November 19, 2017

The Biblical Definition of Slander

Preacher:

THE BIBLICAL DEFINITION OF SLANDER

INTRODUCTION

When a Christian exposes sin in the Church, it is all too easy for another brother or sister to charge him with slander.  This lesson aims to establish the Biblical definition of slander, and thus enable a brother or sister to assess the truth of the charge.

In the Bible, the Hebrew word for slander is dibbah 1681.  The entry in the Strong’s Concordance reads:

Translated: evil report x 3, slander x 3, infamy x 2, slander x 1

1) whispering, defamation, evil report

1a) whispering

1b) defamation, defaming

1c) evil report, unfavourable saying

I. FIRST MENTION of Heb dibbah

Genesis 37:2  These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. (dibbah).

The first mention in the Bible of the Heb word dibbah is translated report.  The words of Scripture are significant.  Joseph brought unto his father their (the half brothers’) evil report.

In this case, what made the report evil was the subject of the report, namely the ungodly behaviour of the brothers.  In this case Joseph was not the author of some biased or false report. He was simply the carrier of the established testimony of his half-brothers’ ungodly behaviour.    Jamieson Faucett and Brown state:

“He acted not as a gossiping telltale, but as a ‘faithful steward’ in reporting the scandalous conduct of his brethren.” Jamieson Faucett and Brown Commentary

A. From this verse we note the following truths:

1. Joseph was not censured for bringing their (his brothers) evil report to his father.

2. The report was a true and accurate account of his brothers ungodly behaviour.

3. The report was delivered to someone who was part of the problem and /or the solution.

Jacob was not only their father, but the Patriarch over the whole clan.  It was in Jacob’s power to deal with his wayward sons.

4. The report was inspired by high and noble motives.

In all Joseph’s dealing with his brothers there is an absence of malice and revenge.  He had their best interests at heart.  His reporting sprang from his highest motives for the good of the whole community.

B. From these Biblical facts we deduce the following application :

1. A brother should not be censured for bringing an unfavourable report concerning his brethren, providing that it is true.

Paul rebuked believers for immorality (I Cor 5:1ff),  false doctrine (II Tim 2:17,18 ) and character sins and weaknesses.  Against the Cretians Paul brought this unfavourable report:

...   The Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith; Titus 1:12b,13

Notice that the Apostle underscores that the report is true. “This witness is true”

2. A brother should not be censured for carrying an unfavourable report providing it is delivered to someone who is part of the problem and/ or the solution.

1Co 1:11  For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

Paul did not rebuke the house of Chloe for bringing an unfavourable report concerning the Corinthian Church.  Paul was a key person in the life of the Corinthian Church.

3. A brother should not be censured for bringing an unfavourable report, when his motives are honourable.

The reporter needs to be free of any trace of malice and motivated by genuine love for the erring brother or sister.  The reporter needs to have a genuine concern for the Church and its testimony.  Above all he needs to be motivated for the ultimate glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

II. WHEN EVIL REPORTING IS SLANDEROUS

We noted that the Heb dibbah  is variously translated in the Bible,  report, slander, and

infamy.  We now cite three cases when evil reporting was slanderous and condemned by God.

A. Ten leaders at Kadesh Barnea brought up a slander upon the land.

Numbers 14:36 ¶  And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander(dibbah) upon the land,

37  Even those men that did bring up the evil report (dibbah) upon the land, died by the plague before the LORD.

Please note the following concerning this evil report.

1. The ten spies brought a false report:

They brought up an evil report of the land.  What made this report evil was not the subject of the report, which was the good Land of Promise. The report was evil because it was a false and misleading report. They said, the land through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof;  and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. Num 13:32b  Their report concerning the land was the very opposite to what God had said at Sinai and to what Joshua and Caleb testified to:

Ex 3:8  And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey;

Numbers 14:6  And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:

7  And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.

2. The ten spies brought a damaging report:

God’s word says that they brought up a slander upon the land.

