What Does the Old Testament Say About Gossip?
Gossip and slander are consistently condemned in the Bible as behaviors that can cause harm, spread falsehoods, and sow discord among people. In Proverbs 11:13, it’s stated that “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”
This distinction between revealing secrets and being trustworthy underscores the Bible’s perspective on the importance of discretion and integrity. Proverbs 26:20 draws an analogy between gossip and fuel for fire, suggesting that just as wood keeps a fire burning, gossip can perpetuate conflicts and disagreements.
What Does the New Testament Say About Gossip?
The New Testament also provides insights into these behaviors. The Apostle Paul, in his letters, frequently warns against such unedifying speech. For instance, in Ephesians 4:29, Paul encourages believers to avoid unwholesome talk, emphasizing that speech should be used to build up and edify others, rather than tear them down.
Similarly, in James 1:26, it’s highlighted that if someone believes they are religious but doesn’t control their tongue, their devotion is in vain. James’ message is clear: Our speech, particularly how we talk about others, is a reflection of our spiritual maturity and our relationship with God. The Bible’s consistent message is that believers should strive to avoid gossip and slander, seeking instead to speak truthfully, kindly, and constructively.
Proverbs 11:13 (ESV)
“Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.”
In this verse, the book of Proverbs contrasts the behavior of someone who gossips with someone who is trustworthy. Revealing secrets and engaging in slander are portrayed as negative actions that can harm individuals and the community, whereas discretion and trustworthiness are valued traits. This serves as a reminder of the importance of guarding secrets and the trust placed upon us by others.
Proverbs 16:28 (KJV)
“A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.”
This passage from Proverbs conveys the deep consequences of indulging in gossip. Not only can it sow discord in a broader sense, but it can also directly affect personal relationships, even severing ties between close friends. The message is clear: the act of gossiping can be destructive.
Proverbs 20:19 (NIV)
“A gossip betrays confidence, so avoid anyone who talks too much.”
Here, the dangers of associating with habitual gossips are laid out. People who engage in excessive talk and gossip can’t be trusted to keep confidences. This advice not only highlights the unreliability of people who gossip but also serves as a practical guideline for choosing who we trust and confide in.
Proverbs 26:20 (NKJV)
“Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.”
Through this analogy, the scripture illustrates that just as fire needs wood to burn, conflicts and strife often need gossip to keep them alive. The absence of talebearers or gossips can lead to peace, suggesting the significant role that gossip plays in fueling discord.
Proverbs 26:22 (ESV)
“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.”
This metaphor underscores the seductive nature of gossip. Like tasty morsels of food that are hard to resist, so too is juicy gossip. Yet, just as unhealthy food can harm the body, gossip can harm the soul and the community. The implication is that though gossip might be tempting, it carries negative consequences.
Psalm 34:13 (NIV)
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies.”
This Psalm gives a straightforward directive about the moral use of speech. The tongue, capable of both good and evil, needs to be tamed. Being truthful and avoiding malicious talk are central tenets of righteous living. By controlling our speech, we can live in alignment with divine principles.
Proverbs 18:8 (KJV)
“The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.”
Gossip isn’t just idle talk; it can wound deeply, just like a physical injury. This Proverb captures the profound emotional and psychological impact that gossip can have on individuals. The analogy emphasizes that such words penetrate deep, much like internal injuries that are not always immediately visible but are deeply felt.
Leviticus 19:16 (NASB)
“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the Lord.”
This commandment from the Mosaic Law directly addresses the issue of slander among the Israelites. It pairs the act of slander with causing harm to one’s neighbor, emphasizing the gravity of gossip and its potential to destroy lives. The addition of “I am the Lord” serves as a reminder of the divine authority behind this directive.
2 Corinthians 12:20 (ESV)
“For I fear that perhaps when I come, I may find you not as I wish and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.”
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reveals his concern about the moral state of the church. Grouping gossip and slander with other negative behaviors like jealousy and quarreling underscores their disruptive and detrimental effects on a community. It’s a poignant reminder of the need for harmony and unity in spiritual congregations.
