Whispering, Backbiting, Talebearing
Whispering, Backbiting, Talebearing
I. The tongue has a capacity for good and evil. JAM 3:9-12; PRO 18:21.
A. Of all the parts of the body, it is the most difficult to tame. JAM 3:2-8.
1. It is easier to tame a lion than the tongue.
2. It has the capacity to condemn oneself. LUK 19:22.
3. It has the capacity to spue venom to another's injury. PSA 140:3.
B. One's religion is invalidated by an unbridled tongue. JAM 1:26.
C. To tame one's tongue requires taming one's heart. MAT 12:34-35.
A. whispering: The action of saying or reporting something quietly or secretly; suggestion or
insinuation (by whispered speech); faint mention or rumour; esp. malicious insinuation,
secret slander or detraction, backbiting.
1. insinuate: To convey (a statement or notion) by indirect suggestion; to hint
obliquely; now generally with implication of cunning or underhand action.
2. detraction: The action of detracting from a person's merit or reputation; the
utterance of what is depreciatory or injurious to his reputation; depreciation,
disparagement, defamation, calumny, slander.
B. backbite: To detract from the character of, to slander, traduce, speak ill of: a person
1. slander: The utterance or dissemination of false statements or reports concerning a
person, or malicious misrepresentation of his actions, in order to defame or injure
him, calumny, defamation.
2. traduce: To speak evil of, esp. (now always) falsely or maliciously; to defame,
malign, vilify, slander, calumniate, misrepresent; to blame, censure.
3. defame: To bring ill fame, infamy, or dishonour upon, to dishonour or disgrace in
fact; to render infamous. 2. To attack the good fame or reputation of (a person); to
dishonour by rumour or report.
C. talebearer: One who officiously carries reports of private matters to gratify malice or idle
1. A talebearer may be seeking to gratify (show gratitude to a person in return for
benefits received) malice that a third party has for the victim of the talebearing,
thereby empowering or justifying the third party's animus to the victim.
2. Or, a talebearer may be gratifying his own malice in the sense of indulging,
satisfying (a desire, feeling, etc.).
3. Or, a talebearer may delight in feeding information to someone who loves gossip.
4. officiously: In an officious manner...
5. officious: Unduly forward in proffering services or taking business upon oneself;
doing, or prone to do, more than is asked or required; interfering with what is not
one's concern; pragmatical, meddlesome.
III. Consider these scriptural commandments and warnings:
A. ROM 1:29-30. “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness,
covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient
1. Whisperers and backbiters are lumped together with the likes of murderers and
Whispering, Backbiting, Talebearing Page 1 of 4fornicators---all worthy of death. ROM 1:32.
2. “In early times, in the city of New York, slander was esteemed a rank offence. One
Jan Adamzen, for slandering certain respectable persons, was condemned to be
'struck through the tongue with a red-hot iron, and banished from the province.'”
(Foster, Elon; 6000 Windows For Sermons, p.701)
3. A faithful minister does not want to find whispering or backbiting in a church.
B. LEV 19:16. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither
shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.”
1. The word here translated talebearer is the Hebrew rakiyl (SRN #7400), which
Strong defines as “a scandal monger (as travelling about): - slander, carry tales,
2. It is also translated as slanders in JER 6:28; 9:4.
3. The concept of talebearer is obviously negative; it is speech which is injurious to
C. Scripture particularly warns women of these tendencies.
1. Bishops' and deacons' wives must not be slanderers (1TI 3:11). The word here
translated slanderers is diabolos (SRN #1228), i.e., devils.
2. Paul warned Timothy about some women's tendency to become tattlers (idle talker,
chatterer, gossip, talebearer, telltale). 1TI 5:13.
IV. The definitions show there to be basically two categories of censured third-party
A. Whispering and backbiting focus on the darkening of the character of someone who is not
B. Talebearing focuses more on the improper spread of factual information.
1. Talebearing can deteriorate into slander with appropriate spinning of the facts.
2. The further factual information is spread from its source, the less factual it tends to
C. Both categories promote divisiveness. PRO 16:28; 17:9.
D. Slander may occur whether someone is present or absent.
1. David was the object of slanderous reports. 1SAM 24:9.
2. Mephibosheth's servant slandered him to David. 2SAM 16:3 c/w 19:27.
3. Stephen's opponents slandered him. ACT 6:11.
4. Paul was the object of both slander and rumour-mongering (a statement or report
circulating in a community, of the truth of which there is no clear evidence).
