In the English language, these words are sometimes used interchangeably. Often one translation will use "jealousy," whereas another will use "envy" to translate the same passage. And, based on the context in which the word occurs, this may be perfectly acceptable.
This word study is based on the New Testament Greek words. And though the meanings may overlap, there is a somewhat different focus for each of the word groups. This contrast, shown below, is based on Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. (The Greek words themselves are listed on a separate page.)
Jealousy (as defined above) is used in 1 Corinthians 13:4: "Love is not jealous." (Some translations: "Love does not envy.") Yet when we examine the New Testament concept of jealousy, we discover that it can be used in both good and bad ways. In fact, the same word is often translated as "zeal"! The primary difference is whether the jealousy/zeal is an expression of love for God and neighbor, or love for self. The verse in 1 Corinthians refers only to the second of these two (love for self).
The concept of envy is included in this study because it is a similar concept (though with a somewhat different emphasis). It does not occur in 1 Corinthians 13, however.
Both words occur in the same context in Galatians 5:19-21, 26, and James 4:2, 5.
Dennis Hinks © 1998, 2004
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