The Appearance of Evil

Growing up Fundagelical in the Southern Baptist Church, there was one verse of the Bible that was used repeatedly to control the behavior of all of us unruly teenagers. That verse was 1 Thessalonians 5:22 “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

This verse was used to curtail every form of behavior that the little old church ladies thought looked naughty to them. No drinking root beer in the dark brown bottles, it looked like real beer and might cause someone to stumble. No chewing gum because it looked like you might be chewing tobacco — no going to movie theaters that showed R rated movies. People might think you were attending the R rated film instead of the G rated Disney dreck.

There was a long list of everything you couldn’t do because someone might mistake what you were doing for a more serious infraction. It might APPEAR evil.

Too bad that isn’t what the verse relates to. This is another example of a verse removed from its context and changed into a slogan to proof text whatever the person needs it to. Look at the whole context,

1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

19 Do not quench the Spirit.

20 Do not despise the words of prophets,

21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;

22 abstain from every form of evil.

The context is about prophets in the church. The early church was crawling with people who claimed to be prophets. In fact, there were so many people claiming to be prophets that some churches sought to ban them. The writer of Thessalonians encouraged his readers not to ban prophets from speaking, which quenches the Holy Spirit’s voice but to test the words of the prophets. Verses 21 and 22 relate to spoken prophecy, after testing them, hold on to the good words and reject the false prophets. The word used for “appearance” in the King James Version is εἶδος. It means the form of something. In other words, avoid false prophets and all other forms of evil.

The verse has nothing to do with things that might look evil. It’s about false prophets and avoiding them. It’s about avoiding evil in all its forms. Yet, Fundagelicals will continue to use this verse to create a list of No-Nos a mile long because someone thinks it looks bad.  If Fundagelicals wanted to avoid the appearance of evil, they shouldn’t donate so much money to groups that are identified as hate groups.

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