having doctrine?

  10. I think my second paragraph was so difficult because my first paragraph wasn’t so clear. I didn’t mean that I would ask the person to find the scripture that supports her point of view on the spot, but that I would ask the person (with a smile) where the idea shows up in the text we are reading right now. In other words, I would politely suggest that we are not studying the idea of judgment, but the text of Matthew 7.

    The way that connects up with what I’m saying in my second paragraph might now be somewhat clearer: I think we should study texts, not ideas/doctrines. I don’t believe we have “a doctrine” as Latter-day Saints. Rather, we have texts. No one in the Church has raised his or her arm to the square to sustain a particular doctrine, but we have accepted particular authorities and particular texts. We are bound to each other and to the task of interpretation, in addition to our binding covenants that bind us to God. But we are not bound–not ritually, and so not (in my opinion) at all–to any “doctrine.” I am perfectly comfortable throwing out any “idea” that has ever been held by members or even general authorities of the Church, but I worry about throwing out the words of the scriptures or my relation (charity, I should hope) to anyone in the Church.

    Does that make more sense?

  11. nhilton said

    #10, Joe, I don’t think we can look at any text in an isolated way, as you suggest. I think all scripture is commentary for all scripture and is necessary to understand all scripture. As we study Matt. 7 & judgement, it is important to study all scripture on judgement. However, it’s impossible to do this in class, so your comment is worthwhile tho, I believe, unrealistic. Additionally, people can go WAY WRONG by isolating text as they study it,

  12. Robert C. said

    Joe #10: I echo nhilton’s question in #11, though I think your scare quotes on the word “doctrine” means something like a meta-theology or something (which, I agree, is the typical connotation of the word “doctrine” in Mormon culture, thanks to BRM’s Mormon Doctrine).

    I like to study particular words as they are used in scripture to get a better understanding of what connotations that word might have. This is a precarious and rather dialectical task since I think words are used in different contexts and with different connotations in different places. And of course I think it’s important to consider what previous texts a given text might be alluding to, and what the meaning of each term is in the previous texts and what new light the allusion to that previous text sheds on the previous text and how this all affects the meaning of the new text, etc. Although this is not typically how “topical/doctrinal study” is typically done in the Church, it is not “topical/doctrinal study” per se that is wrong, but the way it is done.

    I also think this issue that nhilton raises is quite interesting: how should we respond to the various texts that we consider canonical (we briefly discussed this at lds-herm recently, right?). I think this is a particularly relevant and fascinating topic for Mormons to think about when reading texts that Joseph Smith translated (or any words of modern prophets): how can we understand these translated texts without understanding all the previous texts that the translator was familiar with (and I take it that Joseph Smith was quite familiar with all of the King James Bible!)?

    So, being the cheeky student I am wont to be (at least at times), if I were in the class, I might’ve made an argument like I just outlined and then quoted the scriptures I did in #2 claiming they give relevant context for understanding what the text in Matthew means by “that ye be not judged.” Response?

  13. m&m said

    I don’t believe we have “a doctrine” as Latter-day Saints. Rather, we have texts.

    I will confess that either I don’t understand this point of view or I don’t agree with it. One of my favorite concepts is that true doctrine, understood, changes behavior. Doctrine is what the texts can teach us. I don’t see the texts as being standalone entities, but having a purpose to teach us about and bring us to Christ and to teach us His doctrines.

    Joe, am I correct in saying that you don’t see prophetic words as scriptural? If not, what is different in your mind about ancient prophets being led to write things down and modern prophets being led to speak things (which are then written down)? What is different about raising our arms to sustain prophetic leaders who are God’s mouthpieces and raising our arms to accept scriptural texts which can also be God’s word? Or am I misunderstanding again?

  14. Wow, things are moving fast today (I’m glad I have more time to respond today!).

    nhilton and Robert: I agree that we need to consider all of the scriptures in the interrelated tension. Absolutely I agree with this. But to leap from one text to another too quickly is, in my opinion, ultimately unproductive. I’ve got to understand this one very, very carefully before I can begin to feel how it stands in tension with another text. In other words, if we had come a good long ways towards understanding Matthew 7 during the class, then I would hardly be adverse to someone’s introducing another text to set up a tension: I would have welcomed it. I would probably have responded with something like: “That’s where we inevitably need to go next. Do we have time to begin on it? Let’s take these two minutes at least to begin to think about this question.” Does that make sense? Bringing dozens of scriptures (or quotations of modern prophets) together without careful, word-by-word interpretation of any one of them is doomed, it seems to me, to failure.

