1 John 5:19 (NRSV)

"We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one."

How could someone evil gain control over the world (humanity)?

  • Constantin, I understand your point, but the text isn't very subtle here.
    – user33515
    Feb 14 '18 at 22:47
  • @Constantin Jinga. I did not get the conclusion, the scriptures are very clear, Jesus called him "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31, 14:30). I am sure that there are many people in governments that are sincerely trying to make the world a better place, but obviously cannot overcome the influence of "the ruler of this world" Matthew 4:8-9 reads: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Satan offers all kingdoms to Jesus. Feb 15 '18 at 20:41
  • @ Constantin : I have been reading the scripture for 40 years, some things to me are clear to a new comer obviously this may not be the case, and we all need assistance to understand. Mat.28:18. Jesus as "King of kings and Lord of lords" has been authorized to destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. (Rev. 19:16; 1 Cor.15:24-26) This He will do during his coming Matthew 24:3 . Your are correct we can become children of God (John 1:12)if we practice righteousness 1 John 3:9-10 read all this chapter. Appreciate you comments , if you want we can discuss it some other way. Feb 16 '18 at 20:49
  • Excellent question. The answer is multi-fold don’t be expecting just one angle. Yes Adam fell and on technicality satan took over the dominion handed to man by God, if God were to enact judgment immediately man and his descendants to follow would have been lost likewise. Notice also when tempting Jesus, satan said the kingdoms were given to him. Question is, by whom and when were these kingdoms given to them? Deu 32:8 ESV will shed some light. Sorry I haven’t the time to respond. I’ve started and haven’t finished several questions already. Aug 27 '19 at 2:32

To be as short an succinct as possible:

World is created by God through His Logos and both share one absolute unalloyed Goodness; and since, according to John, the creation includes everything (John 1:1-3), and since evil has not co-existed in eternity with God, then evil is not created by God and its existence has no ontological eternal ground whatsoever.

Thus, if its source is not God, then its source must be something belonging to the creation, and this something is that, which can deviate from the good order set by God. Now, the only thing that can deviate from this order in the created universe is a free agency of a created will. This abuse of freedom, first in the angelic world and then in the human world, accounts for the existence of evil. Accordingly, Jesus did not come to condemn the world or to forsake it to evil, but to save it (John 3:17), and to expel from it the initiator of the evil - the Satan (John 12:31).

All well! But what is exactly this deviation through which the world as yet remains entrapped to the demonic powers according to 1 John 5:19? This is the power of sin that works through human weakness, through the frailty of human nature that has been damaged since Adam's primordial lapse. Now, since it is damaged, it cannot obey to and fulfill divine commandments (Romans 8:7); moreover, it inclines and desires towards delectation of sin and the power of this inclination, this drive is so mighty, that without Christ nobody can overcome it, even those who wish to overcome (like Paul so brilliantly expresses in Romans 7:17-20), and what to say about those who even do not wish to overcome it, so much fond of it they have become?! And this is the meaning that the entire world lies in sin.

Yet, the sin has been defeated by Jesus through His crucifixion and resurrection, thus through Him and in Him also those who believe and follow Him will be able to defeat the inertia/drive of sin and of demons and become God's sons (John 1:12), but not in order to leave the world for some nirvana or some recluse sect as Pythagoreans or Neoplatonic philosophers, but to go to the world as sheep to wolves and convert the latter also into sheep, that is to say, Christianize them (Matt 10:16).

  • @ Levan GiIgineishvilli: I have accepted you answer as correct, it is correct in its entirety, there is no blind leading the blind comments. Matthew 15:14 +1 Aug 27 '19 at 20:05
  • @OzzieNicolas Thank you very much for reading and evaluating in such good terms my post. Aug 28 '19 at 7:16

I think it is fair to say here that John is drawing a distinction between those who, in the NRSV translation, are God's children (ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ - lit. "of God") and those who are of the whole world (ὁ κόσμος ὅλος). The line of thinking follows, I think, Paul's when he maligns what he calls the wisdom of this world (1 Corinthians 3:18).

