Did you know there are two kinds of evil?
I’ve been studying Galatians to teach a class at church. My interests are such that I enjoy looking at the original language of the New Testament: Koine Greek, which means common Greek. Studying the Greek language brings depth to the English translation so I can get a better grasp of the original meaning. While studying, I’ve learned there are two words for evil. They are kakos (kak-os) and poneros (pon-ay-ros).
Why am I telling you this? Well, for one, learning new words increases your vocabulary. And, two, The better your vocabulary is the better you’re able to understand and grasp concepts. We hang ideas on words. For example, if I say “IRS,” you don’t just think of the government entity but also money, taxes, forms, penalties, audits, dates, rules, regulations, political feelings, and on and on—all these ideas are part of what you and I associate with the letters IRS.
However, if I say “Stuhocs,” you have no idea what I mean unless you’ve read the novel I just did. The word is empty of meaning. To put this another way, expanding your vocabulary increases critical thinking skills and increases the linking of ideas. So, part of what I am trying to accomplish by telling you this is to hang ideas on these words.
To illustrate, here’s a verse I’ve been studying: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil (poneros) age, according to the will of our God and Father.1
Both kakos and poneros mean evil but the degree of evil is different. Kakos means of a bad nature, like a peice of fruit gone bad, isolated, by itself. But poneros is evil which infects others and drags them with it, like a crime gang which recruits, or seduces other people to join in doing bad things. The closest English word is pernicious.
Someone who is kakos evil is content to “do their own thing” whereas a person who is poneros evil is only content when they get people to participate in evil with them. Here are a couple of other examples: The person who is a “lone wolf” thief or con man is the kakos kind of evil. Somewhat like Lando or Han Solo in Star Wars: Episode IV, they were this kind of rotten jerks.
On the other hand, Darth Vader and the Emperor Palpatine, and ISIS who insist you convert or die, are forms of poneros evil. A few “down to earth” examples which show this kind of evil isn’t always overt are: the the buddy who wants you to go out drinking with him, the group of college guys who “keep score” of how many girls they’ve “been with,” pornography/erotic novels, and racism are all forms of ensnaring, seductive, pernicious evil. They are intent on taking you with them.
In the context of this verse, we live in a time in which evil is pernicious, persistent, and entangling. If it is not resisted, we will be ensnared. In other words, do not turn to poneros, it is the dark side of evil.
If you have any questions, please let me know via email or a comment below.
1 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian standard version. (2009). (Ga 1:3–4). Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers.