Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Prove all things.—The right reading inserts a “but”:—“I bid you pay all reverence to the cheering utterances of your prophets (comp. Acts 15:32); but take care! put everything to the test.” That the warning was needed, or would be needed soon, is shown by 2Thessalonians 2:2. It is couched in general terms (all things), but, of course, has special reference to all things purporting to be manifestations of the Spirit. And how were these revelations to be tested? If they were not in accordance (1) with the original tradition (2Thessalonians 2:2), (2) with the supernatural inspirations of the other prophets who sat as judges (1Corinthians 14:29), (3) with enlightened common sense (1John 4:1), they could not be “good.” The word “good” here is not vague and general good in the moral sense—not the same Greek word as in 1Thessalonians 5:15—but “good” in the sense of “genuine,” “answering to the proper conception of what it purports to be.” The same word is used in the same sense in John 10:11.1 Corinthians 3:13. This trial was usually made by fire. The meaning here is, that they were carefully to examine everything proposed for their belief. They were not to receive it on trust; to take it on assertion; to believe it because it was urged with vehemence, zeal, or plausibility. In the various opinions and doctrines which were submitted to them for adoption, they were to apply the appropriate tests from reason and the word of God, and what they found to be true they were to embrace; what was false they were to reject. Christianity does not require people to disregard their reason, or to be credulous. It does not expect them to believe anything because others say it is so. It does not make it a duty to receive as undoubted truth all that synods and councils have decreed; or all that is advanced by the ministers of religion. It is, more than any other form of religion, the friend of free inquiry, and would lead people everywhere to understand the reason of the opinions which they entertain; compare Acts 17:11-12; 1 Peter 3:15.
Hold fast that which is good - Which is in accordance with reason and the word of God; which is adapted to promote the salvation of the soul and the welfare of society. This is just as much a duty as it is to "prove all things." A man who has applied the proper tests, and has found out what is truth, is bound to embrace it and to hold it fast. He is not at liberty to throw it away, as if it were valueless; or to treat truth and falsehood alike. It is a duty which he owes to himself and to God to adhere to it firmly, and to suffer the loss of all things rather than to abandon it. There are few more important rules in the New Testament than the one in this passage. It shows what is the true nature of Christianity, and it is a rule whose practical value cannot but be felt constantly in our lives. Other religions require their votaries to receive everything upon trust; Christianity asks us to examine everything.
Error, superstition, bigotry, and fanaticism attempt to repress free discussion, by saying that there are certain things which are too sacred in their nature, or which have been too long held, or which are sanctioned by too many great and holy names, to permit their being subjected to the scrutiny of common eyes, or to be handled by common hands. In opposition to all this, Christianity requires us to examine everything - no matter by whom held; by what councils ordained; by what venerableness of antiquity sustained; or by what sacredness it may be invested. We are to receive no opinion until we are convinced that it is true; we are to be subjected to no pains or penalties for not believing what we do not perceive to be true; we are to be prohibited from examining no opinion which our fellow-men regard as true, and which they seek to make others believe. No popular current in favor of any doctrine; no influence which name and rank and learning can give it, is to commend it to us as certainly worthy of our belief. By whomsoever held, we are to examine it freely before we embrace it; but when we are convinced that it is true, it is to be held, no matter what current of popular opinion or prejudice maybe against it; no matter what ridicule may be poured upon it; and no matter though the belief of it may require us to die a martyr's death.
