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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Evil (2)

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EVIL.—It is customary to distinguish three kinds of evil: (1) what Leibnitz called metaphysical evil, i.e. the incompleteness and imperfection which belong more or less to all created things; (2) physical evil, i.e. pain, suffering, and death; and (3) moral evil, which is a vicious choice of a morally responsible being.

1. Metaphysical evil.—The writers of the OT were, for the most part, deeply impressed with the doctrine of God’s transcendence; i.e. His unique and unapproachable majesty, power, and holiness. Hence the nothingness and transitoriness of all earthly and visible things are a constant theme with them: ‘Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee,’ etc. (1 Kings 8:27); ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’ etc. (Psalms 8:4); ‘All flesh is grass,’ etc. (Isaiah 40:6); ‘The inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers’ (Isaiah 40:22). Compared with God’s ineffable holiness, the holiest of created beings are, as it were, unclean. In heaven the holy angels veil their faces in God’s presence (Isaiah 6:2). The holy sanctuary of Israel required to be purged every year from its pollutions by the blood of sacrifices (Leviticus 16:16). All human righteousnesses are as a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6).

In the NT there is naturally less stress laid upon the Divine transcendence. The theme of the NT writers is the love of God shown in the Incarnation. The eternal Son of God has taken upon Him human nature, to raise it into fellowship with God, to clothe it with the garment of the Divine righteousness, and to cause it to partake of the Divine immortality. Yet the awful and unapproachable character of God, and the infinite abyss which separates the Creator from the highest creature, are never lost sight of. He alone is the Absolute Good (Mark 10:18); He alone may lawfully be worshipped (Mark 12:29; Mark 12:32, Revelation 19:10).

2. Physical evil.

(1) Optimism and pessimism.—Christianity may be classed philosophically as a moderate optimism. It is not an extravagant optimism, like that of Leibnitz, who maintained that this is the best of all possible worlds, or of Malebranche, who regarded it as the best conceivable. Christ would certainly not have endorsed the hyperboles of Pope, that all discord is harmony not understood, and all partial evil universal good; yet He must certainly be classed among the most pronounced teachers of optimism. As against all forms of Gnosticism and Dualism, He maintained that the Universe, in all its parts, is the work of a perfectly good Creator, and that, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, it is under the guidance of His fatherly Providence: ‘Behold the fowls of the air,’ etc. (Matthew 6:26); ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ etc. (Matthew 10:29); ‘He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,’ etc. (Matthew 5:45). The optimism of Jesus is particularly evident in His eschatology. He taught that in the end good will triumph over evil, and evil be absolutely excluded from the Universe: ‘In the end of the world the Son of man shall send forth his angels,’ etc. (Matthew 13:41, cf. Matthew 24:31; Matthew 25:30; Matthew 25:41). He believed that there is a glorious goal to which the whole creation is moving. In one passage He calls it Creation’s new birth (παλινγενεσία, Matthew 19:28); but His usual term for it is the ‘Kingdom of God’ (or of Heaven): ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father’ (Matthew 13:43). For the coming of this Kingdom every Christian is directed to pray (Matthew 6:10) and to watch (Matthew 24:42, Matthew 25:13). That the material Universe will be glorified along with the spiritual is not distinctly stated by Jesus, but is a necessary inference from the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, which was undoubtedly held by Him (Matthew 5:29; Matthew 10:28 etc.), though in a more spiritual form than was generally current (Matthew 22:30).

(2) Pain, sorrow, disease, and death.—The Gospels lend no countenance to the view that moral evil is the only genuine evil, and that physical evil is not evil in the strict and proper sense. Pain, sorrow, disease, and death were regarded by Jesus as things which ought not to be, and He spent much of the time of His public ministry in combating them: ‘He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed with the devil: for God was with him’ (Acts 10:38). He committed the ministry of healing to the Apostles and other believers: ‘Preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:7). Death was regarded by Jesus as in an especial sense ‘the enemy.’ Its ravages affected Him with acute distress (ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτόνἑδάκρυσεν, John 11:33 ff., where consult the commentators). Three of His most striking recorded miracles were victories over death (Mark 5:41, Luke 7:14, John 11:43); and His own resurrection, according to the energetie expression of the Apostle, ‘abolished death, and brought life and incorruption to light’ (2 Timothy 1:10).

As to the causation of physical evil, there is a great difference of point of view between the OT and the NT. The OT upon the whole (Job 1:2. is an exception) regards physical evil as inflicted directly by God. According to the NT, however, physical evil is mainly the work of the devil. God tolerates, permits, and overrules, rather than directly inflicts it. Pain and disease and death belong to the devil’s kingdom, not to God’s; and their universal prevalence is a sign of the usurped authority over the human race of ‘the prince of this world.’ The preaching of the Kingdom of God and the emancipation of mankind from the devil’s thraldom were consequently accompanied by an extensive ministry of healing, and Christ appealed to His miracles as evidence that ‘the kingdom of God is come upon you’ (Luke 11:20). The NT does not, however, deny that physical evil is often inflicted by God for disciplinary or retributive purposes. Hebrews 12:6 lays especial stress upon the wholesome chastening of affliction which all the sons of God receive. Examples of penal or retributive affliction are Matthew 9:2 (palsy), Matthew 23:35 (war and massacre), John 5:14 (constitutional infirmity), Acts 5:5 (death), Acts 13:11 (blindness). Jesus, however, strongly protested against the idea that every calamity is to be regarded as a punishment for individual sin. This specially Jewish idea, which Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar develop at length in the Book of Job, is definitely condemned (Luke 13:4, John 9:3).

