Avoid Everything That Appears Evil?

February 20th, 2008

My goodness, two posts in one day? After two weeks of silence? What’s gotten into me?!?

So, here’s the issue: Does 1 Thessalonians 5:21 tell us to abstain from everything that even appears evil to some people? That’s how people sometimes read the KJV translation: “Abstain from every appearance of evil.”

In an entry at Parchment and Pen, Dr. Dan Wallace–author of the standard text Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, and chief translator of the New English Translation (with its wonderful footnotes)–explains why it doesn’t. In modern English, it says something closer to “Avoid every form of evil.”

Not only that, but in context, it looks like it’s talking about false teaching & prophecy. The ESV says:

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thes. 5:19-22

“Abstain from every form of evil” is the counterpart to “hold fast to what is good”, and both refer back to “test everything”.

90 Responses to “Avoid Everything That Appears Evil?”

  1. “However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”

    Though I do not dispute the understanding Wallace puts forth, it would seem that Paul does hold to a position that requires abstinence according to the conscience. There is such a thing as prudence, both for one’s sef and for the sake of others. There are numerous passages that speak to the conscience in both the realms of actions and beliefs. Generally speaking, it is wise to abstain when in doubt, isn’t it?

    When we act in faith, it is not that we doubt. Christian fiath is something quite different than that which the world knows. We speak of faith as sure and certain. They test the waters, we have been plunged beneath them. Each one is to be convinced in his own mind, then, they are to partake. The reason that we can partake is that we have true knowledge. Short of that, when it comes to things spiritual, to partake in doubt, James would say is to be double-minded and unfruitful; cf Romans 14 esp. “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

    I respect the holding of 1 Thes 5:22 within its context, but I think there may also be a wider application. At least it appears so.

    tt

  2. Tim says:

    Hmm. I don’t think I would say that 1 Thes. 5:22 has a wider application to the issues you mention. At least, not to the issue of prudent abstinence for the sake of a weak conscience or ensuring you don’t cause a brother to stumble.

    I do think it’s reasonable to say “Abstain from every form of evil” has broader application than just false prophecy. We shouldn’t accept a sin just because we think it’s small. But that only applies when we’ve established that something really is a sin.

    For the other issues–Christian liberty and how that interacts with prudent abstinence and receiving all things with thanksgiving and uncertain conscience and all that–we should go to the passages that deal with those issues.

  3. “I don’t think I would say that 1 Thes. 5:22 has a wider application to the issues you mention. At least, not to the issue of prudent abstinence for the sake of a weak conscience or ensuring you don’t cause a brother to stumble.”

    1 Thes. 5:14-15 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. cf 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12, esp 9-12.

    You can see, the context does have application back to Romans and elsewhere, however.

  4. Jug, this is a response to your post on C Michael Patton’s post about the emergent classifcation.

    You said that Brian McClaren has a lot of influence over “emerging” churches. I think you may be confusing “emerging” churches with “emergent” churches. Dan K., Driscoll, others call themselves emerging, but do not (seem) to subscribe to McClaren. But McClaren is more active in the “emergent” conversation.

    Perhaps I am mistaken. But I see a distinction between emerging and Brian McClaren. Emerging I classify as – doing new and different stuff – talking more about loving God and others, and less about religion – and maybe doing some interesting new methodologies.

    Brian, however, I see as a heretic (sorry Brian).

  5. Skybalon says:

    Hmm… I wonder who you are calling Dimly?

  6. Tim says:

    Sky,

    Hmm, so you’re the one who stole my blog name before I could get to it.

  7. Tim says:

    Jesse is referring to this comment of mine, from a series at Parchment & Pen on the Emerging Church.

    Jesse,

    Thanks, I’m aware the emerging/emergent distinction. I’ve heard someone say that the emerging church movement has at least two broad streams running into it–one basically conservative evangelical (“emerging”), and one basically liberal (“emergent”). People don’t always use the terms that way, but I know some people try to.

    I didn’t exactly say that McClaren has a lot of influence over “emerging” churches. I said that when CMP used a particular analogy, I thought he might have understated McClaren’s importance in the movement. That doesn’t mean I think every emerger likes him.

  8. Skybalon says:

    Yes.

    Clearly that means I can travel through time (which is the best way I could put it, since, for those of us who have done it, we know time is not really a thing we travel through). In any case, this is how in 2005 I travelled to this future, saw the best named blog, thought I would create my own, travelled back to 2005, and named it as I did- minus the comma.

    Since, by your own acknowlegement, my time-travel credentials are verified, would you like to know how things end?

    Tempting isn’t it?

    On another note, don’t sit on that toilet seat tomorrow

  9. Tabatha says:

    Inspiring stopry there. What happened after?
    Thanks!

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  25. Daniel B says:

    I think the confusion often happens over the word “appearance”, which is technically correct but confusion because it’s a less-common meaning of the word.

    If something looks like me, then it has the appearance of me. If I appear at some location, then that is an appearance of me – much like how if I arrive somewhere, that is an arrival of me.

    In saying “avoid the appearance of evil”, it’s using this “arrival” type meaning. So it’s saying “Avoid the appearing-on-the-scene of evil” or “Avoid evil whenever it appears”, rather than “avoid anything that seems like evil, even if it’s not” … Jesus himself didn’t follow the rule if it means avoid the resemblance of evil.

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