10

Background

In 1 Thessalonians 5:22, the Greek reads (no major textual variations):

ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε

The word εἶδος (here in the singular genitive neuter εἴδους) is translated differently in the KJV vs. NKJV (and most later English translations):

Abstain from all appearance of evil (KJV)

Abstain from every form of evil (NKJV)

The former conveys the idea that one is to refrain from doing things that may outwardly appear to be evil to people, though may not be actually evil—in other words, live so clean and holy a life as to be as much as humanly possible without question separate from evil.

The latter conveys the idea that one is to refrain from all types of actual evil. Logically, this would seem to be a "given" from all the bulk of Scripture. Still, it may be simply a succinct reiteration.

BDAG states the following two definitions that are relevant, both with a reasonable amount of attestation in extra biblical literature (though I have not traced down the references given to see if I agree with the conclusion of the category those fall into):

  1. the shape and structure of someth[ing] as it appears to someone, form, outward appearance [Giving Lk 3:22, 9:29, and Jn 5:37 as biblical examples.]
  2. a variety of someth[ing], kind [Only giving 1 Thes 5:22 as a biblical an example.]

The first definition is more what the KJV translated it as, the latter what NKJV et. al. use.

Questions

Assuming either definition is valid, then for this short, almost pithy phrasing of 1 Thess 5:22—

  1. Which idea is really intended here for εἴδους?
  2. What observations from the context support one idea over the other?
  3. What other information, if relevant, helps support one idea over the other?

I will give preference (i.e. more likely to achieve "acceptance") to answers that tackle both possibilities, weighing the pros/cons of each, even though ultimately the one answering is assumed to express where he or she comes down as a final conclusion. However, if one simply wants to post an answer defending the points for one view, that is fine.

  • A Good Question: it sounds like the emphasis is really on "what evil is being referred to". If it is what men refer to as evil, then "appearance" seems the most likely choice; for what 'seems' evil may in fact be harmless, or even good(witness Rom. 14). But, if it is by nature evil, which is sin, or from the Evil One(which can appear 'good' but of it's nature it's evil), then "form" is the better choice. – Tau Nov 8 '15 at 4:50
1

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary actually cites the King James translation of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 as an example of the third definition of the word "appearance", which it says dates to the late middle English (1350-1469)(6th ed., p. 102):

The action or state of seeming or appearing to be (to the eyes of the mind)

As someone else pointed out, the underling Greek word, εἶδος, appears four other times in the New Testament. The word occurs much more often in the Greek Septuagint, where it appears 51 times. The following is how the word is translated in the same King James version elsewhere in the New Testament as well as from the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament (which were included in the original King James, translated from the Septuagint; the remainder of the Old Testament was translated from the Masoretic Text):

  • "shape" (Luke 3:22; John 5:37)
  • "fashion" (Luke 9:29)
  • "[by] sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • "countenance" (Judith 8:7, 11:23)
  • "image" (Wisdom 15:4)
  • "form" (Wisdom 15:5)
  • "sort" (Sirach 23:16, 25:2)
  • "beauty" (Sirach 43:1)

The real question is what the writer (presumably Paul) meant when he wrote εἴδους πονηροῦ. Did he mean avoid appearing evil, or did he mean avoid that which is (and therefore itself appears) evil?

There are at least two indications I can find that the latter rather than the former is meant, despite what the Oxford English Dictionary implies.

Polycarp of Smyrna seems to be the earliest Church Fathers to have referred to this verse - in his Epistle to the Philippians (c. 110-140). The original Greek text is lost, but the Latin translation reads "abstain from all evil" (abstinete vos ab omni malo).

John Chrysostom - a Byzantine Greek - wrote an extensive commentary in Greek on 1 Thessalonians in the 4th century. What he writes seems to indicate that he understands the passage to mean to abstain from the substance of evil itself, and not just from appearing to be or do evil:

Abstain from every form of evil”; not from this or that, but from all; that you may by proof distinguish both the true things and the false, and abstain from the latter, and hold fast the former. For thus both the hatred of the one will be vehement and the love of the other arises, when we do all things not carelessly, nor without examination, but with careful investigation.

Homily XI

Greek text:

Ἀπὸ παντὸς εἴδους πονηροῦ ἀπέχεσθε· μὴ τούτου ἢ ἐκείνου, ἀλλ', Ἀπὸ παντός· καὶ τὰ ψευδῆ καὶ τὰ ἀληθῆ ἵνα μετὰ δοκιμασίας διακρίνητε, καὶ ἐκείνων ἀπέχησθε, καὶ τούτων ἔχησθε. Οὕτω γὰρ κἀκείνων σφοδρὸν τὸ μῖσος ἔσται, καὶ τούτων ἡ ἀγάπη γίνεται, ὅταν μὴ ἁπλῶς μηδὲ ἀνεξετάστως, ἀλλὰ μετὰ ἀκριβείας ἅπαντα πράττωμεν (found online here, page 57).

