What is the origin of evil? Where did evil come from?

by Matt Slick

In order for us to discuss the origin of evil, we must first define it. Biblically speaking, evil is that which is contrary to the character and will of God. It is the opposite of what is good. Evil is an issue of morality and intention. A rock is not evil but using a rock to murder someone is evil. Evil is committed by people and fallen angels.

Evil is first mentioned in Genesis 2:9, "Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." In this verse, evil is contrasted with good. The Hebrew word for evil is רַע, rah, which occurs 664 times in the Old Testament and is translated as evil, wickedness, disaster, harm, bad, fierce, downcast, ugly, etc.

In the New Testament, the first occurrence of the word evil is Matthew 5:11, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me."  The Greek word is πονηρός, ponaros, which occurs 77 times. The Greek word is translated as evil, bad, wicked, envious, worthless, etc.

So, again, evil is that which is contrary to the will and character of God and is synonymous with wickedness, worthlessness, disaster, moral degradation, etc.

Where did evil come from?  Satan

It appears that according to Scripture the source of evil is Lucifer, Satan, the devil. He is the adversary of God, the one who fell into sin and became evil by nature. One of the most common sections of Scripture used to support the idea that Satan is the origin of evil is found in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 14:12–15, "How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning [Lucifer], son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! 13 “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. 14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ 15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit."  

For emphasis, I have underlined five "I will" statements where Lucifer is seeking self-exaltation. The final statement in verse 14 is "I will make myself like the Most High." As you can see from the text, Lucifer wanted not only to be like the Most High, but above God himself. After all, he said in verse 13 "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God." Therefore we can conclude that he was seeking to be greater than God himself. Why would this be the case? Why would Lucifer who was in the presence of God ever decide to rebel against God and exalt himself to such an incredible level? We can't know for sure. But, I do have a theory.

Only God is holy

What I want to offer here is something I've been thinking about for a while. I don't propose that it is the right solution. It is just my opinion. So, please take it with a grain of salt.

The Bible says that God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). As I look to Scripture, I see that when it speaks of the holiness of God, it is speaking of his purity, his incorruptibility, his moral perfection, etc. Holiness is part of the very nature of God. His holiness means that God cannot violate his own perfect nature. Therefore, he can never sin. He can never lie. He can never do anything morally wrong.

But, all created beings are not holy because they do not possess the divine nature as part of their essence. In other words, holiness belongs to God as part of his nature and cannot be communicated to us as creatures. The fact is that there are certain qualities that belong to God alone. We can understand them to some point, but we cannot participate in them. Such things would be God's omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, moral perfection, and holiness.

If we cannot possess God's holiness by nature, because holiness belongs to his essence alone, then I conclude that all morally capable beings will inevitably end up sinning because they do not have holiness as part of their nature. They can't possess this holiness naturally because it is something that belongs to God's essence alone.  Now, in support of this, I want to offer the following Scripture.

1 Timothy 5:21, "I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality."  

Notice that it says "chosen angels." the word "chosen" is ἐκλεκτός, eklektos. It occurs 23 times in the New Testament. Generally, it is used in reference to the chosen people of God, the elect. Okay, so why is this verse important? Could it be possible that in the rebellion of Satan that all of the angels would have fallen along with him except for those who are God's "chosen angels?" I can't help but wonder if these were the ones that were chosen by God specifically not to fall. I can't say that is the case for sure, but I suspect that it may be.

In regards to people, it is obvious that we are all fallen. We are all sinful by nature (Ephesians 2:3). We do not possess holiness, and it seems, neither do the angels. That is, at least none of us possess it by nature.


So, I conclude this as a possibility. God alone is holy which is the inability to sin. But this holiness as part of his own nature. All creatures cannot possess this by nature because are not divine. Therefore, it is inevitable that all sentient beings will sin against God. Furthermore, the "chosen angels" of 1 Timothy 5:21 seems to support this idea since they were, apparently, chosen by God not to fall with Satan.

So when we ask what is the origin of evil, we must conclude that it originated with Satan who exalted himself and wanted to be like God, even above God. And, for some reason in the spiritual realm which God has not revealed to us, the effect of this rebellion was Satan's essence becoming completely corrupt, completely immoral, and completely rebellious against the holiness and will of God. The devil became the source of evil.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.