Question: Jeremiah 26:3,13,19 in the King James Version talks about God himself doing evil while in all other versions, the words disaster or wrath are used. What is the original context? What is the original word that goes there and how is it properly translated. If “evil” is correct, how do we justify our God doing evil as punishment for evil?
Answer: The words translated evil in Jeremiah 26:3, “If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings,” all come from the same root and can refer to that which is bad in the sense of bringing physical or emotional harm, or to that which is morally and ethically evil. Consequently, various translations use the words disaster or evil respectively to convey these meanings.
In our passage, man’s “evil” way (we may presume ethical evil is meant here) results in God’s bringing physical and emotional harm or punishment (we may presume God is not claiming to bring ethical evil, the very thing He is punishing men for). Hence, for our present day usage of the term, the modern versions make more sense than the King James.
It is interesting, however, that God does not shy away from declaring that He is the cause of certain forms of physical and emotional harm to people. He questions Moses saying, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, Yahweh?” (Exodus 4:11). But at every turn God blames humans for evil, even though He has so moved in their lives that they have committed evil (Romans 9:17-21). Paul makes it clear that two things are always true: God is the source of all things, the moving cause of even man’s decisions, but that humans are always responsible for their decisions and so God will judge them to be responsible. As long as we keep these two truths in mind we will fairly represent the Biblical perspective.