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Synonyms of the New Testament :: Richard C. Trench

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lxxxiv. κακός, πονηρός, φαῦλος.

That which is morally evil may be contemplated on various sides and from various points of view; the several epithets which it will thus obtain bringing out the several aspects under which it will have presented itself to us.

Κακός and πονηρός occur together, Rev. 16:2; as κακία and πονηρία at 1 Cor. 5:8; the διαλογισμοὶ κακοί of St. Mark 7:21 are διαλογισμοὶ πονηροί in the parallel passage of St. Matthew (15:19). The distinction between these will best be considered when we come to deal with πονηρός. Κακός, the constant antithesis to ἀγαθός (Deut. 30:14; Ps. 33:14; Rom. 12:21; 2 Cor. 5:10; cf. Plato, Rep. x. 608 e), and though not quite so frequently to καλός (Gen. 24:50; 44:4; Heb. 5:14; Plutarch, Reg. Apoph. 20), affirms of that which it characterizes that qualities and conditions are wanting there which would constitute it worthy of the name which it bears.1 This first in a physical sense; thus κακὰ εἵματα (Homer, Od. xi. 190) are mean or tattered garments; κακὸς ἰατρός (aeschylus, Prom. v. 473), a physician wanting in the skill which physicians should possess; κακὸς κριτής (Plutarch, Rom. Apoph. 4), an unskilful judge. So, too, in the Scripture it is often used without any ethical intention (Prov. 20:17; Luke 16:25; Acts 28:5; Rev. 16:2). Often, however, it assumes one; thus κακὸς δοῦλος (Matt. 24:48) is a servant wanting in that fidelity and diligence which are properly due from such; cf. Prov. 12:12; Jer. 7:24; 1 Cor. 15:33; Col. 3:5; Phil. 3:2.

But the πονηρός is, as Ammonius calls him, ὁ δραστικὸς κακοῦ, the active worker out of evil; the German ‘Bösewicht,’ or as Beza (Annott. in Matt. v. 37) has drawn the distinction: ‘Significat πονηρός aliquid amplius quam κακός, nempe eum qui sit in omni scelere exercitatus, et ad injuriam cuivis inferendam totus comparatus.’ He is, according to the derivation of the word, ὁ παρέχων πόνους, or one that, as we say, ‘puts others to trouble;’2 and πονηρία is the ‘cupiditas nocendi’; or as Jeremy Taylor explains it: ‘aptness to do shrewd turns, to delight in mischiefs and tragedies; a loving to trouble our neighbour and to do him ill offices; crossness, perverseness, and peevishness of action in our intercourse’ (Doctrine and Practice of Repentance, iv. 1). In πονηρός the positive activity of evil comes far more decidedly out than in κακός, the word therefore being constantly opposed to χρηστός, or the good contemplated as the useful (Isocrates, Or. i. 6 d; viii. 184 a; Xenophon, Mem. ii. 6. 20; Jer. 24:2, 3; and in the same way associated with ἄχρηστος, Demosthenes, 1271). If κακός is ‘mauvais,’ ‘méchant,’ πονηρός is ‘nuisible,’ noxious, or ‘noisome’ in our elder sense of the word. The κακός may be content to perish in his own corruption, but the πονηρός is not content unless he is corrupting others as well, and drawing them into the same destruction with himself. ‘They sleep not except they have done mischief, and their sleep is taken away except they cause some to fall’ (Prov. 4:16). We know, or we are happier still if we do not know even by report, what in French is meant by ‘dépraver les femmes.’ Thus ὄψον πονηρόν (Plutarch, Sept. Sap. Conv. 2) is an unwholesome dish: ᾄσματα πονηρά (Quom. Adol. Pöet. 4), wicked songs, such as by their wantonness corrupt the minds of the young; γυνὴ πονηρά (De Virt. et Vit. 2), a wicked wife; ὀφθαλμὸς πονηρός (Mark 7:22), a mischief-working eye. Satan is emphatically ὁ πονηρός, as the first author of all the mischief in the world (Matt. 6:13; Ephes. 6:16; cf. Luke 7:21; Acts 19:12); ravening beasts are always θηρία πονηρά in the Septuagint (Gen. 37:33; Isai. 35:9; cf. Josephus, Antt. vii. 5. 5); κακὰ θηρία, indeed, occurs once in the N. T. (Tit. 1:12), but the meaning is not precisely the same, as the context sufficiently shows. An instructive line in Euripides (Hecuba, 596), testifies to the Greek sense of a more inborn radical evil in the man who is πονηρός than in the κακός:

Ὁ μὲν πονηρὸς οὐδὲν ἄλλο πλὴν κακός.