ACT 21:21; ROM 3:8.
V. The importance of keeping private matters private is evident.
A. An offended brother is responsible to first take his case to the offending brother alone.
1. This guards against the breaking out of scandalous discord, which God hates.
2. This allows for the clearing up of any misunderstanding about the perceived
3. This shows the offending brother that one is acting in good faith and has noble
interests at heart. PRO 11:13; 17:9.
a. Blabbing about the problem to others only polarizes the situation and puts
Whispering, Backbiting, Talebearing Page 2 of 4the offending brother in an unreceptive posture.
b. The offender is himself offended by the publisher of the private offense.
There are then two offended brothers in the church.
c. The publisher of a private offense has also jeopardized himself inasmuch as
an accusation must be substantiated by other witnesses. He is not only a
talebearer but could also end up being declared a false accuser. DEU 19:15.
4. If you have been offended by a brother or sister and must make a complaint, that
person is the one to whom the complaint must be made. If you are dissatisfied with
the response from the offender, you can choose to drop the matter or continue with
the process of MAT 18:15-18.
5. If you have been offended by someone and you need counseling as to how to
proceed, seeking counsel would be appropriate. PRO 20:18; 24:6.
a. Such an inquirer would do well to not name the perceived offender unless
circumstances demand it.
b. Seeking counsel is not a forum for the offended person to blacken the
character of the absent person to the counsellor. Someone who is
approached for counsel in handling a dispute must strive for neutrality and
discourage “ex parte” testimony.
DEU 19:15; PRO 18:13; JOH 7:51; 1TI 5:21.
c. If seeking counsel is deemed a valid pretext for maligning an absent
person's character, then on the basis of PRO 24:6, the offended person
could justify the spreading of the defamatory information to a multitude of
d. Such an inquirer needs to know that the pastor will be watching him for
obvious tendencies of being a trouble-maker.
6. Advertising a private offense to others is a form of talebearing or backbiting. It is
usually done for one or more of these reasons:
a. Unwillingness to confront someone. It is easier to tattle to a third party.
This is a form of cowardice.
b. Rally pity and support for one's cause.
c. Make oneself shine brighter by the contrast with the “dark offender.”
d. A sick delight in spreading dirty laundry.
7. Talebearing hurts. PRO 26:22.
8. Talebearing is divisive. PRO 26:20.
9. Talebearers tend to sugar-coat their deed. PRO 20:19.
10. PRO 25:9. “Debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself; and discover not a
secret to another.”
B. A similar situation requiring efforts to contain a problem is when someone is personal
witness to a brother's fault or his potentially sinful conduct. JAM 5:19-20.
1. The goal is to save a brother, not alienate or destroy him.
2. No amount of “Well, bless his heart...” justifies spreading a brother's fault around.
3. The royal law, “...Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself...” (JAM 2:8) applies.
VI. The way to respond to a talebearer is to not be party to his efforts. PRO 20:19.
A. Direct the talebearer along these lines:
1. He must cease from spreading private defamatory information or rumors.
2. That you will be on your watch against any future talebearing.
B. If after having been corrected and warned a talebearer continues to sow his discord, sterner
Whispering, Backbiting, Talebearing Page 3 of 4 action must be taken. This could result in a church disciplinary procedure.
VII. The way to respond to a whisperer or backbiter who is clearly spreading false defamation or
maliciously insinuating that a person's character or conduct is at fault is to stop them bluntly.
A. PRO 25:23. “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a
B. “Dr. Johnson silenced a notorious female backbiter, who was condemning some of her
friends for painting their cheeks by the remark that 'It is a far less harmful thing for a lady
to redden her own complexion than to blacken her neighbor's character.”
(Foster, Elon; 6000 Windows For Sermons, p.59)
VIII. It is not whispering, backbiting or talebearing to discuss the publicly exposed character flaws of
someone after the fact, especially in the absence of that person's humble repentance.
A. If the matter is openly proven and dealt with, then there can be no slander.
B. Since the character of the person has been exposed, then there is no detraction of character
on that point of exposure.
1. A sinner whose folly has been exposed opens himself up for re-evaluation in
general in the eyes of others and may subject himself to watchful scrutiny.
1KI 1:51-52; 2:13-25.
2. This, however, is not a license to maliciously shred whatever is left of that person's