The Truth About Gossip and Slander

Who Will Speak Out?

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.
Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

Sometimes it’s just not very fun to live in a fallen universe.

During the spring of 2008, a heartrending story appeared in the news. A middle-aged woman was charged with pretending to be a 16-year-old boy on a “social networking” website aimed at teens. According to a grand jury indictment, the woman used this fake identity to “torment, harass, humiliate and embarrass” a 13-year-old girl in her neighborhood. The woman’s motive? The neighbor girl was a former friend of her daughter. The woman was trying to dig up information about the young girl that she could use to “protect” her daughter. Yet the only result was the destruction of a fragile young life. After receiving a final message from the fake “boy” stating that “the world would be better off” without her in it, the girl took her own life.

Unfortunately, this abuse of internet technology to harass a victim through gossip and slander is far from an isolated incident. In fact, a new breed of anti-social website is growing rapidly on the internet, designed to call out specific individuals as “enemies” and attack them with verbal harassment.1 The blogosphere is likewise filled with weblogs that major in invective and abuse while minoring in factual content and insightful commentary.

Slander has gone high-tech.

But the heart of the problem dates all the way back to the Garden, when instead of taking personal responsibility for sin, the man and the woman each tried to blame someone else for their problems (Genesis 3:11-13). Since then, the world has been filled with the language of blaming, attacking, and accusing as people try to protect position and pride by tearing down their neighbors. Paul aptly described human society in these words: “spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another” (Titus 3:3, NASB).

The problem is not new. What is new, though, is a powerful technology capable of sowing these seeds of bitterness around the world virtually instantaneously: the internet.

Amazingly, slanderous websites bearing the Christian “brand” have proliferated right alongside the openly pagan ones. Some of these attack-sites are even labeled as “ministries” and sport a prominent link that makes online donation quick and easy. The truth is that these sites have been created for the sole purpose of destroying the reputation and influence of local Christian assemblies and their leaders through innuendo, rumor mongering, name calling, and unrelentingly harsh criticism.

There is an old saying that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” The person who first coined that phrase obviously never experienced the all-out attack that some endure today. Bones may not be broken by words, but hearts often are. Blood-bought children of God have been hurt—some quite badly—by gossip and slander. A few have lost jobs. Others have felt forced to move far away from their homes in an effort to escape the suspicion aroused by the attacks. Friendships have been poisoned and family members divided. Children have endured years of intimidation and fear as they helplessly watch their parents face the verbal barrage of slander and gossip.

In a pagan court of law, the accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and their right to a fair trial is safeguarded carefully. Witnesses must appear in person and answer honest cross-examination so that the validity of their testimony can be weighed. Rumors and second-hand reports are flat-out rejected. Mere personal attacks are “out of order.” Both sides have the opportunity to present their case to an impartial judge and a jury carefully selected to be free from prejudices or personal agendas.
Not so in the court of public opinion! On attack-sites, the accused are presumed guilty unless proven innocent. In fact, a guilty verdict was decided before the “trial” ever began—that’s the whole reason for the website’s existence. “Evidence” that would be rejected by any court of law is welcomed. Witnesses are often anonymous and hearsay is the norm. “Testimonies” are filled to the brim with invective and name-calling. Accusations, whether substantiated by established fact or not, are repeated incessantly until they are simply accepted as “common knowledge.” The participants on these attack-sites—typically motivated by a desire to avenge hurts whether real or imagined—act as the judge, jury, and executioner of the accused.

Is there anyone who will speak out against this trend?

God will.

In fact, He already has—in His inspired Word. Through the Holy Spirit, God moved wise men, prophets, and apostles to warn His people about the dangers of gossip, slander, and other forms of abusive speech. Through His Son, God showed up in the flesh and used some of His precious time on earth to remind us that one day we will be judged by the words we speak. These warnings and instructions were captured in human language and recorded in the scriptures for our learning—and for our obedience.

The Greek terms blasph?mia, diabolos, and hairesis entered the English language as the ugly words “blasphemy,” “diabolical,” and “heresy.” But the meanings have shifted over the centuries. Originally, blasph?mia meant “slander, detraction, and speech injurious to another’s good name.” Diabolos meant “prone to slander.” It referred both to “the prince of demons…persecuting good men” and “men who resemble the devil in mind and will.” Hairesis originally meant “dissension” and hairetikos meant “schismatic or factious.”2

There are also several words translated “gossip“ in our English Bibles. “The Old Testament words denote a talebearer, one who rushes around telling stories. The New Testament word is ‘whisperer’ or ‘babbler.’ The gossip whispers poisonous reports in someone’s ear in private.”3

These are the terms that God chose to set the limits on what is acceptable in our speech. He established clear standards by which our words will be judged when Jesus returns. It is God’s job to be clear about His expectations. He has done that. It is our job to line up our hearts and lives with His commands, regardless of what the world thinks. As Paul put it: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV).

The purpose of this writing is to remind us about God’s perspective on our words, specifically on gossip and slander. On the pages that follow, we have collected His thoughts on these topics. We present them without further comment. We pray that each person who reads these words will apply them in very practical ways, both in the virtual world of online discussion boards, chat rooms, and weblogs, and in the real world of personal relationships. These are God’s words. They are the Truth.

“That ancient serpent,” the devil, is filling planet earth with his venomous words. He is “the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night.” Now may words of Truth from the very mouth of God supply a powerful antivenom to counteract the serpent’s poison!


1. “Facebook Backlash: Anti-Social Sites Flourish,” National Public Radio Weekend Edition, Feb. 2, 2008.

2. Thayer, Joseph Henry. Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1889.

3. Richards, Lawrence O. “Gossip.” Expository Dictionary of Bible Words. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.

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