Dialogs and Commentary Home Page

Gossip and Christian Scripture

A call for repentance from false religious traditions and misunderstandings about what "gossip" really is; by Dean VanDruff.

Many Catholics were raised to think that sex was original sin. Even when they learn otherwise, somehow they can't seem to break from feeling "guilty" or "dirty" about it even within a godly marriage. The religious tradition inherited has echoes in their feelings even after they know better. As if God hates sex, which He created and uses as a type of our relationship with Him! I suspect the same is true for Christians of all stripes when it comes to misunderstandings and wrong religious traditions concerning gossip. As if God hates talking about people!

Do we really even know what gossip is, or are our minds are filled with the erroneous notion that "gossip" is talking about someone who is not around, or in general saying something "negative" about someone else. We will dispel these wrong notions, describe what gossip really is, deal with a kind of "talking about others" that is wrong, and also note Satan's interest in maintaining false traditions about "gossip". For if we have an incorrect idea of what gossip is, we will not obey Christ's command concerning how to deal with sin in the church.

But be aware that your emotions might take a while to come around even if your mind goes first; and that for some, sacred cows like this die hard.

Mr 7:8-9 (NIV) "You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!"

Our man-made religious tradition defines gossip incorrectly as "talking behind other people's backs". But let's think this through. If true, God would be the chief gossiper, telling tales of Pharaoh and Ahab and Jezebel and hundreds of others without their permission; the apostles and early disciples used gossip to spread the gospel; and the Bible is then a book of gossip in general.

It is time to take this idea captive, and make it obedient to Christ.

If popular religious ideas about gossip were true, then we have tacitly accused the Apostles and writers of scripture of "gossip", and indirectly blasphemed God for inspiring such. To be sure, God is not the author of sin. So then, we must consider that our religious tradition about gossip is wrong.

Let us look to scripture to see what gossip is and is not. First, to illustrate what gossip is not, consider the following questions, the answers to which should be obvious.

Clearly, we should not be defining "gossip" in such a way that would accuse and besmirch Chloe, the holy Apostles, Scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit! For God is light and He reveals and discloses true things--both positive and negative things--hidden in darkness, and this is most definitely not "gossip". And those who follow Him will become like Him.

Luke 12:1b-3 (NIV) Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs."

For more on this, see the Bible Study on The Light; which all believers are called to live in.

So where did we get our wrong ideas about "gossip" from, and why? Think about it. The religious tradition about "gossip" is basically "damage control" for sinful leaders. It is "image management" via trying to foster an environment of fear by stifling normal conversation in the body. It is darkness turned from vice to virtue. Let us call this the "cult" definition of "gossip", for it is what all cultic leaders do. To be sure, not all teachers who parrot this religious tradition are consciously harboring sin or trying to control people, but those who start and emphasize such dark teachings can be easily discerned as doing so for fear that their sin might be found out.

John 3:19 (NIV) "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

Yet nowadays, those who love darkness can simply label openness, honesty, and light as "gossip", and we seem to buy this ruse without circumspection or consideration of the application of such false doctrine.

In our modern churches, if anyone did what Paul or Mark or Luke or God did he/she would be labeled as a "gossip". This keeps us from learning from anyone else's mistakes or failures and short-circuits God's intention for us to live in the light; but ain't "cult" darkness a great place to hide-out for sinners--especially sinning "ministers"?

1Cor 10:6,11 (NIV) Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did... These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us...

God knows us, has lived among us. He knows that people are fascinated with other people and that talking about each other can be useful for instruction, warning, and example. The most interesting thing in the universe--next to God--is people, and even the heavenly host seems to think so (Hb 12:1, Rm 8:19). It is hard to imagine God doing anything but smiling down on us when we talk about each other, as long at it is not sinful; for it is a residue of His image, glory, and love in us that drives us to do so. In any case, God has never forbidden us to talk about each other. And by example, we rather should.

1Cor 4:6 (NIV) ...So that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, "Do not go beyond what is written."

