Different meanings

The word judgement is used with a variety of meanings in the Bible.

Judgement meaning wisdom

Judgement can refer to the wisdom to be found in the laws of God. It is this which the writer of the Psalms celebrates when he writes:

‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul (see Big ideas: Soul). The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple' (Psalms 19:7).

Judgement meaning ‘administering justice'

A meaning more related to the word in common use today refers to the decision of a judge when passing sentence. Another related meaning indicates the ability to make wise and just decisions. These are both implied in the story of the judgement of Solomon, a famous decision recorded in 1 Kings. King Solomon was faced with two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child. Solomon's judgement was that the child should be ‘shared' by being cut in two. He then gave the child to the mother who cried out that she would rather that the baby lived and be given to the other woman. Everyone ‘saw that Solomon had wisdom from God to administer justice.' (1 Kings 3:26-28).

A literary echo

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare uses these ideas of wise judgement in the famous trial scene. The astute ideas of Portia in overcoming the vindictive revenge of Shylock, after pleas for mercy have failed, cause the Venetians to call her a ‘wise young judge'.

The Last Judgement

The Last Judgement by MichelangeloMany writers and artists have concentrated on depicting The Last Judgement. This is the idea that, at the end of the world, all peoples will be judged before God. There is a vivid account of this in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 25:31-34), which records Christ describing how,

‘when the Son of Man comes in his glory … all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left'.

(See also Big ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Goats.)

Those on the right will be blessed and called into the eternal kingdom of God, whereas those on the left will be sent into the fires of hell. This vision is the subject of many paintings, including a famous altar-piece in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Another vision of the Last Judgement occurs in Revelation, the last book of the Bible. It describes an angel (see Big ideas: Angels) proclaiming to all nations:

‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come.'

It also explains that those who ‘die in the Lord' are blessed, but those who worship evil (depicted in Revelation as the Beast – see Big ideas: Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast) will be eternally tormented (Revelation 14:7-13).

Related topics

Big ideas: Soul; Sheep, shepherd, lamb; Goats; Angels; Serpent, Devil, Satan, Beast

Other cultural references

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice

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