WICKED and EVIL
By Jonathan Mitchell
Should the word normally translated in the New Testament as “wicked” or “evil” be personified? Most translations of the NT do personify these words, and render the Greek term “ho poneros,” or its cognates, as “the wicked one,” or, “the evil one.” The theological interpretation is usually that this term is a technical term, or a theological expression, which refers to either satan or the devil.
Many passages in the NT are thus slanted by theological bias, based upon preconceptions about “satan” or “the devil.” From this preconditioning, when a person who has been taught to make this association reads the term “the evil one,” or “the wicked one,” the natural understanding will be that this verse or passage is talking about satan or the devil. But this is not necessarily the case.
Let us look at an example of this in 1 John 5:19. Here are a few common renderings of the last clause of this verse, where we find ho poneros:
- “… the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (NIV)
- “… the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.” (NRSV)
- “… the whole godless world lies in the power of the evil one.” (NEB)
- “… the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One.” (Jewish NT, Stern’s emphasis)
- “… the whole world is lying in the Pernicious One.” (Wuest; his emphasis)
Do you notice something different about Wuest’s translation? The terms “power” or “control” are missing. That is because they are not a part of the Greek text: they are added because of the translators’ interpretation of what this verse is saying. The Concordant Version reads: “… the whole world is lying in the wicked one.” Note that this version gives the word “one” in lightface type.
All these translations add the word “one” to the Greek “ho poneros.” Now this is legitimate to do so, but it is not the only way to translate this term. It is the translator’s theology that leads her, him or them to choose the word “one.” One exception that I am aware of, to using the word “one,” is the Knox translation (and there may be others): “… the whole world about us lies in the power of evil.”
Now let us look at the semantic range of this word “poneros.” It is a derivative of “ponos,” which means: labor, toil, travail; and thus: misery, anguish, pain. “Poneros” can refer to something that is: bad, harmful, evil, painful, useless, unprofitable, unserviceable, malicious, calamitous, hurtful, derelict, unsound, base, mischievous, or, “gushed with misery, anguish and pain.”
This word can be applied to situations, as well as to people. It is the influence of pagan mythology, via orthodox Christianity, that influences folks to automatically assume that in the context at which we are looking this term means: satan; the devil. Keeping in mind that the phrases “the power of” or “under the control of” are alien to the text, may I offer my rendering of this passage:
18. We have seen and thus know that everyone being a person having been born from out of the midst of God is not habitually failing to hit the target (erring; deviating; sinning; falling short of the Purpose), but rather, the person at some point being born from out of God habitually keeps a guarded watch over himself (or: keeps himself; [other MSS: for instead, the One born from the midst of God continuously watches over and keeps him]), and so the fellow (the one; the person) that causes misery or painful labor is not habitually touching him (or: the disadvantageous and worthless situation does not repeatedly lay hold of him; the base fellow is not constantly assailing him; wickedness and evil are not continuously fastening upon him).
19. We have seen and thus know that we are continuously existing from out of the midst of God, yet the whole (or: entire) ordered System is continuously lying outstretched (lying as asleep, idle or dead; reclining) within the gush of misery (within the disadvantageous, laborious and worthless situation; within the sorry plight; in union with wickedness and evil),
20. yet we have seen and thus know that God's Son has arrived and is continuously here, and He has given thorough understanding (comprehension; thought; intelligence; input throughout the mind) to the end that we would constantly know [other MSS: so that we constantly know] by experience the True One (or: the true, the real and the genuine), and we constantly exist within and in union with the True One (or: in the real [situation]; in the midst of Reality): within His Son, Jesus Christ. This One is the True (Real; Genuine) God, and Life pertaining to and having the qualities of the Age (or: life having its source in the Age; eonian life; Life of, and on through, the ages).
21. Little children (born ones) keep yourselves in custody (or: guarded)! – away from the idols (the external appearances; the forms; or: = false concepts)! Verse 19b describes the reality of the human predicament where it is apart from the knowledge of God’s Son, which vs. 20 describes. But even in this disadvantageous and sorry plight, it is still within God, for Paul tells the pagans in Acts 17:
28. "For you see, within the midst of and in union with Him we continuously live (or, as a subjunctive: could be constantly living), and are constantly moved about and put into motion, and continue existing (experience being). Even as certain of the poets down among you people have said, 'You see, we are also a family of the One (or: we even continuously exist being a race whose source is the One; or: we also are His species and offspring; we are even a family which is composed of the One and which is the One).'
Now since this is the case, how could “the whole world” be lying in satan? Greek mythology personified nature and situations, and created “the gods.” Unfortunately Christianity has brought this same kind of thinking into its theology and teachings – and we have just been ignorant of this fact. But the Light keeps on shining in the darkness. Praise God.
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