hold fast that which is good—Join this clause with the next clause (1Th 5:22), not merely with the sentence preceding. As the result of your "proving all things," and especially all prophesyings, "hold fast (Lu 8:15; 1Co 11:2; Heb 2:1) the good, and hold yourselves aloof from every appearance of evil" ("every evil species" [Bengel and Wahl]). Do not accept even a professedly spirit-inspired communication, if it be at variance with the truth taught you (2Th 2:2).Prove all things; this duty relates to the former; as they were to attend upon prophesyings, so to exercise a discerning judgment about what was prophesied; for all things is not to be taken here universally, but for doctrines and opinions in religion which were delivered by the prophets. The same which the apostle John requires:
Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, & c.; dokimazete and it is the same word there which in this text we read prove; alluding to gold or other metals, which are tried in the fire, or by a touchstone, as some think. And though there was a peculiar gift of discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10, yet it is the duty of every Christian to try men’s spirits and doctrines whether from God or no. The apostle speaks here to the saints in general, and so doth the apostle John, 1Jo 4:1. And men’s doctrines are to be judged by the Scriptures as the standard of truth, as the Bereans were commended for searching the Scrictures about the apostle’s doctrine, Acts 17:11; and the apostle prays for the Philippians, that they might discern things that differ, Philippians 1:10; and if they had not yet attained it as they ought, yet he prays that they might and not be always babes, but such as the apostle speaks of, who have their senses exercised in the discerning of good and evil, Hebrews 5:13,14: the people are to look upon them as their guides and leaders, as they they are called, Hebrews 13:7,17, and such as are to go before them in the searching and dispensing of truth; yet, because the best are but infallible, they ought to try their doctrine by the rule of truth. Which is that judgment of discretion which protestants allow to the people in their disputes with the papists against their doctrine of infallibility and implicit faith, which grounds the people’s faith upon the authority of men, which ought to rest upon the authority of God. As we ought not easily to reject the authority and faith of the church, so not to believe with a blind faith, or obey with a blind obedience.
Holdfast to that which is good: the good here meant is truth, which is an intellectual good; the contrary to which is error, which is a mental evil. When we have proved men’s doctrines and opinions, what we find agreeable to the Scriptures of truth we ought to hold fast. And though all truth hath a goodness in it, yet especially Divine truth, and the doctrine of the gospel, which the apostle calls, that good thing committed to Timothy, 2 Timothy 1:14. It is good with respect to the soul, and so better than any bodily good; and good that refers to eternity, and so better than any temporal good. Now this good we are to hold fast; to hold it fast against adversaries and all opposition, as some understand the word; to hold it as with both hands, against seducing doctrine, Satan’s temptations, and the world’s persecution. The same word is used concerning the good ground that held fast the seed of the word, Luke 8:15. So 1 Corinthians 11:2, we are to retain the truth, but not detain it, as the heathen are said to do, Romans 1:18, where we find also the same word as in the text. It is a duty much pressed by the apostles in their Epistles to the saints and churches that had received the gospel, that they would hold it fast, 2 Timothy 1:13 Titus 1:9 Hebrews 4:14 Revelation 2:13,25 3:3. And there is holding fast the truth as well in practice as opinion, and which may be the ground of the name given to such as opposed the errors of antichrist before the word protestant was known, called fast-men.
Hold fast that which is good; honest, pleasant, profitable, and agreeable to sound doctrine, to the analogy of faith, and the Scriptures of truth, and is useful and edifying, instructive both as to principle and practice; such should be held fast, that no man take it away; and be retained, though a majority may be against it, for the multitude is not always on the side of truth; and though it may be rejected by men of learning and wealth, as Christ and his doctrines were rejected by the Scribes and Pharisees, and rulers of the people; and though it may be reproached as a novel, upstart notion, or a licentious one, since these were charges against the doctrine of Christ, and his apostles; and though it may be attended with affliction and persecution, yet none of these things should move from it, or cause to let it go.Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1 Thessalonians 5:21. The apostle therefore adds to the prescription, “Prove all things,” whether they have their origin from God or not, and to retain the good.
πάντα δέ] but all things, namely, what is brought forward in inspired discourse.
δοκιμάζετε] Paul expresses the same requirement of testing in 1 Corinthians 14:29, and according to 1 Corinthians 12:10 there was a peculiar gift of testing spirits, the διάκρισις πνευμάτων. That, moreover, this testing can only proceed from those who are themselves illuminated by the Holy Spirit was evident to the apostle. The fundamental principle of rationalism, that the reason as such is the judge of revelation, is not contained in these words.
