Traditions Of Men: Defining "The Appearance Of Evil"

I am reposting this article due to the amount of revisions/additions that have been made; I felt that there were some other passages and precepts that needed to be addressed. I added paragraph headers for ease of review. The article was originally posted on 02/10/2012.

Traditions Of Men

Defining “The Appearance Of Evil”

By Curt Wildy

Abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).

The Biblical Context

The context for the verse at issue is as follows:

1 Thessalonians 5:19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophesyings. 21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Context is key to all things. By failing to note it, many have incorrectly interpreted the meaning and intent of this passage. God, through the Apostle Paul, is instructing the Thessalonians that they are not to quench the Spirit, they are not to despise (set at naught) prophesying. The spirit of prophecy is the testimony of Christ (Revelations 19:10).

Quench not the Spirit / Despise not prophesyings

You cannot rightly understand “Abstain from all appearance of evil” unless you first understand what it means to quench the spirit and despise prophesy because verses 19 and 20 form an integral part of the context for verse 22. When we read quench not the spirit and despise not prophesyings we should have the following passages in mind to help us understand God’s intent.

Acts 19:6 And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.

[Not speaking in gibberish as the Charismatics and Pentecostals erroneously do today, for tongues simply meant foreign languages. Before God completed the Bible, He enabled some of His people to speak in earthly languages that they had not previously learned. The goal was to prophesy (i.e. speak the truth of God’s Holy scripture) before the gentiles in an accelerated manner to help build up the early church].

Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

1 Timothy 4:13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. 14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. 15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. 16 Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Romans 12:4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, [being] many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, [let us prophesy] according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, [let us wait] on [our] ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8  Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, [let him do it] with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.

1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, [even so] minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, [let him speak] as the oracles of God; if any man minister, [let him do it] as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. 8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 9  To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 10  To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another [divers] kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: 11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

1 Corinthians 12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.6  29 [Are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all workers of miracles?  30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

1 Corinthians 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing… 8 Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual [gifts], but rather that ye may prophesy. 2 For he that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth [him]; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries.1  3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men [to] edification, and exhortation, and comfort. 4 He that speaketh in an [unknown] tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. 5  I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater [is] he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying. 6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

It should be abundantly clear from the passages above that the gift of prophesying (boldly and accurately preaching the truth of Scripture) is a gift from the Holy Spirit and we are not to quench the Spirit by refusing to (a) preach the word to others ourselves; (b) hear the preaching of others (especially those with whom we are less familiar); and (c) allow others to speak truth to us. We do not listen to just everyone (especially if we know they are false teachers); however, if they come bringing the Doctrine of Christ, we are not to shut them down or shut our ears to them on other matters simply because we do not (a) know who they are; (b) esteem them as being learned; or (c) recognise their interpretation (e.g. because their doctrine conflicts with our traditions or prior understanding on matters). By hearing them out, we can either be edified by the truth that they speak or we can more fully understand their error and help them turn from it.

Be Like the Bereans

Whether it was new prophesy from before the church matured and the Bible was completed, or prophesying via the existing scripture, God’s people were not to set godly witnessing or preaching at naught. Instead, they were to be like the Bereans and readily hear newly encountered doctrine and verify it for themselves as God enabled. If the doctrine stood the light of scripture, it was to be accepted — no matter from whom it came.

Acts 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people.

The Apostle Paul said what he said to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 because of what he said about them in Acts 17:11-13. The two are sister passages.

  • “Quench not the Spirit, Despise not prophesyings” = receive the word with all readiness of mind”

    • Do not just shut people down because of your position in the church or  because you do not believe that they are as learned as you [for out of the mouths of spiritual babes, God can send forth much truth].

  • “Prove all things”search the scriptures daily, whether [the] things [are] so.”

    • We receive the doctrine objectively, listen carefully, and then analyze the arguments in light of all of the relevant passages found in scripture.

The Parallel of 1 John 4

God, through the Apostle John, set forth the same basic principle when he said “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1).