There are also indications that Syriac writers (e.g. the Peshitta, Aphrahat the Persian) understood this verse to refer to abstaining from evil things and not abstaining from seeming evil, but these are not necessarily strong support for interpreting the original Greek.

  • Your examination of other ways the word is translated in the KJV is helpful (especially the variety noted) and quotes from the early church interpreters are good examples showing their view (I agree, they appear to support "actual" evil, i.e. true forms of evil). Those points, coupled with the relevant contextual points in WoundedEgo's answer (there were many questionable points that prevented me from accepting that answer, as I noted in the comments), make for a fairly complete answer. I also found online the Greek of Chrysostom, so I'll quote/link that into your answer and accept it. – ScottS Aug 30 '16 at 16:34
  • That's awesome! Where did you find Chrysostom online? I found a site that has the Greek manuscripts, but they wanted to charge. – user15733 Aug 30 '16 at 17:10
  • My search online ended at this site, which had the link in the "Reference" section to what I linked to in the text of your answer. – ScottS Aug 30 '16 at 17:15
  • Thanks - the link takes me right to the document, but I was trying to get to some sort of home page to browse other things they have – user15733 Aug 30 '16 at 17:16
0

ISTM that Paul is saying to avoid any type of [actual] evil. I say this because in the context he urges the Thessalonians to examine everything first. In other words, prior to examination one doesn't know if something is actually evil because it could be:

1) something that appears good and is actually good. <-- hold fast 2) something that appears good but is actually evil. <-- shun 3) something that appears evil and is actually evil. <-- shun 4) something that appears evil but is actually good. <-- hold fast

AFTER having examined everything and determined which things are which Paul wants them to shun those things that fit in #2 or #3 which will include some things that had the appearance of good and to embrace #1 and #4 things even though they had the appearance of evil.

The appearance of evil is not what Paul is concerned with, only that which after examination, regardless of appearance (including apparent goodness) is actually a form of evil.

The context of his admonition is the problem of prophecies. He warns not to toss out the "good prophecy baby" with the "evil prophecy bathwater" as is often practice within denominations/sects). They completely suppress speech that does not come top down from "headquarters". Paul wants them to highly value prophecy (which was what Paul wanted most from everyone):

1Co 14:1 Keep on pursuing love, and keep on desiring spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy. 1Co 14:2 For the person who speaks in another language is not actually speaking to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him, because he is talking about secrets by the Spirit. 1Co 14:3 But the person who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding, encouragement, and comfort. 1Co 14:4 The person who speaks in another language builds himself up, but the person who prophesies builds up the church. 1Co 14:5 Now I wish that all of you could speak in other languages, but especially that you could prophesy. The person who prophesies is more important than the person who speaks in another language, unless he interprets it so that the church may be built up.

This is the "breath fire" that he does not want quenched. But conversely he does not want them to accept every message uncritically. His "better approach" is to allow each to prophesy while the others must judge and then embrace what is good; the rest can be ignored/"abstained from":

1Co 14:26 What, then, does this mean ["better approach"], brothers? When you gather, everyone has a psalm, teaching, revelation, other language, or interpretation. Everything must be done for upbuilding. 1Co 14:27 If anyone speaks in another language, only two or three at the most should do so, one at a time, and somebody must interpret. 1Co 14:28 If an interpreter is not present, the speaker should remain silent in the church and speak to himself and God. 1Co 14:29 Two or three prophets should speak, and others should weigh carefully what is said. 1Co 14:30 If a revelation is made to another person who is seated, the first person should be silent. 1Co 14:31 For everyone can prophesy in turn, so that everyone can be instructed and everyone can be encouraged. 1Co 14:32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, 1Co 14:33 for God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints,

While not a Pauline parable, this parable of Jesus has a lot of overlap with this "better approach":

Mat 13:24 He presented another parable to them, saying, "The kingdom from heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Mat 13:25 While people were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. Mat 13:26 When the crop came up and bore grain, the weeds appeared, too. Mat 13:27 The owner's servants came and asked him, 'Master, you sowed good seed in your field, didn't you? Then where did these weeds come from?' Mat 13:28 He told them, 'An enemy did this!' The servants asked him, 'Then do you want us to go and pull them out?' Mat 13:29 He said, 'No! If you pull out the weeds, you might pull out the wheat with them. Mat 13:30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, "Gather the weeds first and tie them in bundles for burning, but bring the wheat into my barn."'"

Paul's prescriptions for the assemblies is almost universally ignored in favor of control mechanisms such as "denominational headquarters", "ordination", "dogmas", "creeds", "councils", etc., none of which Paul had any stomach for. We are told that Paul's ideas are from a simpler time.

