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“1 Thessalonians 5:22 Is Incorrectly Translated, So Don’t Worry About Avoiding The Appearance Of Evil” (The Defense Series)

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[Welcome to The Defense Series. The aim of this series is to help Christians more effectively “make a defense” (1 Pet. 3:15) to those who challenge the teachings and values of New Testament Christianity. Don’t be fooled by the title; this article is a rebuttal to the above quote. My prayer is that the following words will help and embolden you as you stand for Truth.]

1thess522incorrectlytranslatedIt seems to be increasingly fashionable to point out that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 was translated in the King James Version with outdated vernacular, and thus doesn’t mean how it reads in modern English.

Let me illustrate:

Person A might say something like, “I don’t think a Christian should go near a bar, even if they aren’t going to order any alcohol. It doesn’t look good. The Bible says, ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil.’”

Person B might respond, “That verse doesn’t mean Christians have to avoid doing things that may appear to be sin. All it says is that we should avoid sin in general. You can’t control what appears to be sin. That verse is obsolete.”

Does this conversation sound familiar? What are we to make of this?

First, we need to ask,

Is 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Incorrectly Translated?

Technically, yes. The objection to how the King James Version renders 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is valid. When you read, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” you are left with the impression that the apostle Paul is not only condemning evil (v. 21), but he is also condemning that which appears to be evil. Such is not the case.

Other translations render 1 Thessalonians 5:22 more accurately:

Reject every kind of evil. (NIV)

Abstain from every form of evil. (NASB)

Stay away from every kind of evil. (NLT)

Abstain from every form of evil. (ESV)

What Paul is trying to communicate is that we need to avoid every kind of evil. What the KJV translates as “appearance” (eidous) literally means “form,” (which is more grammatically correct and agrees with the context). The point of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 is this: Christians need to stay as far away from evil as possible.

Should Christians Avoid The Appearance Of Evil?

Yes. Christians should always be aware of how their actions are perceived by others. This Biblical principle is taught in no uncertain terms:

  • Jesus taught that we should go out of our way to make sure we don’t unnecessarily offend those around us by our actions (cf. Matt. 17:24-27).
  • Christians should avoid doing things – even if they aren’t wrong in and of themselves – if doing so might make a brother stumble (1 Cor. 8:9, 13).
  • Christians must ensure that they live honorably in the sight of all men (Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:20-21).
  • Christians need to ask themselves if what they are doing will bring glory to God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31).
  • Christians should ensure that they don’t knowingly put an obstacle in anyone’s way (2 Cor. 6:3).

So, how do we determine whether something could be perceived as being sinful? This is in the realm of judgment. Who am I to say? We must each give an account of our own actions (Rom. 14:12). This question can only be answered on a case-by-case basis by the wise and discerning Christian, whose mind has been sharpened by the Word of God (cf. Eph. 6:17).

Yet, the objection to how the KJV renders 1 Thessalonians 5:22 offers no comfort to:

  • Christians who want to hang out in bars “just for the atmosphere.”
  • An unmarried man and a woman who are living together, but “are definitely not having sex.”
  • People who don’t care about what they post on Facebook because “it’s just not a big deal.”
  • Christians who think there isn’t anything wrong with waitressing at a restaurant that serves alcoholic beverages.
  • Dating couples that think they can spend extended amounts of time alone in a house, but are adamant that “they aren’t going to do anything.”

We could think of many more examples, but I think you get the idea. The fact of the matter is this: Christians really do need to protect the name of Christ. We need to be concerned about appearances.

What The Objection To “Abstain From All Appearance Of Evil” Usually Means

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Usually something else is at play when someone eagerly wants to ‘correct’ the apparent injustice of how the KJV renders 1 Thessalonians 5:22.

When someone says, “That’s not what that verse actually means” (and are perfectly content with leaving it at that), they are usually demonstrating a heart problem.

Typically, the ‘that’s-not-what-it-means’ card is played when people just want to brush sin under the rug. They don’t want to worry about protecting their Christian image. They don’t want to ask the question, “Is this action going to bring glory to God?” They don’t want to think about how their behavior might influence a weaker Christian.

Conclusion

Next time you notice someone a little too eager to comment on how the KJV renders 1 Thessalonians 5:22, stress that God really does expect us to protect the name of His Son.

