Isaiah 45: A Question of Translation


I don’t know how many of you are KJV readers like I am, but if you are, you might have had a little bit of confusion as you read Isaiah 45:7.

Isa 45:5  I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me:

Isa 45:6  That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else.

Isa 45:7  I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

I don’t know about you, but for those of us who operate with a free will solution to the problem of evil, this doesn’t seem to fit into the picture. God allowed humans to have free will, and because of that free will, humans did fall, and evil entered into the world. It wasn’t created by God, but in order to have the choice of a loving relationship with God, He allowed humans to have free will which allowed them to use that privilege to commit evil.

I guess I have a predicament then. The verse seems to indicate that God created evil, but in my admittedly brief and oversimplified answer to the problem of evil presented above (I would be happy to expand if necessary), God did not create evil.

Can we reconcile this? I think we can.

First, notice the context. Verses six and seven seem to be referring to nature, and then it seems in verse seven we suddenly make a jump to morality. Keep that in mind.

Second, we seem to be talking about a dichotomy of light and darkness, but I would not argue that peace and evil are the same kind of a dichotomy. Again, it seems like an awkward jump that doesn’t fit the context if we are talking about moral evil.

I think that we ought to straighten these issues out. First, I think that we ought to consider the Hebrew word here that is being translated is evil. The word is “rah” and the definition of that word is:

rah, raw-aw’

From H7489; bad or (as noun) evil (naturally or morally). This includes the second (feminine) form; as adjective or noun: – adversity, affliction, bad, calamity, + displease (-ure), distress, evil ([-favouredness], man, thing), + exceedingly, X great, grief (-vous), harm, heavy, hurt (-ful), ill (favoured), + mark, mischief, (-vous), misery, naught (-ty), noisome, + not please, sad (-ly), sore, sorrow, trouble, vex, wicked (-ly, -ness, one), worse (-st) wretchedness, wrong. [Including feminine ra’ah; as adjective or noun.]

Obviously, there are a wide variety of translations that could be used here, and in practice, the Bible handles this word many different ways. According to CARM, “rah” is used 663 times in the KJV. 431 times it is translated as “evil,” but the remaining 232 times it is used in a variety of other ways that it can be used. That website affirms, and I agree, that it is hardly necessary for this word to be translated as necessarily evil.

I think that it would also be wise for us to look at the word for peace that is used. I emphasized that the dichotomy between light and dark seems to be paralleled, but peace and evil don’t fit the bill.

This is one of the most popular Hebrew words in popular culture, and it is “shalom.”

shâlôm  shâlôm

shaw-lome’, shaw-lome’

From H7999; safe, that is, (figuratively) well, happy, friendly; also (abstractly) welfare, that is, health, prosperity, peace: –  X do, familiar, X fare, favour, + friend, X greet, (good) health, (X perfect, such as be at) peace (-able, -ably), prosper (-ity, -ous), rest, safe (-ly), salute, welfare, (X all is, be) well, X wholly.

By looking at the list of definitions, I think the contrast should not be made between morally good and morally evil. It doesn’t seem that “shalom” can carry that kind of meaning. It seems that the translation of peace is actually pretty close to a good representation of what this word means on average if you will.

However, we are still stuck with the issue of “rah” and its definition. If it doesn’t seem appropriate to the structure of the verse to interpret it is morally evil, and if it ought to be the opposite of peace, maybe a better translation of that is affliction or calamity. Those seem to be good opposites for peace if I had to choose from the list above.

Now, that is certainly consistent with the character of the God of the Bible. Think about the people of Egypt. God certainly brought affliction or calamity on them. How about the people of Israel when they began to worship a variety of idols? God often times brought trouble on to them.

Note that none of this implies that God created moral evil. You might think that I am trying to dodge the issue, but I think this is what we need to do more of. All of our Bibles are translations unless of course you are talented enough to read in the original languages. In these situations, I would advise that you grab a concordance and do a little study. For me, it made this verse make a lot more sense, and it does not pose a threat to Christian theology.

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Posted on July 16, 2014, in Isaiah and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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