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Hey, did you hear about so and so? Gossip! It can seem to start so innocently and then it becomes like a wildfire, spreading faster than you ever thought possible! What is gossip exactly and what does the Bible say about gossip and backbiting?
Read on to learn the answer to that question as well as take a deep dive into the Hebrew term “lashon hara” and the various types of gossip that exist.
What is Gossip?
Gossip is best defined by Miriam Webster as a person who repeats stories about other people; talk or rumors involving the personal lives of other people.
Now there are other definitions as well such as spreading rumors, etc. But as we will shortly see, in God’s economy, Miriam Webster got it right with this simple definition.
Repeating a story about others, whether rumor or true, can fall under the heading of gossip.
And it HAS been around a LONG time.
Lashon Hara – Gossip in the Bible
That’s right! Gossip did not just start here in recent history!
In fact, it goes back to Torah (the five Books of Moses).
Lashon hara literally means “evil tongue” or “evil language”. It is something that may be true but yet there is absolutely nothing to be gained or anything constructive in repeating it. It is unwholesome talk or a careless word spoken for no benefit.
For instance, if I see a friend’s husband out with another woman and I seek the counsel of a Pastor or Rabbi about how to handle the situation, that would not be lashon hara. That is done with good intention and for the purpose of seeking counsel and in an attempt to do the right thing.
However, if I run to another friend and repeat the information without any reason for doing so except to blab about it, that is lashon hara. It may be TRUE but there is no benefit in repeating it and can do great harm as well. You are being a simple babbler as my grandmother might say.
If it is NOT true and I am merely concocting a story (another form of gossip sadly) that is known as motzi shem ra, or literally “giving someone a bad name”. The Hebrew word ‘ra’ is bad or evil and we see this too in lashon hara.
‘Shem’ is name (such as in the name of God, Hashem – literally The Name) and motzi is to bring forth or give. Hamotzi is the blessing said over the bread because we thank God who “brings forth” bread from the earth.
So it is literally to give or bring forth a name that is bad or give a bad name!
So let’s continue on after that brief Hebrew lesson!
Motzi shem ra is much like what we know as slander or defamation.
So where does lashon hara occur in Torah?
Tza’arat is a skin disease, often referred to by people as leprosy.
So Miriam committed lashon hara against Moses and the Lord chastised Miriam and gave her a skin disease.
That is how seriously the Lord views lashon hara.
What Does the Bible Say About Gossip and Backbiting? – Let’s Dig in More!
So we have this one instance of lashon hara in the Bible but what does the Bible say about the sin of gossip overall? After all, as we have established, some gossip is true, and some are not.
Some are repeated in good conscience, some without being for a constructive reason, and some are repeated to outright harm someone or drive a wedge between people. We may call that having a backbiting tongue.
This sort of talk, the kind that is meant to cause division between people, is known in Hebrew as rechilut.
Before we get to what the Bible says about gossip, let me just share what the opinion of the sages was.
The sages have taught that it is a greater harm to hurt someone personally than financially because a person can always replace money but the shame that person incurs goes on and could follow him for his lifetime. They were of the opinion that to embarrass someone in public was akin to murder.
It would seem that Jesus would agree.
1 John 3:15 says:
This would seem to align with what Maimonides said he indicated that wrong speech is a transgression that was equivalent to murder but even worse because it killed three people; the one who said it, the one who heard it, and the one about whom it was said.
It really makes you realize how destructive to the life of a person gossip and wrong speech can be.
So let’s go on to more of what the Bible says.
First, let me say that if someone comes to you in confidence to seek counsel or advice about an issue and you repeat that to another person without their consent, you need to examine your motives!
You are NOT being a good friend by sharing privileged information someone told you in confidence. You are a rachil.
In fact, you’re engaging in malicious talk and the harm of gossip will not only affect the person you speak about, but you as well as God’s Word is clear about the dangers of it.
It is something you need to repent of because not only are you guilty of gossip but you are guilty of trying to further damage a relationship between people that may already be strained.
You should always seek to try to help and not do more harm, and helping may very well be just staying out of the personal lives of other people!
If someone comes to you for godly counsel and you betray that trust, you are putting yourself on some dangerous footing as the result of gossip is giving way to the enemy in your life!