Many teachers and groups, however, have "gone beyond what is written" and think talking about others when they are not around is the sin of "gossip". These starched ones imagine that they are very righteous by acting as if they have spiritual lock-jaw; yet I suspect God is just up there shaking His head in wonder. Are we really this dull? Was not talking about others and life in general how the gospel was initially spread, and still should spread? Are we not to be "living epistles"?

We need to shake off this cult-tradition nonsense and live in jubilant freedom as children of the light. Our conversation needs to be taken out from under the table, and put on a lampstand. Be free, body of Christ, from this ridiculous and counterproductive tradition; and be restrained only by the law of love--for each other and for the truth.

Heb 13:9 (NIV) Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Eph 4:14 (NIV) Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

So what is the real sin of gossip, then? Well, I hope the point is sufficiently clear that gossip is not "talking about someone else when they are not present"; for if so, Scripture is very, very, gossipy.

Mark 10:19 (NKJ) "You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness...'"

Gossip is inherently a "false witness" of slander. Gossip and slander orbit around each other. Slander is the lie, and gossip the spreading of lies. Attractive gossip will not always be completely incorrect--it may well have some bearing on the truth. But it will always have a perverted "twist" to it that is the lure. In some situations, the gossip will be repeating some slander someone else told as a speculation that has no basis in truth. But in most cases, the appeal of the sin of gossip is that we know it is not true.

Here is a real-life example of gossip. A Christian woman who was an intercessor would often look at me intently while I was teaching and/or praying. A gossip we will call Charlotte started telling people that we were having a secret affair, and if they peaked during prayer they would see that this woman was making eyes at me. I started hearing all sorts of reports from those Charlotte was calling to "let know what was really going on". Further, Charlotte also came to believe I was madly in love with her as well, and told several people that I was following her home at night (as well as other pastors in the area: all milling around her house I suppose). Charlotte was the real deal: a biblical gossip. She seemed to get a perverted enjoyment from telling slanderous tales obviously detached from the truth. After repeated rebukes and Charlotte's continued rejection of our encouragement to repent and receive prayer and dedicate herself to the truth, we had to dissfellowship her. Perhaps she is in your church now? Just wait till you hear her stories; for it will take only a modicum of discernment or common-sense to know that what she is doing is a grievous sin.

If our religious traditions of "gossip" were true, all news would be gossip. Yet even the world seems to be wiser than the church in this. In newspapers, for example, the "gossip" section is usually full of what appears to be spurious rumors, speculative innuendoes, or non-corroborated emerging news. This is made to seem more "racy" by calling it "gossip" in the same way that sex is made to seem more "sordid" by the wrongful Adam and Eve myth. Even the "gossip" section in the newspaper is rarely ever real gossip, for if so they would get sued. So, while the church stifles real news among the brethren under the misnomer "gossip", we endure outrageous fabrications, slander, and lies among us; not recognizing that this is the gossip that scripture is telling us not to engage in.

And what about you? Have you ever met-or been--a Charlotte? Have you ever come across a delicious untruth that you hankered to pass on? Surely you know what gossip is by simple spiritual insight and experience? A gossip has no intention of accurately depicting reality like Chloe, the writers of Scripture, God, or normal healthy Christians do as they speak of one another. Instead, the gossip is concocting malicious lies to project onto others. Gossips have no interest in being true witnesses, but instead they find prurient enjoyment in bearing false witness.

But let us move from the individual case of a gossip you might have met, or (perish the thought) have been, to a case that we all share in common.

A fairly well known example of gossip is the modern, conjured "recovered memories" syndrome that wrecked families and poisoned lives in the 90's, and even still continues on today in some circles. In "recovered memory", people believe the most absurd and evil things have happened to them after going through an hypnotic or occult-like channeling session, when before they had no such memories and there is zero corroborating evidence that such things ever occurred. As a result, a quiet, simple father and mother who have served faithfully in the local Baptist church are now accused by their 40 year old daughter of being lifelong high-priests in the church of Satan and committing hideous sex acts with their children, which explains why the daughter can't stay in relationships for long now. This is a clear example of the real sin of gossiping, and if you have ever seen the damage done by it you will know why it is so grievous. (Links provided at the end for more on this.)

