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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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ēv ´'l , ē´vil רע , ra‛ ; πονηρός , ponērós , κακός , kakós , κακόν , kakón ): In the Bible it is represented as moral and physical. We choose to discuss the subject under these heads. Many of the evils that come upon men have not been intended by those who suffer for them. Disease, individual and national calamity, drought, scarcity of food, may not always be charged to the account of intentional wrong. Many times the innocent suffer with, and even for, the guilty. In such cases, only physical evil is apparent. Even when the suffering has been occasioned by sin or dereliction of duty, whether the wrong is active or passive, many, perhaps the majority of those who are injured, are not accountable in any way for the ills which come upon them. Neither is God the author of moral evil. "God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man" (James 1:13 ). See TEMPTATION .

1. Moral Evil

By this term we refer to wrongs done to our fellowman, where the actor is responsible for the action. The immorality may be present when the action is not possible. "But if that evil servant shall say in his heart" (Matthew 24:48 , Matthew 24:49 ), whether he shall smite his fellow-servants or not, the moral evil is present. See SIN . "All these evil things proceed from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23 ). The last six commandments of the Decalogue apply here (Exodus 20:12-17 ). To dishonor one's parents, to kill, to commit adultery, to steal, to bear false witness and to covet are moral evils. The spiritual import of these commandments will be found in Matthew 5:21 , Matthew 5:22 , Matthew 5:27 , Matthew 5:28 . "But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:23 ). Words and deeds are coined in the heart before the world sees or hears them (Matthew 12:34 , Matthew 12:35 ). The word ought or its equal may be found in all languages; hence, it is in the mind of all people as well as in our laws that for the deeds and words we do and speak, we are responsible. "Break off thy sins by righteousness" ( Daniel 4:27 ) shows that, in God's thought, it was man's duty, and therefore within his power, to keep the commandment. "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well" (Isaiah 1:16 f). We cannot think of God commanding men to do what He knew they had no ability to do! God has a standing offer of pardon to all men who turn from their evil ways and do that which is right ( Ezekiel 33:11-14 f). Evil begins in the least objectionable things. In Romans 1:18-23 , we have Paul's view of the falling away of the Gentiles. "Knowing God" (Romans 1:21 ), they were "without excuse" (Romans 1:20 ), but "glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21 ). "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22 ). This led the way into idolatry, and that was followed by all the corruption and wrongdoing to be instigated by a heart turned away from all purity, and practiced in all the iniquity to be suggested by lust without control. Paul gives fifteen steps in the ladder on which men descend into darkness and ruin (Galatians 5:19-21 ). When men become evil in themselves, they necessarily become evil in thought and deed toward others. This they bring upon themselves, or give way to, till God shall give "them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:28 ). Those thus fallen into habits of error, we should in meekness correct, that "they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him unto his will" (2 Timothy 2:25 , 2 Timothy 2:26 ).

2. Physical Evil

Usually, in the Old Testament the Hebrew word ra‛ is employed to denote that which is bad. Many times the bad is physical; it may have been occasioned by the sins for which the people of the nation were responsible, or it may have come, not as a retribution, but from accident or mismanagement or causes unknown. Very many times the evil is a corrective, to cause men to forsake the wrong and accept the right. The flood was sent upon the earth because "all flesh had corrupted their way" ( Genesis 6:12 ). This evil was to serve as a warning to those who were to live after. The ground had already been cursed for the good of Cain (Genesis 4:12 ). Two purposes seemed to direct the treatment: (1) to leave in the minds of Cain and his descendants the knowledge that sin brings punishment, and (2) to increase the toil that would make them a better people. God overthrew Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboim, cities of the plain, making them "an example unto those that should live ungodly" (2 Peter 2:6 ). In the Book of Isa the prophet, we find a number of "burdens": the burden of Babylon (13:1-22); the burden of Moab (Isaiah 15:1-9 ); the burden of Damascus (Isaiah 17:1-14 ); the burden of Egypt (19:1-17); the burden of the Wilderness of the Sea (Isaiah 21:1-10 ); the burden of Dumah (Isaiah 21:11 , Isaiah 21:12 ); the burden upon Arabia (21:13-17); the burden of the Valley of Vision (22:1-25); the burden of Tyre (23:1-18); the burden of the Beasts of the South (Isaiah 30:6-14 ); the burden of the Weary Beast (Isaiah 46:1 , Isaiah 46:2 ). These may serve as an introduction to the story of wrongdoing and physical suffering threatened and executed. Isa contains many denunciations against Israel: against the Ten Tribes for following the sin introduced by Jeroboam the son of Nebat; and the threatening against Judah and Benjamin for not heeding the warnings. Jeremiah saw the woes that were sure to come upon Judah; for declaring them, he was shut up in prison, and yet they came, and the people were carried away into Babylon. These were the evils or afflictions brought upon the nations for their persistence in sin. "I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am Yahweh, that doeth all these things" (Isaiah 45:7 ). These chastisements seemed grievous, and yet they yielded peaceable fruit unto them that were exercised thereby (Hebrews 12:11 ).

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Evil'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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