A reference to the context will show that what Euripides means is this, namely, that a man of an evil nature (πονηρός) will always show himself base in act (κακός).

But there are words in most languages, and φαῦλος is one of them, which contemplate evil under another aspect, not so much that either of active or passive malignity, but that rather of its good-for-nothingness, the impossibility of any true gain ever coming forth from it. Thus ‘nequam’ (in strictness opposed to ‘frugi’), and ‘nequitia’ in Latin (see Ramsay on the Mostellaria of Plautus, p. 229); ‘vaurien’ in French; ‘naughty’ and ‘naughtiness’ in English; ‘taugenichts,’ ‘schlecht,’ ‘schlechtigkeit’ in German;3 while on the other hand ‘tugend’ (==‘taugend’) is virtue contemplated as usefulness. This notion of worthlessness is the central notion of φαῦλος (by some very questionably identified with ‘faul,’ ‘foul’Etym. Note. 35), which in Greek runs successively through the following meanings,—light, unstable, blown about by every wind (see Donaldson, Cratylus, § 152; ‘synonymum ex levitate permutatum,’ Matthäi), small, slight (‘schlecht’ and ‘schlicht’ in German are only different spellings of the same word), mediocre, of no account, worthless, bad; but still bad predominantly in the sense of worthless; thus φαύλη αὐλητρίς (Plato, Conv. 215 c), a bad flute-player; φαῦλος ζωγράφος (Plutarch, De Adul. et Am. 6), a bad painter. In agreement with this, the standing antithesis to φαῦλος is σπουδαῖος (Plato, Legg. vi. 757 a; vii. 814 e; Philo, De Merc. Mer. 1); the Stoics ranging all men in two classes, either in that of σπουδαῖοι or φαῦλοι, and not recognizing any middle ethical position; so too it stands over against χρηστός (Plutarch, De Aud. Poët. 4); καλός (De Adul. et Am. 9); ἐπιεικὴς (Aristotle, Ethic. Nic. iii. 5. 3); ἀστεῖος (Plutarch, De Rep. Stoic. 12); while words with which it is commonly associated are ἄχρηστος (Plato, Lysias, 204 b); εὐτελής (Legg. vii. 806 a); μοχθηρός (Gorg. 486 b); ἀσθενής (Euripides, Med. 803); ἄτοπος (Plutarch, De Aud. Poët. 12; Conj. Proec. 48); ἐλαφρός (De Adul. et Amic. 32); βλαβερός (Quom. Aud. Poët. 14); κοινός (Proec. San. 14); ἀκρατής (Gryll. 8); ἀνόητος (De Comm. Not. 11); ἄκαιρος (Conj. Proec. 14); ἀγεννής (De Adul. et Amic. 2); ἀγοραῖος (Chariton). Φαῦλος, as used in the N. T., has reached the latest stage of its meaning; and τὰ φαῦλα πράξαντες are set in direct opposition to τὰ ἀγαθὰ ποιήσαντες, and condemned as such to “the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29; cf. 3:20; Tit. 2:8; Jam. 3:16; Aristotle, Ethic. Nic. ii. 6. 18; Philo, De Abrah. 3). We have the same antithesis of φαῦλα and ἀγαθά elsewhere (Phalaris, Ep. 144; Plutarch, De Plac. Phil. i. 8); and for a good note upon the word see Schoeman, Agis et Cleomenes, p. 71.


1 Cremer: ‘So characterisirt κακός dasjenige was nicht so beschaffen ist wie es, seiner Natur Bestimmung und Idee nach, sein könnte oder sollte.’

2 J. H. H. Schmidt is of the mind that the connexion between πόνος and πονηρός is not this, but another; that we have here one of those illustrations of what we may call the aristocratic tendencies of language, which meet us so often and in so many tongues. What, he asks, is the feature concerning their poorer neighbours’ manner of life which must most strike the leisured few—what but this, namely that they are always at work; they are πονηροί or laborious, for their πόνοι never cease. It is not long, however, before a word constantly applied to the poor obtains an unfavourable subaudition; it has done so in words out of number, as in our own ‘churl,’ ‘villain,’ and so many more; the poor it is suggested in thought are also the bad, and the word moves into a lower sphere in agreement with the thought.

3 Graff (Alt-hochdeutsche Sprachschatz, p. 138) ascribes in like manner to ‘bose’ (‘böse’) an original sense of weak, small, nothing worth.

[The following Strong's numbers apply to this section:G2556,G4190,G5337.]

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