The problem of misunderstanding what gossip is cuts both ways; it is spiritually stifling to label normal human conversation as gossip, but it is also a shame not to spiritually recognize real gossip when we come across it.

Another common example of gossip is "Conspiracy Theory". Conspiracy theories often involve outrageous slander and gossip. Scripture tell us to pray for our leaders, not slander them with ghost-stories, rumors, half-truths, and outright lies. Pulled from our "Christian Repentance from Conspiracy Theories" posting (also linked at the end) is the following section depicting the nature of gossip and slander as described in scripture:

Leviticus 19:16 (NIV) "Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the Lord."

Exodus 23:1 (NIV) "Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness."

Proverbs 18:8 (NIV) The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts.

Scripture describes a gossip as one who connives and dreams up a "twist" that is compelling and winsome. There is a perverted sweetness to this deception that is the principal lure of committing this sin. "Yeah, THAT is it! So and so is doing such and such." The more divorced from the truth this is, the more outlandish the slander, the better...

Matthew 15:19 (NIV) "For out of the heart come evil thoughts... false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'...."

Proverbs 18:8 (NAS) The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles....

Like all sin, slander and gossip can be fun in the moment. But like all sin, there is a price to be paid later. The price here is in defamation of character to the real-life people and organizations, and in self-delusion and inability to discern the truth for those who continue in it.

1 Peter 2:1 (NIV) Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Ephesians 4:31 (NIV) Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander...

Gossip is inherently a lie, or it is not gossip. We have outrageous examples of this currently going on within Christendom. Truly, we strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Speaking the truth "behind someone's back" is what God does, Christians have always done, is the foundation of Holy Scripture, and is a perfectly healthy and normal human activity. Only sociopathic cult-like leaders will have a fit if you do this, as they want to control and micro-manage everything said about them. We need to clear our minds of cult-leader false teachings, and stop being so easily swayed by false religious traditions.

I will offer you my own emotional reactions concerning this as--I hope--an example worth imitating. It warms my heart to think that people are talking about me behind my back: telling others of my faith, mistakes, life, etc., as would be fit to edify others. The thought of this brings me not the least bit of concern whatsoever, unless what is being said is slanderous. Even then, as in the case of Charlotte, when I heard the gossip she was spreading I thought it was very funny indeed. It made me laugh; only it was not funny, for she was sinning. My concern was not to protect my own reputation, but for her soul. My motivation was to get her to see that she was sinning and had a strange attraction to what was not true; and was wasting the time of others in the body by wrestling with the delusive ghosts in her mind. In contrast to this sort of love-based response, we have the wolf-like growl of many Christian leaders whose ears burn with smoke and fury as they consider that somebody out there is talking about them and they cannot control it.

3John 1:11 (NKJ) Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good...

Now then, let us look at the case where talking about someone behind their back might be wrong even if not gossip. Suppose something true--or thought to be true--is said, but in disobedience to the commands of Christ in Mat 18? Here, I think, is why the false tradition about "gossip" has a certain mental traction; for in a case like this we suspect something is wrong, and since we lack spiritual clarity of what the problem really is we bandy the label "gossip" where it does not fit. When, and why, is it wrong to speak behind someone's back about something that you are convinced is true?

Mat 18:15-17 (NAS) "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

If someone disobeys the first step of this command, then let us take them to task for it. But let us not call it gossip; except in the case where what is being said is maliciously made up or not true. Rather than misapply sins and brandish labels incorrectly, let us simply encourage others to obey the Lord.

