What is appearance of evil?


What is the concept of “appearance of evil” as found in 1 Thessalonians 5:22? My family, friends, coworkers and fellow believers who are younger, versus the ones who are older, all seem to have a different idea of what appears evil. So how can I really know which things are okay and which ones are wrong based on this vague standard of “appearance”? By some people’s view they would not even be found in some of the situations where the Lord was, such as the wedding where all the wine was being served in John 2. Please help me.


By Eugene P. Vedder, Jr.

It is interesting to compare how different translations of the Bible render this verse. I have checked 18 different English translations that I have in my library and find that only the two oldest of these (Douay/Rheims and King James Version) employ the word “appearance.” One other translation, the New American Standard Bible, gives this word in a footnote as an alternate rendering.

Seven translations render the verse “Abstain from every form of evil.” One uses the verb “avoid” while another the words “keep away from” every form of evil. Two translations say to “keep away from every kind of evil” and two others say to “avoid every kind of evil,” while still another says to “abstain from every sort of evil.” One translation simply says, “Don’t have anything to do with evil.” 

Rather than using the word “evil,” two translations use the word “wickedness,” one saying to “abstain from every form of” it and the other to “hold aloof from every form of” it. Thus it is plain that what is meant by the verse is not whether something appears evil which, as the questioner indicates, people often do not agree on. What God’s Word is directing us to do is to have nothing to do with that which is evil or wicked.

It is obvious that if we look to people to define what is right and wrong we will have many conflicting answers. The Christian must look to God’s Word to settle such questions, not to the world. God’s standard is not vague. He has absolute standards and He has communicated His standards to us in His Word. There has only been one Person who lived according to God’s standards perfectly, and that was our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone could say, “He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (Jn. 8:29 NKJV).

The Lord Jesus is the only true Model to show us what is right and wrong. He is and ever was holy. His life on earth glorified God in its every detail. We know that we will never attain perfection while we are here on earth, but He is the standard God has given us to emulate. The apostle Paul confessed that he had not attained and was not perfected, but said he was pressing “toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14).

Let’s consider another remark or two on the question at which we are looking. God’s Word shows us the folly of a young person rejecting the wisdom older people have gained by experience and instead going to his young contemporaries for counsel. The experience of Solomon’s son Rehoboam when his father died and he was to ascend the throne is an outstanding illustration of this (1 Ki. 12; 2 Chr. 10). But in the final analysis, God’s Word must answer our questions of what is good and what is evil, not people, whether old or young.

People’s opinions change; so do laws and decisions of courts. God’s standards are increasingly being rejected. What God terms wickedness, man now is defining as personal liberty and as human rights. Same sex marriage is a case in point. Those who stand for what the Bible plainly says are even accused of hate crimes! Ultimately we will have to give account of ourselves to God for the choices we make in life. May we earnestly try to please Him, praying for guidance when we are unsure what He wants us to do.