As we “try the spirits” (based upon the doctrine, or prophesying, they bring), we are “proving all things.” The result of that trying or proving will determine whether we “hold fast that which is good;” or “abstain from all forms of [that which is] evil.

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It is a battle of the echos… the Thessalonians were instructed to hold themselves off from, or to be distant from, the bad doctrine. They were instructed to hold fast to, or hold near, the good doctrine. To hold fast is katecho [κατεχω G2722; kat-ekh’-o;] and it literally means to hold throughout or according to. In our language, it would hold the idea of holding fast, keeping secure. It is formed from the words kata (meaning according to, down from, through out) and echo (to have or hold). To abstain is apechomai (απεχομαι G567; ap-ekh’-om-ahee), it is the middle voice of the Greek verb apecho (ap-ekh’-o) and it means to hold one’s self off, refrain, abstain. It is formed from the words apo (from, separation) and echo (to have or hold). Both words stem from echo, but there meanings are opposite. This play on words reinforces the true meaning of abstain from all appearance of evil.

What Does Appearance Mean?

Note, the word appearance is eidos [ειδος; G1491; i’-dos] and although it absolutely does mean the external or outward appearance, figure, or shape, of something — it also means form or kind. They were instructed, as we are, to abstain from every form, manifestation, shaping, or kind, of evil doctrine.

Eidos comes from oida/eido [G1492; oy’-da / i’-do] which means to see; perceive with the senses; to notice, discern, discover; to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything; to pay attention to, to know (especially based upon what is sensed or experienced), etc.

Consider how God uses the word eidos:

Luke 3:22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape [eidos-G1491] like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

Luke 9:29 And as he prayed, the fashion [eidos-G1491] of his countenance was altered, and his raiment [was] white [and] glistering.

John 5:37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape [eidos-G1491].

2 Corinthians 5:7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight [eidos-G1491])

Spiros Zodhiates (editor of the Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament) states that in the Septuagint, eidos is used to denote manner, kind or species (e.g. Jeremiah 15:3) and he also believes that eidos in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 means form or kind. Others in agreement with this interpretation include, but are not limited to,  Joseph Henry Thayer (of the Thayer Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament); G. Abbott-Smith (of the Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament); A.T. Robertson (of Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament); and George Ricker Berry (of The Interlinear Literal Translation), amongst many others.

What Does Evil Mean?

The word evil is the Greek word poneros [πονηρος G4190 pon-ay-ros’]. In the AV/KJV, this word is translated fifty-one times as evil, ten times as wicked, and six times as wicked one. It literally means hurtful, evil, calamitous, ill, morally culpable, vicious, atrociously wicked, bad, of a bad nature or condition, etc. If we are to abstain from poneros instruction (which often leads to poneros actions), we have to first determine what poneros is in the eyes of God. His word must tell us what is and is not evil. As we go through Scripture we see not only direct commandments but guiding principles that pertain to such judgments. Simply put, all that would be deemed sinful is evil.

Sinfulness lies in (a) doing what God forbids, (b) not doing what God commands, or (c) doing that which is otherwise lawful in an ungodly manner (like knowingly putting a stumbling-block before brethren by eating lawful food and drinking lawful drink). Likewise, sinfulness lies in thinking or saying those things that would serve to contradict or set at naught the word of God.

As we listen to the prophesying, and prove it, we perceive the nature of it and discover (discern) the truthfulness of the matter. We then act accordingly based upon the instruction that God has given us. In our day, every time someone preaches, teaches, or witnesses faithfully from the Bible alone, they are prophesying. Every time someone brings extra-biblical doctrine and tries to pass it off as new light, as a new message from God, we know that they are bringing evil doctrine (Revelation 22:18-19). Likewise, if a person claims to be declaring the truth from the Bible alone, but twists the words to suit their evil intents, they too are bringing evil doctrine.

Examples of Giving the Appearance of Evil

We fail to abstain from the appearance (forms, kinds) of evil doctrine when we accept the doctrine as truth, or walk according to that doctrine as if it were truth. It is evil to accept or embrace evil doctrine; it is evil to accept or embrace those who bring evil doctrine; and it is evil to walk in that doctrine, i.e., to make it manifest or visible by engaging in the deeds associated with that doctrine.

