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Apr 15 2010

Appearance of Evil – OOPS

In October of 2009, I posted an article titled Appearance of Evil.  For a variety of reasons, I have taken another look at this subject.  I was wrong in my understanding and I would like to make a correction here.

This mistake is the very reason why it is critical that we look at scripture in context of the text and understand the word usage.  This can be accomplished by the many available resources such as Bible dictionaries. I made the same mistake by taking a scripture and not reading it in context.

The King James Version translates 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”  Most other English word for word  translations such as ESV, NASB, ASV, RV, MRC, LITV, ALT, EMTV as well as the Amplified Bible, translate the word “appearance” as “form.”

The Greek word that is translated as “appearance” is “eídos.”  This Greek word, though a very common Greek word, is only used six times in the New Testament (Luke 3:22, 9:29, John 5:37, 20:8, 2 Corinthians 5:7 and 1 Thessalonians 5:22).

Like most people when quoting this verse, I revert to the KJV “abstain from all appearance of evil” even though my Bible of choice is either the NASB or the ESV.  I never really paid attention to the difference in the translation of this verse.  In any language including English, the most used meaning of a word does not mean that it must always be used.  The context determines the which meaning is used.  Greek is no different.

Eídos means:

  • The act of seeing, the thing seen, external appearance, sight (2Co_5:7, metaphorically our future bliss has yet no visible appearance or form); the object of sight, form, appearance (Luk_3:22; Luk_9:29; Joh_5:37; Sept.: Gen_41:2 f.; Exo_24:17; Num_9:16; 1Sa_25:3; Est_2:7); manner, kind, species (1Th_5:22, Sept.: Jer_15:3). In 2Co_5:7, it refers to the visible appearance of things which are set in contrast to that which directs faith, meaning that the believer is guided not only by what he beholds, but by what he knows to be true though invisible. In 1Th_5:22, the form of evil. (The Complete Word Study Dictionary)

Thayer simplifies the above definition:

  • 1) the external or outward appearance, form figure, shape
    2) form, kind

The first definition is the most common use in Greek.  There are several reasons why the other Bible versions used the second definition in their translation.  The whole chapter is an exhortation to live a holy life.  Paul is instructing the Thessalonians to live a holy life, that is abstain from every kind of evil such as:

  • See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 1 Thessalonians 5:15-20 (ESV)

The biggest problem with the translation of abstaining from the “appearance” of evil is it is very subjective.  To have an “appearance” of evil, essentially the meaning is that while no evil or sin has taken place but it ONLY appears to someone that it has.  It is very subjective.  It appears evil in someone’s eyes.  Actually what may appear evil in someone’s eyes may not seem the same to another person.  Let’s say someone from another country whose culture is vastly different than our own observes something that we may do.  Do we refrain from doing what is natural in our culture so as not to appear to be doing evil in their eyes?  I have lived and traveled in the Middle East extensively.  Their culture is very different than ours.  In their culture, men are more open with each other than in our country.  In our country, it would be mistaken for homosexual behavior when in fact it is not.  An example is that close male  friends will walk very close to each other and that would be mistaken for something else in this country.  They are not committing evil in any way but it appears to our eyes that they are.

Jesus spent a lot of time rebuking the Pharisees for the many laws that they created in addition to the commandments in scripture.  These laws are known as “fence laws.”  These laws are designed around a particular commandment in order to keep a person from breaking a commandment.  Jesus obeyed every law to the letter but He did not obey the fence laws.  In fact, the Pharisees took Him to task for His “appearance” of evil.  He spent time with the tax collectors, prostitutes, the dredges of their society.  He would have failed the test that we place on Christians today.  The appearance of evil would entail doing just what the Pharisees did and that is make fence laws around commandments so that we do not have the appearance of evil.  Many churches do just that and hold their congregants to such rules.  The word that describes that is legalism.

We should use common sense.  When we start judging people for what we think they might be doing, we sow discord amongst ourselves.  God gave us very specific guidelines as to what He deems to be evil.  We are to abstain from those that He deliniated as sinful and evil.  If we are doing what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, we should not worry what someone else may think we may be doing.  Our Christian lives would be trying to please both man and God.  Jesus was perfect in the sight of God but as we know, He did break the laws of man and He appeared to them to be doing wrong – BASED ON THEIR RULES.

