Question: "What does the Bible say about good versus evil?"
Answer: Among the most universal beliefs across all humanity is the concept of “good versus evil.” Every culture in every era has held to some version of this struggle. The definitions of the terms good and evil vary wildly, as do opinions on how they interact. Still, belief in some difference between that which is “good” and that which is “evil” pervades all of mankind. When all options and ideas are compared, only the Bible provides a perspective on good and evil that is fully coherent and fully livable (Psalm 25:6–15).
According to the Bible, “good versus evil” is not a matter of opinion. Nor is it an evenly matched struggle between two beings or forces. Scripture does not indicate that the boundaries of good and evil change. Nor does it claim the conflict between them will last forever. Of special importance is that the Bible does not suggest some people are good, while other people are evil.
Rather, the Bible teaches that good and evil are defined in reference to a perfect and unchanging God. Every person must grapple individually with the presence and temptations of evil. Scripture notes that all evil, without exception, will ultimately be punished and defeated. And it tells us there is an ultimate standard of goodness to which we should aspire—a standard grounded in a person, rather than a theory.
Good and Evil Are Objectively Distinct
According to the Bible, there is a real difference between good and evil. Some worldviews claim all moral distinctions are based purely on preference. Atheism, for instance, allows no objective basis for defining anything as “good” or “evil.” In a godless universe, there are only things a person prefers and things a person does not prefer. This is a key reason why philosophies embracing atheism always tend toward violence and tyranny: there is no sense of higher authority and no reason to moderate the whims of those in power.
The idea that defining good and evil depends on preferences or situations is commonly called moral relativism. Scripture rejects this idea as false. The Bible defines some things as “good” and other things as “evil” (Isaiah 5:20; Romans 12:9). This dichotomy is reflected in the consistent use of themes such as light versus darkness (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16; John 1:5; Ephesians 5:8). The ultimate fate of all people depends on whether they are aligned with a good God or opposed to Him (1 Corinthians 6:9–11; Revelation 21:8).
Discerning between good and evil is possible only in reference to a single, unchanging standard: the perfect nature of God. God is not subject to morality, since He is the source and benchmark for it. Nor is morality subject to change, since God’s perfect nature is eternal and unchanging. Counters such as Euthyphro’s dilemma fail, since they do not distinguish between an eternal, unchanging God and the fickle deities of ancient Greek religion.
Good and Evil Are Not Balanced
A frequent component of fiction and fantasy is the idea that good and evil are equally balanced, evenly matched forces. According to this view, neither is ultimately in control. Either may eventually win. This is the concept of dualism, which suggests a perpetual balance between the forces of good and evil. In some cases, dualism implies that opposing beings, such as God and Satan, are deadlocked in a struggle for control and power.
Some worldviews teach that all good and evil will eventually be balanced. This is related to Eastern ideas such as karma, which implies that good and evil are inherently imbalanced but will one day be evened out.
Scripture rejects dualism as false. The Bible indicates that God is absolutely supreme and in no danger whatsoever of being defeated (Job 42:2; Psalm 89:8; Galatians 6:7). What Satan does, he is “allowed” to do, but he cannot act to overpower God (Job 1:12; Revelation 9:1; 20:7). Biblically, evil is destined only for defeat and destruction. Not one single act of evil will escape judgment; every sin will either be paid for by Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21) or by those who reject Christ (John 3:36) as they experience an eternity in hell (Revelation 20:11–15).
Good and Evil Are Not External
Evidence that humanity holds to a basic concept of good versus evil is obvious (Romans 1:18–20). This explains why moral reasoning—separating “what is” from “what ought to be”—is a universal facet of humanity. Of course, that does not mean all people hold the same views on good and evil. We are not examining morality from the outside, as neutral observers; all moral discussions by definition involve the person(s) who discuss them, as well.