1 Timothy 5:13 (NKJV)
“And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.”
Paul, in his guidance to Timothy, sheds light on the dangers of idleness. He links the lack of constructive activity to the rise of gossip and being a busybody. The verse suggests that being purposefully engaged in good deeds and work can act as a deterrent to indulging in harmful gossip.
Proverbs 10:18 (NIV)
“Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.”
In this Proverb, the act of slander is connected to deceit and malice. Those who engage in such behavior are labeled as fools, implying not just a lack of wisdom but a moral failing. This stern warning underscores the ethical implications of indulging in slander.
James 4:11 (ESV)
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law.”
James, in his epistle, stresses the importance of unity among believers. Speaking ill of one another isn’t just a personal offense; it’s an act against the divine law of love and community. Judging and slandering fellow believers undermines the very principles upon which the Christian community is built.
Exodus 23:1 (KJV)
“Thou shalt not raise a false report: put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.”
This command from the book of Exodus reinforces the importance of truthfulness. It warns against false reports and bearing false witness, both of which can cause grave injustices. It’s a directive not just about personal integrity but also about ensuring justice in the wider community.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes positive and edifying communication. Instead of engaging in harmful talk or gossip, he encourages words that uplift and build others up. This guidance is not only about avoiding harm but actively contributing to the well-being of others.
Titus 3:2 (NKJV)
“To speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.”
Paul’s advice to Titus underscores the values of peace, gentleness, and humility. By advising against speaking evil, Paul is advocating for a lifestyle of respect and love towards all, emphasizing the importance of these virtues in the life of a believer.
1 Peter 2:1 (ESV)
“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
Peter calls on believers to shed all negative behaviors and attitudes, including slander. He groups it with other unrighteous behaviors, emphasizing cultivating a pure heart and mind for spiritual growth.
Proverbs 21:23 (KJV)
“Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.”
This Proverb emphasizes the power of restraint. By controlling one’s speech, especially in terms of gossip and slander, one can avoid many problems and safeguard their well-being. The underlying message is that words have power, and they can either bring about peace or trouble.
Psalm 101:5 (NIV)
“Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.”
King David expresses his commitment to righteousness and justice. He won’t tolerate slander or pride within his realm, emphasizing the importance of integrity and humility in leadership and society.
Proverbs 25:23 (NKJV)
“The north wind brings forth rain and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.”
Drawing a parallel between the inevitability of rain with the north wind and the reactions to a gossiping tongue, this Proverb stresses the negative consequences of gossip. Just as we can expect rain with certain winds, backlash, and anger are natural outcomes of malicious talk.
Romans 1:29-30 (ESV)
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers…”
Paul, describing a degenerate society, lists various sins, including gossip and slander. This serves to highlight the destructive nature of such behaviors and places them among other grave sins, emphasizing the need for repentance and transformation.
2 Timothy 3:3 (KJV)
“Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.”
Paul warns Timothy about the perilous times and the character of people in the last days. Among these negative traits, false accusations stand out, underlining the importance of truth and integrity in trying times.
James 1:26 (NIV)
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”
James stresses the importance of self-control, especially in speech. A truly devout person exercises restraint in their speech. Without this control, one’s religious claims are rendered meaningless.
Proverbs 17:4 (NKJV)
“A wicked doer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue.”
This Proverb delves into the idea that wickedness attracts falsehood. Those with ill intentions are more likely to indulge in and propagate gossip and lies, emphasizing the interconnectedness of one’s character and the words they entertain.
Proverbs 10:19 (ESV)
“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
The wisdom here is straightforward: the more we talk, the more likely we err. Exercising restraint and speaking less can prevent many pitfalls, especially those associated with gossip and slander.
3 John 1:10 (NIV)
“So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers.”
John, in his letter, draws attention to an individual spreading false information about him and his associates. This serves as a reminder of the real challenges early Christians faced from within their communities and underscores the importance of unity and truthfulness.