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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

Envy is the feeling of mortification or ill-will occasioned by the contemplation of the superior advantages of others.

‘Base envy withers at another’s joy,

And hates that excellence it cannot reach’

(Thomson, Seasons , ‘Spring,’ 283).

In the NT the word is used to translate two Gr. terms, φθόνος and ζῆλος, the former of which is invariably (with the possible exception of  James 4:5) taken in malam partem , while the latter is frequently used in a good sense.

(1) Those who are given up to a reprobate mind are ‘full of envy’ (μεστοὺς φθόνου  Romans 1:29), and the character of the word is strikingly indicated by the company it keeps, φθόνος and φόνος (‘murder’) going together. Among the works of the flesh are ‘envyings’ ( Galatians 5:21), such as are occasioned by quarrels about words ( 1 Timothy 6:4). Christians can recall the time when they were ‘living in malice and envy’ ( Titus 3:3); and even now they need the injunction to ‘put away all envies’ ( 1 Peter 2:1); it ill becomes them to be seen ‘provoking one another, envying one another’ ( Galatians 5:26). In Rome St. Paul found, with mingled feelings, some men actually preaching Christ from envy, moved to evangelical activity by the strange and sinister inspiration of uneasiness and displeasure at his own success as an apostle ( Philippians 1:15) (see Faction). If the Revised Versionof  James 4:5 is correct, φθονέω has its usual evil sense, and this difficult passage means, ‘Do you think that God will implant in us a spirit of envy, the parent of strife and hate?’ But it may be better to translate, either, ‘For even unto jealous envy (‘bis zur Eifersucht’ [von Soden]) he longeth for the spirit which he made to dwell in us,’ or ‘That spirit which he made to dwell in us yearneth for us even unto jealous envy.’ If either of the last two renderings is right, φθόνος is for once ascribed to God, or to a spirit which proceeds from Him, and the word has no appreciable difference of meaning from the ζῆλος (‘jealousy’) which is so often attributed to Him in the OT (θεὸς ζηλωτής,  Exodus 20:5, etc.). He longs for the devotion of His people with an intensity which is often present in, as well as with a purity which is mostly absent from, our human envy. Very different from this passion of holy desire was the φθόνος of the pagan gods (τὸ θεῖον πᾶν ἐστι φθονερόν, says Solon, Herod. i. 32; cf. iii. 40)-that begrudging of uninterrupted human happiness which Crœsus and Polycrates had so much reason to fear.

(2) In the Revised Versionof  Acts 7:9;  Acts 13:45;  Acts 17:5,  Romans 13:13,  1 Corinthians 3:3,  James 3:14;  James 3:16 ‘jealousy’ is substituted for Authorized Version‘envy,’ in  Acts 5:17 for ‘indignation,’ and in  2 Corinthians 12:20 for ‘emulation.’ In all these instances the word is ζῆλος (vb. ζηλόω), used in a bad sense, though in many other cases it has a good meaning and is translated ‘zeal’ ( Romans 10:2,  2 Corinthians 7:7;  2 Corinthians 7:11;  2 Corinthians 9:2,  Philippians 3:6). In  2 Corinthians 11:2 ζήλῳ θεοῦ means a zeal or jealousy like that which is an attribute of God, most pure in its quality, and making its possessor intensely solicitous for the salvation of men.

In  2 Corinthians 9:2 the Revised Version margin suggests ‘emulation of you’ as the translation of ὁ ὑμῶν ζῆλος., William Law, who calls envy ‘the most ungenerous, base, and wicked passion that can enter the heart of man’ (A. Whyte, Characters and Characteristics of William Law 4, 1907, p. 77), denies that any real distinction can be drawn between envy and emulation.

‘If this were to be attempted, the fineness of the distinction would show that it is easier to divide them in words than to separate them in action. For emulation, when it is defined in its best manner, is nothing else but a refinement upon envy, or rather the most plausible part of that black and poisonous passion. And though it is easy to separate them in the notion, yet the most acute philosopher, that understands the art of distinguishing ever so well, if he gives himself up to emulation, will certainly find himself deep in envy.’