But note that if they do go and "show the fault" and the person does not repent, what is the next step? Think this through. To take "two or three" with you, you are going to have to talk about the situation with others to make your case, to see if they agree with you, and so on. Interesting, isn't it, that obedience to the direct command of Christ would be instinctively thought of as "gossip" in many churches. I have experienced situations when this second step was attempted, nobody agreed and the initiating person realized they were wrong; and I have seen situations where people readily agreed and took it to step two. But we will never get around to obeying our Lord if we have false religious traditions of "gossip" buzzing around in our heads.

Luke 17:3 (NIV) "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him."

James 5:19-20 (NIV) My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

To make this point very clear, consider prayer in lieu of obeying Mat. 18:15, Luke 17:3, James 5:20, and other such verses. Is it a sin to merely pray for someone who sins? Is praying what the Lord commanded us to do? No, the Lord did not say to pray but to "Go and show him his fault in private", to "rebuke him", to "bring him back", and to "turn him from the error of his way". Praying, then, is not God's highest and best, and might actually be disobedience if continued in as defiance to what Jesus commanded. But--and here comes the point--praying is wrong in the same sense as talking behind someone's back is wrong, when God has told us that we must do something else. It is wrong if done instead of, not in itself. It is cover-up; a sin of omission (Jms 4:17). But it is not wrong in the sense of being a sin of commission like lying gossip is. See the difference? It might not be a sin to pray for someone before going to him, even though this is not what Christ says to do in such a situation, as long as you do plan to go to confront at an opportune time. And it might not be a sin to talk to someone else beforehand, if unsure of whether what the brother or sister has done is really a sin; or for someone inexperienced in obedience to Mat 18:15 and who is seeking advice on how to handle the situation; or who may be completely unaware of what Jesus told us to do and who just needs encouragement and patient teaching. The expanded rules of Mat 18:15-17 seem calculated to give us the best chance of success with the sinning person rather than a rigid set of rules for preparation. But, let us still be careful about talking to other people, praying, or anything else that falls short of what God plainly and simply told us to do, especially if we are doing these things instead of, or in lieu of. Since few people in the modern church feel like obedience to Jesus Christ in Mat 18:15-17 is necessarily a part of the Christian life, it would seem like most people who do other things--no matter how innocent or good seeming in themselves--have probably started down the road of disobedience. Let us rebuke each other if we fail, even in this. But let us not get carried away either, labeling "talking about" as "gossip", or "prayer" as "witchcraft", or any other such ridiculous exaggerations. Let us simply "show the fault" in proper measure and direct people towards obedience, instead of trying to squelch normal human conversation or normal human prayer.

Mat 18:15-16 (TCN) "If your brother does wrong, go to him and convince him of his fault when you and he are alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But, if he does not listen to you, take with you one or two others..."

While Mat 18:15 is the general rule of "first step" for most Christians who are detected in a sin, a different rule applies to leaders / elders. Many cult-like pastors / leaders grab onto Mat 18 if challenged--and that incorrectly--when any person or group of people complains about error or heresy coming from the pulpit, moral failure, etc. The recalcitrant leader predictably cries foul when taken to task by his peers in the faith, because, "They did not come to me first". Should we?

1Tm 5:20 (NIV) Those [elders/leaders] who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning.

So public figures in the faith must be rebuked publicly. This makes a whole lot of sense, really.

1Tm 5:19 (NIV) Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Note that just before 1Tm 5:20 is a verse stating that such a public rebuke should not be given upon a single complaint; there must be two or three. Now then; would these "two or three" collaborating beforehand be "gossip"?

Mark 7:8-9 (NAS) "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." He was also saying to them, "You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."

Isn't it fascinating how Satan can cripple our ability to obey the Lord with just a simple, obvious, incorrect religious tradition like this? Small wonder we have so many false teachers and prophets among us; our immune system is shut down with the spiritual AIDS of bogus "gossip" teaching.

And note also that verse immediately following 1Tm 5:20 says this:

1Tm 5:21 (NIV) I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Thus, Paul did the following, noted in scripture.

Gal 2:11 (NIV) When Peter came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

We can imply that this was not a rash accusation, that Paul had heard from "two or three" witnesses what Peter was doing that was wrong. Again, was this information picked up in normal "light filled" Christian conversation, or "gossip"?