Numbers 14:36 ¶  And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander(dibbah) upon the land,

Their words constituted a defamation of the very character of the land.  It is significant that the translator of the KJV translated the Hebrew dibbah in Numbers 14:37 as evil report and while in verse 36 they rendered the same word, slander.  This is the first time in our English Bible that the word slander appears.  In this Biblical setting we can see the real character of slander.  Slander is a false report aimed at damaging the good character of a person, or in this case, the good character of the land of promise.

B. David suffered from the slander of many people during his flight from Saul.

Ps 31:13  For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.

God had told Saul that his kingdom was finished.  Instead of stepping aside and helping the young man whom God had chosen, Saul clung to power and began to do everything possible to exterminate David.  This involved numerous attempts on David’s life.  Another weapon consisted of a slander campaign generated by the head man with the aim of damaging David’s character before all the eyes of his future subjects.  We emphasize again, that this campaign was orchestrated and propagated from the office of the head man in a desperate effort to cling to power.  Albert Barnes makes this comment:

He (David) was the subject of “slander,” or of false reports.... —  his name was reproached and cast out as evil — that he was subjected to “slander,”

David was the subject of slanderSlander by biblical context consists of a false report, propagated for the deliberate purpose of maliciously damaging another’s character and good name.  We note that David did not retaliate in kind. However in one of his interviews with his dear friend, Jonathan, they discussed very frankly the evil that Saul was responsible for. ( I Sam 20)  Saul could have accused Jonathan of slandering him.  Jonathan’s evil report concerning his father was not slander for the following reasons:

1. It was a true report.

2. It was delivered to someone who was part of the problem and/or the solution.

3. It was free of malicious intent toward Saul.

4. It was driven by high and pure motives.

C. The Apostle Paul was slandered

Ro 3:8  And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

In the scripture before us, Paul is setting forth the great doctrine of Salvation by Grace through faith.  The legalists of his day vehemently opposed this truth and charged him with antinomianism (lawlessness).  One of their weapons was to launch a slander campaign against Paul.  They reported that they had heard Paul say,  “Let us do evil that good may come!”  Here again we see the essential elements that makes a report slanderous.

1. It was a false statement:

Nowhere in the N.T. do we see Paul advocating rampant sin as a means of getting more of God’s grace.  The very opposite was true as evidenced in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.  Gal 6:7,8

2. It was malicious in its intent:

The aim of these legalists was to damage Paul’s character in the eyes of the Jewish population.

According to the unscriptural opinions of some Christians today, the Apostle Paul could have been accused of slandering Alexander the copper smith, when he stated:

Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: Of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words. II Tim 4:14,15

Here again,  Paul’s unfavourable report concerning this man was not slander,  for it was a “true”  report,  delivered to someone who was part of the problem and/or the solution,  namely  Pastor Timothy, and it was driven by honourable motives.

III.  THE DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF SLANDER

We are now in a position to judge the English definition of Slander by the Bible definition.

The Oxford Dictionary of English (unabridged) defines slander as follows:

SLANDER

  • [mass noun] [LAW] the action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation:
  • [count noun] a false and malicious spoken statement:
  • [with obj] make false and damaging statements about (someone):

Here we can see that the Dictionary definition of slander is the same as the Bible’s definition.  We can say therefore, that the dictionary definition of slander conforms to the Biblical definition.

CONCLUSION

For a brother or sister to be convicted of slander at least two conditions need to be fulfilled:

Condition 1.  The unfavourable report they bring must be proven false.

Condition 2.  The motivation for the report must be proven malicious.

If we could imagine a situation in which the unfavourable report was proven false, malicious intent would also have to be proven before the verdict of slander could be pronounced.  If there was no malicious intent, then a genuine misunderstanding of the facts could be overlooked or readily corrected.  If the brother had your best interest at heart, even though he was inaccurate in matters of fact, you could not charge him with slander. You may charge him with folly, and admonish him to be more thorough in the future, but you could not prove that he was guilty of slander.