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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The words ‘wicked,’ ‘wickedness’ occur 24 times in the AV of the English Bible. The passages are Matthew 12:45; Matthew 13:49; Matthew 16:4; Matthew 18:32; Matthew 22:18; Matthew 25:26, Mark 7:22, Luke 11:26; Luke 11:39; Luke 19:22, Acts 2:23; Acts 8:22; Acts 18:14; Acts 25:5, Romans 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 5:13, Ephesians 6:12; Ephesians 6:16, Colossians 1:21, 2 Thessalonians 2:6; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; 2 Peter 2:7; 2 Peter 3:17, 1 John 5:19. In eight of these RV has substituted some other reading: ‘evil’ in Matthew 12:45, Luke 11:26, Ephesians 6:16, Colossians 1:21, 1 John 5:19, ‘lawless’ in Acts 2:23 (on the basis of a different reading: διὰ χειρὸς ἀνόμων instead of TR διὰ χειρῶν ἀνόμων), 2 Thessalonians 2:8, ‘amiss’ in Acts 25:5. In four of these instances the change from ‘wicked’ to ‘evil’ is due to the fact that evil spirits are referred to; in Acts 2:23, where, with the changed text, ἄνομος ceases to be an attribute of hands and becomes a characterization of persons, it naturally resumes its literal meaning of ‘lawless’; in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 ‘the lawless one’ is preferable, because ἄνομος probably rests on pre-Pauline Jewish tradition which represented the Antichrist as an enemy to the Law, so that ‘wicked’ would be too vague a translation; in Acts 25:5 ‘amiss’ reproduces ἄτοπον more closely than ‘wicked.’ The change in Colossians 1:21 from ‘wicked works’ to ‘evil works’ has nothing in the context to recommend it.

The prevailing Greek equivalent for ‘wicked,’ ‘wickedness’ is πονηρός, πονηρία. κακἰα occurs only once (Acts 8:22), ἄθεσμος twice (2 Peter 2:7; 2 Peter 3:17). The ἄθεσμος is one who transgresses fundamental Divine ordinances for moral conduct (from + τιθέναι). In regard to the specific force of πονηρός and its difference from κακός the following should be noted: πονηρός is derived from πόνος and usually explained as ‘qui πόνους facit,’ ‘who causes trouble.’ But according to others (Schmidt, Cremer) the connexion between it and πόνος would be of a different nature, the poor being called πονηροί because their life is laborious, full of πόνοι, and then, by a not unusual transition, through what Trench calls ‘the aristocratic tendencies of the language,’ the word for ‘poor’ becoming also the word for ‘wicked.’ But, whether etymologically correct or not, the former explanation strikingly illustrates the specific meaning of πονηρός and its difference from κακός. While κακός describes a thing or person as inherently lacking that which is required by its idea, nature, or purpose, either in a physical or in a moral sense, πονηρός expresses the positive tendency to do harm in things and the conscious pursuit of the injury of others in persons. The opposite of κακός is ἀγαθός (see art. Goodness); of πονηρός it is χρηστός (see art. Kindness). This difference between the two words can best be felt in passages where both are combined (1 Corinthians 5:8, Revelation 16:2, Matthew 15:19; cf. with Mark 7:21). In Matthew 7:18 ‘evil fruits’ = ‘unwholesome, injurious fruits’; Acts 28:21, ‘evil words’ are ‘harmful words’; 1 Corinthians 5:13, ‘the wicked’ fornicator is so called because his uncleanness infects the whole Church (1 Corinthians 5:6). ‘Evil times’ are dangerous times (Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 5:16; Ephesians 6:13). Sometimes the word is used in a less serious sense of the harmfulness of inefficiency (Matthew 25:26, ‘wicked and slothful servant’; cf. the κακὸς δοῦλος of Matthew 24:48, who is lacking in fidelity and diligence). Especially of Satan and other evil spirits the word πονηρός is appropriately used, because they are intent upon doing evil and working harm (Ephesians 6:16), but for the same reason it applies to men who seek to injure others (Acts 17:5; Acts 18:14; Acts 25:18). In Colossians 1:21 the works of paganism are called ἔργα πονηρά because they establish enmity between God and men: the rendering ‘wicked works’ of AV expresses this better than ‘evil works’ of RV . Cf., further, 2 Thessalonians 3:2 of the maliciously persecuting Jews, 2 Timothy 3:13, 3 John 1:10.

From the connotation of evil intent it is to be explained that τὸ πονηρόντὰ πονηρά are never used of the physical evil of Divine retribution. κακόν and κακά are the words for this, because, even when God finds it necessary to punish, no evil intent can be predicated of Him. This applies to both the LXX and the NT. It is no exception when occasionally the adjective is used with such things as ἕλκος, νόσος in the sense of ‘malignant,’ for here the evil intent is metaphorically attributed to the disease (Deuteronomy 6:22).

In Matthew 6:13, John 17:15, 2 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 John 5:19, expositors differ on the question whether the inflected forms are from the masculine ὁ πονηρός or the neuter τὸ πονηρόν. Only in regard to the last-mentioned passage is the personal reference to Satan placed beyond doubt by 1 John 5:18; hence the rendering of RV , ‘in the evil one,’ is to be preferred to the ‘in wickedness’ of AV . In the other cases where the two versions differ in the same manner no certain contextual indications to decide the question are present.

Literature.-J. A. H. Tittmann, De Synonymis in NT, London, 1829-32, p. 19; R. C. Trench, NT Synonyms8, do., 1876, pp. 303-306; G. Heine, Synonymik des neutest. Griechisch, Leipzig, 1898, pp. 100, 106; H. Cremer, Biblisch-theologisches Wörterbuch aer neutest. Gräcität9, Gotha, 1902, pp. 500-584, 850-853; J. H. H. Schmidt, Synonymik der griechischen Sprache, Leipzig, 1876-86.

Geerhardus Vos.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Wicked'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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