Bible Book List
Encyclopedia of The Bible – Envy

ENVY (קִנְאָה, H7863; ardor, zeal, jealousy, envy; φθόνος, G5784; envy; ζῆλος, G2419; jealousy, envy. The Eng. word “envy” comes from the Lat. word invidere “in—against”; videre—“to look at”), meaning “to look askance at,” or “to have hatred or ill will toward another.” It is a feeling of displeasure and ill will because of another’s advantages, possessions, etc.; a malign feeling toward another who possesses that which one greatly desires.

1. The OT. The Heb. word qin’āh has a good meaning and an evil meaning. In its good sense of “zeal” and “jealousy” it is used repeatedly of God and of good men; while in its evil sense of “envy” there are comparatively few instances, and it is never used of God. Basically it means “burning,” “glowing,” a “getting red in the face,” and thus denotes intense emotion. From this come the diverse meanings of “zeal,” “jealousy,” and “envy.” The exact meaning is determined by the context of the passage in which the word is found. In many passages the KJV has “envy” where the RSV has “jealousy” (Gen 37:11; Num 11:29; Ps 106:16; Isa 11:13; etc.).

Both the Psalms and Proverbs warn against the temptation of becoming envious of evil men when they seem to prosper in spite of their wrongdoing (Pss 37:1; 73:2, 3; Prov 3:31; 23:17; 24:1, 19). The author of Ecclesiastes (4:4) observes that men are driven to work and to develop their skills when they envy the prosperity of their neighbors. The OT abounds in examples of the evil effects of envy—among them Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah (Gen 30:1), Joseph and his brothers, Haman and Mordecai.

2. The NT. There are two Gr. words rendered “envy”: phthónos, which uniformly has an evil meaning, and zēlos, which, like qin’ah, has both a good and a bad meaning, sometimes (a) “zeal,” “enthusiasm”; (b) sometimes “jealousy,” “rivalry.” As in the OT, in many passages the KJV has “envy” where the RSV has “jealousy” (Rom 13:13; 2 Cor 12:20; James 3:14, 16). Envy is said to have led to the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:18). It is listed with the worst of sins by Jesus and by Paul (Mark 7:22; Rom 1:29; Gal 5:21). Christians are warned against it (Gal 5:26; 1 Pet 2:1). James 4:5 has “envy” in the KJV, but the passage is of uncertain meaning and has been interpreted in a variety of ways.

Bibliography R. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (9th ed. 1880), 86-90.