A unique aspect of the Bible’s teaching on good and evil is that all people, without exception, are subject to sin and evil (Romans 3:10; 3:23). The biblical concept of a sin nature means that the line between good and evil cannot be drawn between people. Rather, it is drawn within every person. This fact of human nature is critical to understand (Matthew 15:19–20). As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
In simpler language, C.S. Lewis noted, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (see Matthew 6:14–15).
One truth found in the gospel is that all people, without exception, are sinners in need of a Savior. Biblical Christianity does not see good versus evil as a battle to be fought on earth (John 18:36), an issue to resolve by revenge or retribution (Romans 12:20–21), or a philosophical position to be considered. The Bible says every person is created for a good purpose (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28) but suffers from an evil heart (Romans 7:15–25), which can only be remedied by faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Redemption is available to anyone (Matthew 7:7–8; Revelation 22:15), regardless of his past or the depth of his sin (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
Good versus Evil Requires “Right Judgment”
Another key aspect of the Bible’s teaching on “good versus evil” is that no person is infallible, even on spiritual matters. Those who are guided by the Holy Spirit are better equipped to judge spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 2:14), and they ought to do so. Scripture is clear that all people are subject to sin, and it is just as clear that all people are subject to correction (Hebrews 12:5–11), learning (2 Timothy 2:15), and limitations (1 Samuel 16:7).
In Matthew 7 Jesus gives an extensive explanation of how to properly discern between good and evil: to “judge” in the correct way; that is, to use “right judgment” (John 7:24). The Bible commends examination (Acts 17:11), commands putting things to the test (1 John 4:1), and promotes accountability (1 Peter 3:15) and a commitment to truth (Galatians 1:8–9).
Scripture does not imply that “good versus evil” is a simplistic, binary concept. Since only God is ultimately perfect, the Bible allows for a “good versus better” spectrum. God called His initial creation “good” (Genesis 1:24), then after more creating called it “very good” (Genesis 1:28). Some of the good things God has given us have more than one use, and not all uses are automatically good or evil (1 Timothy 4:4). The biblical understanding of good versus evil does not imply that all things are either perfectly holy or wholly satanic. Rather, there can be good and bad aspects of many of the freedoms God gives us (1 Corinthians 6:12). Likewise, while all sin leads to separation from God, Scripture does speak of some sins as being more heinous than others.
The Bible acknowledges that not every moment in human experience will come with a clear, black-and-white moral answer. Scripture focuses only on the most important points we need to know, not every imaginable scenario (John 21:25). This means even the most sincere, Bible-believing, born-again Christians might disagree on an ethical question (1 Corinthians 10:23–33). The Bible’s answer—when the issue is not covered overtly in God’s Word (1 Corinthians 5:6)—is for tolerance and patience (Titus 3:9). We’re given a conscience for a reason (Romans 14:23).
Truth is objective; for any given opinion or interpretation, someone is right, and someone is wrong. But human beings lack the moral perfection of God; this is reflected in the Bible’s teaching on good versus evil and our role in applying good judgment.
Scripture encourages believers not to apply terms like good, evil, sin, and so forth to issues where there is room for doubt (Romans 14:1–12). Contrary to what some think, the Bible admits that human beings might not always be correct in our moral judgments. We are not to avoid all judgment (John 7:24), but the Bible teaches us to carefully consider when and how we judge (Ephesians 5:10).
Good versus Evil Demands a Response
The Bible’s teaching on good versus evil leads to a challenging conclusion: that every person is obligated to make a fundamental choice between the two. That choice is entirely determined by our response to God, who is both the definition of good and our Creator. Moment by moment, that means either following His will or rebelling and choosing to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13). Eternally, this means we either choose to accept Him and His salvation (John 3:16; 14:6) or align ourselves against Him (John 3:36). While we may be imperfect and fallible, we cannot be neutral in our approach to good versus evil. Our hearts are either seeking the goodness of God (Matthew 7:7–8; Romans 2:4) or the selfishness of evil (1 Peter 3:10–12).