God Is Moral Part Eighteen
Two previous articles examined the biblical view concerning eight types of negative speech. We will continue this study and then discuss positive types.
Negative Types of Speech
Reviling Speech. Revilers are people who use abusive, malicious language to disgrace and shame a person or injure his or her reputation.1
The Bible records several examples of people who were victims of reviling, abusive speech. The prophet Jeremiah was one. His enemies said, “Come and let us devise plans against Jeremiah;…Come and let us attack him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words” (Jer. 18:18).
After Jesus healed a man who had been born blind, the Pharisees “reviled” the man, saying, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from” (Jn. 9:28–29).
Jesus was reviled while on the cross:
And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’” Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing (Mt. 27:39–44).
The apostle Paul experienced reviling: “We are fools for Christ’s sake,…we are dishonored!…Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat” (1 Cor. 4:10, 12–13).
The Bible has interesting things to say about revilers. It declares, “Whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Prov. 10:18) and says revilers will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10).
Paul told believers “not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is…a reviler…not even to eat with such a person” (5:11).
The Bible gives instruction concerning what the attitude and response of believers should be when they are reviled. Jesus said,
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt. 5:11–12).
The apostle Peter reminded believers,
To this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Pet. 2:21–23).
Again Peter stated that believers should not return “evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For ‘He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit’” (3:9–10).
Empty Speech. Paul wrote, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:6–7). Empty speech consists of words “without content, without any basis, without truth, without power.”2 In 1 Timothy 1:6–7, Paul referred to people who “have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, under-standing neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.” Whereas the word translated “empty” in the expression “empty words” in Ephesians 5:6 refers to speech that is “worthless,…without content,” the word translated “idle talk” in 1 Timothy 1:6 describes speech that is “worthless…deceptive or ineffectual.”3 (Compare with 1 Timothy 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16.)
Devouring Speech. Psalm 52:4 refers to “devouring words.” Devouring speech involves the figurative sense of “swallowing” the intended victim through words of “destruction.”4
Cutting Speech. The Bible refers to the wicked and workers of iniquity “who sharpen their tongue like a sword” (64:3) and to evil and violent men who “sharpen their tongues like a serpent; the poison of asps is under their lips” (140:3).
Shameful Speech. Paul declared, “It is shameful” for believers “even to speak of those things which are done” by the ungodly “in secret” (Eph. 5:12). The word translated “shameful” refers to what is “ugly, shameful, base.”5 It refers to “‘that which is disgraceful’ in the judgment of men…especially as expressed in words.”6
Deceiving Speech. Paul also referred to people who “by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom. 16:18). The word translated “smooth” refers to speech that sounds “plausible.”7 The word translated “flattering” refers to “well chosen (but untrue) words” of “praise” or “flattery.”8 Both types of speech “are simply a mask for fraudulent purposes.”9 (Compare with Psalm 12:3; 52:4; 78:36.)
Arrogant Speech. Psalm 12:3 states, “May the Lᴏʀᴅ cut off…the tongue that speaks proud things.”
Perverse Speech. Proverbs 10:31–32 declares, “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.” And Proverbs 17:20 asserts, “He who has a perverse tongue falls into evil.” Perverse speech is persistently or obstinately contrary to “what is right, good, or proper.”10
Evil Speech. Proverbs 15:28 states, “The mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” And 16:27 declares, “An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire.” The word translated “evil” refers to “activity that is contrary to God’s will.”11 Evil speech is characterized by “moral deficiencies, moral qualities that injure oneself or others.”12
Mocking Speech. Isaiah 57:4 asks, “Whom do you ridicule? Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue? Are you not children of transgression, offspring of falsehood?” The word translated “ridicule” means “make sport of.”13
Abusive Speech. God declared that Israel’s princes would “fall by the sword for the cursings of their tongue” (Hos. 7:16). The word translated “cursings” refers to speech prompted by “intense anger” or “indignation” and characterized by “denunciation.”14
Positive Types of Speech
The Bible addresses several kinds of speech that should be characteristic of Christians.
Truthful Speech. Ephesians 4:25 indicates that, in contrast with lying, each believer should “speak truth with his neighbor.”
Gracious Speech. Colossians 4:6 reveals that a Christian’s speech should “always be with grace, seasoned with salt.” The word translated “grace” refers to what is gracious or attractive.15 Since salt was used for “purifying and seasoning,”16 gracious speech is purged of everything “contrary to God” and will have “the religious and moral quality which must characterize the speech of the Christian.”17
Sound Speech. When teaching doctrine, believers should use “sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you” (Ti. 2:7–8). Sound speech is “reasonable and appeals to sound intelligence.”18 (Compare with 1 Timothy 1:10; 6:3; 2 Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:13; 2:2.)
Wise Speech. Proverbs 10:31 states, “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,” and 31:26 claims that the virtuous woman “opens her mouth with wisdom.” The word translated “wisdom” refers to “prudence.”19 The word prudence refers to “cautious practical wisdom; good judgment; discretion.”20
Kind Speech. Proverbs 31:26 asserts that on the virtuous woman’s tongue “is the law of kindness.” The function of law is to control or govern. Thus kind speech is when kindness controls or governs what the tongue says.
Acceptable Speech. Righteous people know what type of speech is proper or acceptable to God and people (Prov. 10:32).21
Studied Speech. Proverbs 15:28 states, “The heart of the righteous studies how to answer.” Righteous people think carefully before they speak.
Psalm 15 provides a fitting conclusion to this study about speech. It begins with two questions: “Lᴏʀᴅ, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” (v. 1).
It replies that the type of person who may abide in close fellowship with God is one “who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up a reproach against his friend” (vv. 2–3).
- The American College Dictionary (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), s.v. “revile,” 1039; s.v. “calumny,” 171.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “kenos,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 428–29.
- Otto Bauernfeind, “mataios,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 4:519.
- Francis Brown, ed., with S. R. Driver and Charles A. Briggs, “bela,” A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, based on the lexicon of William Gesenius as translated by Edward Robinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 118.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “aischros,” 24.
- Rudolf Bultmann, “aischros,” TDNT, 1:190.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “chrestologia,” 894.
- Ibid., “eulogia,” 323.
- Konrad Weiss, “chrestologia,” TDNT, 9: 492.
- The American College Dictionary, s.v. “perverse,” 905.
- G. Herbert Livingston, “ra’a,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (hereafter cited as TWOT), ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:854.
- Ibid., 855.
- Brown, Driver, Briggs, “anog,” 772.
- Leon J. Wood, “za’am,” TWOT, 1:247.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “charis,” 885.
- Friedrich Hauck, “alas,” TDNT, 1:228.
- Ibid., 229.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “ugiaino,” 840.
- Brown, Driver, Briggs, “hakmah,” 315.
- The American College Dictionary, S.V. “prudence,” 976.
- Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, n.d.), 1:229.