Posted by: thebylog | June 13, 2005

What Does “Abstain from all appearance of evil” mean?

I Thess. 5:22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Luke 7: 34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!

1Co 8:7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. … 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

To me there’s at least an apparent dichotomy in these verses, because it seems as if it appeared Jesus was a sinner, something forbidden by Paul. And even if somehow it didn’t appear that He was involved in evil, it seems as if what he did would be something we would want to avoid, because of what it could do to a Christian brother or sister.

I don’t know how exactly to resolve this. Some thoughts, though.

Being misunderstood must not necessarily equate to the appearance of evil, because Jesus certainly wasn’t a gluttonous drunk, though that’s what he was accused of. Perhaps it was simply assumed that he was partaking in the activities typically associated with his rather dubious companions, a guilt-by-association situation.

In reading some commentaries about this “Abstain from all appearance” verse, the idea linking this verse to I Corinthians 8 (think of the weaker brother in what you do) comes up. I actually think you could go to an ungodly party without being a stumblingblock to your young church friend if you were transparent about why you were getting involved in it.

But perhaps the most satisfying resolution of this apparent contradiction is the idea that the traditional interpretation of the “Abstain” verse is wrong, that “appearance” doesn’t refer to supposed evil in yourself, but in others. The context would seem to support this, because the prior verses speak of prophesying and testing things whether they be true or not. The Jamieson-Faussett-Brown commentary interprets it this way, saying the apparent evil the verse refers to is likely that of “pretenders to spirit-inspired prophesyings.”

If this interpretation is a bit of a stretch, I think at least this verse has less to do with what others perceive as evil and more to do with what is truly evil. This way, what Christ did was perfectly acceptable, because it was good, even though some (incorrectly) interpreted it otherwise.

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Responses

  1. In support of a non-typical interpretation of this verse, such as what you mentioned…
    Based on the Greek, the verse may be translated thus: “Hold yourself off from every form of that which is evil in effect or influence.” In other words, the “appearance” in the KJV relates to the evil we are not to partake of – it doesn’t relate to how we appear to others. (Although I don’t think that interpretation should provide license to be sloppy in our conduct – if I went to a party where others were getting drunk, I should probably be careful to not act so silly that I look drunk, too, etc.)

    I wonder if this verse applies a bit: “Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.” I might be stretching things, or maybe this could relate to the false accusations the Pharisees brought against Jesus. His stellar conduct was there to prove them wrong, but they found fault anyway because they wanted to.

  2. I’m glad you brought this up, makes me want to go study it for myself.

  3. I like this strangequark guy. As a geek I like his name and as a geek and a Christian I like his comment content!

  4. Hey. I stumbled across your blog and has fate would have it, i just completed an article concerning the real meaning of the appearance of evil. I hope you will find it worth the read, and ease your concern. My blog site is

    http://www.tialynnlecorchick.blogspot.com
    Enjoy, and let me know what you think! 🙂

