The Evil Inclination and Free Will

...[It] is necessary to say something about the evil inclination ( יצר הרע = yetzer hara) and the good inclination ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov).¹ The term יצר (yetzer) the Hebrew Bible can mean “vessel” (Isaiah 29:16) or “that which is formed in the mind, imagination, purpose” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Deuteronomy 31:21; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 29:18; Isaiah 26:3). In Siriach 14:14 it means “natural inclination” in the specific sense of free will.² The idea of two inclinations is found in the Testament of Asher 1:3-9 [Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs], which speaks of the two inclinations (duo diaboulia).³ The stereotyped terms ( יצר הרע = yetzer hara) and ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov) were Rabbinic, ( יצר הרע= yetzer hara) being older than ( יצר טוב = yetzer hatov), the latter first occurring most likely in Rabbi Jose the Galilaean (early second century).⁴ According to Tennant, the talmudic literature “insists on a man’s capacity to control his evil inclination, might as it is” and there is “no hint that his free-will is diminished in consequence of the sin of his first parents.”⁵ Further, the evil inclination, although implanted in Adam, is not a consequence of Adam’s sin.⁶ The evil inclination was the cause of Adam’s sin and in fact in some texts is personified.⁷ This evil inclination then can rule over everyone. It was, however, possible to resist the evil inclination through the Torah. So in  Baba Batra 16a [Talmud] we read: “If God created the evil inclination, He also created the Torah as its antidote (lit. spices).” See also Sifre Deuteronomy 45:

Thus also the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, “My children, I created an Inclination to evil in you...busy yourselves with words of torah, and the Inclination to Evil will not rule over you; but if you abandon the words of Torah, it will gain mastery over you...”⁸

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Author: Richard H. Bell

Keywords: Adversary, Angel of darkness, Body of death, Christ tempted, Christ's temptation, Christ's temptation in the wilderness, Deliver us from evil, Devil, Devil and Jesus, Devil tempts Jesus, diabolos, Evil angel, Evil Inclination, Evil nature, Evil one, Good angel, Good nature, Hara Yetser, Ha-ra Yetser, Hara Yetzer, Ha-ra Yetzer, Hara Yezer, Ha-ra Yezer, Intentional misspelling, Intentionally misspelled, Jesus' temptation, Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, Jesus tempted, Jesus tempted by Satan, Jesus tempted by the devil, Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Jesus's temptation, Jot, Jot and tittle, Jots, Man's sinful nature, Mispelled word, Mispelling, Misspelling, Misspelled word, Origin of sin, Personification of evil, Personification, Satan, Satan and Jesus, Satan tempts Christ, Satan tempts Jesus, Seducer, Sexual temptation, Sin, Sin in the flesh, Sin personified, Sin within, Sinful nature, Snatcher, Temptation, Temptation from within, Temptation in the wilderness, Tempted in the wilderness, Tempted of Satan, Tempted of the devil, Tempted sexually, Tempted to do evil, Tempts Christ, Tempts Jesus, The devil tempts Christ, The devil tempts Jesus, The Evil Inclination, The Evil One, Tittle, Two jots, Two yodhs, Two yods, Wicked one, Wilderness temptation, Wretched man, Yatsar, Yetsarim, Yetser ha ra, Yetser ha tov, Yetser ra, Yetser tov, Yetzer, Yetzer ha ra, Yetzer ha tov, Yetzer Hara, Yetzer ra, Yetzer tov, Yezer ha ra, Yezer ha tov, Yezer Hara, Yezer tov, Yod, Yodh, Free will, Diaboulos, Diabolous, Testament of Asher, Two inclinations

Bible reference(s): Genesis 2:7, Genesis 4:7, Genesis 8:21, Deuteronomy 10:16, Job 1:6-12, Job 2:1-7, Psalms 51:10, Proverbs 25:21, Isaiah 5:18, Isaiah 14:4-19, Isaiah 57:14, Ezekiel 28:11-17, Ezekiel 36:26, Joel 2:20, Matthew 4:1-11, Matthew 6:13, Mark 1:13, Luke 11:4, Luke 4:2-13, John 8:44, John 13:2, Acts 5:3, Romans 5:21, Romans 7:17-24, 1 Corinthians 7:5, 2 Corinthians 12:7, 2 Corinthians 11:14, Galatians 1:4, Ephesians 4:27, Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Timothy 3:6-7, 2 Timothy 2:26, Hebrews 2:14, James 4:7, 1 John 2:13-14, 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:10, 1 John 3:12, 1 John 5:18-19, Matthew 5:18, Revelation 20:10

Source: No One Seeks for God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1998 )  pp. 122-125.

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