6 Some words for good and evil

Like a landscape under sudden sunshine, a familiar Bible passage may shift into a new range of color and distinctness when a term for good or evil is more fully understood. Useful for these and other KJV words is Ronald Bridges and Luther A. Weigle, The Bible Word Book (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1960), now out of print but available in libraries .

How keenly do we perceive the color—or non-color—of those pervasive words "vanity" and "vain" in the KJV? Our common use of "vanity" for personal conceit had not come into English speech in King James's time; such a concept still called for the full phrase "vain glory"—empty pride. "Vanity" itself was that which was "in vain"—having no significance, effect, force, or power. The Hebrew words it especially represents go so far as to mean "nothingness," "lie," or "delusion." The frequent use of this word, from Old Testament to New, speaks of the Bible's piercing discernment between the spiritually substantial and insubstantial, truth and error.

Often "vanity" refers to idols—the essence of nothingness to biblical thought. "They followed vanity, and became vain" is the way II Kings (17:15) describes the idolatry of the Israelites. And when the pagan populace at Lystra tried to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas after the healing of a lame man there, the two Christians cried out in dismay (Acts 14:15): "We. .. preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God." Compare Eph. 4:17 in its context and I Pet. 1:18, both addressed to Christians of pagan background.

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Purity is God-given
December 1, 1980

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