If this were the case, there would be an end of all generous rivalry and fair competition. But it is contrary to the natural feeling of mankind. Plato says, ‘Let every man contend in the race without envy’ (Jowett2, 1875, v. 75), and St. Paul frequently stimulates his readers with the language of the arena. The distinction between φθόνος and ζῆλος (in the good sense) is broad and deep. The one is a moral disease-‘rottenness in the bones’ ( Proverbs 14:30), ‘aegritudo suscepta propter alterius res secundas’ (Cicero, Tusc . iv. 8); the other is the health and vigour of a spirit that covets earnestly the best gifts. Nothing but good can come of the strenuous endeavour to equal and even excel the virtues, graces, and high achievements of another. Ben Jonson has the line, ‘This faire aemulation, and no envy is,’ and Dryden ‘a noble emulation heats your breast.’ ζῆλος (from ζέω, ‘boil’) is, in fact, like its Hebrew equivalent קִנְאָה (‘heat,’ ‘ardour’), an ethically neutral energy, which may become either good or bad, according to the quality of the objects to which it is directed and the spirit in which they are pursued. It instigated the patriarchs (ζηλώσαντες,  Acts 7:9) to sell their brother into Egypt, and the Judaizers (ζηλοῦσιν,  Galatians 4:17) to seek the perversion of St. Paul’s spiritual children. Love (ἀγάπη) has no affinity with this base passion (οὐ ζηλοῖ,  1 Corinthians 13:4). Love generates a rarer, purer zeal of its own, and ‘it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter at all times’ (καλὸν δὲ ζηλοῦσθαι ἐν καλῷ πάντοτε,  Galatians 4:18).

James Strahan.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

Sin of jealousy over the blessings and achievements of others, especially the spiritual enjoyment and advance of the kingdom of Christ freely and graciously bestowed upon the people of God. Old Testament examples of the sin of jealousy include the rivalry of Joseph's brothers over the favor that Joseph received at the hand of God ( Genesis 37:12-36;  Acts 7:9 ), and Saul's animosity toward David for his physical and spiritual prowess ( 1 Samuel 18 ). Envy inevitably leads to personal harm and debilitation, affecting one's physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being ( Job 5:2;  Proverbs 14:30 ). Unchecked, it gradually leads to a destructive and remorseful way of life ( Proverbs 27:4 ), and ultimately, to estrangement from God ( Romans 1:28-32 ).

Envy manifests the insidiousness of sin and human depravity apart from the intervention of God's redeeming grace. As a sin of the flesh, envy characterizes the lives of the unregenerate. Envy is one of the traits of the Christian's former way of life ( Romans 13:8-14;  Titus 3:3 ). Those who practice envy and strife are barred from the kingdom of heaven ( Galatians 5:19-26 ). Indeed, the unregenerate nature ever tends toward envy, manifesting the unbeliever's rejection of God, his truth, and his will for human conduct ( James 3:14,16 ).

The way of true wisdom counsels the faithful to avoid the company of such godless people ( Proverbs 24:1 ). Envy is listed among the sins of the flesh that must be conquered through the power of the Holy Spirit (1Col 3:3; 2Col 12:20;  1 Peter 2:1 ). "Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord" ( Proverbs 23:17 ). Love is to have majesty over envy ( 1 Corinthians 13:4 ).

As an example from former days, the righteous judgment of Yahweh against Edom was measured out in accordance with the measure of Edom's jealousy toward the people of God ( Ezekiel 35:11 ). But the mercy of God brought about the healing of animosity between Ephraim and Judah by means of God's righteous act of salvation ( Isaiah 11:13 ). In the time of Messiah's earthly ministry it was the envy of the Jews that led to the rejection and betrayal of Jesus into the hands of Pilate for crucifixion ( Matthew 27:18 ). Nevertheless, in the providence and foreordination of God, what the wicked intended for evil was destined to be the instrument of God's redemption of his elect through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul points out how the good news of the gospel was preached at times out of envy and strife ( Philippians 1:15 ). Yet in spite of the envious motives of the false apostles, Paul rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed. Like Christ, the apostle in his ministry of the gospel experienced the hatred and jealousy of the Jews ( Acts 13:45 ). This did not deter him from his divinely ordained mission. There were other times, however, that false teaching led to controversy and envy among the people of God ( 1 Timothy 6:4 ). Genuine, unfeigned love for God and his word prompts the disciples of Christ to proclaim and defend the full counsel of God's truth. Loving and consecrated devotion to Christ and his kingdom dissipates the sins of envy and jealousy.

Mark W. Karlberg

See also Covetousness

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(1): ( n.) Emulation; rivalry.

(2): ( n.) Public odium; ill repute.

(3): ( n.) An object of envious notice or feeling.

(4): ( n.) Malice; ill will; spite.

