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EVIL (Heb. ra‘, Gr. ponēros, kakos). A term designating what is not in harmony with the divine order. In the Bible, evil is clearly depicted under two distinct aspects; moral and physical. The Hebrew word ra‘ has an immensely wide coverage, ranging from what tastes “nasty” right through to intrinsic moral and spiritual evil. Its two main “blocks” of meaning, spread evenly over some six thousand occurrences, cover meanings from “calamity,” “disaster,” and “downfall” to “wrong,” “wicked,” and “pernicious.” For the precise meaning the context must always be consulted; for example, in Isa.45.7, KJV has the literal meaning of “evil,” NIV interprets it as “disaster,” JB and NASB choose “calamity,” NEB has “trouble,” and RSV takes it to mean “woe” (cf. Amos.3.6, where rsv has “evil”).

The reconciliation of the existence of evil with the goodness and holiness of a God infinite in his wisdom and power is one of the great problems of theism. The Scriptures indicate that evil has been permitted by God in order that his justice might be manifested in its punishment and his grace in its forgiveness (Rom.9.22-Rom.9.23). Thus the existence of evil is a reminder of the manifold perfections of God. Moral evil, or sin, is any lack of conformity to the moral law of God. According to the Bible, it is the cause of the existence of physical or natural evil in this world. Adam and Eve, the first humans, enjoyed perfect fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden. The day they ate of the fruit of the tree that was in the midst of the Garden, disobeying God, they fell under his condemnation and were banished from the Garden. The ground was then cursed for man’s sake, and from that time forward man has been forced to gain his sustenance through arduous, sorrowful toil, even as woman has borne children only through suffering and labor (Gen.3.16-Gen.3.19). In the NT the relationship between moral and natural evil is indicated by Paul in Rom.8.18-Rom.8.22.

Bibliography: C. R. Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Sin, 1953; O. F. Clarke, God and Suffering, 1964; J. Hick, Evil and the God of Love, 1966; J. W. Wenham, The Goodness of God, 1974; W. Grundmann, TDNT, 3:469-84.——BP

EVIL (רַע, H8273, bad, usually tr. evil; πονηρός, G4505, wicked; κακός, G2805, bad).

Ponērós, with its noun ponēría, occurs 82 times in the NT; of physical evil only twice (Matt 7:17f.; Rev 16:2). Kakos is another generic NT term for evil, appearing 78 times with its cognates. It usually signifies moral evil—sin, disobedience to God.

Natural, or physical evil, occurs when undesirable natural occurrences tend to frustrate human life. Examples of such evils are earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves, disease, and imbecility. Accidents are usually thought of as instances of natural evil, although they often happen as a result of improper human decisions. A psalmist complained, “Evils have encompassed me without number” (Ps 40:12). Jeremiah asked, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?” (Jer 15:18). Natural evil has presented a difficult dilemma for believers in God. If God is God, they ask, why do the wicked often flourish like the green bay tree while the righteous salt their bread with tears? Leslie Weatherhead confesses, “The subject of pain has haunted my thinking ever since I began to think for myself at all” (Why Do Men Suffer [1936], p. 9). John S. Whale has called it “this notorious problem which has vexed thought and tried faith in every age of human history” (The Christian Answer to the Problem of Evil [1939], p. 13).

On this problem, some have been embittered, “pan-diabolistic” pessimists (Buddha, Schopenhauer, Joseph Wood Krutch). Others have been optimists of some sort (Neo-Platonists, Spinoza, Calvin, Mary Baker Eddy), agreeing in general with Robert Browning who said, “God’s in his heaven—all’s right with the world” (“Pippa Passes”)—and with Alexander Pope who announced, “One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right” (Essay on Man). Some would call themselves meliorists (esp. E. S. Brightman), and say that both good and evil are real and that men should become co-workers with God to rout evil and enhance what is beneficial to men.

It might well be that an adequate conception of the Incarnation would furnish a pointer on this problem. Perhaps Christ, who holds the solution of moral evil, is also the locus of solution for the abysmal mystery of natural evil. His enfleshment surely implies that materiality as such is not evil. His healings suggest that diseases are not necessarily the direct will of the Father. Since the Father is “to unite all things in him [Christ]” (Eph 1:10); since there is to be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1); and since “the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rom 8:22), along with our groaning “inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23)—it is evident that through Christ, the harbingers of redemption from all evil (natural as well as moral), which may now be experienced, are one day to be complete, “all things” being “put in subjection under him [Christ],” “that God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:27, 28).


H. W. Robinson, Suffering: Human and Divine (1939); C. R. Smith, The Bible Doctrine of Sin (1953); A. MacLeish, J. B. (1956); C. Marney, Faith in Conflict (1957).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

ev’-’-l, e’-vil ra`; poneros, @kakos, @kakon:

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" (Jas 1:13).

See Temptation.

1. Moral Evil:

2. Physical Evil: