In this article, we will be exploring jealousy in the Bible. We will look at this emotion and see if it’s a sin or a natural reaction. So, grab your Bible, and let’s dig in…
The Bible is full of statements that appear to be contradictions until you look at the words more closely. One such apparent contradiction concerns jealousy.
Some scriptures mention jealousy in a sinful context, yet several verses describe God as a jealous God.
If God is perfect and there can be no sin in Him, then surely jealousy can’t really be a sin? That’s the question many believers struggle with.
So, let’s dive into the Bible and determine if jealousy is a sin or a natural reaction.
What Does The Bible Say About Jealousy?
The Hebrew word that’s most often used for “jealous” is “qanna” (Strong’s number H7067), though the Bible also uses some variations of it. It can be translated as jealous or zealous, depending on the context.
קַנָּא qannâʼ, kan-naw’; from H7065; jealous:—jealous. Compare H7072.
קָנָא qânâʼ, kaw-naw’; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make) zealous, i.e. (in a bad sense) jealous or envious:—(be) envy(-ious), be (move to, provoke to) jealous(-y), × very, (be) zeal(-ous).
קַנּוֹא qannôwʼ, kan-no’; for H7067; jealous or angry:—jealous.
So, even though we cannot get a clear indication of what jealousy is from that, it does indicate that there are possible connections between being jealous and being zealous.
But if we look at the context of some uses of the word “jealous” in the Bible, we can get an idea of what the Bible considers jealousy.
We see the action or emotion of jealousy in the Bible before we see the word. A prime example of this is the story of Cain and Able.
The first time that jealousy is mentioned by name is in Exodus 20:5 (during the Ten Commandments) when God says the following:
“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me….”
God made it clear we are not to have any other gods or idols.
We will talk more about God’s jealous nature later, but there are multiple scriptures that refer to Him as a jealous God, and even one that says that one of God’s name is “Jealous.”
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. – Exodus 34:14
This means jealousy is part of His nature, being, and character; it’s not a purely emotional response for Him.
Another reference to jealousy is in Numbers 5:11-31, which explains what a husband should do when he suspects his wife is guilty of adultery. We see the following in verses 29-31:
“This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself, or when the spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife.
Then he shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall carry out for her all this law. The man shall be free from iniquity, but the woman shall bear her iniquity.”
This is an interesting portion of scripture. The entire chapter explains how the husband is to take his wife to the priest to make the grain offering of jealousy.
This means the offering is about his jealousy, not her adultery, though adultery is the cause of the jealousy.
If the offering proves that she was unfaithful to her husband, then the husband would be free from iniquity since his jealousy was justified, while the wife would bear the curse for her adultery.
We will look at this more closely later.
Most other verses in the Old Testament refer to God’s jealousy over Israel and Jerusalem. Though the New Testament doesn’t mention jealousy often, there are some interesting occurrences.
1 Corinthians 3:3 says, “For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
James 3:14-16 is another example, where it says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
Interestingly, neither of these scriptures mentions jealousy on its own.
It is combined with strife, bitterness, and selfish ambition.
So, where does this leave us?
Is jealousy a sin?
Is Jealousy A Sin?
When we combine all these scriptures, jealousy can go both ways.
There can be righteous jealousy that is not considered sinful.
Paul even speaks of how he attempted to make the Jews jealous intentionally so they may desire what the Christians had.
I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry 14 in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. – Romans 11:13-14
However, in the way most of us experience jealousy, it is a sin.
Jealousy is sinful when it is accompanied by any of the following:
- Strife or Arguments (1 Cor 3:3):
Whenever jealousy makes us argue or fight amongst ourselves, it is sinful.
- Selfish Ambition (James 3:14-16):
It’s easy to get jealous when someone else gets what we desire. This could be a physical object that you want to have; then, you see someone else getting it first.
Or it could be a promotion at work that you’ve been working towards for years, and someone else gets placed in that position.
Being jealous in such cases is considered sinful.
- Having no (Godly) grounds for your jealousy:
As we can see from Numbers 5, if the wife was found guilty of adultery, the husband’s jealousy would be justified, and he would be free from iniquity.
That would not be the case if the wife were found innocent, in which case the husband’s jealousy would not be justified.
Isn’t Jealousy Just A Natural Reaction?
Jealousy is a natural reaction, of course.
It comes to us as naturally as hunger and sadness. But that does not mean it isn’t a sin. We have many natural reactions that are still sinful.
That’s why Paul calls it “fleshly,” or part of our “carnal nature” and James says it’s “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” In the book of Galatians, Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5, but right before that he cleary goes into a list of “Acts of the Flesh” and jelousy is right in there.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:19-21
As with any other sin, jealousy is something that we must resist. Whenever we feel jealousy, we are to evaluate those feelings and the things that cause it, then repent and give it to God.
Jealousy is hardly ever healthy, so it’s something we should resist with everything in us. You feel it creep up…go straight to Jesus!
If Jealousy Is A Sin, Why Is God Jealous?
As we saw, jealousy doesn’t have to be inherently sinful, though we humans often experience it sinfully because it’s usually tied with desire and envy.
But, from the example of the husband and wife in Numbers 5, jealousy can be justified. So, the real question is, what’s the difference between Godly (righteous) and sinful jealousy?
Numbers 5:29 gives us a hint:
“This is the law in cases of jealousy, when a wife, though under her husband’s authority, goes astray and defiles herself….”
Jealousy is justified when the wife breaks faith with her husband though she is under his authority (protection and guardianship).
God often compares our relationship with Him to that of a husband and wife.
He did this with Israel and Judah, and He is still doing that today with us as believers (we are the bride of Christ).
This means we are under His protection, guardianship, and authority, and He has the right to be protective, zealous, and jealous toward us. He paid the price for that right.
A friend of mine told me this story. When he was about five years old,his parents got builders to help expand their house.
These men were there daily for about three months, building and breaking. He remembered spending a lot of time with one of them on Saturdays because he was a “fun person.”
Yet his parents always insisted he shouldn’t do that too often because it would “waste his time.”
Whenever he was there, they would play catch and do many fun things, but one of his parents was always watching from a distance.
He thought they were jealous because he was spending time with this man and not with them, but today, when he grew up, he understood since he has children of his own.
Maybe they were jealous, but it’s not the sinful kind. They weren’t hoping for more of my time. They were simply being protective of him because they didn’t know this man and what he was capable of.
That’s similar to God’s jealousy.
God didn’t say He was jealous because He desired the people’s worship – He was jealous because He knew what would happen if the people worshiped other gods beside Him.
It would cause a rift between Him and them and lead to their death and destruction, which it eventually did.
Godly jealousy is not based on desire or envy; it’s about protection, truth, and love.
Jealousy usually manifests itself in us in a sinful and carnal way, another side of the fleshly nature that we are to resist and destroy to become more like Christ.
But Godly jealousy is holy, fierce, and protective, a perfect demonstration of love and commitment. In this case, “zeal” might be a better translation.
Whenever we experience jealousy, we are to compare it with Christ and determine if this is righteous jealousy or not, and if it’s based on our own desires in any way, it is not of God.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…