Q: #440. What does the Bible say about gossiping?
A: Two Hebrew words are translated as “gossip” (“talebearer” in the KJV) in the Old Testament. The first is “rakiyl,” and the second is “nirgan. Unfortunately, each of these two words are translated as both “gossip” and “slander,” and are even translated in a “single verse” in one translation as “gossip” and in another translation as “slander.” (“Dibbah” is also used in 3 places for “slander.”)
Obviously, we know that “gossip” and “slander” are two things. Gossip basically means “to share private or personal information about a person behind their back with someone else.” While this information is usually true, the person sharing it is not usually trying to hurt the person being talked about. Slander, on the other hand, is meant to hurt the person being talked about. Slandering means to spread false and malicious information about a person in a deliberate attempt to defame or damage that person and their reputation.
So, having said this, it is a bit difficult to know which verses in the Bible are speaking about “gossip,” and which are speaking about “slander.” However, let’s look at some verses in the Old Testament which appear to be talking about “gossip,” and how sinful and destructive it can be. (I will post the Hebrew word used for each.)
(Lev 19:16) Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer (rakiyh) among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the Lord.
(Prov 11:13) A talebearer (rakiyh) revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
(Prov 20:19) He that goeth about as a talebearer (rakiyh) revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
(Prov 16:28) A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer (nirgin) separateth chief friends.
(Prov 26:20) Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer (nirgin), the strife ceaseth.
(Prov 18:8, 26:22) The words of a talebearer (nirgin) are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
The New Testament also has two places which speak of “gossip” as sin. The words “whisperers” (Gr. psithuristes), and “whisperings” (Gr. psithurismos) are used for “gossip.”
(Rom 1:28-32) And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; (29) Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; WHISPERERS, (30) Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, (31) Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: (32) Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
(2 Cor 12:20) For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, WHISPERINGS, swellings, tumults:
(Caps emphasis on both mine)
While this may, or may not be the best way to think about “gossip,” a rule of thumb I often try to keep in mind is, “Would I be willing to say to a person’s face whatever it is I am about to say behind their back?”