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"Splinters and Planks"

King, Martin Luther, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Career in Ministry
Martin Luther King, Jr. - Education


In this handwritten sermon King suggests acknowledging one's own shortcomings before judging others. He applies this principle to the areas of international affairs and race relations, noting, “While we see the splinters in Russia’s eye we fail to see the great plank of racial segregation and [discrimination] which is blocking the progress of America.” Additionally, King notes, “Negroes see the splinters in the white man's eye and fail to see the planks in their own eye.” According to a newspaper announcement, King was scheduled to deliver a version of this sermon at Ebenezer.1

Why do you note the Splinter in your brother's eye and fail to see the plank in your own eye? (Matt. 7.3) (MOFFATT).2

These words of our text found in a recent translation of the New Testament, do nothing to change the meaning of the words found in the Authorized Version; Rather they place this familiar question in a modern frameword.3 This text is presented in words that modern man is well familar with. We know splinters. We frequently run them through our fingers. Sometimes they are so small that we can hardly see them. Moreover, we know planks. We know that in many instances a plank is large enough to stop a street car.

This figure of speech used by Jesus might seem for the moment quite exaggerated. But if we stop for the moment and analysize human actions with a disintirested eye, we will find that this contrast is not big enough, for it is a common human trait to see the weaknesses of others and never see ones own weakness

The splinter and plank scandal has presented itself throughout human history. In colonial Virginia a man could be sent to jail for failing to attend church twice on [Sundays?], while at the same time the slave trade went on with the saction of the church and religions.

Many parents of today spend much time denouncing the actions modern youth and at the same time they fail to supply an example of true Christian living. Sociologists have remainded us that juvinile delinquency has its origin in adult dilinquency. But how easy it is for the adutl to see the splinter in young peoples eye and fail to see the plank in their own eyes.

Remember how this familar situation expressed itself in Biblical times. One day the scribes and Pharisees brought unto Jesus a woman [strikeout illegible] who had comitted adultery. In an attempt to follow the Mosaic law they had decided to stone her. Adultry always stood out in ancient times Hebrew society as a great sin. Before stoning the woman they decided to question Jesus on the issue. Of course they were all but sure that Jesus would saction the stoning of this woman. But his reply to this question was quite different; it was a reply filled with psychological meaning. In substance he says, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”4 Here Jesus is expressing the well known truth that when it comes to prue and undefied morality we all fall short of the mark. It seems that sin is a well of water that each of us has drawn from or to change the figure, sin is an ever present shower that sprinkles every one of us. And so none can boast of total purity.

The irony of Jesus still comes to our own day with blistering truth. Let us look on the international scene. {Take the conflict between Russia and America} Our criticism of Russia have been quite severe. We have argued that Russian Communism is the most injurious force in the world today. Any reader of the American newspaper is left with the impression that America is all right and Russia is all wrong. We are forever talking of the imperalistic tendencies of Russia. We talk glibly about her denial of individual freedoms. We dwell on the fact that Communism denies the existence of God. And so our criticisms of the weaknesses of Russia go on ad infinitum. But when we turn the coin to the other side the picture is quite different. We never find ourselves seeing the weaknesses of America. I am not at all saying that there are not some weaknesses in the Russian form of govenment. I must admit that it does not appeal to me directly. But have we not failed to see the gigantic planks in our eyes. While we see the splinters in Russia’s eye we fail to see the great plank of racial segregation and dicrimination which is blocking the progress of America

  1. National scene
    Race relation
    Negroes see the splinters in the white man’s eye and fail to see the planks in their own eye
    1. segreting and discriminating each other.
  2. Church life
    We as church members see the splinter in the worlds eye and fail to see the blank in our own eye.
  3. Personal lives
  4. [Cxn?]—Jesus as an example.

Only by removing the splinter planks from our eyes can we see clearly how to remove the splinters in our brothers eye.

We must attract people into goodness. Remember the words of Jesus, “If I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me”5

It is this same Jesus who has become the most influential character in Western Civilization etc.

1. King’s announced sermon topic for 24 July 1949 at Ebenezer was “Splinters and Planks” (“‘Splinters and Planks’ to be King's Topic,” Atlanta Daily World, 23 July 1949).

2. Matthew 7:3 in James Moffatt, trans., The New Testament (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1926). James Moffatt (1870-1944), a Scottish biblical scholar and translator, published a modern version of the New Testament in 1913 and the Hebrew Bible in 1924. (Subsequent cites of biblical verses from Moffatt's translation are noted as MOFFATT, in parentheses.) King later referred to Christ's admonition in describing Gandhi's capacity for self-criticism and his critique of the Indian people in the midst of his campaign for independence from Great Britain (King, Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi, Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, 22 March 1959, in The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., vol. 5: Threshold of a New Decade, January 1959-December 1960, ed. Clayborne Carson, Tenisha Armstrong, Susan Carson, Adrienne Clay, and Kieran Taylor [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2005], p. 152).

3. The King James Version renders this text: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

4. John 8:7.

5. John 12:32; see also Johnson Oatman's hymn “Lift Him Up.”


CSKC, INP, Coretta Scott King Collection, In Private Hands, Sermon file, folder 114, “Splinters and Planks.”