Can You Take the Plank Out of Your Eye and Remove the Speck from Your Brother’s Eye?

Contributing Writer
Can You Take the Plank Out of Your Eye and Remove the Speck from Your Brother’s Eye?

Throughout His ministry, Jesus was known for His profound teachings and remarkable teaching style. Using direct sermons, analogies, parables, and even humor and hyperbole, Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom of God, challenged the legalism and hypocrisy of the religious leaders of His day, and communicated spiritual truth to all who still had “ears to hear.”

In fact, Jesus warned against the hypocritical, self-righteous judgment of others by comparing it to one who calls out the speck of sawdust in his brother’s eye while ignoring the plank (or log) in his own eye (Matthew 7:1-5).

As part of a larger teaching on spiritual blindness and the necessity of inward reform, this analogy challenged Christ’s listeners on the mountain as much as it does Christians today. But what did Jesus mean when He told His listeners to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your own brother’s eye?” (Matthew 7:5)

When Did Jesus Say Take the Plank Out of Your Eye, Remove the Speck from Your Brother’s Eye

Jesus’ teaching of the speck and the plank came near the end of what was arguably His most famous sermon: the Sermon on the Mount.

Recorded in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount was one of Jesus’ first sermons in His earthly ministry. Large crowds attended—many came from Syria, Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, and even beyond the Jordan River (4:24-25). They came to witness (or experience) Jesus’ miracles and hear Him teach about Christians’ role in the world (5:13-16), how He had come to fulfill the law, not abolish it (5:17-20), and how we are to love our enemies (5:43-48), pray (6:5-15), and overcome anxiety and worry in our lives (6:25-24). Jesus may have delivered the Sermon on the Mount in segments over several days. By the end, Matthew writes that “the crowds were amazed; for He (Jesus) was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes” (7:28-29).

The Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law had been charged with preserving, studying, and teaching God’s Word. Instead, these smug, self-righteous elites had become spiritually bankrupt legalistic hypocrites focused on preserving their political power over people’s spiritual health and wellbeing. Always quick to point out the sin in others but mindless of the sin that festered in their own hearts, the Pharisees had lost sight of their sacred calling and had become “blind guides of the blind” (Matthew 15:14).

As Jeremiah wrote, “for the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the Lord; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered” (Jeremiah 10:21).

Seeing that His people had become like “sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36), Jesus came to be the “good shepherd” to His people (John 10:11-14), heal the sick (Luke 5:31), and “open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness” (Isaiah 42:7).

To do this, Jesus needed to diagnose the sickness of man’s heart and expose how blind we can become when we wander from God and refuse to submit to His authority and commands. As Ezekiel wrote, “son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear” (Ezekiel 12:1-2).

Like the Pharisees, those who are blind to the sin in their own heart and often quick to point out the sin in others, which is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had asked, “why do you look at 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,’ and look, the log is in your own eye?” (Matthew 5:3-4)

As Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, “it is as strange that a man could be in a sinful, miserable condition, and not be aware of it, as that a man should have a beam in his eye, and not consider it; but the god of this world blinds their minds.”

This was the state of many in Israel as it is the condition of many in the church today, something God’s Word regularly exposes and confronts.

Who Was Jesus Talking to When He Gave this Advice?

According to Matthew’s gospel, many listeners had previously heard Him preach in the synagogues. Many attendees were also sick people longing for healing (Matthew 4:24-25). Many listeners were also hungry for the truth and desperate for forgiveness and the hope of salvation.

But who was this advice specifically targeted to?

An argument can be made that Jesus was calling out the Pharisees. He repeatedly reproved them for their hypocrisy and hardened hearts. However, while it is easy to point the finger at others (the Pharisees among them), perhaps the greater implication is that, in doing so, we may also be fulfilling the role of those with planks in our own eyes.

In many ways, Jesus was speaking to all who are quick to judge others but unwilling to examine or allow Christ to reform their own hearts first. That, if we are being honest, includes us at times.

Why Did Jesus Use Humor and Exaggeration?

Jesus’ teachings were never boring or dull. He often uses analogies, hyperbole, and humor to highlight key points.