For example, if we bid god speed to someone who does not abide in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 1:9-11), or if we outright accept their doctrine, we have given the appearance of evil in the biblical sense because we appear to all to be at peace with that form, or kind, of doctrine. Likewise, if we rob, steal, pillage, murder, etc., we are giving the appearance of evil in that we are walking contrary to what God calls good and we are walking in accordance with what God calls evil by actually committing the evil act.

Rightfully Judging What It Means To Give The Appearance Of Evil

We are commanded to hold ourselves off from, or to be distant from, all forms of evil doctrine and the actions that flow therefrom; however, this precept has nothing to do with what man carnally deems to be evil. We are only giving the “appearance of evil” when we accept false doctrine and/or act in the light of that false doctrine (which is no light at all, but darkness). We are not to use earthly reasoning to judge such things; we must judge with righteous judgment, and that, by the word of God alone.

Isaiah 5:20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe unto [them that are] wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Isaiah 55:6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts [are] not your thoughts, neither [are] your ways my ways, saith the LORD. 9 For [as] the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Thus, if we drink wine in moderation, own a deck of cards, or own a television, we are not giving the appearance of evil (as many would claim). Why? Because, in our day, God nowhere forbids abstinence from all wine drinking, abstinence from all card owning or playing, or abstinence from all television owning or watching. Is it bad to drink wine at times? Yes! Is it bad to play certain card games? Of course! Is it bad to watch certain television shows? No doubt! But it is only bad when engaging in those activities runs contrary to the specific doctrines outlined in the Bible. It isn’t bad just because someone feels or thinks it is bad. Again,

We do not judge by outward appearance, we judge righteous judgment

Christ Gave the Appearance of Evil

The Lord Jesus routinely gave the appearance of evil (if we interpret that phrase the way most people interpret it). For example, our Lord rightly:

  • Criticised the esteemed religious leaders of the day  and called them names (Matthew 15:14; 23:33);

  • Overturned their money tables (John 2:15);
  • Associated with publicans, harlots, those who drank wine, etc. (Matthew 11:19; 21:31-32);
  • Healed on the Sabbath day (Luke 13:14);
  • Plucked corn on the Sabbath day (Mark 2:23);
  • Made Himself equal with God (John 5:18; 8:58-59; 10:24-33);
  • Publicly forgave sins (Luke 5:20-24).

We are not to abstain from things out of a fear of upsetting the Scribes and Pharisees of this world. We are to boldly profess the truth before men, enjoy our Christian liberties, and walk in defiance of the traditions of men that contradict the word of God. However, we are to walk carefully when it comes to the consciences of weaker brethren. If eating certain foods, drinking certain drinks, wearing certain clothes, etc. causes them to stumble — then avoid it in front of them. Likewise, we need to be culturally sensitive as well in that we do not want to purposely antagonise. As a Christian, I would not want to walk into an Indian restaurant an order hamburgers or filet mignon when I know that they do not eat or sell beef. I would not go into a vegan restaurant and ask for a Philly Cheesesteak when I know they are against the eating of meat. Likewise, I would not knowingly drink wine in front of someone, whether Christian or not, who has a history of alcohol abuse. We need to operate wisely, take into account all of the relevant factors, and seek to glorify God in all that we do. However, we do not glorify God when we alter our walk to satisfy the Pharisees… He didn’t do it and neither should we.


In the near future, I would like to look at some of the things that people call evil to see if they are really so. In the meantime, I encourage everyone not to use the “abstain from all appearance of evil” language to judge others unrighteously. When we call evil that which God calls good, or good that which God calls evil, or even when we call something that is neither good nor evil evil to suit our personal (and often, self-righteous) judgments, we transgress the law. We need to stick to scripture and abstain from all forms of evil doctrine — including that great evil doctrine of judging brethren according to our carnal doctrines, traditions, opinions, etc. Such ungodly judgments erect unnecessary walls between the brethren. It makes us glory in ourselves when we should be glorying in Christ!

To our Lord be the glory!

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