By David Kowalski
Over the years, I have had several people ask me about the meaning of Isaiah 45:7, and I have had to answer atheists who use the verse to ridicule the Bible. It reads in the King James Version as follows:
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things. (KJV)
Neither the original author nor the King James translators meant to say that God commits moral evil. The key to understanding the intent in the KJV is to realize just how much words change meaning over time. If you check the Oxford Etymological Dictionary, you will find that the English word “evil” when the KJV was produced (1611) was used to denote anything unpleasant, not just moral evil. We no longer use the word that way in modern English, so modern versions translate Isaiah 45:7 differently:
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things. (NIV)– Article continues after this advertisement –
The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the Lord who does all these. (NASB)
The KJV translators did not mistranslate the Hebrew word ra’ in this verse; they translated it into an older form of English in which the word “evil” had meaning we do not intend today when we use that word. This kind of translation of ra’ is also found in the KJV rendering of Amos 3:6:
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
But see the NASB translation, for example:
If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble?
If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?
The Holy One is not saying in Isaiah 45:7 or Amos 3:6 that he commits moral evil. He says he blesses some people and in some cases visits judgment on others through disaster or calamity. This does not mean that all problems or disasters are judgments from God. We live in a fallen world where such things happen.
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First published (or major update) on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
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