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Appearances of Evil

Ephesians 5:3 &1 Thessalonians 5:22

I think Eph. 5:3, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (all Translations are mine unless otherwise indicated), could be one of the texts for the cliché about Christians not have an “appearance of evil.” The phrases, “or any” is literally from the Greek, “and all impurity.” I suppose, then, the question becomes named by whom? Of course, “immorality” and “greed” are quite narrow in their meaning but “all impurity” does look to be a catch all “heart” category in terms of the corruption found therein. The term, “impurity” is akatharsia (ακαθαρσια) meaning “uncleanliness” but can be translated as “immorality” but here, since a more specific term for immorality is on the list, it is more likely, especially with “all” attached to the front (all impurity), emphasizing the preconditions for an actual action of immorality. It is the filth, “uncleanliness,” in a man that is the problem. This term is used by Jesus in the Gospels in an interesting comparative text, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Mt. 23:27: Italics and Bold mine). Now that I see this comparison and notice that the Eph. 5:3 list does include a non-sexual sin, namely, “greed,” I doubt if the emphasis is on “uncleanliness” as sexual immorality and, instead, emphasizing more broadly, like Jesus, the state of corruption in a man, likely pointing to what both greed and sexual sin have in common, namely, covetousness. In both Matt. 23:27 and Eph 5:3 the phrases are the same in the connection between “all” (Gr.: pas) plus “uncleanliness”. Therefore, greed and sexual immorality are concrete “fruit” of the inner corruption of “all uncleanliness.” This text is not so much concerned with the worry of looking like we are doing evil so much as it is concerned with the heart-mind condition leading to actual acts of evil. This teaching has as a long and abiding foundation in the 10th commandment: “You will not covet . . .” which centers on the the inner attitude of coveting rather than “just anything evil.”

The other text that could be translated as the “appearance of evil” is 1 Thess. 5:22: “Abstain from every appearance/form of evil.” Most modern translations opt for “form” because the word itself has as its central meaning, “that which is seen,” i.e., “from every seen form of evil.” In other words, we have here a confusion of different English meanings for the word “appear,” that is, there is more than one way to understand it: the word is equivocal, having more than one meaning. What the Greek text has clearly in mind is not “what might appear evil” in the sense of “appear” meaning “what might suggest evil” or “what might be confused with evil” or “what might look like evil.” The Greek word, eidos, means what is concretely seen: a clear form, and in this case, a notable form or concrete practice of evil. This is especially clear when compared to some other places in the NT this term appear. Luke 9:29 is the narrative about Jesus’ transfiguration, “As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became very bright, a brilliant white” (Bold and italics mine). This text is not using the term eidos (appearance) to say that Jesus’ face “might suggest transformation” or “might be confused with transforming” or “might look like it transformed.” Indeed, for something “to transfigure” is precisely for it (Him, in Jesus’ case) to change. Literally from the Greek, its says, ” . . . the form of his face became different (or “another”).” In another text after

Jesus is resurrected, it states, “And his appearance was like lightning . . .” (Bold and italics mine). I think this text is noteworthy because Matthew felt the need to add that little word “like.” If “appearance” were to mean “what might look like evil,” in the sense of “what might be confused with evil” or “what might suggest evil,” as noted formerly, then why would Matthew feel the need to add that little word “like” to clarify that Jesus was not made (in the form of) of lightning? The addition of “like” moves “appearance” away from its typical meaning of “what is concretely seen” towards a metaphorical meaning: “what is seen looks like lightning.” In the same way, then, in 1 Thess. 5:22, if the meaning was abstaining “from everything that looks like evil” would we not expect, then, the addition of the word “like” (Greek: hōs)? For further verification of this usage of the word, that is, having the meaning of “what is concretely and clearly seen,” also confer John 5:37, Luke 3:22 (another example of “like” added), & 2 Cor. 5:7. This is every example of the word in the NT, all meaning, “what is concretely seen” with two examples of “like” having to be added to move its meaning towards “looks like” and away from “what is concretely and clearly seen.” Finally for a comparison and to answer a discernible objection, 2 Tim. 3:5 says, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (Bold and italics mine). “Appearance” here is morfōsis, not eidos.

B. T. Scalise
Copyright, Wild-Theology, © Brian Scalise 2014