We are to abstain from every FORM of evil.  If anyone is judging us for what they think we may be doing, I would caution them with the following scripture:

  • “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
    Matthew 7:1-2 (ESV)

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  1. Margaret


    Thank you for posting on this….. I’ve understood from Jesus’ experiences with the Jews that this was true, but never thought about it in these words and the clarification of the Greek meanings….. Besides being interesting, it is scripture confirming scripture. :) … It’s just good to consider these things.


    1. Tishrei

      Hi Margaret,

      I hate it when I’m so blatantly wrong — but this isn’t the first time and I can guarantee that this won’t be the last. It’s just a matter of when :(

      Since I speak two languages (one is a Semitic language), I realize how important it is to understand culture and how some things just don’t translate on a word-for-word and come out with the same meaning.

  2. Jay

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess that explains why many would rather use a Bible that has got dictionary/concordance as they usually tend to compare different languages/versions.

    1. Tishrei


      I think you’re right as to the reasons why people use a bible with a dictionary/concordance. While they are limited due to size, it sure is helpful for a quick reference.

  3. PaulFan

    The appearance of evil would entail doing just what the Pharisees did and that is make fence laws around commandments so that we do not have the appearance of evil. Many churches do just that and hold their congregants to such rules. The word that describes that is legalism.

    I am impressed, Tishrei. You seem to be following a path of revelation of knowledge that comes “only” from serious, dedicated study of the scriptures by a believer who has the Holy Spirit as a guide.

    Yes, the King James Only Crowd confuses me because I find that the more I learn about Greek and translating Greek to English, well, the KJV seems to not pass the muster. While I still revere this early translation, I do believe the newer, conservative translations such as the NASB seem to be closer to the original Greek than the KJV.

    Thanks again for this very good post!

  4. Chachi

    My concern over this is our ability to have a solid witness.

    If I walk out of a bar at midnight, not drunk but hanging out then what did I do wrong? What if someone I was witnessing to saw me do that? Logically they would think that I was drinking.

    It is very important to not give the devil a foothold and to not damage your witness to others. The appearance of your life may be what God is using to draw them to Him.

  5. Scott Allsebrooke

    How many times do we try to impress or shock other people with our “appearance of evil”?

    1. Tishrei

      I can only speak for myself and can say never. I can’t imagine having a desire to shock or impress anyone with appearing to do something evil.

  6. Ed

    Very interesting thread Tishrei, and also very practical and pertinent.

    Here’s a scenario……

    I’m at a get-together where alcohol is being served and I know that
    if I drink, it might damage my witness because there are non-believers
    there who wrongly believe that Christians should always abstain from
    drinking alcohol.

    They’re wrong, but I know that’s what they believe.

    Should I abstain from drinking in these circumstances? Is this a situation where
    I would be placing a stumbling block in their way?

    1. Tishrei

      Oh yes, absolutely you should abstain. Romans Chapter 14 discusses this. Romans 14:13-23 specifically talks about not doing something that is lawful if it will cause a brother to stumble.

      Me having a glass of red wine is not evil and, in fact, is lawful biblically. Getting drunk is not lawful and I should “abstain from form of evil.” But if it were to cause someone to stumble, there is no good reason to have that glass of red wine. If it’s a bad witness to a non-Christian, again, I should not have that glass of red wine.

      We can’t avoid every “appearance” of evil for someone will always find fault with what we do. The Pharisees did that with Jesus and His disciples. We also have to be careful because there are some that believe women cutting their hair is a sin. Does that mean I should never cut my hair? There are some churches that promote and believe women should not wear slacks. If I were to visit such a church, I certainly would not show up in slacks.

      I just think that we can’t go wrong if we do as scripture states: avoid all forms of evil AND don’t do something that is lawful that will cause another to stumble even if it is lawful.

      1. Ed

        Thank you for your reply Tishrei.

        I agree that we should follow the guidelines God has provided for us
        in His Word.

        And you’re right, if someone is looking to find fault, they will find
        it no matter what we do, but if we seek God’s approval as opposed to
        man’s approval, we are doing the best we can.

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