Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I am in sin if I always "avoid the appearance of evil"

Much of what we have learned in church, Sunday School and (gasp) sometimes even seminary is wrong.

The list of Scriptures (atomized "memory verses" out of context, and interpreted through the grid of rationalistic modernity) we have always (mis)understood is almost endless; and the terrible irony is that often the plain and obvious (in context) meaning is opposite what we have always been told.

For example, people actually believe the Bible says "God will never give you more than you can handle." (see God Always Gives Us More Than We Can Handle  and God Will Always Give You More Than You Can Handle).

For another example, you have heard that Jesus would rather have us be hot (on fire for God) or even cold (no heart for God) than being lukewarm.  (see: WWJP Why Would Jesus Puke?: let's be hot AND cold, as Jesus wants)



(see a few examples here)

This is definitely one of my pastoral pet peeves.

Tia Linn, a "Jersey Girl Among the Georgia Peaches," has done the most amazing job I have seen yet on exposing one of the biggest myths:

You know, the "The Bible says 'Avoid the appearance of evil', so don't ever  put yourself in a situation/place where you could be accused of being in sin...." myth.

If you are not aware of the obvious problem (King James translation, and read out of context...what else is new?) with this memory verse that is nowhere in the Bible, read her blog post.

She makes the point that

It is possibly the most misunderstood, misused verse in the entire bible.
We've all had it said to us and we have probably said it to others. It's usually
applied when we feel someone isn't actually sinning, but we believe that some
unidentified lurking spy could misconstrue our behaviour as sin because it
"looks bad."

However, this verse, as it appears in the KJV, is a poor translation, and has NOTHING to do with freedoms and liberties that could be misinterpreted as evil.

Here's the 1 Thess. 5:22 in Greek put into transliteration:

apo pantos eidous ponèrou apechesthe

The word eidos, based on meaning and context, is actually best translated as "forms" or "kind."

In every other widely used translation besides the OLD KING JAMES version, 1 Thess 5:22 reads something like this: "Abstain from all forms of evil." This has nothing to do with appearances. It's referring to actual evil, in whatever form it manifests: stealing, lying, fornication, adultery, greed, etc. Whatever form it comes in, avoid it!

Here's how the verse reads in the most used translations:

1 Thessalonians 5:22
New International Version: Avoid every kind of evil.New American Standard: Avoid every form of evil.New Living Translation: Avoid every kind of evil.English Standard Version: Abstain from every form of evil.Contemporary English: Don't have anything to do with evil.New King James: Abstain from every form of evil. (NKJ remedied the older version's poor translation)
American Standard: Abstain from every form of evil.Darby Translation: Hold aloof from every form of wickedness.Holman Christian Standard Bible: Stay away from every form of evil.New International Reader's Version: Stay away from every kind of evil.Worldwide English: Have nothing to do with any wrong thing.

The Old King James isn't technically wrong, but being that most of us do not utilize old English, we misread it. It's use of the word appearance more accurately means..."avoid evil whenever it makes an appearance." The context of the word is as occurrence, not outward appearance.

..Most of the time, people unknowingly misuse this verse with the
VERY BEST INTENTIONS, because they desire to appear their very best, so they can lead people to Christ..

The misused version of this verse only heightens our already unhealthy
fixation on appearances and superficial piety instead of true substance. The
terms of what appears evil are usually defined by those who are offended with a
particular activity that can't be classified as real sin, thus it appears evil.
The whole thing breeds suspicion, judgmentalism, and even idolatry. When we
start assigning more power to inanimate objects or activities than they actually
possess, it can turn to a form of idolatry...

We all know it is completely impossible to abstain from the appearance of
evil. We can't even abstain completely from that which is actually evil, let
alone innocent liberties that could possibly appear evil if someone was walking
by and squinting....The real issue is that JESUS appeared evil ALL the time, especially to religious people. He ate and drank (wine, not grape juice,
baptists), he turned water into wine to keep the festivities going for people
who had been drinking all day, hence the accusations of being a wine-bibber and
glutton. He hung around with tax collectors and prostitutes and went into places
deemed "unclean." He didn't perform the ceremonious hand cleansing rituals. He
didn't follow the man-made religious traditions of the sabbath. He was with the
woman at the well all alone, a Samaritan no less. People accused Jesus of being
demon possessed because of how he appeared.

link (emphasis mine)

My response below; upping the ante,

                         but making only a basic/101 conclusion.

This is NOT a non sequitur, not a fallacious stretch;

not a reductionistic heresy.

And I was thrilled to see (by a simple googling here) that many of the top posts actually get it right...

Do the math!

It is simply inevitable that:

1."Jesus appeared evil .."