τὸ καλόν] the good, namely, that is found in the πάντα. Hofmann arbitrarily thinks that “the good generally” is meant, which the Thessalonians “as Christians already have, and do not now merely seek or expect.”21. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good] Some of the best ancient authorities read, But prove all things. In any case, this exhortation, while capable of the widest application, arises out of the subject of the last. “Instead of accepting or rejecting wholesale what is addressed to you as prophecy, use your judgement; learn to discriminate; sift the wheat from the chaff.” So needful was it to distinguish between true and false revelations, that a special endowment was bestowed on some persons for this end—the “discernment of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10). And St Paul gives a criterion for the purpose in 1 Corinthians 12:3. Comp. 1 John 4:1-3, “Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they are of God.”
“The good” represents a different word from that of 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (see note); it signifies what is good or fine in quality, as in 2 Thessalonians 3:13.1 Thessalonians 5:21. Πάντα) all things, viz. spiritual things, which, without any carelessness and undue curiosity, you may be liable to consider as in any way belonging to you, and as not exceeding your ability.
 The Germ. Vers., following the decision of the 2d Ed., subjoins the word δὲ.—E. B.
Lachm. adds δὲ, with BD(Δ)Gfg Vulg, and later Syr. But Tisch. omits it, with A, Orig. 4, 289c (3, 825c).—ED.Verse 21. - Prove all things. This exhortation is closely connected with the preceding. "Prove all things," namely, whatever was advanced by the prophets in their inspired discourses (comp. 1 John 4:1, "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God"). "Prove" here means to test, as metals are tested in the fire; and hence the word frequently denotes the favorable result of the testing, or approval. There was a special gift of discerning spirits in the primitive Church (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29). But although the words primarily refer to the testing of prophetic utterances, yet they have a general application. We should not rest our faith on the authority of others. The right of private judgment is the characteristic and privilege of Protestantism. We ought thoroughly to examine all doctrines by the test of Scripture, and then, discerning their reasons, we shall be able to take a firmer hold of them. At the same time, the fundamental principle of rationalism, that reason as such is the judge of the doctrines of revelation, is not contained in these words, and cannot be inferred from them. Hold fast; retain. That which is good; the good, the beautiful, the honorable; a different word from that rendered "good" in ver. 15. We are to retain whatever is good in those "all things" which we are to prove or test, namely, in the prophesyings.
A general exhortation, not confined to prophesyings; but Paul elsewhere insists that a test be applied to phenomena which claim to be supernatural. See on discerning of spirits, 1 Corinthians 12:10; see on 1 Corinthians 14:29, and comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:2, and 1 John 4:1-3. For δοκιμάζετε prove, see on 1 Peter 1:7. In lxx, Proverbs 27:21; Psalm 11:6, δοκίμιον is a crucible or furnace.
Hold fast that which is good (τὸ καλὸν κατέχετ)
These words are associated in early Christian writers with an apocryphal saying ascribed to Jesus, and very frequently quoted, γίνεσθε δὲ δόκιμοι τραπεζῖται show yourselves approved money-changers. By some ancient writers the two are cited together as Paul's; by others they are distinguished, as by Origen, who cites the saying as an injunction (ἐντολὴν) of Jesus, and adds, "and also (observing) the teaching of Paul, who says, 'prove all things, hold fast the good, abstain from every form of evil.'" The saying about the money-changers is probably a genuine logion of the Lord. Some have thought that the words added by Clement of Alexandria, "rejecting some things but holding fast the good," formed part of the Lord's saying, and that, accordingly, Paul's words here depend on an original utterance of Jesus. If this could be proved, εἶδος form, 1 Thessalonians 5:22, might be explained as a figure of exchangers distinguishing between genuine and false coins.
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