[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.]
It 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to be increasingly fashionable to point out that 1 Thessalonians 5:22 was translated in the King James Version with outdated vernacular, and thus doesn’t mean how it reads in modern English.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 That verse is obsolete.”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.
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?”