What Is The Biblical Meaning Of “Evil”?
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these [things].” (Isaiah 45:7)
“[Thou art] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:…” (Habakkuk 1:13)
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” (James 1:13)
In above set of Scriptures, we find one of the supposedly contradictory texts of the Scriptures. On one hand, from the lips of the Lord Himself, He clearly states that “I create evil”. Then later in the Scriptures we find Habakkuk as he speaks concerning the Lord says “[Thou art] of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity:” then, to add confusion to our subject, James states clearly that God “cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:”
In this series of lessons, we will be looking into two basic questions, first, “What Is God’s Role In The Existence of Evil ?” and, secondly, “What Is The Purpose Behind The Existence Of Evil ?”
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only [so], but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. But not as the offence, so also [is] the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, [which is] by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. And not as [it was] by one that sinned, [so is] the gift: for the judgment [was] by one to condemnation, but the free gift [is] of many offences unto justification.
Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things [is] death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin [is] death; but the gift of God [is] eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected [the same] in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
The Characteristics of “Evil”
To begin our study, it is important for us to come to a Scriptural understanding of the term “evil”.
The word “evil” in the Bible is translated by many different words. The following is a list of the most common root words translated by the word “evil” in the KJV Bible:
In the Old Testament the word “evil” is translated from the following Hebrew root words:
1. ra’ a’ – to spoil, to ruin, to be good for nothing, to break in pcs, marred
2. bliya ‘al – worthless, destructive,
3. ‘aven – nothingness, idol, trouble, vanity
In the New Testament the word “evil” is translated from the following Greek root words:
1. poneros – hurtful, calamitous, diseased, derelict, malice, vicious
2. kakos – worthless, depraved, causing injury, to harm
3. phaulos – inadequate, morally wicked, valueless
4. adikeo – to be unjust, to do wrong, to injure, suffering
5. blasphemos – irreverent, blaspheme, to speak ill of, to harm with speech
The most basic Biblical characteristics of “evil” can be obtained from the above lists. When used in the Holy Scriptures, the word “evil” is speaking of:
1. something that causes harm or injury
2. in many cases, the harm is so severe that it causes total worthlessness and ruin
3. it can be, but not necessarily, directly involved with moral wickedness
This is the basic characteristics for “evil” that we will be using throughout this study.
Based upon the above, we can also see that “evil” can be describing to different types of events….
The Two Types Of “Evil”
1. Evil can describe sin and its DIRECT results...
An act of “sin” can be described as an act of “evil” because “sin” is harmful to all mankind. When “sin” is equated with “evil”, it presents to us two different truths about the same act:
1. “Sin” teaches us that it is an act that is done in opposition to the revealed will of the Lord.
2. That same act, when described as “evil”, teaches us that it is an act that brings harm upon mankind.
One example of the harm that sin brings upon mankind is “death” (Roms 6:23). By “death” the Bible is teaching us that sin directly results in physical, spiritual and eternal death, all of which are harmful and ruinous to man. The existence of “death” can be traced back to the specific sin of Adam that was committed in Eden… (Roms 5:12)
Besides “death”, there are many other direct results of sin upon man, all of which are evil. When sin is committed, mankind is directly harmed. Examples of this principle include:
1. murders which not only result in loss of life, but tremendous sorrow and hardship to those acquainted with the victim
2. lies which can result in individuals being slandered, unjustly punished, and their testimony ruined
3. adulteries which can result in broken families, and ruined testimonies
4. covetousness/theft which can result in loss of property, and financial ruin
5. drunkenness which can cause physical abuse, mental abuse, and broken families
5. hatred which can result in the abuse of those who are hated
6. sexual immorality which can result in STDs, broken homes, leading to abortions (the murder of the unborn)
The list of sins and their possible harmful results upon man are absolutely endless. This is why “sin” and “evil” are equated in the Bible.
2. Evil can describe sin and its INDIRECT results...
Normally, when we think of the results of sin, we think of the direct results of sin (see above). But there is also another set of sin’s results that we must classify as “indirect” results of sin. What is an indirect result of sin? There are many results of sin that we cannot directly link to any specific act of sin.
For example a direct result of the sin of murder is the loss of life. The life that is lost can be directly linked back to the act of murder that was committed. If that specific act of murder had not taken place that specific life would not have been lost. This is a “DIRECT” result of sin.
But if we stop and think about things, there are many harmful acts that take place on the earth that cannot be linked back to a specific act of sin. Here are some examples: earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, many diseases (colds, flu etc), many accidents (falling, tripping down steps, etc.) Once again this list seems endless. But the principle still remains…. Think of ANYTHING that causes pain, suffering, harm, or death that cannot be directly linked to a specific act of sin… that is an INDIRECT result of sin.
By now, you might be thinking, “but why are you calling these the result of sin? There is no sin involved in any of these.” We will answer this question with a question… “Would any of these things happen if sin had never entered the world?” The obvious answer is “No.” If sin had never entered the world mankind would never suffer from sicknesses, tornados, falls, broken bones, etc. This is the principle revealed to us in Romans 8:19-22, where we are told that all of creation is “groaning and travailing” (ie suffering under the results of sin – earthquakes, tornados, viruses, imperfections etc) and waiting for deliverance from sins affects at the second coming.
It is because of sin that the world has entered a fallen state and, due to this fallen condition of the world, we have the existence of many evils that afflict mankind but are not the result of any specific sin. This is the principle behind saying that one type of “evil” is harm to man that is INDIRECTLY linked to the presence of sin.
So what is “evil” ? The easiest way that I can define the Biblical concept of evil is “the condition/ act of sin, OR the direct or indirect results of sin that are harmful, and potentially ruinous, to any part of God’s creation.”
THE PRACTICAL APPLICATION:
What we have seen in this study….
We have attempted to come to a very basic understanding of the term “evil” as used in the Bible. We have come to see that:
1. “Evil” describes something that causes harm or injury
2. “Evil” can be referring to harm that is so severe, that it causes total destruction or uselessness
3. “Evil” can, but not necessarily, involves moral wickedness
4. “Evil” can describe sin or it can describe the results of sin
5. “Evil” can describe the direct results of sin
6. “Evil” can describe the indirect results of sin
7. “Evil” can describe an act that is morally wicked
8. “Evil” can describe, not the act, but the result of moral wickedness
So, in summary, “Evil” can describe an act or the results of that act and, in every case that it is used in the Bible, it is describing something that is harmful to man. In other words…
Evil is “the condition/act of sin, OR the direct or indirect results of sin, that are harmful, and potentially ruinous, to any part of God’s creation.”
In our next study, we will examine the source of evil in this world.
May the Lord bless you as you continue to seek His truth.