Can we judge William Branham?
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|In order to thoroughly deceive others, it is necessary to also deceive oneself. The actor playing Hamlet must indeed believe in the moment that he is the Prince of Denmark, though when he leaves the stage he will usually remember who he really is. On the other hand, when someone's entire life is based on such pretense, they seldom if ever return to reality. That is the secret of many successful politicians, evangelists and confidence tricksters alike–they believe they are telling the truth, even when it seems sure they must have known that they faked the evidence. Sincerity, my dear Julia, is a quality not to be trusted.
Followers of William Branham tell us that the Bible commands us not to judge and that, as a result, we should not judge William Branham or his message. Is this what the Bible truly teaches?
- Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
The meaning of Matthew 7:1-6
The emphasis of Matthew 7:1-6is on criticism of other people’s failings, and the warning “so that you may not be judged” makes it clear that this sort of “judging” is not something to be welcomed. It is a reciprocal principle which is the focus of the passage, rather than a prohibition of any use of critical judgment in itself. Verse 6 calls for a proper discrimination which must be based on some “judgment” as to who are, and are not, fit recipients for “sacred things” and “pearls.”
In fact there is a clear call to judge people by their fruits later in the chapter (Matthew 7:15–20), and the requirement to draw a fellow-disciple’s sin to their own, and if necessary other people’s attention, in Matthew 18:15–17. But what is forbidden here is the sort of fault-finding mentality and speech which is likely to rebound against the one who exercises it (see James 2:13; James 4:11–12; James 5:9).
The critic who is blind to his or her own failings is living in a make-believe world where one can exempt oneself from standards which others are expected to conform to. The use of the word "hypocrite" in verse 5 is the only time Matthew uses it of a disciple rather than of those outside the group.
The hypocrite is criticized for failing to apply the same standards to himself that he applies to others (like David in his response to Nathan’s parable in 2 Sam 12:1–7), and thus being unaware of the inconsistency of his behavior. Verse 3 speaks of “failing to notice” rather than of deliberate deception. It is other people, and especially God, who can see the “hypocrisy” of his self-righteousness for what it is. The person being criticized is described as the critic’s “brother” or fellow-disciple.
What the Bible really teaches about judgment
The Bible includes many references to judging but it must be done in accordance with scripture:
- Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
- Jesus asks nothing more or less than that people judge with simple fairness, without partiality or favoritism, as he himself judges (see John 5:30, “Just as I hear I judge, and my judgment is right, because I am not seeking my will but the will of the One who sent me”). This the Pharisees have not done and will not do. In one sense, “by appearance” is simply equivalent to “according to the flesh” (see John 8:15).
- In an age when Matthew 7:1 (‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’) has displaced John 3:16 as the only verse in the Bible the man in the street is likely to know, it is worth adding that Matthew 7:1 forbids judgmentalism, not moral discernment. By contrast, John 7:24 demands moral and theological discernment in the context of obedient faith (John 7:17), while warning against self-righteous legalism but not stopping proper judgement of Biblical heresy.
- The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
- But the spiritual (pneumatikos) person, the one living in and by the Spirit, can make judgments about all things. Such a statement of course must not be wrested from its context. It is the Spirit who “searches all things, even the depths of God” (v. 10); therefore the person who has the Spirit can discern God’s ways by means of the indwelling Spirit. Not necessarily all things, of course, but all things that pertain to the work of salvation.
- The person lacking the Spirit cannot discern what God is doing; the one with the Spirit is able to do so because of the Spirit; therefore, the one without the Spirit cannot “examine,” or “make judgments” on, the person with the Spirit. In its first instance this simply means that the person who belongs to this age is not in a position to judge as “foolish” the person who belongs to the age to come.
- The one whose life has been invaded by the Spirit of God has the capacity to discern all things, including those without the Spirit; but the inverse is not possible.
