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What Gossip Is

By: Jonathan Harris

Many will be surprised to find that the word “gossip” is not found in Scripture, at least not our modern conception. Sure, there are places in our English translations that have translated a Greek or Hebrew word to be “gossip,” but what you’ll quickly find when you do any research is that the meaning seems to fall slightly short of the full concept of gossip we have in our culture. In other words, only one aspect of our rich definition is portrayed. This is why we must survey many different biblical words and passages in order to arrive at a complete definition.

Let us proceed starting with Prov. 20:19 which reads, “He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, Therefore do not associate with a gossip.” The word “Pathah” (gossip) can largely be defined by the context. The word for slanderer (Rakiyl) can also be translated as “tale-bearer” or “informer.” So, someone who tells stories that ought to be kept secret is a gossip. The actual word for gossip here can be defined “to be spacious, be open, be wide.” The common expression “loose lips sink ships” applies. Someone who is too open tends to reveal stories that ought not to be revealed. Prov. 20:19 is very helpful in giving us an idea of the characteristics of a gossip, but it does little in telling us what kind of information constitutes gossip and to whom such information cannot be revealed. For that, we must continue our study.

Prov. 26:20 states, “ For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.” The word “whisperer” (Ragan) tells us something about the nature of gossip. It is defined by the action of speaking low so others will not hear what’s being said. Normally we think of Gossips as those too loose with information, and that is true, yet it must also be understood that gossips are only loose with certain people. A gossip will not want you to know what he or she is saying about you. They likely will not reveal negative information to people to whom you are connected either for fear that it may get back to you. This is the opposite of Paul’s example in Gal. 2:11 when he “opposed Peter to his face.” If you are sharing personal information about someone else that you would be afraid to reveal to them yourself, or have someone else link it back to you somehow, chances are you’re probably gossiping. The phrase, “you didn’t hear it from me,” exemplifies this behavior.

One rule of thumb, which should be obvious, is that you shouldn’t lie about people, but I strongly suspect that most gossip involves some sort of deception. Ex. 23:1 says, “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” It should go without saying that any information that is false ought never to be revealed to anyone. It should likewise be noted that the motivation behind revealing false information is “malice” according to the passage. This is a point too often missed. I believe it is the motivation behind our words that constitute whether or not it is gossip. We will see this more clearly as we continue our survey.

Proverbs 18:8, “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” The word for “dainty” means “ to gulp, swallow greedily.”  Let me ask you a question, “What makes information about someone else addictive and attractive?” When someone is put down there’s an obvious feeding of the flesh that occurs—we’re being put up! We say to ourselves, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as them!” This is what makes gossip so alluring! Again, notice, it’s the motivation behind the revelation of the information, not the information itself. Someone who’s sharing information about someone, that they don’t want to get back to that person, for the purpose of making themselves feel elevated, constitutes gossip.
Jesus tells us exactly where gossip comes from in Matt. 15:19 where he preaches, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” The word for “slanders” (Blasphemia) means “ detraction, speech injurious, to another’s good name.” When applied to God we call it “blasphemy.” In the form of blasphemy slandering constitutes taking away from God’s attributes or attributing to Him attributes that do not belong to Him. At the root, blasphemy is an attempt by man to subvert God—to make Him less and us more. Well, when applied to people in the form of slander it’s much the same thing. We, once again, lie by attributing false attributes to someone else’s character to make us feel self-righteous. We can sometimes even do this by sharing the truth, but not the whole truth. This Jesus teaches, comes out of the heart of man. It is an evil motive that inspires such speech.

To conclude our short tour through what the Bible says about gossip let us review the elements we have discussed.


•    The elements of Gossip include:
    •    Purposely precluding information from the party being discussed (Prov. 26:20)
    •    Sharing information about someone for the purpose of elevating oneself (Ex. 23:1, Prov. 18:8)
    •    Attributing false damaging information to someone else (Matt. 15:19)
•    A gossip is someone who is characterized by sharing the kind of information described above in a loose manner (Prov. 20:19)
•    Therefore, Gossip is the act of sharing damaging information about someone else for the purpose of elevating oneself, and often includes lying.

Full Series on Gossip 

1. Gossip: An Introduction
2. What Gossip Is Not
3. What Gossip Is
4. What to Say and When to Say It
5. Gossip, the Tongue, and Humor

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