Isaiah 45:7 – Is God Responsible for Good AND Evil?

Yes, as He himself admits. We begin with the King James Version of verse 45:7:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

And here is the Hebrew text of that same verse, followed by its literal translation:

יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע אֲנִי יְהוָה עֹשֶׂה כָל־אֵלֶּה

yotzer `or uvore` choshekh `oseh shalom uvore ra`; `ani YHWH kol-`elleh

Forming light and creating darkness; forming peace and creating evil; I, YHWH, [do] all these [things]

Now, let’s note some not so obvious, but significant, aspects of the Hebrew.

  1. In the first clause, God forms (וֹצֵר) light and peace, but creates (בוֹרֵא) darkness and evil. Of note is that the the verb  yotzer is only used when modifying a previously existing substance. For example, in Genesis 2, God forms Adam and the animals from preexisting dirt and clay of the earth. Just to emphasize this point, if the creation of Michaelangelo’s statues were to be described by the authors of the Bible, they would be depicted as having been formed from preexisting marble. Never would the authors think of claiming that Michaelangelo created them from nothing or that statues were something never before seen.
  2. By contrast,  בוֹרֵא is a verb that only God uses. It’s the participle form of bara, the verb in the first verse of Genesis. “When God bara the heavens and the earth …”. Bara is closely associated with bringing into existence something that had previously not existed or, had that something existed, had never been seen.

Given the semantics of the two verbs, we might rewrite 45:7 using ‘but’ instead of ‘and’ in order to better express and emphasize the verbal ontrast:

Forming light, but creating darkness; forming peace, but creating evil; I, YHWH, [do] all these [things]

I argue that the use of ‘but‘ is a better translation because the contrast between light and darkness and peace and evil is more evident. Moreover, by using a verb that only God can execute, the author is calling our attention to the idea that God wants there to be no confusion on this point. God created the darkness and the evil at some point in time in which the two concepts were previously unknown (or non-existent).

From a theological point of view, we recall that in the story of Adam and Eve, one of its main points was that God created nature to be morally inert. From a cultural context, this was a radical departure from the theodicy of the pagan religions in which good and evil resided in the actions of nature (i.e., personified as gods).

However, the Garden of Eden story reveals to us that evil does not arise in the workings of nature. Rather, evil arises from the actions of humans. Nahum Sarna, one of the great Old Testament scholars of recent memory, expressed it this way: the first and second creation stories elevates evil from the natural world into the metaphysical realm of mankind. Only humans can contemplate evil, argues Sarna, because only humans have free will, rightly understood (see here for a more in-depth explanation).

So, the answer is yes!

Now, go and study

 

 

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