Frequently Repeated Responses

If you stick around here long enough, you’ll notice certain topics and criticisms repeatedly arise. In an effort to save myself and my readers some time, I’m compiling several of my frequently repeated responses below.

Afghanistan

Q: “Why do you spend so much time criticizing the actions of the United States, NATO and ISAF and relatively little time criticizing al-Qaida (AQ), the Taliban and other anti-Kabul-government elements?”

A: I assume my readers are well aware of the outrageous ethical problems in Taliban and AQ behavior and don’t need me to rehash them. But just so we are clear: according to the United Nations’ statistics, insurgent factions in Afghanistan are directly responsible for far more civilian deaths than ISAF, the U.S. and their allies in Afghanistan, chiefly due to the use of indiscriminate weapons and tactics like improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings. These contemptible acts should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. I decry them, condemn them and reject the guilty parties’ justifications for using them.

However, I have zero influence over Taliban leadership. No one will come arrest me for failing to pay taxes to fund the Taliban’s IED factories. My chief concern is to hold people accountable who expect me to pay them taxes so that they may run around the world acting in my name as a U.S. citizen and often as a Christian. Most often, my writing here should be read as being addressed to Christians concerned with whether the teachings and example of Jesus would tolerate “our” behavior in Afghanistan toward noncombatants and our enemies.

Christian Nonviolence

Q: The King James’ Version of the Gospel of John 2:15 says:

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables;

If Jesus hit people with “a scourge of small cords,” doesn’t that undermine the idea that Jesus opposed the use of violence in conflict?

A: Jesus did not hit people. The above is based on a poor translation of John 2:15. Here’s the passage in Greek. The NRSV uses a better translation of John 2:15:

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables [emphasis mine].

The question is whether the passage should be translated in a way that includes people in the list of creatures driven out with the scourge. The King James Version and a few others do so, but many do not, and there’s good reason for the latter. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 43, 38f:

…surveys all the New Testament usages of te kai. In 86 cases a rendering comparable to “…as well as the sheep and the oxen” would be impossible. In five it would be possible but is not so rendered by the translators. Only in John 2:15 is the particle ever so rendered.”

Quoting from the main text on p. 43:

The normal sense of the conjunction te kai is to initiate a list, not to continue a series beginning with “them all.”

Yoder also describes notes from an early Christian clerical controversy involving a man accused of striking priests. The accused attempts to point to John 2:15 in his defense, and is rebutted by a church official who rejects the KJV-like translation of the text and who asserts that Jesus never struck anyone.

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Comments
  1. Rob says:

    Good insights on the passage concerning Our Lord’s fashioning of a whip of cords. To add to your argument, both the Clementine Vulgate (translated by St. Jerome using Greek manuscripts, and the Catholic Church’s official version) and the Douay-Rheims version (based on a strict interpretation of the Vulgate) support your thesis.

    Vulgate:
    “et cum fecisset quasi flagellum de funiculis omnes eiecit de templo oves quoque et boves et nummulariorum effudit aes et mensas subvertit”

    The words “omnes” (meaning “all”) and “oves” (meaning “sheep”) are used appositively (i.e. they are identified with one another), so the phrase could be translated “he drove out all the sheep as well as the oxen.”

    The Douay-Rheims version:
    “And when he had made, as it were, a scourge of little cords, he drove them all out of the temple, the sheep also and the oxen, and the money of the changers he poured out, and the tables he overthrew. “

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