3. Moral evil.

(1) Its nature and origin.—The only possible way of accounting for moral evil without making God the author of it, is to attribute it to the abuse of free will on the part of created beings, angelic, or human, or both. The doctrine of free will has been severely criticised in all ages by the advocates of philosophical and theological necessity; but it has, notwithstanding, held its ground, and is at the present time the faith of all the most progressive races of mankind. That it was held by Jesus does not admit of reasonable doubt. Thus He habitually spoke of the power which men possess to resist God and to frustrate His benevolent intentions: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often would I (ἠθέλησα) … and ye would not’ (καὶ οὐκ ἠθελήσατε, Luke 13:34; cf. John 5:40, Matthew 11:20 ff.). His general invitations to all men to be saved imply the same doctrine: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28); ‘And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself’ (John 12:32).

The reality of Christ’s Libertarianism is not disproved by certain passages in the Gospels which seem at first sight to speak the language of Predestination, or even of Determinism (John 6:37; John 6:39, Matthew 26:24 etc.). Predestination was not so held in Christ’s time as to exclude free will. Josephus says of the Pharisees: ‘When they say that all things happen by fate, they do not take away from men the freedom of acting as they think fit; since their notion is that it hath pleased God to mix up the decrees of fate and man’s will, so that man can act virtuously and viciously’ (Ant. xviii. i. 3).

Jesus accordingly attributed the origin of evil not to the will of God, but to the perversity of God’s creatures. Mankind, according to Him, is in rebellion against God; but the whole guilt of rebellion is not his. Before man existed, there were myriads of finite spirits, higher in the order of creation than he, and of these some fell from their original innocence and became devils. The chief of these, Satan, is ever seeking to seduce the human race from its allegiance to its Creator, and is therefore emphatically called ‘the tempter’ (ὁ πειράζων, Matthew 4:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:5), and the slayer of men (ἀνθρωποκτόνος, John 8:44). This last is the one certain allusion to the fall of Satan to be found in the Gospels (Luke 10:18 is doubtful). From it we learn that he once existed in a state of innocence (ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ), but did not persist in it (reading οὐκ ἔστηκεν with WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] ).

The position of Satan in the Universe is so exalted, and the power ascribed to him in the NT so great (cf. esp. Matthew 4:8, John 14:30), that some have regarded Jesus as a Dualist. But the authority attributed to Satan in the NT, though great, is subordinate. The devils recognize the power of Jesus, and come out at His word (Mark 1:24; Mark 1:34; Mark 3:11 etc.). If Satan is ‘the strong man,’ there is a Stronger, who can bind him and spoil his goods (Matthew 12:29). At the Temptation the devil acknowledged that his power is a delegated one (ἑμοὶ παραδεδοται, Luke 4:8). His kingdom will surely come to an end; in fact its fall has already been virtually secured by the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (John 12:31). His final punishment has been determined, and it will be fully adequate to his delinquency (Matthew 25:41).

(2) Original sin.—There is no recorded teaching of Jesus about original sin. He recognized the fall of man (John 8:44), and the general sinfulness of the human race (Matthew 7:11); but how He connected these two facts does not appear. It may, perhaps, be argued from John 9:1-3, that He would not have approved of any theory of original sin which regarded men as obnoxious to punishment from God merely because of an ancestral taint that they could not help inheriting. See, further, artt. Sin and Eternal Punishment.

Literature.—Athanasius, contra Gentes; Augustine, Antipelagian Treatises, etc.; Origen, de Principiis (esp. i. 5, 6); J. Muller, The Christian Doctrine of Sin (translation); Momerie, The Origin of Evil; Naville, The Problem of Evil (translation); Butler, Analogy; Le Conte, Evolution, ix.; Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion, i. 3, 4: Tennant, The Origin and Propagation of Sin; and The Fall and Original Sin; Bull, The State of Man before the Fall; Paley, Natural Theology, xxvi.; Harris, pro Fide, xiv; A. Moore, Science and the Faith, and Essays, i., iii., and Oxford House Papers, vol. ii.; artt. ‘Sin’ and ‘Fall’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible; Dixie, ‘The Necessity of Pain’ in Oxford House Papers; E. A. Abbott, The Kernel and the Husk, ix.; S. Laing, A Modern Zoroastrian. The subject is discussed in most systematic treatises on theology, ethics, and metaphysics.

C. Harris.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Evil (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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