Christians have been set apart from the world (2 Cor. 6:17). We are to influence the world in a positive way (Matt. 5:13-16). Therefore, we must scrutinize our actions and behavior, asking the question, “Is this going to point people to Jesus?”

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8 Responses to “1 Thessalonians 5:22 Is Incorrectly Translated, So Don’t Worry About Avoiding The Appearance Of Evil” (The Defense Series)

  1. James Randal August 20, 2013 at 4:19 PM #

    Ben, this is a good corrective for those who want to justify playing with sin and getting as close as possible without, supposedly, actually sinning. I appreciate your balance in this post. At the same time, righteousness is never served by the wrong use of a verse, and this verse has been bad used—and abused—in the past. Coincidentally, just today made a post on TFR, part of which deals with judging by appearances, and it’s the mark of a wrong religion that so judges. (I’m agreeing with you here, can you tell? haha)

  2. Deana August 20, 2013 at 4:22 PM #

    Absolutely Awesome….

  3. Cathy Pearson August 21, 2013 at 8:56 AM #

    Ben, I have enjoyed reading your posts and usually you are spot on but I believe this post is a little off. I don’t understand how in one breath you can say the KJV is wrong in it’s rendering of this verse but other verses in this same version back up the idea that literally we should avoid the appearance of evil. It appears to me that the KJV got it right-not only to avoid every ‘form’ of evil but even the appearance of it-which could also be a form of it. Thank you for the work you are doing.

    • Ben August 21, 2013 at 9:09 AM #

      Hey Cathy, thanks for your kind words. The KJV leaves the impression that Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, is saying that we not only should avoid evil, but we should avoid even the ‘appearance’ of evil’ (Of course, that is not what the KJV translators intended. They were using “appearance” in an antiquated way). Paul was trying to communicate in 1 Thess. 5:22 that we should avoid all “forms” of evil. He was not teaching, in this specific verse, that we should avoid anything that merely “appears” to be evil.

      In the interest of accuracy, we should never say a verse says something that it does not. We should never abuse Scripture, no matter how true the principle may be nor how much the principle may be taught in other verses. The KJV, in modern English, certainly does not get it right when it ‘speaks where the Scriptures do not speak.’

  4. Stephen R. Bradd April 21, 2014 at 12:51 PM #

    Good words, brother. If I might go one step further…

    “Appearances” are often subjective, and wise judgment is certainly needed regarding them. I find it interesting that Jesus Himself didn’t always avoid the appearance of evil (e.g., Matt. 11:19; Luke 19:7). Your warnings are wise but there may be situations today where a Christian must humbly pursue what he knows is right (and what God expects of him) regardless of how some in the church &/or world might perceive it. May our fear of “appearances” never keep us from doing God’s will! Gal 1:10.

  5. Josh Lifford April 21, 2014 at 5:11 PM #

    I don’t want to sound like a “smarty pants”, but would this mean I could no longer enjoy an ice cold Virgils Root Beer, or an I.B.C. because they are in “Brown” bottles and have the “appearance” of regular beer?

    I actually had one fellow preacher tell me that.

    • Ben April 22, 2014 at 8:12 AM #

      It is bizarre that someone would say you should never enjoy root beer when served in brown bottles. But, there is something to be said for the principle behind the comment. For example, I’m certainly not going to walk around my neighborhood inviting people to church with a brown bottle of I.B.C. root beer in my hand. Why? Because it can easily be mistaken as an alcoholic beverage. I don’t want to knowingly put an obstacle in anyone’s way in coming to know the gospel (cf. 2 Cor. 6:3; &c). I think the fact that God gave us a brain implies that He intends for us to use it.

  6. Stephen April 22, 2014 at 12:01 PM #

    I’m not so sure that this passage refers to individual Christians as much as the Christian body as a whole. He is addressing the “brothers” at the Thessalonian church and the imperative ἀπέχεσθε is a second person plural. Also, the adjective πονηροῦ is very ambiguous. What is evil? Is it saying to stay away from things that are intrinsically evil? If so, in what way? The context (v.14-21) seems to suggest that this is referring to the church body. Also, traditionally the adj. πονηροῦ has been interpreted substantively. Would another interpretation like, “reject whatever is harmful/evil” (interpreting πονηροῦ as a regular adj.) not be standing for the truth?

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