  5. Hey, I teach a mens Bibile study in my church. I recently considered adding a roomate to my home to help pay the rent and the prospective tennant is a single woman and needs a little help right now. I am a single man and and already have one male roomate.
    The Pastors wife heard wind of my more rent idea and swiftly condemned it siting 1Thes.1:22…the appearance of evil verse.
    She vehemently told me that if I proceeded with this action I could no longer be in leadership in this church. This is very grievious to me as I love teaching the Word of God and I love the sheep God has placed in my care. I know that she is incorrect spiritually in this matter, but I don’t know yet the best way of dealing with it.
    When she finished making her demands, I said, well…I guess I’ll just have to ask my male roomate to move out then seeing that having a male roomate nowadays would certainly appear more evil than having a female roomate, as I’ve already experienced this kind of suspicious condemnation firsthand through unwarranted sneers from my neighbors. MY GOD!!! What a perverse generation we live in both in the church and out of it!
    It kind of makes me want to spend my time smoking dope with the heathens again…but I know better. Please pray for me for I am hurt by my own. If I confront them with scriptures like…”there is neither male nor female but ye are all one in Christ Jesus” or “Hencefoth know no man after the flesh”, will they recieve it ?
    If they don’t, I must step down from teaching. If I ignore it and keep on teaching, It may come up again and that wouldn’t be forthright and I don’t like underhanded dealings. If I go to the Pastor whose wife seems to have the same self-appointed power, will it not cause strife in their home? If I step down, won’t my brothers be grieved and divided? If I tell the lady she cannot rent my room now when I believe the Spirit wants me to help her, I go against conscience and am grieved for her and myself. Dear God what is this darkness that has befallen some of your saints as they seem to cling to something other than you through fear and insecurity that they actually don’t know you in me all of a sudden?
    It appears that no matter how I look at this dellima presented to me, that the outcome itself has the appearance of evil not the actual pure in heart motive to have a roomate. Somebody please tell me when did finding a roomate become an evil thing…did I miss something? Or is it the prophecy coming to pass; ” in that day they will call good evil and evil good.” To the one who reads this and is moved, please let your spirit touch mine for I am overwhelmed. Much Love now more than ever in my precious elder brothers name Jesus Christ of Nazareth — Tom

  6. Hey, I teach a mens Bible study in my church. I recently considered adding a roomate to my home to help pay the rent and the prospective tennant is a single woman and needs a little help right now. I am a single man and and already have one male roomate.
    The Pastors wife heard wind of my more rent idea and swiftly condemned it reciting 1Thes.1:22…the appearance of evil verse.
    She vehemently told me that if I proceeded with this action I could no longer be in leadership in this church. This is very grievious to me as I love teaching the Word of God and I love the sheep God has placed in my care. I know that she is incorrect spiritually in this matter, but I don’t know yet the best way of dealing with it.
    When she finished making her demands, I said, well…I guess I’ll just have to ask my male roomate to move out then seeing that having a male roomate nowadays would certainly appear more evil than having a female roomate, as I’ve already experienced this kind of suspicious condemnation firsthand through unwarranted sneers from my neighbors. MY GOD!!! What a perverse generation we live in both in the church and out of it!
    It kind of makes me want to spend my time smoking dope with the heathens again…but I know better. Please pray for me for I am hurt by my own. If I confront them with scriptures like…”there is neither male nor female but ye are all one in Christ Jesus” or “Hencefoth know no man after the flesh”, will they recieve it ?
    If they don’t, I must step down from teaching. If I ignore it and keep on teaching, It may come up again and that wouldn’t be forthright and I don’t like underhanded dealings. If I go to the Pastor whose wife seems to have the same self-appointed power, will it not cause strife in their home? If I step down, won’t my brothers be grieved and divided? If I tell the lady she cannot rent my room now when I believe the Spirit wants me to help her, I go against conscience and am grieved for her and myself. Dear God what is this darkness that has befallen some of your saints as they seem to cling to something other than you through fear and insecurity that they actually don’t know you in me all of a sudden?
    It appears that no matter how I look at this dellima presented to me, that the outcome itself has the appearance of evil; not the actual pure in heart motive to have a roomate. Somebody please tell me when did finding a roomate become an evil thing…did I miss something? Or is it the prophecy coming to pass; ” in that day they will call good evil and evil good.” “to them that are pure , all things are pure.” To the one who reads this and is moved, please let your spirit touch mine for I am overwhelmed. Much Love now more than ever in my precious elder brothers name Jesus Christ of Nazareth — Tom

  7. naturally……., rooming with a person of the same gender…..is more G-d-honoring (considering the way he created man and woman to be married).
    We are not to give “self” any room to breathe and sometimes that means, taking drastic action. We do not take these actions for the approval of man or the world, but for Christ Jesus. So, regardless of our perverse culture, we must continue to desire a picture of purity, even in our houses, apartments > according to the Lord’s standard…


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