We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Select Bible Use this Lookup to open a specific Bible and passage. Start here to select a Bible.
Make selected Bible the default for Lookup tool.
Book: Ch.V. Select book from A-Z list, enter chapter and verse number, and click "Go."
:
OR
  • Previous Result
  • Results
  • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
  • Highlight On / Off
  • Next Result

Evil

Source:
The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Evil

    In Israel's earliest traditions, the presence of evil in the world is taken for granted as a reality that is philosophically nonproblematic. There is no terminological distinction between moral evil and calamity, for the same Hebrew word (raʿ or rāʿâ) is used for both. Evil is anything that is unpleasant, repulsive, or distorted (Gen. 41.3–4).

    Genesis 1 shows how in the beginning there already exists the darkness and the cosmic sea, pervasive symbols of evil requiring God's subjugation (cf. Job 38.8–11; Matt. 8.24–27; Rev. 21.1), and no attempt is made to explain their origin. God perceives the world as “very good” (Gen. 1.31), even though it also includes the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, along with a subtle serpent who encourages the consumption of its fruit (Gen. 2–3). Although God subdues evil in the cosmos, a number of texts in the Hebrew Bible are not reluctant to identify God as the source of evil (e.g., Isa. 45.7; Jer. 4.6; Amos 3.6; Mic. 2.3; Eccles. 1.13; Job 2.10). A standard complaint when humans suffer is that God is the one who has brought the calamity on them (e.g., 1 Kings 17.20; Job 9.17–18; 13.24; 16.7–14; 19.21–22; Pss. 39.10; 51.8; 60.1–3; Lam. 3.1–16). Since God was the undisputed master of creation, it was assumed that every occurrence was through his explicit command. It was not that God merely allowed evil to happen, for God directs evil through the mediation of supernatural beings who afflict, deceive, bring harm, and do evil in general at God's command (1 Sam. 16.14–16; 1 Kings 22.19–23; Job 1.12; Ps. 78.49). Both good and evil were in God's control, and he actively employed both to accomplish his ends. Although God is often depicted in conflict with evil (Isa. 27.1; Hab. 3.8–15), there is never really any doubt that God will be victorious. Philosophical dualism finds no place in biblical literature, for God has no equal and the cosmic order that he endorses, although often in jeopardy, must inevitably be established.

    There is, however, one place where evil exasperates God: the human heart (Gen. 6.5–6; Jer. 17.9; Ezek. 6.9; Eccles. 9.3), that is, a man or woman's intellectual, emotional, and spiritual center. Even here the Bible pictures God as able to manipulate humankind (Exod. 4.21; cf. Ps. 141.4; Isa. 63.17; Ezek. 36.26; Prov. 21.1; Rom. 9.18–21), but there remains a mystery that is not further explored, namely, the freedom that human beings have to direct their own hearts for good or evil (Exod. 8.15; Jer. 18.12; Ezek. 18.31; Zech. 7.12).

    Evil is not an intrinsic feature of the physical world, for everywhere in the Hebrew Bible creation is seen as good and submissive to the will of God (Gen. 1.32). The story of Jonah is representative, for although even a prophet may stubbornly resist God, it is the fish, the winds, the plants, and the worm that dutifully cooperate. It is therefore not surprising that later gnostic thought, which perceived the physical world as inherently evil, rejected the God of the Hebrew Bible as an evil being.

    The notion that evil can characteristically be associated with a supernatural being opposed to God and God's people has roots in the Hebrew Bible (Isa. 14.12–15; Ezek. 28.11–19) but only becomes common in the New Testament. There this figure is appropriately called the “Evil One” (Eph. 6.16; 1 John 2.13–14) and bears the distinctive appellatives “Adversary” (Hebr. śātān; see Satan) and “Accuser” (Grk. diabolos). He is accompanied by a retinue of lesser supernatural creatures with a similar ethical orientation whose origins can be traced to rare references to “evil spirits,” “deceiving spirits,” or “evil angels” that do God's bidding (1 Sam. 18.10; 19.9; 1 Kings 22.22–23; Ps. 78.49; see Demons).

    In the New Testament, these beings are more explicitly responsible for a greater share of the evil in the world. When illness, tragedy, or calamity occurred in ancient Israel, one tended to see God at work; in the New Testament Satan and demons are generally seen as responsible (Matt. 17.14–18; Acts 5.3; 2 Cor. 12.7). Humanity is locked in a struggle with these unseen beings (Eph. 6.12) who seek to crush the righteous (1 Pet. 5.8) and can manipulate human hearts (John 13.2). A climactic confrontation between the cosmic forces of good and evil at some time in the future will result in the eradication of all evil along with those creatures (human or otherwise) who aligned themselves with it (Rev. 19–21).

    Evil as a philosophical problem is never really addressed in biblical literature. Attempts in Judaism and Christianity to resolve the logical problem of the existence of evil in a world created by a compassionate, just, omnipotent, and omniscient God belong to postbiblical reflections on the text.

    See also Suffering

    .

    Samuel A. Meier

    • Previous Result
    • Results
    • Look It Up Highlight any word or phrase, then click the button to begin a new search.
    • Highlight On / Off
    • Next Result
    Oxford University Press

    © 2022. All Rights Reserved. Cookie Policy | Privacy Policy | Legal Notice