2. We are to follow Jesus.

3. If we do not appear evil much  of the time, we are in sin and not faithfully following Jesus.

Now don't hear what I'm not saying: Go thou therefore and purposely look like you are attending an adult movie just to be seen and  just to tweak the fundies. Go and pull a Ted Haggard with God's blessing
But if I have not been seen near an adult theatre, a gay film festival, or a prostitute lately,
I should shred my pastoral orders, and re-read the Book.
Where else would Jesus be?

If you are not familiar with C.S. Lewis' "Screwtape Letters," which Bono (literally) took a page from here:
What if that image of purity is the image of a Christian in the original state
of grace? As it is to many people. One night I was doing my..devil dance on
stage with a young girl, in Wales, and she said "are you still a believer? If
so, what are you doing dressed up as the devil?" I said "have you read the
Screwtape Letters?" Which is a C.S. Lewis book that a lot of intense Christians
are plugged into. They are letters from the devil. That's where I got the whole
philosophy of mock-the-devil-and-he-will-flee-from-you. So she said "yes" and I
said "so you know what I'm doing." Then she relaxed and said "I want to bless
and of course inherited much misunderstanding from religious "squeakies"... should be.

But don't let anyone actually see you reading about Bono. You must "avoid every appearance of evil," brethren. Watch this exposé
 of these "false prophets" and get enlightened!! (:


  1. I am so honored that my post blessed you. I took a lot of heat for my stance on that verse for many years, so whenever people write to me and are encouraged, it means the world to me! And I love BONO too. What are the odds? He's such a great example of honest faith, unbound from the pretenses of image....

  2. Tia

    keep up the great work.
    you take heat for faithfully following Jesus and really reading the Bible.
    God will honor that bg time


  3. Interesting thoughts.
    I tend to dissect worship songs that we've sung to see if the lyrics are actually Biblical or if they just make us feel good. My latest post here:
    is kinda about that.

    I always cringe when people say, "The Lord works in mysterious ways" unless it's Bono.

  4. One exception: we should avoid fellowship with so-called believers who are unrepentant, as described in 1 Cor. 5.

    Posted by a spy.

    1. Excellent point, Spyman.
      You probably know that is also one of my keynote sermons:

  5. Sorry to disagree, but the Greek translates ..."from all visible form of evil hold off," so rendering that as "avoid the appearance of evil" is perfectly reasonable. Secondly, the syllogism in the middle of this article is faulty (the major premise is questionable at best) and leads to a false conclusion. Third, the line in 1 Thess. 5:22 is in a list of admonitions, not a list of sins.

    1. Hi Clay:

      Very thoughtful points.

      Let me respond to them out of order (:

      Second point: I re-read my post (we are talking eight years after I posted it!), and I agree about the syllogism. I tend to write large to make a point. I edited my post accordingly, and I nuanced Tia's quote.

      First point:
      On the Greek, i don't see any Greek manuscript with "visible form." Which are you working from? It says, ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε.
      I also edited my excerpt from Tia's post to include her discussion of why "appeatrance" is such a terrible translation that can only cause confusion. My bad, I can't believe I didn't include it. Best way to translate is like all translations execpt KJV basically do: "Avoid evil in all its forms." Sure, it is Ok to translate "Avoid evil in all its appearances"..but this assumes know this means "evil every time it appears,' NOT "the appearance (as in something appearing/seeming to be evil). Our language has changed since King James days.

      Check some standard evangelical commentaries by giants like FF Bruce and Leon Morris (Morris:"Paul is urging his friends to eschew evil of every kind")..not just because they agree with me on this point (:
      Bruce makes the fascinating case that maybe we should take the πονηροῦ as attributive to εἴδους, thus "avoid every evil kind of utterance."

      I find no standard commentator (unless they use KJV) who thinks the case can be made that Paul is ultimately saying we should avoid being seen as evil.

      Third point: I don't get the importance of "list of admonitions, not a list of sins." Help me out. Maybe you were responding to something Tia said or implied.

      Blessings, Hope to see you soon. Praying for your Bible as Lit class

    2. Hey, Dave,

      I don't know Greek well enough to translate. I was using "Word Study Greek-English New Testament" by Paul R. McReynolds.

      Perhaps some of the confusion is in the terminology. I read Paul as saying that whatever we do we should make sure that not only do we not do evil, but that we don't even appear that what we are doing could be seen as evil.

      The third point was in response to Tia (actually all of my responses were, I think). In 1 Thess. 5: 12+, Paul is not making a list of sins to avoid; he was admonishing the flock (see verse 12) with a list of things to do and not to do. Therefore the admonishment not to do anything that could even appear to be evil is not saying that is a sin, but it is an admonishment.

      Blessing to you. Thanks for your prayers. I need them and the class is low enrolled. I need a few more students.

      It would be good to see you some time.


  6. Excellent. Thanks. Great argument on #3.
    I think the problem with books like Reynolds is they force each Greek word into one definitive translation, without allowing much room for context. This can fall into the fallacy of defining words ONLY by etymology and without considering semantic domain, context, usage etc.
    Let's keep talking.


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!