One of the unfortunate cults which has thrust itself upon Christendom is KJV-onlyism. That is, there are people who do not just prefer the King James Version (KJV) or King James Bible (KJB, you'll see it both ways), they declare it is an inspired and infallible version. Of course, there is nothing wrong with preferring the KJV, but to declare it infallible is ridiculous.
In my experience, the proponents of KJV-onlyism are so entrenched in that indefensible position, they fail to truly study the Word of Truth. Worse than that, their insistence on the infallibility of every word keeps them from differentiating words in the original language which are translated by the same word in English. The opposite problem also presents itself. That is, sometimes the English literary tendency to shun the use of the same English word in a passage causes us to miss a continuity in the original language.
We have also looked at cases where the doctrinal prejudices of a manmade church hierarchy influences a translation. Some Catholic-version bibles use "penance" for "repentance," for example. Some Reformed-influenced bibles take Greek words like "Sanhedrin" (used in the Sermon on the Mount) and "synagogue" (used in James) and translated them to words which rob from the clearly Jewish context of those passages.
"Sanhedrin" is reduced to "the council" and "synagogue" as "assembly." There may be generic applications of these terms possible, but the setting of both Matthew and James is clearly Israel.
The Greek word "synagōgḗ" appears 57 times in the New Testament. The KJV translates it "synagogue" or "synagogues" 55 of those times. It is only in Acts 13:43 and James 2:2 where they depart. And there is no reason to depart from the word "synagogue" unless one wants to obscure the context of the verses involved. Acts 13:43 may be a case of English translators simply trying not to use the same word in close proximity (the "English literary" confusion) as the word is properly translated as "synagogue" in verse 42. James, however, has no such issue.
For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment...
-James 2:2 (KJV)
For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and is dressed in bright clothes, and a poor man in dirty clothes also comes in...
-New American Standard Bible (NASB)
Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.
-New International Version (NIV)
For if there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel, and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire
-Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
for if there come unto your synagogue a man with a gold ring in splendid apparel, and a poor man also come in in vile apparel...
for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in gay raiment, and there may come in also a poor man in vile raiment...
-Young's Literal (YLT)
We have covered translation issues elsewhere. But I wanted to remind us how important it is to do the work of a diligent student lest we miss some important distinctions. We have also looked at this issue in a previous post: the importance of comparing things that differ.
- ponērós (76x)
- kakós (16x)
- phaûlos (4x)
ponērós - From a derivative of G4192; hurtful, that is, evil (properly in effect or influence, and thus differing from G2556, which refers rather to essential character, as well as from G4550, which indicates degeneracy from original virtue)... [Mounce: bad, the negative quality of an object; evil, wicked, crime, the negative moral quality of a person or action opposed to God and his goodness; (n.) wicked deed, wicked thing; the Evil One, a title of Satan]
kakós -Apparently a primary word; worthless (intrinsically such; whereas G4190 [ponērós] properly refers to effects), that is, (subjectively) depraved, or (objectively) injurious: - bad, evil, harm, ill, noisome, wicked. [Mounce: evil, wicked, wrong, bad, a perversion of what pertains to goodness; as a noun, an evil thing can refer to any crime, harm, or moral wrong]
phaûlos - Apparently a primary word; “foul” or “flawy”, that is, (figuratively) wicked: - evil. [Mounce: evil, bad]
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil [ponērós] . (John 3:19, KJV)
Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil [kakós], bear witness of the evil [kakós]: but if well, why smitest thou me? (John 18:23, KJV)
For every one that doeth evil [phaûlos] hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:20, KJV)
First, we have to examine kakós. A majority of the time it is used to refer to the sick or diseased (10 of its 16 uses). Other uses refer, as we see in John 18, to speaking ill of someone or something. Thayer's Definition has this:
- miserable, to be ill
- improperly, wrongly
- to speak ill of, revile, one
Now let's look at the juxtaposition of the words "ponērós" and "phaûlos" in John 3. Remember, phaûlos is only used 4 times in the whole of the New Testament. Here is the passage in question in Young's Literal Translation:
`And this is the judgment, that the light hath come to the world, and men did love the darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil [ponērós]; for every one who is doing wicked [phaûlos] things hateth the light, and doth not come unto the light, that his works may not be detected; but he who is doing the truth doth come to the light, that his works may be manifested, that in God they are having been wrought.' (Jn 3:19-21)
The context of John chapter 3 is believing versus not believing. Those not believing are not judged by the Son, for they are already judged by their choice. We refer here to what we have covered elsewhere, that God holds no sin against man in this age (2 Cor 5:18-19). We also note that the gospel of John was written after the revelation of the Mystery. The Book of John presents the Son of God as God and focuses on "Life through His name."
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.-John 3:17-18
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.-2 Cor 5:18-19
So, if the Lord Jesus Christ is not judging anyone, and God is not counting men's trespasses against them, how should we handle John 3:19-20? Let me offer a suggestion.
A. Those who do not believe in the name of the Son of God, do not have life. Death still reigns over them for they have rejected the free gift and have not been reconciled to God who has already been reconciled to them. The reason they do not want to believe is because they do not want to bring their lives into the light for examination. If they did, they would be found wanting and their deeds falling short of God's standards (evil).
B. The passage also applies to believers who do wicked things. They have life, but they still shun the light of God's Word and the conviction of the new nature because their deeds are wicked.
I am suggesting that the Lord is recognizing that all men, saved or lost, are capable of doing "wicked things." The Lost have no interest in their deeds ever coming into the light of truth while some of the Saved who have chosen to walk according to the flesh also shun the light available to them for similar reasons.
I believe this is why the Holy Spirit chose two different Greek words here. The Lost's works, all of them, are tainted to one degree or another with evil and are "opposed to God." The works of the unbeliever and of the carnally-minded believer can both be said to "foul" or "flawed."
See how James applies phaûlos to believing Jews in this warning in his epistle:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile [phaûlos] practice.
Believers in any age can be carnally-minded (earthly, unspiritual, devilish). Works have absolutely nothing to do with the free gift of Life by grace through faith, but our works are central to the judgment of our service at the Bema Seat. Believers have been "delivered from this present [ponērós] evil age," [past tense] (Gal 1:4) but we are still subject to its effects.
The wicked works of the unbeliever condemn him to eternal death because he has rejected the free remedy. The wicked works of the believer condemn him to a lesser resurrection and loss of reward, prize, and crown. Both are "condemned," but the works of the believers are outward carnality and eternally evil.
It is a subtle difference, but consistent with the witness of scripture.
Finally let's take a quick look at the works of the flesh and note that these warnings are given to believers. Note in this well-known passage from Galatians 5 that the "desires of the flesh" are very possible for the believer.
But I say [to you believers], walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.
Similarly in 1 Corinthians 6, we have a warning for believers.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ [i.e. believers]? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one flesh.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The unbeliever chooses darkness and evil over the light of the gospel of the grace of God, but too often the believer chooses darkness and evil because he has chosen to live in the old nature (flesh) and not according to the new nature (spirit). The unbeliever, having rejected the free gift of Life through his name, has no other option than to walk in the evil acts of the flesh. The believer has a choice. May we choose wisely, knowing we will be judged for all we do while in the flesh.
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive according to the things done in his body--what he has practiced, whether good or evil [phaûlos].
-2 Cor 5:1
Note the use of phaûlos at the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers. This takes us back to John 3:20.