So let’s look at some verses now and see what the Bible says about gossip and the danger the tongue can cause?If someone comes to you for godly counsel and you betray that trust, you are putting yourself on some dangerous footing and giving way to the enemy in your life! Click To Tweet
Proverbs 16:28 CJB
"A deceitful person stirs up strife, and a slanderer can separate even close friends."
Proverbs 11:13 CJB
"A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence."
Proverbs 18:8 CJB
"A slanderer’s words are tasty morsels; they slide right down into the belly."
Psalm 34:13 NASB
"Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit."
Exodus 23:1 TLV
“Do not to spread a false report. Do not join hands with the wicked by becoming a malicious witness."
Proverbs 6:16-19 TLV
"Six things Adonai hates, yes, seven are abominations to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet that run to evil, a false witness who spouts lies, and one who stirs up strife among brothers."
Proverbs 17:9 CJB
"He who conceals an offense promotes love, but he who harps on it can separate even close friends."
Proverbs 26:20-22 CJB
"If there’s no wood, the fire goes out; if nobody gossips, contention stops. As coals are to embers and wood to fire is a quarrelsome person to kindling strife."
Proverbs 18:7 CJB
"A fool’s mouth is his ruin; his words are a trap for him."
Psalm 15:2-3 CJB
"Those who live a blameless life, who behave uprightly, who speak truth from their hearts and keep their tongues from slander; who never do harm to others or seek to discredit neighbors;"
We can see that the tongue can present a LOT of problems for us if we allow it. The Bible tells us it is a small part of the body but look at what James 3:4-6 says about it:
Our mischievous tongue is like a small fire capable of setting a great forest ablaze and each word spoken carelessly is like hot embers sparking that fire.
So the next step? Pray to ask the Lord to help us to always speak good things. We all fall prey to gossip from time to time. Most of the time I think it is innocent enough. We ALL slip up, we ALL fall short and in doing so we can ask for forgiveness.
Psalm 141:3 CJB
"Set a guard, Adonai, over my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips."
Lord, set a watchman over my mouth so that I am convicted any time I open my mouth to speak about another when not done with proper motives.
Psalm 19:14 NASB
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight,O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer."
Let my words always be acceptable in your sight Lord. Keep my heart ever turned toward You so that I do not sin by thought or speech.
Psalm 31:18 NASB
"Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt."
Lord, help to place a guard over my lips to remain silent rather than speak words that do not lift up. Help me to refrain from tearing down. Speaking ill of someone does nothing to lift me up! Help my speech always be tempered with love!
Psalm 15:1-3 TLV
"A psalm of David. Adonai, who may dwell in Your tent? Who may live on Your holy mountain? The one who walks with integrity, who does what is right, and speaks truth in his heart, who does not slander with his tongue, does not wrong his neighbor, and does not disgrace his friend..."
Lord, help me to always walk in integrity and keep my tongue from slander or gossip. Help me to always do what is right toward my neighbor, regardless of how I am treated!
Blessings or Curses
You have a choice to make every single day! You can choose to bless others with the words of your mouth or curse them. You could give way to selfish ambition (after all, that is what gossip tends to result from) or mind your own affairs and stay out of the business of others.
You can choose to breathe life into someone’s world with your words or you can choose to bring them more trouble. You can choose to focus on loving others as God loves them or doing what the Lord hates.
You can choose to act with concern for the life of your neighbor with the use of edifying talk or engage in corrupting talk, irreverent babble, and subtle insinuations.
Be a blessing to another! Choose to see the good in them! Assume people have the best intentions and don’t mean to do evil toward you, making you retaliate with your words.
In today’s political climate, there is so much anger and backbiting. Let’s aspire to be different than the world!
We ARE different than the world!
Do you have a favorite verse about gossip or the power of the tongue? Share them in the comments (I deliberately left many out so I could give you all a chance to share yours)!What Does the Bible Say About Gossip and Backbiting? Click To Tweet
CJB – Taken from the Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD 21029. www.messianicjewish.net.
NASB – “Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation“
Tree of Life (TLV) – Scripture taken from the Holy Scriptures, Tree of Life Version*. Copyright © 2014,2016 by the Tree of Life Bible Society. Used by permission of the Tree of Life Bible Society.
ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”