The Appearance of Evil

Since I was a small child, I have heard my mother and all sorts of other wonderful persons admonish, "Abstain from the very appearance of evil." In a good number of those occasions, if it were a preacher who gave the admonition, he would usually add, "1 Thessalonians 5:22." My memory even tells me that I have read many times from the Bible, "Shun the very appearance of evil," but I find no version that reads that way, so I conclude that my memory is faulty. Now, I am reasonably well convinced by what little logic I have, and what I know of the Bible that it is a good idea to shun that which SEEMS to be evil. Those things that are of a doubtful nature should not normally be practiced. It may be that some impelling reason may be given for doing something of a questionable nature under some circumstances. For example, I do not think it appropriate to go into a tavern or a house of ill repute, normally, but would do so if I thought a soul could be brought out and saved by my going.

Almost every one of the persons whom I have heard quote or misquote 1 Thessalonians 5:22 did it with this thought in mind: "You should not only abstain from whatever IS wrong, you should abstain from whatever SEEMS or APPEARS to be wrong." This scripture was then used to prove that contention. The trouble is, that is NOT what that scripture says. The difficulty is partly brought about by the fact that in English the word "appear" has at least two meanings. If we should say, "The man HAD an angry appearance," we would normally mean that it seemed to us that he was angry. It would be equivalent to, "He appeared angry." If we should say, "The man MADE an angry appearance," we would mean that he WAS angry, and came on the scene that way -- not just that he seemed to be so. It would be equivalent to, "He appeared, angry." Note the comma. I find no example in the Bible of the word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, translated "appearance," meaning, "seemed to be."

Since I know that the Bible teaches in Romans 14:14, "To him that esteemeth anything unclean, to him it is unclean," and in verse 23, "He that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith," I have no hesitancy in teaching that from Eve on down it would have been better not to even face toward sin, "pitch the tent toward Sodom," "walk in the counsel of the ungodly, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffer." I advise persons generally to abstain from things that even seem to be evil. But I do feel most strongly that we who preach the gospel are especially obligated to make as sure as we can that we neither misquote God's Word, or misuse what we properly quote to uphold a truth. A point that cannot be upheld without an improper exegesis of a passage of scripture is not worth upholding.

The Greek text in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 reads, "APO PANTOS EIDOUS PONEROU APECHESTHE." This may be translated, "From every form of wickedness abstain." "EDIOUS" is the genitive singular of "EIDOS" which is in the KJV translated "appearance" once, "fashion" once (Luke 9:29), "shape" twice (Luke 3:22, John 5:37) and "sight" once (2 Cor. 5:7). In NO case have I found it used in the sense of something that merely SEEMS to be. Both ASV and RSV translate, "Abstain from every FORM of evil." Williams translates, "Continue to abstain from every SORT of evil." Phillips says, "Steer clear of evil in any form." The Amplified Bible says, "Abstain from evil -- shrink from and keep aloof from it -- in whatever form or whatever kind it may be." The Berkeley Version says, "Keep away from evil in every form." Beck says, "Keep away from every kind of evil." Only in the New Testament in the Translation of Monsignor Ronald Knox have I found it translated like this, "rejecting all that has a look of evil about it."

If anyone knows of any reason why we need to misquote or misapply this or any other scripture to prove a point, no matter how good the point, I should be happy to hear from him.

T. Pierce Brown

Published in The Old Paths Archive