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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Evil-Speaking

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In Greek, as in English, there is a rich vocabulary expressive of different shades of this prevalent sin.

(1) καταλαλεῖν is ‘to speak down,’ ‘to detract.’ κατάλαλοι is translated ‘backbiters’ (Romans 1:30), and καταλαλίαι ‘backbitings’ (2 Corinthians 12:20), but evil-speaking does not necessarily take place behind the back, or in the absence of the person hated. κατάλαλοι form one of the many types which are the outcome of the reprobate mind (Romans 1:30), and Christian converts, as new-born babes, must put away all καταλαλίαι (1 Peter 2:1-2; cf. James 4:11). The best people in the world cannot escape the breath of detraction, and in the Apostolic Age the Christians were regarded as ‘genus hominum superstitionis novae et maleficae’ (Suet. Nero, 16), accused of ‘odium generis humani’ (Tac. Ann. xv. 44), and suspected of committing the most infamous crimes in their secret assemblies. In such an atmosphere of calumny they made it their endeavour to live in such a manner that their detractors should not only be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16), but even constrained by their good works to glorify God (1 Peter 2:12; cf. Matthew 5:16).

(2) βλασφημεῖν (βλάσφημος, βλασφημία) is a stronger term, including all kinds of evil-speaking against men as well as against God. In a number of passages it is difficult to decide whether ‘blaspheme’ or ‘rail’ is the precise meaning of the word (Acts 13:45; Acts 18:6; Acts 26:11 etc.). St. Paul has a full share of βλασφημία; he is ‘evil spoken of’ (1 Corinthians 10:30) and ‘slanderously reported’ (Romans 3:8). While the Gentiles speak evil of the followers of Christ (1 Peter 4:4), the latter must calumniate no man (Titus 3:2); railing (βλασφημία) is one of the sins of temper and tongue which they are repeatedly enjoined to put away (Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8). At the same time they must strive to prevent their ‘good,’ or ‘the word of God,’ or ‘the way of truth,’ or ‘the name of God and the doctrine,’ from being blasphemed, or evil spoken of (Romans 14:16, Titus 2:5, 2 Peter 2:2, 1 Timothy 6:1), St. Paul affirms that the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the Jews (Romans 2:24). The false teachers and libertines of the sub-Apostolic Age spoke evil of the powers of the unseen world (2 Peter 2:10, Judges 1:10); and their empty logomachies gave rise to mutual railings (βλασφημίαι, 1 Timothy 6:4). See, further, article Blasphemy.

(3) διἀβολος (from διαβάλλω, Luke 16:1), which denotes, κατʼ ἐξοχήν, the ‘chief slanderer,’ or ‘devil,’ is applied also to any ordinary calumniator. Women who are called to the office of the diaconate must not be slanderers (1 Timothy 3:11), and the same applies to aged women who are to influence the younger by their words and example (Titus 2:3). In grievous post-apostolic times, which seemed the last, many bad types of character became prominent, including διάβολοι (2 Timothy 3:3).

(4) λοιδορεῖν (a word of uncertain derivation) is invariably translated ‘revile’ in the Revised Version , whereas the Authorized Version has ‘rail’ and ‘speak reproachfully’ as variations. St. Paul says of the apostles that being reviled they bless (1 Corinthians 4:12); that the so-called brother who is a reviler (λοίδορος) is to be shunned (1 Corinthians 5:11); and that revilers shall not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:10). For seeming to revile the high priest Ananias in a moment of just anger, St. Paul was quick to make apology (Acts 24:4). In a time of persecution St. Peter turns the minds of his readers to the perfect example of Christ, who, being reviled, reviled not again (1 Peter 2:23), and bids them render, as He did, ‘contrariwise blessing’ (1 Peter 3:9).

(5) Analagous terms are κακολογεῖν, ‘to speak evil of’ (Acts 19:9), ἀντιλέγειν, ‘to speak against’ (Acts 28:22), and δυσφημία, ‘evil report,’ which the servant of Christ learns to accept, equally with εὐφημία, as part of his lot (2 Corinthians 6:8). ‘Being defamed (δυσφημούμενοι), we bless’ (1 Corinthians 4:13).

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Evil-Speaking'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/e/evil-speaking.html. 1906-1918.

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