    m&m: Let me answer your last question first. The difference between sustaining prophets and sustaining scriptures is precisely in the fact that one is a written text that sits like a “mere thing” in the world, something that has breath only as I give it breath, something that has been stripped of its contexts and inherent meanings unless I take the time to bury myself in that text; and the other is a living, breathing, speaking Other, someone I am to follow because he/she speaks to me right now in a very real engagement, and the words spoken are words I receive as they are spoken to me this very moment. I think these two very different situations imply two very different kinds of fidelity, but not two different levels of fidelity: I should be just as faithful to the current general authorities as I am to the scriptures, but I don’t believe that “faithful” means the same thing in both cases. In the end, I think every Latter-day Saint believes this: if we are just as bound to everything the modern prophets have spoken as we are to the scriptures, then there is a lot that Brigham taught that the Latter-day Saints had better start teaching again, and Joseph for that matter (unless there is some other way to “apply” those teachings… :) ). But I have never raised my hand to sustain a doctrine: I bind myself to the Brethren and to the scriptures, but not to any ideas. I will follow the Brethren into whatever perils they will lead, and I will die with the scriptures in my hand and heart, but I do not believe that either of these commitments requires me to believe any particular ideas or “doctrines” (which means here, as Robert points out, “something like meta-theologies”). Does that help? I love what President Packer said about “true doctrine, understood, changes behavior,” etc., but I think we need to look quite closely at what he said: teachings (which is what the word “doctrines” means literally) that are true (true in the sense of “true and faithful,” true to someone, to Someone, namely God, in a covenantal relationship), when they are understood, will change behavior radically, and far more effectively than the study of cause-and-effect in behavioral patterns will ever change us.


  15. Oh, yeah. Do I see prophets’ words as scriptural? If by scriptural you mean that they are part of the Standard Works: no. When they are printed in the Standard Works and we raise our arm to the square to accept those words as scripture that is binding on the Church, I will call them scripture. If by scriptural you mean that we ought to study them intently, focusing on them with the rigor we apply to the scriptures, seeking in them understanding, vision, truth, light, and the way: yes, absolutely. I hope this helps.

  16. Cherylem said

    Good explanations here. Thanks.

  17. robf said

    to bury myself in that text


    Is there some sense in which daily scripture study is a part of being baptized by the Spirit?

  18. m&m said

    Bringing dozens of scriptures (or quotations of modern prophets) together without careful, word-by-word interpretation of any one of them is doomed, it seems to me, to failure.

    This hasn’t been my experience, actually, although dozens is an overstatement of what I have done. This is where I think the Spirit can do the interpretation, and I like to leave the Spirit to do that for each person as he/she needs it and is ready for it.

    Joe, thanks for answering my questions. I guess the only thing I might see differently (??) is that I see modern prophets’ words as scripture, but just living scripture (the Lord says as much, doesn’t He?). In raising my arm to sustain them, I believe that means I treat their words as such.

    Incidentally, I never, personally, have raised my arm to the square to accept the standard works as scripture. :)

    Is there some sense in which daily scripture study is a part of being baptized by the Spirit?

    Parable of the pickle, anyone? :)

  19. robf said

    Oh my gosh, I’ve got to go back and read that one! I was wrestling with kids during the prime time debut of the parable of the pickle. I have to admit that I initially resisted the idea of linking pickling to becoming sanctified–but I’ll give it another shot!

  20. brianj said

    nhilton, #9: I sort of made sense. Let me try to be a bit clearer: I think the author of 1 Cor 11 intended two different meanings of the word “judge,” and traded clarity for poetry. The KJV reads:

    “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”

    I think the first “judge” = scrutinize/examine ourselves, consider our sins, evaluate our lives, etc.

    The second “judged” = suffer condemnation, be found unworthy by God, etc.

    There is a lot that I think is implied by the text, but I think it is strongly implied such that I am not just reading it in. Here is how the KJV would read if I added in the words I think are implied:

    “For if we would judge ourselves [now], we should not be judged [by God later].”

    Now, “correcting” for the dual meaning of the word judged, we get:

    “For if we would [examine] ourselves [now], we should not be [condemned] [by God later].”

    Which begs the question, Why? And I think the answer is, because we would see the need to repent now—and we would repent, daily—so our lives will be lived righteously and we will “be found righteous at the last day”; i.e. we will not be judged/condemned by God because our daily repentance will make us true disciples of Christ.

