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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Evil

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This article is not a study of the word ‘evil’ as substantive, adjective, or adverb in the two senses of ‘bad’ and ‘hurtful,’ for which the use of a concordance may suffice; but of the conception of evil in the apostolic writings. Three senses of the term have been distinguished by Leibniz: metaphysical-the necessary imperfection of the creature as compared with the Creator; physical-pain, suffering, sorrow, death; and moral-sin. Although the NT does assert the difference between God and the world and man, and the inferiority of the made to the Maker, it does not conceive creatureliness as itself evil, but expresses its limitation and impotence in the term ‘flesh,’ For this aspect see article Flesh. The article Sin deals with the third sense of the word ‘evil.’ It is thus with physical evil alone that we are here concerned. Its existence in manifold forms is assumed by all the apostolic writers; but generally it is with the sufferings of Christian believers, including persecution, that they are concerned, in order to encourage patience, offer comfort, or assure deliverance.

What these sorrows were, Paul’s account of his own experience shows (Acts 20:18-35, 2 Corinthians 1:3-11; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:23-33; cf. Romans 8:35-36). This experience is regarded as a sharing of Christ’s sufferings (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Peter 4:13), and even as a completion of that suffering for the good of the Church (Colossians 1:24). ‘Paul does not claim to fill up the defects in Christ’s earthly suffering or in the sufferings of the Church, but in the sufferings which he has to endure in his flesh, which are Christ’s sufferings, because he and Christ are one’ (Peake, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Col.,’ 1903, p. 515). Suffering is a means of entering into closer fellowship with Christ (Philippians 3:10). As suffering was a condition of perfecting Christ Himself for His work (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 2:14-15; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 5:8-9; Hebrews 7:28), so also it perfects Christian character if properly endured (Romans 5:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 10:36, 1 Peter 5:10). It is to be regarded not as penal, but as chastening (Hebrews 12:7-11, James 1:2-4; James 5:11). It cannot separate from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39), and it prepares for, and secures, the glory hereafter (Ephesians 3:13, Revelation 7:14), with which it is not worthy to be compared (Romans 8:18), since the companions of Christ’s sufferings will also be the partners of His reign (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10, 2 Timothy 2:11-13, 1 Peter 4:13). Of all evils death is regarded as the greatest, and in Paul we find a painful shrinking from it (2 Corinthians 5:1-8); accordingly, it is evident how precious a comfort was the Christian hope of immortality and resurrection (Romans 8:23-25). Since death is regarded as the penalty of sin (Romans 5:12-21; Romans 6:21-23, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22; 1 Corinthians 15:56), the salvation in Christ includes deliverance from death for the believer, and finally the abolition of death (1 Corinthians 15:24-28, 2 Timothy 1:10) and all other evils (Revelation 21:4). Behind death, sin, and all evil, the Apostolic Church saw the devil and other powers of wickedness (Ephesians 4:27, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 John 5:19, Revelation 12:9), and accordingly Christ’s work, especially His death (Colossians 2:15), was regarded as a victory over all evil powers (1 John 3:8).

This teaching is for the most part experimental and practical, and can still minister comfort and encouragement to the Christian believer. There are two speculative elements in it which modern Christian faith cannot unquestioningly accept-the connexion of death with sin as its penalty, and the existence of the devil and other evil powers. As regards the first point, the writer ventures to repeat a few sentences he has written elsewhere. ‘It is generally admitted that death is a natural necessity for animal organisms such as man’s, and that before man was in the world death prevailed. It seems vain to justify Paul by speculations such as these: that God anticipating sin introduced death into the natural order as a. penalty already prepared for sin, or that, had man preserved his innocence, he might have risen above this natural necessity. Paul’s interest is primarily in the moral character and the religious consciousness. What he was concerned with was man’s sense of the mystery and dread of the desolation of death, man’s looking for judgment after death. In such totality, including what man thinks of, and feels about, death, surely Paul’s view of the connexion between sin and death is not altogether false. It is man’s sense of guilt that invests death with its terror (1 Corinthians 15:56). Nor are we warranted in saying that conscience here is playing tricks on man, frightening him with illusions. If there he indeed a moral order in the world, an antagonism of God to sin, and if, as there is reason to believe, there is a moral continuity between this life and the next, such a change as death is may he conceived as fraught with moral significance, as introducing the soul into such conditions as have been determined by the judgment of God on the moral character of this life’ (Studies of Paul and his Gospel, 1911, pp. 146-7). As regards the second point, one sentence regarding Paul will suffice. ‘In his cosmology, angelology, and demonology, as well as his eschatology, he remains essentially Jewish’ (op. cit. p. 17); and this is equally true of the whole Apostolic Church. Christian faith need not burden itself with this load of Jewish beliefs.

There are two passages in which Paul attempts a theodicy (Romans 8:18-25; Romans 8:9-11), the first dealing with Nature and the second with human history. In the first passage he attributes to Nature consciousness of, and a dissatisfaction with, its present imperfection-a desire for, and an expectation of, its completion. He includes Nature in man’s grievous disaster, but also in his glorious destiny. As by the sin he has committed he has brought misery, so by the grace he will receive he will impart blessing. We are unable to accept ‘Paul’s account of the origin of physical evil as altogether due to man’s sin. There can, however, be no doubt that man has a vital, organic relation to his environment. The evolution of the world and the development of humanity are not independent but connected processes. If we are warranted in believing in the progress of the race, we are justified in hoping for a correspondent and consequent transformation of the universe, For the perfect man we may expect the perfect home’ (Romans [Century Bible, 1901], p. 193). In the second passage we are not here concerned with the argument as a whole, but only with Paul’s conclusion, that, as the unbelief of the Jews has opened the door for the faith of the Gentiles, so the gathering in of the Gentiles will lead to the restoration of the Jews. ‘For God hath shut up all unto disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’ (Romans 11:32). Without ascribing to Paul on the ground of this and similar passages a dogmatic universalism, against which there is contrary evidence throughout the NT, we may assign to the Apostolic Church the hope of the final victory of Christ over all evil. The apostolic attitude towards the problem of evil cannot be described as optimism, for the reality of sin and pain is too seriously and sympathetically recognized, nor as pessimism, for the possibility of redemption is too confidently and persuasively urged, but it may be spoken of as meliorism, for it has the faith which claims a present salvation for every believer, and the hope of a final fulfilment of God’s purpose of grace, and both are linked with a love that sees in human need and pain an opportunity for service and sacrifice, in which man can regard himself as a fellow-worker with God in the solution of the problem of evil. To revert to the distinctions made in the beginning of this article, the apostolic view recognizes no metaphysical evil, for to be the creature, subject, and child of God, is for man only good; it links physical with moral evil, and makes deliverance from pain dependent on salvation from sin; and it throws all the emphasis on moral evil; for it is concerned not with the speculative intellect, but only with the moral conscience and religions consciousness of man.

Literature.-W. Beyschlag, NT Theology, Eng. translation , 1895, i. 228, ii. 107; G. B. Stevens, Theology of the NT, 1899, pp. 187, 375; T. v. Haering, The Christian Faith, Eng. translation , 1913, ii. 562-577; J. Martineau, A Study of Religion2, 1889, ii. 49-132; A. B. Bruce, Apologetics, 1892, p. 63; A. M. Fairbairn, The Philosophy of the Christian Religion, 1902, pp. 94-168; G. W. Leibniz, Essais de Théodicée sur la Bonté de Dieu, la Liberté de l’homme et l’Origins du mal, 1710.

Alfred E. Garvie.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Evil'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/e/evil.html. 1906-1918.

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