(5): ( n.) Chagrin, mortification, discontent, or uneasiness at the sight of another's excellence or good fortune, accompanied with some degree of hatred and a desire to possess equal advantages; malicious grudging; - usually followed by of; as, they did this in envy of Caesar.

(6): ( v. i.) To be filled with envious feelings; to regard anything with grudging and longing eyes; - used especially with at.

(7): ( v. t.) To feel envy at or towards; to be envious of; to have a feeling of uneasiness or mortification in regard to (any one), arising from the sight of another's excellence or good fortune and a longing to possess it.

(8): ( v. t.) To feel envy on account of; to have a feeling of grief or repining, with a longing to possess (some excellence or good fortune of another, or an equal good fortune, etc.); to look with grudging upon; to begrudge.

(9): ( v. t.) To long after; to desire strongly; to covet.

(10): ( v. t.) To do harm to; to injure; to disparage.

(11): ( v. t.) To hate.

(12): ( v. t.) To emulate.

(13): ( v. i.) To show malice or ill will; to rail.

Holman Bible Dictionary [4]

 Genesis 26:14 Genesis 30:1 Psalm 73:3 Proverbs 3:31 Psalm 37:1 Proverbs 24:1 24:19 Mark 7:22 Romans 1:29 Galatians 5:21 Titus 3:3 1 Timothy 6:4 Matthew 27:18 Mark 15:10 Acts 5:17 Acts 13:45 Acts 17:5 Galatians 5:26 1 Peter 2:1

Envy is sometimes a motive for doing good. The Preacher was disillusioned that hard work and skill were the result of envying another ( Ecclesiastes 4:4 ). Paul was, however, able to rejoice that the gospel was preached even if the motive were envy ( Philippians 1:15 ).

The KJV rightly understood the difficult text in  James 4:5 , recognizing that it is a characteristic of the human spirit that it “lusteth to envy”. Contrary to modern translations, the Greek word used for envy here ( phthonos ) is always used in a negative sense, never in the positive sense of God's jealousy (Greek zealos ). God's response to the sinful longings of the human heart is to give more grace ( James 4:6 ). See Jealousy .

King James Dictionary [5]

En'Vy, L invideo, in and video, to see against, that is, to look with enmity.

1. To feel uneasiness, mortification or discontent, at the sight of superior excellence, reputation or happiness enjoyed by another to repine at another's prosperity to fret or grieve one's self at the real or supposed superiority of another, and to hate him on that account.

Envy not thou the oppressor.  Proverbs 3

Whoever envies another, confesses his superiority.

2. To grudge to withhold maliciously.

To envy at, used by authors formerly, is now obsolete.

Who would envy at the prosperity of the wicked?

EN'VY, n. Pain, uneasiness, mortification or discontent excited by the sight of another's superiority or success, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often or usually with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed. Envy springs from pride, ambition or love, mortified that another has obtained what one has a strong desire to possess.

Envy and admiration are the Scylla and Charybdis of authors.

All human virtue, to its latest breath,

Finds envy never conquered, but by death.

Emulation differs from envy, in not being accompanied with hatred and a desire to depress a more fortunate person.

Envy, to which th' ignoble mind's a slave,

Is emulation in the learn'd or brave.

It is followed by of or to. They did this in envy of Caesar, or in envy to his genius. The former seems to be preferable.

1. Rivalry competition. Little used. 2. Malice malignity.

You turn the good we offer into envy.

3. Public odium repute invidiousness.

To discharge the king of the envy of that opinion.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [6]

ENVY . Envy leads to strife, and division, and railing, and hatred, and sometimes to murder. The Bible classes it with these things (  Romans 1:29; Rom 13:13 ,   1 Corinthians 3:3 ,   2 Corinthians 12:20 , Gal 5:21 ,   1 Timothy 6:4 ,   Titus 3:3 ,   James 3:14;   James 3:16 ). It is the antipode of Christian love. Envy loveth not, and love envieth not (  1 Corinthians 13:4 ). Bacon closes his essay on ‘Envy’ with this sentence: ‘Envy is the vilest affection and the most depraved; for which cause it is the proper attribute of the Devil, who is called, The envious man, that soweth tares amongst the wheat by night; as it always cometh to pass, that Envy worketh subtilly and in the dark, and to the prejudice of good things, such as is the wheat.’ Chrysostom said: ‘As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man, to be a living anatomy, a skeleton, to be a lean and pale carcass, quickened with a fiend.’ These are Scriptural estimates. Envy is devilish, and absolutely inconsistent with the highest life. Examples abound in the Bible, such as are suggested by the relations between Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, Haman and Mordecai, the elder brother and the prodigal son, the Roman evangelists of   Philippians 1:15 and the Apostle Paul, and many others.

