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{{Template:Disam Link|term = Judge|disamPage = Judges (Disambiguation)}}

In the Old Testament

Significantly the first mention of a judge in the first book of the Old Testament applies the title to Yahweh. In his intercession for Sodom, Abraham prays: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25). The thought underlying Genesis and all that follows is that God is the righteous judge of both peoples and individuals (Gen 3:14ff.; 6:3ff.; 11:5ff.; 15:14; 16:5; 20:3; 31:53).

Under the monarchy the king was the supreme—and at times apparently the sole—judge (2 Sam 15:2f.). Jehoshaphat (whose name means “Yahweh has judged”) appointed judges in all the fortified cities of Judah (2 Chron 19:5ff.). With the exile the monarchy lapsed, but on the return Ezra was authorized to appoint magistrates and judges to judge according to the laws of God and of the king of Persia (Ezra 7:25f.).

Judges are even occasionally called gods (אֱֽלֹהִ֗ים) in view of their divinely authorized function (Ps 82:1, 6; cf. John 10:34f.; and possibly Exod 21:6; 22:7f.).

Judicial Organization in the Old Testament

In the wilderness Moses alone was the judge until Jethro suggested a scheme of devolution. On his advice Moses divided the people into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, and over each group a wise and good man was set as a judge. Thereafter only the most important cases were brought before Moses (Ex 18:13-26; De 1:9-17). This arrangement ceased to be practicable when the children of Israel settled down in Canaan. Although David took counsel with the heads of thousands and hundreds (1Ch 13:1), it need not be assumed that this was a continuation of the plan adopted by Moses. Probably the local courts were not organized till the time of David.

Prophets Condemnation of Evil Judges

Duty of Judges

The first duty of a judge was to execute absolute justice, showing the same impartiality to rich and poor, to Jew and foreigner. He was forbidden to accept bribes or to wrest the judgment of the poor (Ex 23:6-8; De 16:19). He must not let himself be swayed by popular opinion, or unduly favor the poor (Ex 23:2,3).

Practical Matters of the Court

In the New Testament


  • Arndt, 197, 454; BDB, 43, 192f., 406f., 813, 1047ff.

  • O. Cullmann, The State in the New Testament (1957).

  • L. Morris, The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment (1960); R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 143-163.

  • W. Förster, Palestinian Judaism in New Testament Times (1964), passim.
  • See also

  • Occupations and Professions

  • Justice