Version Date: Aug 2, 2021
This article considers the meanings of the verb διακρινω and of the noun διακρισις. It is structured as follows:
A basic meaning of διακρινω from which all other meanings can be derived is "to separate one thing from another". The passive form of the verb describes a literal division in Jms 2:4, where it can be understood with the meaning "to be divided". A person separating one thing from another by means of reasoning is discerning; hence follow the meanings "to discern" and "to make a distinction". When discerning a person, the meaning can be "to judge". However, when reasoning in a similar way about oneself or about a thing, the meaning is "to examine". Considering again passive forms, when a person allows himself to be examined in the presence of other persons, the implication would be of entering a controversy; the meaning is not exactly "to be judged" but "to contend", since the person entering the controversy is probably trying to show himself right. It should be emphasized that the meaning "to judge" does not necessarily imply a judgment leading to condemnation; it could lead to relief and deliverance, as in Pr 31:9. However, it is possible that one who considers another person is critical about something, in which case the meaning is "to take issue with".
The use of the verb διακρινω will be considered for New Testament passages as well as for the LXX text that corresponds to the Hebrew Old Testament. Its meanings are examined in more detail next.
"To judge": This meaning fits well 18 out of 23 instances of διακρινω in LXX, namely Ex 18:16, Lev 24:12, De 33:7, 1Ki 3:9, 1Ch 26:29, Job 21:22, Ps 50:4, 82:1, Pr 31:9, Ec 3:18, Eze 20:35-36, 34:17, 20, 44:24, Joel 3:2, 12, Zec 3:7.
"To examine": The meaning "to judge" may not fit perfectly in the context of a person examining himself or reasoning about inanimate things. The meaning "to examine" could be used instead in such circumstances. Job 23:10 provides a simple example in which the meaning "to judge" does not fit well: διεκρινεν με ωσπερ το χρυσιον means "he has examined me as gold," not "he has judged me as gold." The meaning "to examine" fits especially well Job 23:10 and 1Co 11:31; it fits also Job 9:14.
"To discern": This meaning appears in Mt 16:3, 1Co 6:5, 14:29, Job 12:11, 15:5. There are instances in which both of the meanings "to examine" and "to discern" may seem to fit. If the focus is on the examination process, "to examine" would seem to fit better. If the focus is on the conclusions that are drawn by means of examination, "to discern" would seem to be the right choice.
"To make a distinction": This meaning is illustrated by Ac 15:9, 1Co 4:7, and 1Co 11:29. The most obvious example is Ac 15:9, since none of the meanings "to judge, examine, discern" fits well the statement that ουδεν διεκρινεν μεταξυ ημων τε και αυτων. One not making a necessary distinction ignores something, as in 1Co 11:29, which speaks of some who failed to acknowledge members of the body of Christ. As for 1Co 4:7, the meaning of διακρινει can be inferred from the context, in which "to make a distinction" fits perfectly. Then, τις γαρ σε διακρινει is translated "Who sees something different in thee?" This question was addressed to people in the church that saw themselves as very superior to others (1Co 4:6), though the church was not thinking this way about them. One way by which the apostle sought to combat such sinful attitudes was to point to the testimony of the church, who was not regarding such people as very superior.
"To take issue with, be critical": This meaning is most obvious in μηδεν διακρινομενον in Ac 10:20, 11:12. It fits also Ro 14:23, Jude 1:22, Jms 1:6, which are usually translated assuming a meaning "to doubt". The meaning "to doubt" is not used here because there is no evidence for it in secular writings and since it is unnecessary (in every instance, a passage is very meaningful without assuming the meaning "to doubt"); see also the remarks below in the section dealing with the meaning "to be parted". In Jms 1:6, the phrase μηδεν διακρινομενος indicates that one should not take issue with any matter of faith. One who professes faith but is critical of some matters of faith is unstable; sometimes he walks in the faith but other times he turns away from it. In Jude 1:22, διακρινομενοι (in the Byzantine text) points to the fact that one is supposed to be critical in the sense of being discerning, so as to help people caught in various sins without getting himself into some sin. In Ro 14:23, ο διακρινομενος refers to one who was critical of certain foods. If he believed that eating them was contrary to the faith and ate them nonetheless, then he committed sin. Finally, considering Ac 10:20, 11:12, note that a religious Jew would have disagreed over many things with a Gentile. So Peter was told to go with them and be uncritical.
"To be accused, judged": This meaning fits Jude 1:9 and Jer 15:10. It corresponds to the meaning "to be judged" in the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon. Both Jude 1:9 and Jer 15:10 involve a passive form and an indirect object. In Jer 15:10, the prophet described himself as being judged and wrongfully condemned. Clearly, διακρινομενον παση τη γη in Jer 15:10 means "being judged/accused by all the land" and not "judging/accusing all the land". Interpreting the same way Jude 1:9, οτε τω διαβολω διακρινομενος means "when being accused/judged by the devil". When being falsely accused and slandered, Michael did not reply with slander.