    Of course, all of this was to answer your question: “Does this prerequisite determine who our judge will be? i.e. IF we’ve repented then we judge ourselves & IF we haven’t repented God judges us?” So my answer is, “No.” Under no circumstances do we ever get to sit in the judgment seat. But we do get to determine (in a sense) the outcome of our appearance before God who is in the judgment seat.

  21. brianj said

    On the question of how to address this in class: I sometimes ask students to find the scripture/verse that they think provides a controversial answer. I know it is potentially off-setting, but I have never had any problems arise. Here’s how I would do it in this particular case:

    Student: “…we will judge ourselves.”

    Me: “That’s an idea that I’ve heard before, but I’ve never been able to find where in the scriptures that is taught. Of course, I may have just missed it or misunderstood the scriptures. I know it’s hard to remember a scripture right on the spot, but do you remember where you found that?”

    Whenever I’ve done this (I don’t do it too frequently, but at least a dozen or so times), I have never sensed that the student felt belittled or embarrassed—quite the contrary, I think they’ve learned that I really do care what they have to say, and that I really am there to learn as well as teach. Sometimes the student was able to cite the verse, sometimes not, sometimes they came back the next week with the verse in hand, and sometimes they changed my thinking.

    If the student is really unsure of where the scripture is, I might help them (if I have some idea). That would go like this:

    Student: “I’m really not sure, but I’ve heard it many times.”

    Me: “Well, I can think of one scripture that might be read that way. It’s 1 Cor 11:31. It says, ‘For if we would….’ Is that the scripture you are thinking of?”

    Student: “It sounds familiar, and yeah, I think that might be it.”

    Me: “Yes, I can see how it could be read that way. But I see another way to read it, which is why I’m still not convinced that we will judge ourselves. Here’s how I read that verse….”

    (Sorry to give this play-by-play comment, but I have really enjoyed the dialogue in my class that arises when the student and teacher respect and trust each other enough to disagree openly.)

  22. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, great comments here, thanks a lot. I often think that the process of discussing the various scriptures in class is ultimately more important than the final view decided upon (actually, I don’t think the final view can ultimately be distinguished from the process by which this view is arrived at), so I think your play by play is esp. interesting.

    An example of what I mean might be me saying to my wife, “I love you.” That has such a different meaning now that we’ve lived together for several years, no each others’ strengths and weaknesses (esp. weaknesses!) more, have changed each others’ kids’ diapers over and over (it’s always the her kid when they need a diaper changed, and my kid when they are cute and loveable!), etc. So too, I think, goes our understanding and love of the gospel, scriptures, etc.

  23. nhilton said

    Wait a minute, Robert…I’m trying to get your analogy here between your marriage & your understanding & love of the gospel/scriptures. Please explain this one more time, for me.

  24. brianj said

    Robert: Thanks! I’m actually very reluctant to think that I have ever reached “the final view decided upon.” I find that my interpretations change quite often—as I gain more information, consider more possibilities, pray with a different attitude, struggle through different trials. So yes, I think the process is far more important than the end, since there isn’t really an end. (This is reminding me of Robf’s feasting analogy.) I think your marriage analogy is quite useful.

  25. m&m said

    I often think that the process of discussing the various scriptures in class is ultimately more important than the final view decided upon

    I think this is such an important point, both in a class, and even in our personal study.

  26. nhilton said

    Matthew sent me a link from T&S to an interesting word used relating to this subject, in place of “judgement” bar:

    “…the pleading bar of God (not in the OED, but two early 1600 citations have been found on Literature Online) – Jacob 6:13 should read “until I shall meet you before the pleading bar of God��?, not “the pleasing bar of God��? [similarly in Moroni 10:34].”

    I believe the “pleading bar” clearly indicates roles: I plead, Jesus mediates or pleads MY case for me, God Judges. What do you think?

  27. Amen to the past several acclamations for Robert’s “process” versus “result” point. Cf. Givens’ paper at the 2005 Joseph Smith conference at the Library of Congress.

  28. nhilton said

    Hey Everybody, it looks like this post is wrapping up & I just wanted to finalize my thoughts & give anyone interested the “last word.”

    I turn to John 5:22-24 as the authority on this subject. I read this passage to mean that Jesus is the judge and we can avoid condemnation by taking advantage of Christ’s Atonement through repentance. We do not judge ourselves but cause our judgement by our choices, similar to how a thief puts himself in prison by stealing.

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