D. A. Hayes.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [7]

A sensation of uneasiness and disquiet, arising from the advantages which others are supposed to possess above us, accompanied with malignity towards those who possess them. "This, " says a good writer, "is universally admitted to be one of the blackest passions in the human heart. No one, indeed, is to be condemned for defending his rights, and showing displeasure against a malicious enemy; but to conceive ill will at one who has attacked none of our rights, nor done us any injury, solely because he is more prosperous than we are, is a disposition altogether unnatural. Hence the character of an envious man is universally odious. All disclaim it; and they who feel themselves under the influence of this passion, carefully conceal it. The chief grounds of envy may be reduced to three: accomplishments of mind; advantages of birth, rank, and fortune; and superior success in worldly pursuits. To subdue this odious disposition, let us consider its sinful and criminal nature; the mischiefs it occasions to the world; the unhappiness it produces to him who possesses it; the evil causes that nourish it, such as pride and indolence: let us, moreover, bring often into view those religious considerations which regard us as Christians: how unworthy we are in the sight of God, how much the blessings we enjoy are above what we deserve. Let us learn reverence and submission to that divine government which has appointed to every one such a condition as is fittest for him to possess; let us consider how opposite the Christian spirit is to envy; above all, let us offer up our prayers to the Almighty, that he would purify our hearts from a passion which is so base and so criminal."

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [8]

See Jealousy .

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

en´vi ( קנאה , kīn'āh  ; ζῆλος , zḗlos , φθόνος , phthónos ): "Envy," from Latin in , "against," and video , "to look," "to look with ill-will," etc., toward another, is an evil strongly condemned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is to be distinguished from jealousy. "We are jealous of our own; we are envious of another man's possessions. Jealousy fears to lose what it has; envy is pained at seeing another have" (Crabb's English Synonyms ). In the Old Testament it is the translation of ḳin'āh from kānā' , "to redden," "to glow" ( Job 5:2 , the Revised Version (British and American) "jealousy," margin "indignation"; in  Isaiah 26:11 the Revised Version (British and American) renders "see thy zeal for the people";   Proverbs 27:4 , etc.); the verb occurs in  Genesis 26:14 , etc.;  Numbers 11:29 the King James Version;   Psalm 106:16;  Proverbs 3:31 , etc.; in the New Testament it is the translation of phthonos , "envy" ( Matthew 27:18;  Romans 1:29;  Galatians 5:21 , "envyings," etc.); of zēlos , "zeal," "jealousy," "envy" ( Acts 13:45 ), translated "envying," the Revised Version (British and American) "jealousy" ( Romans 13:13;  1 Corinthians 3:3;  2 Corinthians 12:20;  James 3:14 ,  James 3:16 ); the verb phthonéō occurs in  Galatians 5:26; zēlóō in  Acts 7:9;  Acts 17:5 , the Revised Version (British and American) "moved with jealousy";  1 Corinthians 13:4 , "charity (the Revised Version (British and American) "love") envieth not."

The power of envy is stated in  Proverbs 27:4 : "Who is able to stand before envy?" (the Revised Version (British and American) "jealousy"); its evil effects are depicted in   Job 5:2 (the Revised Version (British and American) "jealousy"), in   Proverbs 14:30 (the Revised Version, margin "jealousy"); it led to the crucifixion of Christ (  Matthew 27:18;  Mark 15:10 ); it is one of "the works of the flesh" ( Galatians 5:21; compare  Romans 1:29;  1 Timothy 6:4 ); Christian believers are earnestly warned against it ( Romans 13:13 the King James Version;   1 Corinthians 3:3 the King James Version;   Galatians 5:26;  1 Peter 2:1 ). In  James 4:5 "envy" is used in a good sense, akin to the jealousy ascribed to God. Where the King James Version has "The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy," the Revised Version (British and American) reads "Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?"; the American Revised Version, margin "The spirit which he made to dwell in us he yearneth for even unto jealous envy"; compare   Jeremiah 3:14;  Hosea 2:19 f; or the English Revised Version, margin "That spirit which he made to dwell in us yearneth (for us) even unto jealous envy." This last seems to give the sense; compare "Ye adulteresses" (  Hosea 2:4 ), the American Revised Version, margin " That is , who break your marriage vow to God."