"To contend": This meaning fits Eze 20:35-36, Joel 3:2 (4:2), and Ac 11:2. Common to all these verses is that the preposition προς is used to introduce the person(s) against whom the contention is brought; note διακριθησομαι προς υμας (Eze 20:35), διεκριθην προς τους πατερας υμων (Eze 20:36), διακριθησομαι προς αυτους (Joel 3:2 (4:2)), and διεκρινοντο προς αυτον (Ac 11:2). Eze 20:35-36 and Joel 3:2 (4:2) speak of the Lord contending with peoples, while Ac 11:2 is about certain persons that tried to contend with Peter. It should be noted here that the LXX interpretation of Eze 20:35-36 and Joel 3:2 (4:2) is a little different from their meaning in the Hebrew text, which speaks about judgments. Since Ac 11:3 shows that the men confronted Peter with their criticisms, it is clear that the meaning of διεκρινοντο in Ac 11:2 is "to contend".
"To be divided": Jms 2:4 includes the phrase διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις in the context of a practice that created divisions within the church based on social status. Church attenders were separated/divided by the attitude mentioned in Jms 2:2-3.
"To be parted": This meaning leads to a natural interpretation of Mt 21:21, Mk 11:23, and Ro 4:20. In these verses, common translations assume that the verb means "to doubt". However, as mentioned in lexicons, such as Thayer's lexicon, the meaning "to doubt" has not been found in secular Greek authors. So the meaning "to doubt" has the assumption that the church created it and used it. However, since the Gospel has to be preached to all creation, including those outside of the church, it seems highly unlikely that the verb διακρινω was used with a meaning unknown to the hearers. To find the intended meaning of the verb in Mt 21:21, Mk 11:23, Ro 4:20, one could consider what an outsider would have understood when hearing any of these passages. The meaning "to judge" would have not been too meaningful, for it does not have to imply an unfavorable judgment. For the same reason the meaning "to discern" would have not been appropriate. The meaning "to be separated", however, would have been meaningful, as it would indicate that the promise of Mt 21:21 and Mk 11:23 is fulfilled for those who are not in any way divided from the Lord, neither by purpose (by seeking something outside of God's will) nor by sin (as in Ps 66:18). Whatever is not of faith is sin (Ro 14:23), so doubts manifesting lack of faith will cause some separation from the Lord; Ro 4:20 emphasizes this aspect. However, doubts are not the only things that could hinder prayers. Any sin could hinder prayers. Two examples of sin in the context of hindered prayers are unforgiveness (Mk 11:25) and the attitude of a husband that does not treat right his wife (1Pt 3:7). It is interesting to note that εαν εχητε πιστιν και μη διακριθητε is easier to interpret if διακριθητε is not the opposite of εχητε πιστιν. Thus, the meaning "if ye are not separated" leads to a simpler interpretation than "if ye do not doubt". When using the meaning "to be separated", Mt 21:21 and Mk 11:23 become similar to Jn 15:7. As for Jms 1:6 and Ro 14:23, understanding διακρινομενος to be a middle form, its meaning is "to take issue with, be critical". The interpretation of Jms 1:6 and Ro 14:23 is discussed in the section above on middle forms.
διακρινω--Distinguishing between Middle and Passive
Note that certain forms, such as διακρινομενος, could be parsed with either of the middle voice or the passive voice. Such forms appear in Ac 10:20, 11:2, 12, Ro 14:23, Jms 1:6, Jude 1:9, 22, and Jer 15:10. It is important to know the voice because the meaning of the verb depends on it.
Verses using διακρινω in NT and LXX are listed below:
(Mt 16:3) και πρωι σημερον χειμων πυρραζει γαρ στυγναζων ο ουρανος υποκριται το μεν προσωπον του ουρανου γινωσκετε διακρινειν τα δε σημεια των καιρων ου δυνασθε
(Mt 21:21) αποκριθεις δε ο ιησους ειπεν αυτοις αμην λεγω υμιν εαν εχητε πιστιν και μη διακριθητε ου μονον το της συκης ποιησετε αλλα καν τω ορει τουτω ειπητε αρθητι και βληθητι εις την θαλασσαν γενησεται