- Here is another sentence that, taken out of its context, has suffered much in the church. There are always some who consider themselves full of the Spirit in such a way as to be beyond discipline or the counsel of others. Such a reading of the text is an unfortunate travesty, since these people are usually among those most needing such discipline.
- This passage has endured a most unfortunate history of application in the church. Paul’s own point has been almost totally lost in favor of an interpretation that is nearly 180 degrees the opposite of his.
- Almost every form of spiritual elitism, which includes William Branham's message has appealed to this text. To receive the Spirit according to their special expression paves the way for people to know “deeper truths” about God. One special brand of this elitism surfaces among some who have pushed the possibilities of “faith” to the extreme, and regularly make a “special revelation” from the Spirit their final court of appeal.
- Other “lesser” brothers and sisters are simply living below their full privileges in Christ. Indeed, some advocates of this form of spirituality in fact repeat the Corinthian error in its totality. What is painful about so much of this is not simply the improper use of this passage, but that so often it is accompanied by a toning down of the message of the cross, which lies at the very heart of this passage. In fact one is hard-pressed to hear the content of “God’s wisdom” ever expounded as the paradigm for truly Christian living.
- Paul’s concern needs to be resurrected throughout the church. The gift of the Spirit does not lead to special status among believers; rather, it leads to special status vis-à-vis the world. But it should do so always in terms of the centrality of the message of our crucified/risen Savior. The Spirit should identify God’s people in such a way that their values and worldview are radically different from the wisdom of this age. They do know what God is about in Christ; they do live out the life of the future in the present age that is passing away; they are marked by the cross forever. As such they are the people of the Spirit, who stand in bold contrast to those who are merely human and do not understand the scandal of the cross. Being “S/spiritual” does not lead to elitism; it leads to a deeper understanding of God’s profound mystery—redemption through a crucified Messiah.
- Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
- Christians are not to pass sentence on the people of the world in their present existence. The reason for that is simple: “God will judge those outside”; and God’s judgment is still future, a judgment in which the church will also participate (1 Cor 6:2). But for now, the church takes the world as they find it. As God’s temple in the “world,” they are to offer a striking alternative to the world, and in that sense the church must always be “judging” the world. But it is not ours to bring sentence against those who belong to another worldview, to another age altogether. The time for that judgment is coming.
- Exactly the opposite, however, must prevail within the Christian community itself. “Are you not to judge those inside?” The believing community must act responsibly, and boasting is not responsible. For their own sake, as well as for his, the Corinthian church is to put the incestuous man outside.
How does one reconcile this passage with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:1–6? Paul's principle is simple: Free association outside the church, precisely because God, not the church, judges those on the outside; but strict discipline within the church, because in its free association with the world it may not take on the character of the world in which it freely lives.
Paul is not dealing with the kind of “judging” disallowed by Jesus, where the person with a beam in their own eye condemns the one with merely a mote. Jesus was dealing with personal criticism of one’s brother or sister, which is always disallowed, even by Paul. In this passage, Paul is dealing with persistent wrongdoing of a kind wherein someone wants to have it both ways, to belong to the Christian community without leaving their sin behind. Such persistence demands discipline for the sake of both the person involved and the community.
- Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
- “In light of our existence in Christ and our participation in the judgment at the end of time, how can one care about such trifling matters in the first place, and in any case, how can one bring them before those who have no standing in the church and therefore will not have a share in those judgments?
- I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.
- Two or three who are given God’s message should speak, while the others are to judge what they say.
How are we to judge William Branham?
How are we to judge the message of William Branham?
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mt 7:1–6
- R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publication Co., 2007), 274-275.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 7:24.
- J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John, The New International Commentary on the Old and New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 448.
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 317.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Co 2:15.
- Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., Revised Edition, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 126.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Co 5:12–13.
- Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., Revised Edition, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 248–250.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Co 6:3.
- Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse et al., Revised Edition, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 260.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 1 Co 10:15.
- American Bible Society, The Holy Bible: The Good News Translation, 2nd ed. (New York: American Bible Society, 1992), 1 Co 14:29.