Faith for All of Life |
September/October 2007 www.chalcedon.edu
eviticus 19:16–17 isusually cited as thatinstance where
is condemned by thelaw, and is oten readas a denunciation o gossip rather than court-related law. Anexamination o the text makes clear that, while gossip is condemned, the court-room is in view:
Thou shalt not go up and down as atalebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood o they neigh-bour: I am the LORD. Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suer sin upon him.
The rst part o verse 16 can berendered, “Thou shalt not go aboutslandering …” The word is translatedas
in Jeremiah 6:28, 9:4, and inEzekiel 22:9 marginal note. True witnessmust be given both in and out o court:the circulation o slander anywhere isprohibited. According to Ginsburg,
This dangerous habit, which has ruinedthe character and destroyed the lie o many an innocent person (I Sam. xxii.9; Ezek. xxii. 9, &c.), was denouncedby the spiritual authorities in the timeo Christ as the greatest sin. Threethings they declare remove a man romthis world, and deprive him o happi-ness in the world to come—idolatry, in-cest, and murder, but slander surpassesthem all. It kills three persons withone act, the person who slanders, theperson who is slandered, and the person who listens to the slander. Hence theancient Chaldee Version o Jonathantranslates this clause: “Thou shalt notollow the thrice accursed tongue, orit is more atal than the double-edgeddevouring sword.”
The Institutes of Biblical Law
, Vol. 1 [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reormed Publishing Co., 1973], 594–598.)
Ben Sirach spoke strongly againstslander, declaring,
Curse the whisperer and double-tongues: or such have destroyed many that were at peace. A backbiting tonguehath disquieted many, and driven themrom nation to nation: strong citieshath it pulled down, and overthrownthe houses o great men. A backbitingtongue hath cast out virtuous women,and deprived them o their labours. Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall nevernd rest, and never dwell quietly. Thestroke o the whip maketh marks in thefesh: but the stroke o the tongue brea-keth the bones. Many have allen by the edge o the sword: but not so many as have allen by the tongue. Well is hethat is deended rom it, and hath notpassed through the venom thereo; whohath not drawn the yoke thereo, norhath been bound in her bands. For theyoke thereo is a yoke o iron, and thebands thereo are bands o brass. Thedeath thereo is an evil death, the gravethereo were better than it. It burned with the fame thereo. Such as orsakethe Lord shall all into it; and it shallburn in them, and not be quenched; itshall be sent upon them as a lion, withthorns, and devour them as a leopard.Look that thou hedge thy possessionabout with thorn, and make a door andbar or thy mouth. Beware thou slidenot by it, lest thou all beore him thatlieth in wait (Ecclus. 28:13–16).
A olk proverb once popular withchildren has it that, while sticks andstones may break our bones,
cannever hurt us. This is mere bravado: words do hurt us; it is only because weare so scarred by the malice o gossipthat it provokes only a sad and wry humor.But the law o God
sees gossipas an
matter: hence the concern o the law with all slander. Verse 16 states“neither shall thou stand against theblood o thy neighbour.” Accordingto Micklem, this means “to seek to gethim put to death (c. Exod. 23:7).”
Ginsburg commented on the variety o implications o this statement:
This part o the verse is evidently designed to express another line o conduct whereby our neighbour’s liemight be endangered. In the ormerclause, “the going about” with slander-ous reports imperiled the lie o theslandered person, here “the standingstill” is prohibited when it involvesatal consequences. The administratorso the law during the second Templetranslating this clause literally,
thou shalt not stand still by the blood, &c
., drown-ing, attacked by robbers or wild beasts,&c., we are not to stand still by it whilsthis blood is being shed, but are torender him assistance at the peril o ourown lie. Or i we know that a man hasshed the blood o his ellow creature, weare not to stand silently by whilst thecause is beore the tribunal. Hence theChaldee Version o Jonathan renders it,“Thou shalt not keep silent the bloodo thy neighbour when thou knowestthe truth in judgment,” Others, how-ever, take it to denote to come orward,and try to obtain a alse sentence o blood against our neighbours, so thatthis phrase is similar in import to Exod.xxiii, 1, 7.
All these meanings are certainly implied, but it is better to look at thesimplest sense o the text. There is anobvious parallelism drawn between slan-dering someone and standing against hisblood, i.e., seeking his death. Slander isa orm o murder: it seeks to destroy thereputation and the integrity o a man
From the Founder