Jesus didn’t resort to rhetorical tricks, clever language, or trendy wisdom to cover up teaching that lacked truth or substance (1 Corinthians 2:1). Instead, He strategically used things like hyperbole and even humorous analogies to compliment His teaching and challenge His listeners to think about and apply deeper spiritual truths to their own lives.

For example, Jesus was not speaking literally when He taught that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:25).

It would be absurd (and impossible) as it would be to try and fit a giant camel through the eye of a tiny needle. In the same way, no one can buy their way to salvation or earn their way to heaven on merit. Jesus made his point that much stronger with his humorous and somewhat ridiculous image.

Jesus also taught that “if your right eye is causing you to sin, tear it out and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

Taken literally and the church would be filled with one-eyed teenage boys. However, as Christ was warning about the severity of sexual sin, adultery, and letting lust run rampant in one’s life, He utilized a hyperbolic example to urge men to take the consequences of sexual sin seriously, lest they fall into ruin.

These techniques spotlighted key lessons in Jesus’ teaching and helped His listeners remember important truths.

Did Jesus Use Other Expressions to Make the Same Point?

Jesus’ analogy of the speck and plank addresses humanity’s sinful and often judgmental hearts as part of a much larger spiritual lesson.

Left to our own standards, few of us would acknowledge that we are also sinful and in need of saving. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus told a similar parable to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.”

In it, two men had gone into the temple to pray. One, a Pharisee, bragged about how righteous he was and thanked God that he was not like the common sinners and tax collectors. The other, a tax collector, was unwilling even to raise his eyes to heaven, beating his chest and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” (Luke 18:9-14).

To this, Jesus concluded, “this man went to his house justified rather than the other one; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).

Few will ever see themselves as the sinner of the story. In our minds, that role is always reserved for someone else who we judge as worse. The apostle Paul reminds us, however, that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Paul also wrote in his letter to Titus that we would be wise to remember that “we too were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3-6).

Forgetting the state of their own souls and their need for a savior, the Pharisees had become “blind guides,” which Jesus also said would “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

In another analogy, He made the same point: “they clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

And what was Christ’s reproof? It was the same as on the Sermon on the Mount: First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean” (Matthew 23:26, emphasis added).

These analogies, therefore, do not prohibit or dismiss all forms of judgment. In fact, in John’s gospel, Jesus taught not to “judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

God establishes the standard by which humanity’s thoughts and actions are judged in His Word. His Word is “sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Scripture reminds us that God alone is the judge. By His standard alone, we separate what is right from wrong.

Jesus was not saying, therefore, that we should be silent in the matter of sin. A speck of sawdust or splinter in the eye of one we love can be both painful and dangerous to their health. The truth of sin’s effect cannot be withheld, nor can the joyous remedy of Christ’s grace and forgiveness be hidden. However, to aid those blinded by unrighteousness and the speck of sin in their own lives, whether big or small, Christ challenged His listeners to 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” (Matthew 7:5, emphasis added).

The Pharisees had unfortunately lost all credibility because of their hypocrisy and self-righteous attitudes. Rather than look inward and allow God to reform the sin of their own hearts, they were content to leave the planks in their own eyes, casting unrighteous and unfair judgment on others. In doing so, they had become ineffective leaders and “blind guides to the blind.”

Matthew Henry writes, “that which charity teaches us to call only a splinter in our brother’s eye, true repentance, and godly sorrow will teach us to call a beam in our own… here is a good rule for reprovers; first reform thyself.”

Joel Ryan is a children’s book author, writing professor, and contributing writer for Crosswalk,, Stand Firm Men’s Magazine, and others. He is passionate about telling great stories, defending biblical truth, and helping writers of all ages develop their craft. Joel discusses, analyzes, and appreciates the great writings of the past and present on his website, Perspectives off the Page.

This article is part of our larger resource library of popular Bible verse phrases and quotes. We want to provide easy to read articles that answer your questions about the meaning, origin, and history of specific verses within Scripture's context. It is our hope that these will help you better understand the meaning and purpose of God's Word in relation to your life today.

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