This Thing Called Jealousy. Pt. 1


When written in its original languages, the Bible offered three different words; since translated, we have one word.

This isn’t uncommon (the word “love” is a good example of that), yet without knowing this, a word—any word–can be misconstrued or even innocently misunderstood or confused.  This word is one of them.

If read in the English language, the Bible almost seems to contradict itself, God almost seems to disobey His own Word, and somehow man is left confused as to this emotion… if we don’t take the time to look at the original languages.

The word: jealousy

In the Greek, in numerous passages in the New Testament, Christian believers are warned against being jealous:

Romans 13:13

Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

James 4:2

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.

Acts 7:9

The patriarchs became jealous of Joseph and sold him into Egypt. Yet God was with him….

1 Corinthians 13:4

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant…

In all these passages and numerous others, the concept and use of the word “jealousy”, most based on the single word zelos or zeloo, is seen as negative.

However, in Exodus 20:5, we read the following:

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me….

So, what does that mean? Is God envious or indignant, as some of the former references seem to describe jealousy? We know that is not the case.

Additionally, in 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul says this:

For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

Godly jealousy? How is that possible?

Although seemingly confusing, if you look at the original language, it is easy to see that the jealousy referred to the last two passages differs in etymological history than those referring to envy and indignation.

The word qanna’ translated “jealous” in the verse in Exodus means “the avenger of those departed from Him.” Kinda intense if you ask me.  So, that’s a completely different word with a different meaning. However, the word used in 2 Corinthians by Paul is zēloō. Look familiar?

Here, Paul uses the same word known then as a negative aspect of human pride and turns it to communicate to his readers the closest emotion a man could feel towards that which was rightfully his in an attempt to resemble the qanna’ felt by the Lord for that which is also rightfully His.

In fact, after a closer look, we see the definition for zeloo:

  • to burn with zeal
  • to be heated or to boil with envy, hatred, anger –in a good sense, to be zealous in the pursuit of good
  • to desire earnestly, pursue
  • to desire one earnestly, to strive after, busy one’s self about him
  • to exert one’s self for one (that he may not be torn from me)
  • to be the object of the zeal of others, to be zealously sought after
  • to envy

So, in reality, jealousy itself is not wrong if and only if the object of jealousy is one’s own. Looking at the original language, the definition is passion and desire and zeal. If what you are zealous over is yours, that’s not an issue.  The problem with jealousy is that often,  in our human nature, we use that zeal and passion to desire that which is not ours.  We only tend to focus on that last definition: to envy.

So, in the original passages we looked at, we see that the zeal demonstrated was for something that was not the person or group’s object to have a desire for.

Romans 13:13– In relation to carousing and sexual immorality… if this is sexual immorality, then obviously this object or person being desired jealousy is not his/hers to be had before the Lord.

James 4:2– The passage says right there that “you lust and do not have”, so again, the object is not theirs to rightfully desire.

Acts 7:9– If you remember the account of the brothers of Joseph, the attention and gifts that Joseph received were his, not theirs. They were envious of his position and attention before their father.

1 Corinthians 13:4– In talking about what love is, love is patient and long-suffering and kind and not desirous of anything that is not its own.

Interesting. Thoughts?

Part 2 to come!

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3 Responses to This Thing Called Jealousy. Pt. 1

  1. lance says:

    i gotta chew on this?im a little confused?but hey i love reading everything you write ashley!

  2. Pingback: 墮落罪惡的人性(2)-嫉妒 (Envy/Jealousy) « A Christian's Spiritual Journey 一個基督徒的屬靈旅程

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