It’s midnight during a full moon on the streets of Jerusalem. There has been a celebration in which the generals and the elders toasted a recent economic treaty with Egypt. The garrison officers were invited, too, and unlimited prosperity seemed on the horizon. Having drunk their fill while congratulating each other on their farsighted cunning, the elite begin filtering out of the taverns towards their homes. One such elite, a well-dressed and armed commander of the local policing garrison, and field legion general, stumbles out of the pub, stretches, and begins to shuffle down the labyrinthine alleys back towards his neighborhood. He dodders three furlongs in a wavering path and collapses. Snoring ensues.
About ten minutes later, a burly youth wearing the robes of a desert trader strides with purpose into the alley. He sees the passed-out man splayed before him, and comes up to him with caution. His brow furrows in recognition. The snoring continues, and the youth notices the glint of gold in the moonlight. He draws the noble’s sword by the gold hilt and glances in apparent appreciation at the metallurgical skill displayed in the steel which glints with razor’s edge in the pale light. He looks down at the unconscious man in apparent concern, eyebrows drawing together in concentration. Then he relaxes, bends down, angles the man’s body so that the head is pointed towards the nearby rainway, and pulls up the man’s head by the hair, exposing his throat above his breastplate. The youth then proceeds to behead the drunk with the razor-sharp blade.
Pop quiz: is this murder?
Of course, the astute reader of the Book of Mormon recognizes this as an embellished recounting of Nephi slaying Laban. Normally, when setting up this question, I would put it in a modern context, but the laws of ancient Israel were different than the laws of modern America. The question as to whether this would be murder is answered in the affirmative in the US, but not necessarily so in Israel.
Indeed, we know Nephi’s intent because Nephi told us. That is how we know what was in his heart, and how we know, based on the law of Moses, that his slaying of Laban was not murder.
To accuse, as I use the word, is to assert someone’s intentions are such-and-such. After all, a man may slay another man, but it is evil intent that makes it murder. To say Nephi murdered Laban is an accusation. (As an aside, there is no such thing as conspiracy to commit murder in the law of Moses as we have it – a man is responsible for his own deeds, and not the deeds of another.)
The problem is, of course, that without a mind-reading device, the only public evidence of motivations can be the words of the accused. God may reveal someone’s intents to you, but that is not admissible publicly in charging them in a legal hearing, for the obvious reason that “there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world,” and confusion would reign.
Since it is intent that distinguishes good works from evil, by the golden rule we had not ought to accuse. Words, however, are properly used to judge – after all, if a person tells you what they intend(ed), one of two possibilities must be true. They’re either telling the truth, or they are lying.
Hence these sayings of Jesus.
JST Matt 12:25-32
25 He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.
26 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men who receive me and repent; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven unto men.
27 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him; neither in this world; neither in the world to come.
28 Either make the tree good and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt; for the tree is known by the fruit.
29 And Jesus said, O ye generation of vipers! how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
30 A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things.
31 And again I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.
32 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
This is the key by which we may discern false prophets – teachers falsely claiming to speak for God, or to have inspiration of the Holy Ghost – who wear sheep’s clothing – are upright members of the faith community – but are inwardly ravening wolves – meaning that they are yet carnal and fallen, prideful, malicious, having enmity. Their words reveal their intent to be abusive.
JST Matt 7:24-29
24 And, again, beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing; but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
25 Ye shall know them by their fruits; for do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
26 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
27 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
28 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
29 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
The process of judgement is that we put ourselves into the place of others and map their actions onto our intents and thereby judge them. Thereby we see that when we judge another, we only judge ourselves.
Hence these sayings of Jesus.
3 Nephi 14:1-5
1 And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
The same judgements we apply against others shall be applied to us again, and how we deal with those we judge shall be how we are dealt with.
The eye is a metaphor for the mind, with the mote being some viewpoint the beholder disagrees with and the beam being the lack of the Spirit and pure knowledge on the part of the beholder.
Hypocrites – the word means “actors” – are those who pretend to the faith of Christ but don’t have it; they pretend to inspiration but have not the Spirit; these are the false prophets, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the self-righteous busybodies who meddle in the affairs of others, who seek to advance their positions by sophistry or power. Yet they may not know this about themselves. They may indeed think they do God a service in what they do, and are doing what they’ve been taught by their traditions and creeds.
Even if we identify hypocrites, we ought to be merciful to them, and if we cannot be, we had ought to leave them alone.
JST Luke 6: 35-37
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great; and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind unto the unthankful, and to the evil.
36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.
JST Matt 15:13 Let [the Pharisees, hypocrites,] alone; they be blind leaders of the blind; and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
Righteous judgement of words, teachings, and ideas, however, is enjoined.
2 And now I, Mormon, speak unto you, my beloved brethren; and it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and his holy will, because of the gift of his calling unto me, that I am permitted to speak unto you at this time.
3 Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.
4 And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men.
5 For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.
6 For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7 For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.