Often verses of the Bible are misinterpreted because of the use of the Middle English in the King James Version. Even when newer, just as reputable versions come along and put the correct spin on a passage, the old interpretation sticks in the minds of those who learned it as children. 1 Thes 5:22 is one of those verses. Abstain from all appearance of evil has come to mean that I must not do or say anything that might possibly be construed as wrong to an observer or listener. “They might think you are __________.” Fill in the blank with practically anything as long as it is a sin.
Even if I did not have better translations to look at, here is my problem with that interpretation: it directly contradicts the admonition of love in 1 Cor 13:7—love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. When I love someone I must look at what they have said or done and put the best possible construction on it, not the worst, or my love is a hypocritical love in word only, not in deed. If there is a good way to take what they said, I should take it that way. If there is a plausible excuse for a slight, I should automatically supply it. I am not to take out my magnifying glass and search and search until aha! I have found something I can misconstrue.
Some of the things Jesus did looked awfully wrong to some of the people who saw them! Remember all those times he healed on the Sabbath? Even if he could prove the Old Law said nothing about that, the Pharisees could have correctly said, “But what does it look like?” In fact, one of the rulers told the people, “You can come to be healed six other days in the week. Why come on the Sabbath?” Luke 13:14. He had a point, didn’t he? Why not choose a time when no one would be able to question Jesus’ honoring of the Sabbath? I can hear some of my brethren making that point exactly, totally ignoring the plight of this “daughter of Abraham,” 13:16. Don’t you think Jesus described her that way on purpose? To that ruler she was less important than his traditions, but Jesus made sure he saw her importance in the eyes of God.
In Luke 11 Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s home for dinner and ignored the ritual hand washing before the meal. Since it was a ritual offered by every [Pharisee] host, there was no way he could have done it quietly—he openly refused to do it. In Matt 12 he allowed his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath. In Luke 7 he allowed a sinful woman to touch him. In Luke 15 the Pharisees and scribes murmured, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” And think about this: God even allowed him to be born only 6 months after his parents married. Imagine what that looked like. Imagine what people could have said—in fact what they did say—“We were not born of fornication (John 8:41).”
What 1 Thes 5:22 really means, according to the American Standard Version, is abstain from every form of evil [every shape it takes]. Wherever, whenever, and however evil raises its ugly head, I am to stay away from it.
I need to be very careful. If I am using my magnifying glass just to find faults in you because of the way I think something might look, I need to throw it away.
Speak not one against another, brethren. He that speaks against a brother or judges his brother speaks against the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge. One is the lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy, but who are you who judges your brother? James 4:11