Embassy of Heaven

Christians and the Law-Courts

 

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'Evil speaking' is mistranslated

I consulted the Greek, the Catholic, and the Protestant writers, and the writers of the Tubingen School and of the historical school. All of them, even the most free-thinking, understood those words as a condemnation of evil-speaking. But why, contrary to the whole teaching of Christ, the words are understood so narrowly that the courts are not included in the prohibition of judging; why it is supposed that Christ, forbidding as an evil deed a condemnation of one's neighbor that involuntarily slips from one's tongue, does not consider as evil and does not forbid a similar condemnation uttered deliberately and associated with the infliction of violence on the person condemned, is not explained, nor is there the slightest hint that it is possible for 'condemnation' to mean the judging which takes place in the law-court and from which millions of people suffer. More than that, in dealing with these words, 'Judge not and condemn not,' reference to that most cruel habit of legal condemnation is carefully avoided, and even fenced off. The theologian-interpreters remark that Christian law-courts must exist and do not conflict with the law of Christ.

Noticing this, I began to doubt the good faith of these interpretations and referred to the translation of the words 'judge' and 'condemn' - the very matter with which I ought to have begun.

In the original these words are krinw and katadikazw. The incorrect translation of the word katadikazw in the Epistle of James, where it is translated by the words 'speak evil of,' confirmed my suspicion of the incorrectness of the translations.

I looked how the words krinw and katadikazw are translated in the Gospels in different languages, and I saw that the word which in the Vulgate is translated condemnare, is translated in a similar way in French, while in Slavonic it is 'condemn,' and Luther translates it Verdammen, to curse.

The contrast of these translations strengthened my doubts, and I asked myself: What does and what can the Greek word krinw, employed in both the Gospels, mean, and also the word katadikazw, used by Luke the Evangelist, who, in the opinion of the experts, wrote rather good Greek? How would a man translate those words who knew nothing of the Gospel teaching and the existing interpretations of it, but had before him merely that saying?

I consulted the general dictionary and found that the word krinw has many different meanings, and among them very commonly the meaning of sentencing in the law-court, even executing, but that it never has the meaning of evil-speaking. I consulted the New Testament dictionary and found that the word is often used in the New Testament in the sense of to sentence in court. It is sometimes used in the sense of differentiation, but never in the sense of evil-speaking. And so I see that the word krinw may be translated variously, but that a translation which makes it mean 'speak evil' is the most far-fetched and unexpected of all.

Then I inquired about the word katadikazw coupled to krinw, the word of many meanings - evidently on purpose to define the sense in which the writer was using that word. In the general dictionary I found that the word never has any other meaning than to condemn in court to punishment or execution. I looked in the New Testament dictionary, and found that the word is used in the Epistle of James 5:6, 'Ye have condemned and killed the just'; the word 'condemned' is this same word katadikazw, used in reference to Christ, who was condemned. And in no other way is this word ever used in the whole of the New Testament, or in any Greek dialect.

What does this all mean? What absurdity have I arrived at? I, and everyone in our society, if we have ever considered the fate of mankind, have been horrified at the sufferings and the evil introduced into man's life by man's criminal law - an evil both for the judged and for those who judge - from the executions of Genghiz Khan to the executions of the French Revolution and those of our day.

No one with a heart can have escaped an impression of horror and doubt in goodness at even hearing of, not to say seeing, the execution of men by other men: the floggings to death with rods,15 A method of punishment frequently practiced in the army under Nicholas I. The sentence was so many thousand strokes, and the prisoner had to run the gauntlet between ranks of soldiers, the result often being death from collapse. - A.M. the guillotines, and the scaffolds.

In the Gospels, each word of which we consider holy, it is directly and clearly said: You have had a criminal law - 'An eye for an eye' - but I give you a new law: 'Resist not him that is evil.' Obey this law, all of you: do not inflict evil for evil, but do good always and to all men, forgive all men.

Further, it is clearly said: 'Do not go to law.' And that doubt about the meaning of the words may be impossible, it is added 'Do not condemn to punishment in the courts.'

My heart says clearly and distinctly: do not execute. Science says, do not execute; the more you execute the more evil will there be. Reason says, do not execute, evil cannot be cut off by evil. The word of God, in which I believe, says the same. And I, reading the whole teaching and reading the words: 'Judge not that ye be not judged, condemn not that ye be not condemned, forgive and ye shall be forgiven,' admit that this is the word of God, say that it means that I must not go about talking scandal and maligning people, and continue to consider the law-court to be a Christian institution and to consider myself both a judge and a Christian.16 Tolstoy was an Arbiter of the Peace for about a year in 1862 after the emancipation of the serfs, his duties being to adjust differences between the landed proprietors and the newly emancipated serfs. - A.M. And I was horrified at the grossness of the deception in which I was involved.

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