That which is under the power of the evil one (or simply evil) is there because it chooses to remain so and not because of domination somehow granted to the devil. A reasonable explanation of the verse can be found, I think, in the commentary of the Eastern Orthodox theologian Justin Popović (1894-1979):

We know that we are of God: this is the constant understanding of a Christian. Everything that makes us Christians, and that is to say, true Christians, is of God. In everything, we originate from God ... Since everything in them is of God, they clearly discern and see the boundary line between that which is of God and that which is not: between good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, truth and lies, life and death, God and the devil. Because their vision and understanding are of God, they see and know that the whole world lieth in wickedness. Lieth because sins have thrown it down, and it does not have a desire to stand up. Christians live in such a world, but they guard themselves from evil and sin by living by means of the holy powers of the other world ... That world is comprised of human beings who have voluntarily subjugated themselves to sin and vices.*

* Commentaries on the Epistles of St. John the Theologian (tr. from Serbian; Sebastian Press, 2009), pp.80-81

  • (+1) So, the text is subtle, after all: if we are God’s children (John 1:12; Colossians 1:13), yet living in this world (Matthew 28:18), are we still under the power of the evil one? According to the Bible ...? Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215 AD) - a highly educated Christian and pioneer of Christian scholarship, on 1 John 5:19: “World” does not mean creation as a whole but rather worldly people and those who live according to their lusts. (Adumbrations/Fragments, III.Chap. iv.19) newadvent.org/fathers/0211.htm Feb 16 '18 at 11:32
  • @ user33515 Adam and Eve chose to obey Satan (Gen.:3:1-6) rather than God, many people to so knowingly, however most are being misled by Satan, therefore they are under his influence without them knowing it. The Jewish people worshiped God in vain.Could this include also many Christan religions? Revelation 12:9 reads: The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. The Bible identifies the evil one as Satan. (Mat. 13:19 , Mark 4:15) Feb 20 '18 at 19:34

1 John 5:19 reveals a fundamental truth namely that the world is under control of the Evil one, please keep in mind that Satan offered all kingdoms to Jesus as clearly stated in Luke 4:5,6 but at the same time, like Jesus did, we have the power to choose between good and bad. Notwithstanding Satan has an earthly organization to reach its goals as I have highlighted in my book "The whole world is under control of the Evil one"

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour. (See lower left). We're looking for the best answers we can get (e.g. quotes from the Bible vs. from a personal book). Thanks. Sep 2 '19 at 18:10

How could someone evil gain control over the world (humanity)?

The short, Biblical answer, is that God allowed it to happen, part of the curse caused by Adam's sin. And since then God has planned and executed a rescue mission which is still ongoing until Jesus's second coming. John Piper goes into the Biblical support for this standard Christian view, which includes putting 1 John 5:19 in context along with other relevant verses such as the temptation of Jesus in Luke 4:5-7 and Matt 4:8-9 and how Jesus and Paul alluded to the current reigning power of the world as a matter of fact, BUT defeated, although not completely, leaving us Christians to choose the right side and join the fight.

Except for the pastoral article by John Piper above, I think Levan Gigineishvili answer is more complete and better than mine, which I agree completely :-).

  • @ GratefulDisciple: You have brought a good point,"Why does God allow wickedness to continue until now. God has his reasons which are in the scriptures , I hope you search for them, Peter wrote:"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,[a] not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9 . The right side is to read the scriptures and apply them in your life. Aug 29 '19 at 18:52

