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seeing the good

Luke Breuer
2016-08-24 20:17 UTC

Hebrews 5:14 (ESV):
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I want to suggest that the dichotomy here is better understood as:
  • distinguishing what is good/beautiful/excellent
  • from what is not as it ought to be
Below, I've included a good deal of information from the NET Bible on the two words, kalos and kakos. Given that the natural antithesis to 'kakos' is 'agathos', I think we ought to be drawn to the single letter difference:
  • kalos (καλός)
  • kakos (κακός)
Surely the kind of discernment being described is not a kind of simplistic sorting into black and white categories. Surely we aren't called to condemn, per passages such as Jn 3:17, Ja 3:8–12, 4:11–12. But then what are we to do? I suggest the following be used as an interpretive lens:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:16–21)

What we are called to do is a very specific kind of judgment: the life-giving kind. Among other things, this involves seeing what is not as it ought to be, and envisioning how that could be pointed out such that beauty, excellence, and goodness can break forth. More succinctly, we can call this "seeing the good".


Hebrews 5:14 (Greek):
τελείων δέ ἐστιν ἡ στερεὰ τροφή τῶν διὰ τὴν ἕξιν τὰ αἰσθητήρια γεγυμνασμένα ἐχόντων πρὸς διάκρισιν καλοῦ τε καὶ κακοῦ.

καλός (kalos) NET:
1) beautiful, handsome, excellent, eminent, choice, surpassing,
precious, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable
1a) beautiful to look at, shapely, magnificent
1b) good, excellent in its nature and characteristics, and
therefore well adapted to its ends
1b1) genuine, approved
1b2) precious
1b3) joined to names of men designated by their office,
competent, able, such as one ought to be
1b4) praiseworthy, noble
1c) beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence
praiseworthy
1c1) morally good, noble
1d) honourable, conferring honour
1e) affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming

κακός (kakos) NET:
1) of a bad nature
1a) not such as it ought to be
2) of a mode of thinking, feeling, acting
2a) base, wrong, wicked
3) troublesome, injurious, pernicious, destructive, baneful


NET Synonym for: Beautiful, Graceful
See Definition for asteiov
See Definition for wraiov
See Definition for kalov

asteiov is properly one living in a city, urban. It soon acquires the meaning urbane, polite, elegant. Then it obtains to a limited extent the meaning beautiful, although never in the highest degree.

wraiov, from wra, hour, period, means properly timely. From that comes the idea of being beautiful, since nearly everything is beautiful in its hour of fullest perfection.

kalov is a much higher word. It means beautiful, physically or morally. It is, however, distinctly the beauty which comes from harmony, the beauty which arises from a symmetrical adjustment in right proportion, in other words, from the harmonious completeness of the object concerned.

NET Synonym for: Bad, Evil
See Definition for kakov
See Definition for ponhrov
See Definition for faulov

These words may be used with very little distinction of meaning, but often the difference is marked. kakov frequently means evil rather negatively, referring to the absence of the qualities which constitute a person or thing what it should be or what it claims to be. It is also used meaning evil in a moral sense. It is a general antithesis to agayov.

ponhrov is a word at once stronger and more active, it means mischief-making, delighting in injury, doing evil to others, dangerous, destructive. kakov describes the quality according to its nature, ponhrov, according to its effects.

faulov is the bad chiefly as the worthless, the good for nothing.