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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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xi. κακία, κακοήθεια.

It would be a mistake to regard κακία in the N. T. as embracing the whole complex of moral evil. In this latitude no doubt it is often used; thus ἀρετή and κακία are virtue and vice (Plato, Rep. 444 d); ἀρεταὶ καὶ κακίαι virtues and vices (Aristotle, Rhet. ii. 12; Ethic. Nic. vii. 1; Plutarch, Conj. Proec. 25, and often); while Cicero (Tusc. iv. 15) refuses to translate κακία by ‘malitia,’ choosing rather to coin ‘vitiositas’ for his need, and giving this as his reason: ‘Nam malitia certi cujusdam vitii nomen est, vitiositas omnium;’ showing plainly hereby that in his eye κακία was the name, not of one vice, but of the viciousness out of which all vices spring. In the N. T., however, κακια is not so much viciousness as a special form of vice. Were it viciousness, other evil habits of the mind would be subordinated to it, as to a larger term including the lesser; whereas in fact they are coordinated with it (Rom. 1:29; Col. 3:8; 1 Pet. 2:1). We must therefore seek for it a more special meaning; and, comparing it with πονηρία, we shall not err in saying that κακία is more the evil habit of mind, the ‘malitia,’ by which Cicero declined to render it, or, as he elsewhere explains it. ‘versuta et fallax nocendi ratio’ (Nat. Deor. iii. 30; De Fin. iii. 11 in fine); while πονηρία is the active outcoming of the same. Thus Calvin says of κακία (Eph. 4:31): ‘Significat hoc verbo [Apostolus] animi pravitatem quae humanitati et aequitati est opposita, et malignitas vulgo nuncupatur,’ or as Cicero defines ‘malevolentia’ (Tusc. Quoest. iv. 9): ‘voluptas ex malo alterius sine emolumento suo.’ Our English Translators, rendering κακία so often by ‘malice’ (Eph. 4:31; 1 Cor. 5:8; 14:20; 1 Pet. 2:1), show that they regarded it very much in this light. With this agrees the explanation of it by Theodoret on Rom. 1: κακίαν καλεῖ τὴν ψυχῆς ἐπὶ τὰ χείρω ῥοπήν, καὶ τὸν ἐπὶ βλάβῃ τοῦ πέλας γινόμενον λογισμόν. Not exactly but nearly thus the author of what long passed as a Second Epistle of Clement’s, but which now is known not to be an Epistle at all, warns against κακία as the forerunner (προοδοίπορος) of all other sins (§ 10). Compare the art. Bosheit in Herzog’s Real-Encyclopädie.

While κακία occurs several times in the N.T., κακοήθεια occurs but once, namely in St. Paul’s long and terrible catalogue of the wickednesses with which the heathen world was filled (Rom. 1:29); but some four or five times in the Books of the Maccabees (3 Macc. 3:22; 7:3; 4 Macc. 1:4; 3:4); κακοήθης there as well (4 Macc. 1:25; 2:16); never in the Septuagint. We have translated it ‘malignity.’ When, however, we take it in this wider meaning, which none would deny that it very often has (Plato, Rep. i. 384 d; Xenophon, De Ven. xiii. 16), or in that wider still which Basil the Great gives it (Reg. Brev. Int. 77: κακοήθεια μέν ἐστιν, ὡς λογίζομαι, αὐτὴ ἡ πρώτη καὶ κεκρυμμένη κακία τοῦ ἤθους), making it, as he thus does, exactly to correspond to the ‘ill nature’ of our early divines (see my Select Glossary, s. v.), just as the author of the Third Maccabees (iii. 22) speaks of some τῇ συμφύτῳ κακοηθείᾳ τὸ καλὸν ἀπωσάμενοι, διηνεκῶς δὲ εἰς τὸ φαῦλον ἐκνεύοντες when, I say, its meaning is so far enlarged, it is very difficult to assign to it any domain which will not have been already preoccupied either by κακία or πονηρία. I prefer therefore to understand κακοήθεια here in the more restricted meaning which it sometimes possesses. The Geneva Version has so done, rendering it by a periphrasis, “taking all things in the evil part;” which is exactly Aristotle’s definition, to whose ethical terminology the word belongs (Rhet. ii. 13): ἔστι γὰρ κακοήθεια τὸ ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον ὑπολαμβάνειν ἅπαντα: or, as Jeremy Taylor calls it, ‘a baseness of nature by which we take things by the wrong handle, and expound things always in the worst sense;’1 the ‘malignitas interpretantium’ of Pliny (Ep. 5:7);2 being exactly opposed to what Seneca (De Irâ, ii. 24) so happily calls the ‘benigna rerum aestimatio.’ For precisely such a use of κακοήθως see Josephus, Antt. vii. 6. 1; cf. 2 Sam. 10:3. This giving to all words and actions of others their most unfavorable interpretation Aristotle marks as one of the vices of the old, in that mournful, yet for the Christian most instructive, passage, which has been referred to just now; they are κακοήθεις and καχύποπτοι. We shall scarcely err then, taking κακοήθεια, at Rom. 1:29, in this narrower meaning; the position which it occupies in that dread catalogue of sins entirely justifying us in treating it as that peculiar form of evil which manifests itself in a malignant interpretation of the actions of others, a constant attribution of them to the worst imaginable motives.

Nor should we take leave of κακοήθεια without noticing the deep psychological truth attested in this secondary meaning which it has obtained, namely, that the evil which we trace in ourselves makes us ready to suspect and believe evil in others. The κακοήθης, being himself of an evil moral habit, projects himself, and the motives which actuate him, into others round him, sees himself in them; for, according to our profound English proverb, ‘Ill doers are ill deemers;’ or, as it runs in the monkish line, ‘Autumat hoc in me quod novit perfidus in se;’ and just as Love on the one side, in those glorious words of Schiller,

‘delightedly believes
Divinities, being itself divine;’

so that which is itself thoroughly evil finds it impossible to believe anything but evil in others (Job 1:9-11; 2:4, 5). Thus the suitors in the Odyssey, at the very time when they are laying plots for the life of Telemachus, are persuaded that he intends at a banquet to mingle poison with their wine, and so to make an end of them all (Odyss. ii. 329, 330). Iago evidently believes the world to be peopled with Iagoes, can conceive of no other type of humanity but his own. Well worthy of notice here is that remarkable passage in the Republic of Plato (iii. 409 a, b), where Socrates, showing the profit that it is for physicians to have been chiefly conversant with the sick, but not for teachers and rulers with the bad, explains how it comes to pass that young men, as yet uncorrupted, are εὐήθεις rather than κακοήθεις, ἅτε οὐκ ἔχοντες ἐν ἑαυτοῖς παραδείγματα ὁμοιοπαθῆ τοῖς πονηροῖς.


1 Grotius: ‘Cum quae possumus in bonam partem interpretari, in pejorem rapimus, contra quam exigit officium dilectionis.’

2 How striking, by the way, this use of ‘interpretor,’ as ‘to interpret awry,’ in Tacitus (himself not wholly untouched with the vice), Pliny, and the other writers of their age.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2549,G2550.]

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