Are you getting the picture? Satan has effectively shunted any possibility for obedience to the Lord or healthy body life among us with religious tradition "gossip" teaching.

A single woman recently asked us for council who had been nearly molested by a junior pastor in her church. She felt this needed to be reported, because after this episode she was convinced the man (also single) was dangerous. But she did not want to "bring a charge" without "two or three witnesses". The junior pastor would not talk to her about it, avoiding her after she refused to have sex with him. I advised her to go schedule herself into an elder's meeting and humbly report what happened, with no embellishments, and no matter how much she did not want to do it. There are two reasons why. The first reason is for him. Others around him might be able to help if this was just a moment of weakness, through prayer and counseling. Second, if this man is a serial sexual bully, what if she was the second or third witness? Perhaps this has happened before and since it was a singular occurrence it was not taken seriously? Get it? Small wonder we have so much sexual sin in the pastorate. Sin grows in the dark.

2Cor 2:11 (NAS) So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

Another area of mis-association with gossip are the broader commands in scripture about how we should be very careful about how we use our tongues in general.

1Pet 4:11 (NIV) If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God... so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ...

Jer 23:21-22 (NIV) I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.

Jam 1:26 (NRS) If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

Jam 3:2-10 (Phi) We all make mistakes in all kinds of ways, but the man who can claim that he never says the wrong thing can consider himself perfect, for if he can control his tongue he can control every other part of his personality! Men control the movements of a large animal like the horse with a tiny bit placed in its mouth. Ships too, for all their size and the momentum... are controlled by a very small rudder according to the course chosen by the helmsman. The human tongue is physically small, but what tremendous effects it can boast of! A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire, with vast potentialities for evil. It can poison the whole body, it can make the whole of life a blazing hell. Beasts... can be tamed by man, but no one can tame the human tongue. It is an evil always liable to break out, and the poison it spreads is deadly. We use the tongue to bless our Father, God, and we use the same tongue to curse our fellow-men, who are all created in God’s likeness. Blessing and curses come out of the same mouth—surely, my brothers, this is the sort of thing that never ought to happen.

Rom 14:19 (NIV) Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

1Cor 14:26c (NKJ) Let all things be done for edification.

Eph 4:29 (NKJ) Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

Gal 5:25 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Within these sweeping statements, gossip is certainly one way to fail. But there is much more in view with these texts than the unique sin of gossip. We might be saying something even theologically true about God, for example, that is not "edifying" or fit for the moment; much like Job's "comforters". Or we might be talking about spiritual things flippantly, and not "as the very words of God". We need to understand the overall scope of these verses, and not shunt them off to a easy scapegoat like misunderstood "gossip" and then feel like we have met the requirement; for much more is in view as regards our role as ambassadors of Christ. And remember that one way God wants us to speak in an "edifying" way is to speak behind people's backs like Chloe, Paul, John, and Peter did. We must repent of religious "gossip" ideas if we intend to obey the Lord and follow the Holy Spirit. Such repentance is one way to "bridle the tongue" for righteous movement, rather than to capitulate our role in obedience as concerns edification and proper dealing with sin.

Here are some closing verses for further consideration and reflection along the way of the Lord:

Mat 18:16 (Wey) "But if he will not listen to you, go again, and ask one or two to go with you, that every word spoken may be attested by two or three witnesses."

Luke 6:46 (NIV) "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"

Gal 6:1 (NIV) Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.

Rom 15:1-2 (NIV) We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.

Eph 4:15 (NIV) Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

1John 1:7 (NAS) ...If we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Heb 10:24 (NIV) ...Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

1Thes 5:11 (NIV) Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Rom 15:4 (NIV) For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

1 Pet 4:10-11 (NRS) As good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Wikipedia summary of False Recovered Memory Syndrome.

Dean VanDruff's article on Christians and Conspiracy Theories, A Call to Repentance.


Acts 17:11 Bible Studies
Dialogs and Commentary Home Page