BIBLE_ EXEGESIS OR JUST GOOD ADVICE?
T. PIERCE BROWN
As a preacher and teacher of the Bible, it is my considered judgment that we should make a clear-cut distinction between the exegesis of a particular passage of scripture and what we think is good advice. Paul did this in I Corinthians 7:25-26.
In the first place, we need to make that distinction because our listeners need to know the difference between what the Bible actually SAYS and what we think about ANY matter. In the second place, our listeners need to know that God is not usually simply giving good advice, but is telling us how and what to do, and sometimes when and why to do it.
A case in point is a statement of Paul in 1 Thess. 5:22 in which we find, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” For more than 50 years I can remember hearing preachers talk about that, saying something like this: “As most of you know, the Bible plainly teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, ‘Shun the very appearance of evil.'” One well-known preacher and educator spent about 15 minutes of a sermon explaining that it very clearly taught “Stay away from anything that appears to be evil.”
The truth of the matter is that it does not. That is probably good advice, in general, although Jesus may not have always done it, for he ate with publicans and sinners, and that no doubt “appeared to be evil” to some.
One problem is in the different meaning of “appearance” as we use it in English. If we say, “He appeared, drunk,” it means, “When he got there he WAS drunk.” If we say, “He appeared drunk,” it means, “When we saw him, he SEEMED TO BE drunk.” Those sentences do not mean the same thing. Of course it is always good to know how to punctuate, but the main problem in the wrong concept of this verse is not a lack of proper punctuation, but a failure to study properly the meaning of words.
What the Greek words actually mean is “When evil is present in any form, abstain from it.” The ASV has the more accurate translation of the text, as does the New King James Version that says, “Abstain from every FORM of evil.”
It is very difficult to teach students to read carefully if preachers and teachers do not seem to know the difference between “Shun the VERY APPEARANCE of evil,” and “Abstain from EVERY appearance (form) of evil.”