Overflowing evil

nature evil

Against self-sufficiency, meekness signals the willingness to welcome the powerful word of God. Such a disposition also means that one works to eliminate all evil from one’s life, since by nature sin spreads to all sides.

Have done, then, with impurity and every other evil which touches the lives of others, and humbly accept the message that God has sown in your hearts, and which can save your souls.
James 1:21 Phillips

One phrase in this verse has been translated in various ways. The more literal expression is “abundance of wickedness,” and some versions stay close to that: “evil excess” (NET), “wicked excess” (LEB), “profusion of evil” (ACV). But how should we understand the phrase?

Some versions translate it as “all that remains of wickedness” (NASB, from a supposedly literal translation!), giving the idea that the Christian must remove from his life whatever vestige of evil that still remains. Though true, it doesn’t seem that the word has such a sense.

Other versions take it as “the evil that is all around us” (NIrV), “the evil that is so prevalent” (NIV), “the evil influences which prevail around you” (Weymouth), and, perhaps, ESV’s “rampant wickedness.” The Christian must therefore push back and not allow this evil to influence him. A possibility.

Another possibility is Phillip’s phrase above, “evil which touches the lives of others.” The evil that we do is never contained, cannot be controlled, always spreads or leaks to harm others. It brings to mind the old warning against playing with fire. Sometime or another, it escapes and spreads, destroying everything in its path. King David learned this truth the hard way, with Bathsheba.

However we understand the term,  the truth remains about overflowing evil. (See old ASV and NKJV.) Like the tongue in James 3, evil cannot be tamed. So we must free ourselves completely of it, by the word which has power to save.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the implanted word in us to wipe out sin. We praise you for our freedom in Christ. Amen.

3 Replies to “Overflowing evil”

  1. Such a great article. The King James Version is rather obtuse with its “superfluity of naughtiness.” Just doesn’t quite get the meaning.

    Thanks for your good work, brother.

    1. Thanks, John. Likely, KJV is suffering in this verse from changed meaning. I don’t often check it, nor the ASV or NKJV. So many good ones out there these days. I had to do a bit more work on the English translation of the Portuguese devotional, what with all the versions cited.

What do you think?