(Mk 11:23) αμην γαρ λεγω υμιν οτι ος αν ειπη τω ορει τουτω αρθητι και βληθητι εις την θαλασσαν και μη διακριθη εν τη καρδια αυτου αλλα πιστευση οτι α λεγει γινεται εσται αυτω ο εαν ειπη
(Ac 10:20) αλλα αναστας καταβηθι και πορευου συν αυτοις μηδεν διακρινομενος διοτι εγω απεσταλκα αυτους
(Ac 11:2) και οτε ανεβη πετρος εις ιεροσολυμα διεκρινοντο προς αυτον οι εκ περιτομης
(Ac 11:12) ειπεν δε μοι το πνευμα συνελθειν αυτοις μηδεν διακρινομενον ηλθον δε συν εμοι και οι εξ αδελφοι ουτοι και εισηλθομεν εις τον οικον του ανδρος
(Ac 15:9) και ουδεν διεκρινεν μεταξυ ημων τε και αυτων τη πιστει καθαρισας τας καρδιας αυτων
(Ro 4:20) εις δε την επαγγελιαν του θεου ου διεκριθη τη απιστια αλλ ενεδυναμωθη τη πιστει δους δοξαν τω θεω
(Ro 14:23) ο δε διακρινομενος εαν φαγη κατακεκριται οτι ουκ εκ πιστεως παν δε ο ουκ εκ πιστεως αμαρτια εστιν
(1Co 4:7) τις γαρ σε διακρινει τι δε εχεις ο ουκ ελαβες ει δε και ελαβες τι καυχασαι ως μη λαβων
(1Co 6:5) προς εντροπην υμιν λεγω ουτως ουκ εστιν εν υμιν σοφος ουδε εις ος δυνησεται διακριναι ανα μεσον του αδελφου αυτου
(1Co 11:29) ο γαρ εσθιων και πινων αναξιως κριμα εαυτω εσθιει και πινει μη διακρινων το σωμα του κυριου
(1Co 11:31) ει γαρ εαυτους διεκρινομεν ουκ αν εκρινομεθα
(1Co 14:29) προφηται δε δυο η τρεις λαλειτωσαν και οι αλλοι διακρινετωσαν
(Jms 1:6) αιτειτω δε εν πιστει μηδεν διακρινομενος ο γαρ διακρινομενος εοικεν κλυδωνι θαλασσης ανεμιζομενω και ριπιζομενω
(Jms 2:4) και ου διεκριθητε εν εαυτοις και εγενεσθε κριται διαλογισμων πονηρων
(Jude 1:9) ο δε μιχαηλ ο αρχαγγελος οτε τω διαβολω διακρινομενος διελεγετο περι του μωσεως σωματος ουκ ετολμησεν κρισιν επενεγκειν βλασφημιας αλλ ειπεν επιτιμησαι σοι κυριος
(Jude 1:22) και ους μεν ελεειτε διακρινομενοι
(Eze 44:24) και επι κρισιν αιματος ουτοι επιστησονται του διακρινειν τα δικαιωματα μου δικαιωσουσιν και τα κριματα μου κρινουσιν και τα νομιμα μου και τα προσταγματα μου εν πασαις ταις εορταις μου φυλαξονται και τα σαββατα μου αγιασουσιν (Joel 3:2) και συναξω παντα τα εθνη και καταξω αυτα εις την κοιλαδα ιωσαφατ και διακριθησομαι προς αυτους εκει υπερ του λαου μου και της κληρονομιας μου ισραηλ οι διεσπαρησαν εν τοις εθνεσιν και την γην μου καταδιειλαντο (Zec 3:7) ταδε λεγει κυριος παντοκρατωρ εαν εν ταις οδοις μου πορευη και εαν τα προσταγματα μου φυλαξης και συ διακρινεις τον οικον μου και εαν διαφυλαξης και γε την αυλην μου και δωσω σοι αναστρεφομενους εν μεσω των εστηκοτων τουτων
(Eze 44:24) και επι κρισιν αιματος ουτοι επιστησονται του διακρινειν τα δικαιωματα μου δικαιωσουσιν και τα κριματα μου κρινουσιν και τα νομιμα μου και τα προσταγματα μου εν πασαις ταις εορταις μου φυλαξονται και τα σαββατα μου αγιασουσιν
(Joel 3:2) και συναξω παντα τα εθνη και καταξω αυτα εις την κοιλαδα ιωσαφατ και διακριθησομαι προς αυτους εκει υπερ του λαου μου και της κληρονομιας μου ισραηλ οι διεσπαρησαν εν τοις εθνεσιν και την γην μου καταδιειλαντο
(Zec 3:7) ταδε λεγει κυριος παντοκρατωρ εαν εν ταις οδοις μου πορευη και εαν τα προσταγματα μου φυλαξης και συ διακρινεις τον οικον μου και εαν διαφυλαξης και γε την αυλην μου και δωσω σοι αναστρεφομενους εν μεσω των εστηκοτων τουτων
The meaning of the noun διακρισις could be inferred from the outcome of the action of the verb διακρινω. The meaning "judgment" can be inferred from the meaning "to judge" of the verb, and "discernment" from "to discern".
"Judgment": This meaning appears in Ro 14:1 and Job 37:16. In Ro 14:1, διακρισεις διαλογισμων refers to judgments based on opinions. In Job 37:16, διακρισιν νεφων "judgment concerning the clouds" could be understood in the sense of "statutes/laws of the clouds".
"Discernment": διακρισεις πνευματων "distinguishing of spirits" (1Co 12:10) is one of the spiritual gifts. The same meaning appears in διακρισιν καλου τε και κακου "discernment of good and evil" (Heb 5:14).
(Ro 14:1) τον δε ασθενουντα τη πιστει προσλαμβανεσθε μη εις διακρισεις διαλογισμων
(1Co 12:10) αλλω δε ενεργηματα δυναμεων αλλω δε προφητεια αλλω δε διακρισεις πνευματων ετερω δε γενη γλωσσων αλλω δε ερμηνεια γλωσσων
(Heb 5:14) τελειων δε εστιν η στερεα τροφη των δια την εξιν τα αισθητηρια γεγυμνασμενα εχοντων προς διακρισιν καλου τε και κακου