  • Thanks for the thoughts. Three things: (1) I think you have a valid point about context of "testing" (though you did not note where that context is, but it is in v.21, right before this verse). (2) You might be overemphasizing the idea that "the context of his admonition is the problem of prophecies." The context more broadly is about doing of deeds (v.12-19), with the admonition about prophecies noted in v.20, where it is in context also a deed (to "not despise"); so the question is if v.22 "all" is really only related to v.20-21, not to v.12-19 regarding such emphasis. Cont.... – ScottS May 9 '16 at 15:39
  • (3) Your 4th paragraph, "regardless of form," does not make sense, as you are there using "form" = "appearance," after arguing "form" should be = "actual," which would be regarding the actual "form" of it after examination. – ScottS May 9 '16 at 15:41
  • @ScottS So was that your down vote? "form" vs "appearance". – user10231 May 9 '16 at 15:53
  • No, the upvote (which happened almost simultaneously with the downvote; as I voted up, it went to 1 then to 0, and then I looked and saw someone had just downvoted). It was a weird experience. I am a little uncomfortable with the Matthew ref. (but not too much, as I see all Scripture as integrated), and a with the broad statement that prophecy "was what Paul wanted most from everyone" (even in this context, would not "goodness" be more appropriate of what he wanted?), and with pulling in Corinthians without more discussion of Thessalonian context. But I believe the answer still has value. – ScottS May 9 '16 at 16:06
  • I appreciate your sharing your concerns with me, @ScottS. – user10231 May 9 '16 at 16:41
-2

Here's an alternative take on the word.

Strong's G1491, "eidos", occurs five times in the New Testament, and after meditating upon the verses for some time, it stuck me that the core meaning of the word might not be about "shape" at all, but "manner". It's a subtle difference, but you will see it in the examples.

Here are the primary synonyms for "manner" given at Thesaurus.com: appearance, aspect, demeanor, look, presence, style, tone, way. With this notion in mind, the five instances of "eidos" might be rendered thus:

Luke 3:22

and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily manner (G1491) like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”

It's not the "shape of a dove" that's being described here, but the "way of a dove" as it descends. The Holy Spirit settled on Jesus like a dove would have.

Luke 9:29

And while He was praying, the look on (G1491) His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.

It's not the shape or structure of Jesus face that is changing here, but his demeanor. I'm sure it was regal/kingly.

John 5:37

And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His appearance (G1491).

Here, again, the sense is not about shape or structure, but presence. None of these people had heard God's voice or witnessed His presence, as Moses had.

2 Corinthians 5:7

for we walk by faith, not by presence (G1491)

This is a very interesting rendering of the verse, considering the context is Paul's statement about being present in the body, but absent from the Lord.

Which brings us to the verse in question.

1 Thessalonians 5:22

abstain from all manner (G1491) of evil.

or if you prefer,

abstain from every evil way (G1491).

Here, the sense is obvious, and without ambiguity. We are to be discerning about "the manner of our behaviour", i.e. "the way we behave", and we are to exercise restraint in regard to our natural inclinations. We have to model our behaviour according to "the way" Jesus behaved.

  • 3
    I see at least 4 issues: (1) "Manner" in English refers to the "form" actions take, what then is a "bodily manner" (Lk 3:22), for "bodily" is not an action? "Bodily form/appearance" makes more sense here and otherwise. (2) More serious, a purely English word study about a Greek word's meaning and usage is too open for error. (3) You primarily just list verses, without any commentary or analysis. (4) It is not really an "alternative take," since the 1st definition given is broad enough to include "shape" (physical outward appearance) or "manner" (an action's outward appearance) already. – ScottS Nov 8 '15 at 14:00
  • No, Scott. the sense of manner is "way something is done or happens". So, "in bodily manner like a dove" is simply "bodily, in the way of/fashion of a dove", in other words, it settled on on Jesus like a dove would. – enegue Nov 8 '15 at 20:33
  • 1
    mmm, "way something is done or happens"--doing and happening refer to actions that occur. Additionally, εἴδει is dative singular neuter and so goes directly with "bodily" (σωματικῷ; dative singular neuter) not "dove" (accusative singular feminine), bodily being the adjective describing the noun εἴδει. So "bodily form" seems unquestionable in that verse, as "bodily" is describing the appearance being taken, and then ὡσεὶ (MT)/ὡς (NA28) περιστερὰν ("as a dove") further qualifies the whole "bodily appearance" as to what shape exactly that bodily form took. – ScottS Nov 8 '15 at 21:27
  • Don't get bogged down on how you've always read the verse. I've taken your advice and added some commentary. So, try reading the WHOLE answer again. I'm sure you will appreciate the subtle difference that the notion of manner brings to the verses, particularly to the one you are making enquiry about. You'll only ever continue to see what you've always seen unless you look outside your box. – enegue Nov 8 '15 at 21:43
  • Reread. The issue is still that "the core meaning of the word might not be about 'shape' at all, but 'manner'" (emphasis added) is a conjecture, and one related to a study of an English connection between "appearance" / "manner," not a Greek word study. The Greek lexicons give much evidence for "shape" / "visual appearance" as the idea in extra biblical Greek. Since Lk 3:22 is not really the verse in question, I'll leave that aside, though I maintain the Greek syntax does not support the conjecture. "Manner" = "outward appearance" may be valid, but needs a different argument if so. – ScottS Nov 12 '15 at 23:02

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.