I would like to offer an outline to an alternative answer to L. Gigineishvili's. At the centre of his answer lies, I suggest, his phrase "a free agency of a created will". How could the human will be free of how and why it was made? Surely there must be a relationship between how the will was made and how it functions. This alternative explores there being no such thing as free will.
Col 1:16 He created archai and exousiai
Col 2:10 He controls, is the head of all arches kai exousias.
Col 2:15 He disarmed archas kai exousias and put them to open shame.
Things that God made, things that control this world, God made, controls and has found wanting the perfection that was in His Son Jesus.
A theodicy: God is holy.
God made everything.
Evil exists.
Free will suggests that God did not make everything as man can be a first cause.
God is the Only Beginning, Alpha, tells me man cannot be a first cause.
God had a holy motive for creating that which was "very good", but this could mean fit for purpose. Fit for purpose could be morally bankrupt because The Father wanted Only Jesus to be able to say that He had come to fulfil the Law and the Prophets. If only Jesus was to have this joy then might not this be a holy motive to make sure that no created being got this privilege.
God's Laws are not so much to be obeyed as to lead us to the cross because they cannot be obeyed. God is uncreated. Evil is created. God could never become created whatever He created.

  • @ C Stroud: God gave Adam the same gift he had given his intelligent creatures in heaven, the gift of free will. This set Adam apart from the animals, since they live according to instinct. What is free will, for example an accountant sees the opportunity to manipulate his company records for his personal gains. He dwells on the idea and dismisses the evil though , the appeal grows and carries it out, he has in effect made himself a thief, and if he lies, a liar. Likewise the angel that deceived Eve used his free will to engage in deception against his Father.. James 1:14 Eph 6:11 Aug 27 '19 at 19:37
  • @Ozzie Nicholas. Have you read much about divine/hard determinism? Could you define free will? Is your argument about choice from the Bible?
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 27 '19 at 20:05
  • @Ozzie Nicholas We choose. We choose on the basis of who we are. We do not choose who we are. Choice does not equal free choice.
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 27 '19 at 20:26
  • @ C. Stroud :Definition of Free Will - "God has given each person the ability to make choices. He did not create us to be like robots. (Deut. 30:19 Josh 24:15) We can use our freedom to make good or bad choices. .Having free will means that we must personally decide whether we want to be loyal to God and prove that we really love him." Paul states we can change what we are " by renewing our minds" (Rom. 12:2 ) Jesus resist Satan's temptations.( Mat. 4:1-7). Joseph resist temptation to lie with his master's wife. (Gen. 39:6-10). David did not take advantage to slay Saul. (1 Sam. 24:2-6) Aug 28 '19 at 19:15
  • @Ozzie Nicholas When a fallen nature is without grace but is a slave to sin there is no freedom. Choose this day is a challenge to give up or go for it. But the challenge will require grace if it is to be met with obedience to the truth. Gal 1v3. God alone gives grace. Our wills are never free of the need for God's grace.
    – C. Stroud
    Aug 29 '19 at 15:46

19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 1 John 5:19 (KJV)

There is no word for "one" as in a person. The translation you are using apparently added the word "one" to try and make sense, but missed the meaning. The Greek text has no word for "one". The Lord Jesus is the one in which all things are controlled - He. 1:-3, Col. 1:17, Matt. 28:18.

Therefore, by the text given above, the translation you used to post your question causes confusion and perhaps a contradiction.

  • The Greek text that the KJV translates as "wickedness" is the phrase (not a single word), ὁ πονηρός, literally meaning "the evil" - which is nonsensical in English. Greeks commenting on this phrase in antiquity took it to mean either "evil" in general or "the evil one" (i.e. the devil), and did not rule out taking it in both senses at the same time. See this answer to a related question on the phrase as it appears in the Our Father.
    – user33515
    Feb 18 '18 at 19:55
  • @user33515 I'm not sure if you're answering the OP or my comment. Looks like my comment so, I don't think this is a social media debate forum. I gave scripture why it cannot be a person. If you wish to answer with scripture, I would be interested in what other scripture might read the "wicked one" has "the power" over this world.
    – littleal
    Feb 21 '18 at 3:44
  • 1
    The point I was trying to make is that, yes, there is no "one" in the Greek, but similarly there is the definite article "the". So both "evil" (or "wickedness" - no "one" but also no "the") and "the evil one" ("the" present, with "one" added) are valid translations. Greek commentators in antiquity confirm this.
    – user33515
    Feb 21 '18 at 4:53

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