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The Big Lie – A Biblical word study on the Devil

Poneros – Evil in the New Testament


Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 1 John 3:8-10, 5:18
Luke 6:43-45; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Here the Evil One is not the Devil
Matthew 5:37-39; Matthew 6:13; John 17:9-17, Hard to tell who or what is the Evil One
Ephesians 6:14-16; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5
1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, 5:19

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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 1 John 3:8-10, 5:18 (6/3/13)

So far most of what we’ve learned about Satan and the Devil has shown that what we already knew is completely correct or almost correct. For example, we learned that Satan = the Devil, but we also learned that satan means adversary about half the time in the Old Testament, and that once in a while in the New Testament, satanas Satan or diabolos devil can refer to a person acting like the Devil. But from here on out, practically everything we thought we knew turns out to be wrong some of the time or most of the time – or all of the time! – or at best, uncertain.

Let’s start with “the Evil One.” In English, good and evil are adjectives that can also be used as nouns (that is, the name of a person, place, or thing). We can say, “Some of those men or things are good, some are bad, and some are ugly.” Or we can say, “They are the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Greek does exactly the same thing. When a Greek adjective is used with “the,” it acts like a noun.

The Greek word poneros evil, wicked is an adjective sometimes used as a noun. Poneros occurs 76 times in the New Testament of the manuscripts used for the King James Version. In the scriptures we read today – as well as in Matthew’s version of The Sower, which we read a couple of weeks ago – the poneros Evil One is definitely the Devil. In Matthew, there’s a story to go along with the word, and Jesus says that the Evil One who sowed the bad seed is the Devil.

In 1 John 3, John is talking about the Devil and says that people who sin are children of the Devil. Then in verse 12, he says that Cain was from the Evil One. We can tell from context that the Evil One here is the Devil. In 1 John 5:18, the noun poneros is definitely masculine, so it means the Evil One, that is, the Devil. These three cases – The Sower in Matthew and today’s two scriptures – are the only places I could find in the New Testament where the poneros Evil One is absolutely positively the Devil.

From the Bible in Basic English:
Luke 6:43-45; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Here the Evil One is not the Devil (6/4/13)

A while back I talked about “gender” in Greek. If you need a refresher, go here and read the section called “The Linguistic Issue.” The bottom line is that the Greek language has three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. Sometimes it’s impossible to tell from the Greek, let alone from the English, whether the gender is masculine or neuter. This is because in some cases the masculine and neuter have exactly the same form, ponerou, which can mean either of the evil man/one or of the evil thing. If poneros is referring to the Devil, it should be masculine and singular. The question we are considering is this: Does every masculine, singular noun occurrence of poneros in the New Testament mean “The Evil One,” i.e., the Devil?

The answer is: No.

Here’s why. I found five and only five absolutely clear examples in the New Testament where the poneros is masculine and singular and clearly refers to a “person,” as opposed to a “thing.” The contexts show that three of these refer to the Devil, and we talked about those yesterday. Two others, which we read today, refer to an ordinary human being. Luke 6:45 and 1 Corinthians 5:13 prove that “the evil one” is not always the Devil.

The reason we care about this is that our translators have to decide whether they are going to say “the evil man” or “the Evil One” or just plain “evil” in English. The text is talking about one or the other, but it’s impossible to tell which. The translators decide what they think – quite honestly, I’m not criticizing – and that’s what they put. But another translation may have something different. The rest of this week, we’ll look at some examples. Let’s just avoid all evil, and not worry about whether it’s the Devil or a fellow human or just generalized evil!

From the Bible in Basic English:
Matthew 5:37-39; Matthew 6:13; John 17:9-17, Hard to tell who or what is the Evil One (6/5/13)

Very often, as in the scriptures we read today, it’s impossible to tell for sure from the Greek whether the topic is The Evil One, an evil person, an evil thing, or just generalized evil. Be aware that sometimes when your translators say one way or the other, it’s their best guess.

Take particular notice of how three different translations treat ponerou and ponero, which if you really must know are the genitive and dative cases of poneros. In the genitive and dative cases, the masculine and neuter forms are identical. The Bible in Basic English uses Evil One or evil man. The King James Version uses evil. And the Contemporary English can’t make up its mind, using devil, evil, evil one, and a person who has done something to you!

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from the King James and Contemporary English Versions:
Ephesians 6:14-16; 2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (6/6/13)

We see again today that in some cases, you can’t tell exactly how a certain form of poneros – that is, ponerou – should be translated. In Eph. 6:16, King James thinks it’s a person, but Bible in Basic English and Contemporary English think it’s the Devil. Then in 2 Thessalonians 3:3, exactly the same word in Greek is given as “generalized evil” by all three translations.

(You wouldn’t be able to tell from the form in 2 Thessalonians 3:2 either, except that the Greek actually follows “evil” with “people.” Naturally all the translations agree on that one.)

The biggest lesson we should be learning from this is that we should never, never base our whole theology on one word in one translation. And we should never, never argue about one word in one translation. If you are going to go door to door and tell people something about the Devil (someone actually came to my door a couple weeks ago to tell my husband something about the Devil), you need to make absolutely positively sure that the Greek text, and not just your translation, is talking about the Devil. Very often there’s no way to tell, so please don’t be too dogmatic about it.

From the Bible in Basic English, with selections from other translations:
1 John 2:13-14, 3:12, 5:19 (6/7/13)

OK, maybe I should have included 1 John 2:13-14 in the cases where we can tell for sure from the Greek that poneros is singular and masculine, and therefore equals the Devil. But in 1 John 3 and 1 John 5, we can’t tell for sure.

In 1 John 3:12, most translations agree that Cain is “of the Devil,” which makes it kind of odd that in Genesis 4 God talks to Cain personally and protects him from people who would harm him, don’t you think? And in 1 John 5, the translations are divided between the Devil and generalized evil.

So what does your church say in the Lord’s Prayer? “Deliver us from evil,” or “deliver us from the Evil One”? We have seen in the past three days that there is no way to tell the difference in Greek! Whichever way you think it should be is fine, so don’t let anybody browbeat you about it.

From the Bible in Basic English:
More of The Big Lie
The Son of God and the Father of Lies
The OT satan is always an adversary, but not always the Devil.
The Hebrew satan is translated various ways.
In the New Testament, both satanas and diabolos normally refer to the Devil.
Sometimes satanas and diabolos are used figuratively to refer to someone acting like the Devil.
Poneros – Evil in the New Testament
Demons cause sickness, not sin.
Sometimes Satan and demons cooperate with each other.
Neither Baalzebub nor Lucifer is a Biblical name for the Devil.
Belial means "worthless," and once it's used as a nickname for the Devil.
Satan's job description: Temptation and Lies
Our job description: Resist him!

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