Sin, A Word Study: Part II

As we continue our word study on the concept of sin, we will look at a few words commonly translated “evil” or “wicked.” In Hebrew, the main word is ra. The Greek New Testament uses two words: kakos and poneros.

The easiest way to define ra is by its opposite. It is frequently set against the word tob, which means “good.” Thus, Moses says, “See, I set before you today life and good [tob], and death and evil [ra]” (Deut. 30:15, my translation). Ra is that which is harmful, bad, and undesirable. When one suffers ra, it can have the idea of “calamity” or “misfortune.” On the other hand, when one practices ra, it means “wickedness.” In this, we see the deep connection between sin and its harmful effects. This is not to say that an act is only ra if it produces obviously harmful results. Humans have a tendency to rationalize their actions and weigh consequences differently. Therefore, the Old Testament frequently speaks of those who practice ra in the eyes of the Lord.

Of particular interest is the OT concept that a person who practices ra will be destroyed, for not only is God against him, but so is the very order of life itself (Deut. 31:29; Prov. 13:17; Isa. 31:2, etc.). As a result of this, God calls such men to turn from their wickedness, which will result in their salvation, not from Hell, but from ra’s impact. The OT consistently warns its readers against embracing wickedness and, in fact, counsels hating it as a way to avoid its consequences.

Kakos is the Greek equivalent of ra. Like its Hebrew counterpart, it can be defined by its opposition to the good (agathos). In the NT, again, the idea of trouble or misfortune is present (Matt. 6:34) and is even applied to disease (Mk. 1:32). When practicing kakos, the idea is moral evil, wickedness, or of causing damage (1 Pet. 3:13, etc.). Again, the practical implications of sin and evil are evident.

Poneros can refer to sickness and even worthlessness, but it is also used ethically in the sense of being opposed to God. Particularly interesting is that Satan is called ho poneros, “the evil one.” Like kakos and the Hebrew ra, it appears that the practical impacts of sin are highlighted in this word, though the focus in poneros seems to be tilted toward ethical evil.

This category of words from both the Old and New Testaments demonstrate that God’s view of sin is not arbitrary. To miss the mark is to engage in thoughts or activity that is harmful or destructive. We should not, however, assume that something is only sinful because it is harmful, for God is said to bring about harm in response to sin. Rather, the harm flows from the sin, and therefore, God wants us to avoid sin for our own well-being.

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