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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Judge (Office)

(1) An official with authority to administer justice by trying cases; (2) one who usurps the perogative of a judge; (3) a military deliverer in the period between Joshua and David (for this sense, see Judges, Book of). Moses served as the judge of Israel, both deciding between persons and teaching Israel God's statutes (Exodus 18:16 ). At Jethro's suggestion, Moses himself served as the people's advocate before God and their instructor in the law (Exodus 18:19-20 ) and appointed subordinate judges to decide minor cases (Exodus 18:21-23; Numbers 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 1:12-17; Deuteronomy 16:18-20 ). Elders of a community frequently served as judges at the city gate (Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-9; Job 29:7-8 ). Difficult cases were referred to the priests or to the supreme judge (Deuteronomy 17:8-13; compare Numbers 5:12-31 for a case involving no witnesses). During the monarchy the king served as the supreme judge ( 2 Samuel 15:2-3 ) and appointed local judges (1 Chronicles 23:4; 2 Chronicles 19:5 ), along with an appeals process (2 Chronicles 19:8-11 ). Following the Exile, Artaxerses gave the priest Ezra the authority to appoint judges in Judea (Ezra 7:25 ).

Complaints against judges are frequent in the Old Testament literature. Absalom took advantage of discontent with the legal system to instigate revolt (2 Samuel 15:4 ). Judges are accused of showing partiality (Proverbs 24:23 ); of taking bribes (Isaiah 61:8; Micah 7:3; compare Exodus 23:2-9 ); of failing to defend the interest of the powerless (Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 5:28 ). Zephaniah described the judges of Jerusalem as wolves on the prowl (Jeremiah 3:3 ).

God is the ultimate Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25; Isaiah 33:22; James 4:12 ). As God's representative, Christ functions as judge as well (John 8:16; James 5:9; 1 Peter 4:5 ).

As is frequently the case with biblical truths, the Christian's role in exercising judgment on others is found in a tension between warnings to avoid judging others and admonitions concerning how best to judge others. Christians are forbidden to judge others when such judgment entails intolerance of another's sin coupled with blindness of one's own sin (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37; John 8:7; Romans 2:1-4 ) or when human judgment impinges on God's prerogative as judge (Romans 14:4; 1 Corinthians 4:5; James 4:11-12 ). Instructions on proper exercise of judgment include: the call to judge reputed prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:5-17 ); encouragement for Christians to judge what is right for themselves and thus avoid pagan lawcourts (Luke 12:57-59; 1 Corinthians 6:1-6 ); and instructions regarding church cases (Matthew 18:15-20 ). 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 illustrates the function of a church court.

Chris Church

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Judge (Office)'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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Judges, Book of