Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Greek Words for Gossip: "Phluareo" and "Phluaros" (Part Three)

Yesterday, we started into a study phluaros in 1 Timothy 5 about the young widows who were tempted to go from house to house gossiping. I argued for the traditional interpretation and translation because it best fits the word use and context.

Insights Into Idleness

A closer look at the verse in question will yield a few more insights into the nature of gossip. Paul begins his description of the erring young widows with the somewhat sarcastic phrase argai manthanousin. Mounce paraphrases, “These widows are studying to become professional idlers.”86 The word translated “idle” is argos which means “unemployed, idle, with nothing to do, lazy, useless, unproductive.”87 The Lord Jesus uses argos to describe the careless words that men will have to account for on the day of judgment (Matt 12:36). In the context, he teaches that these idle words are the overflow of an evil heart (Matt 12:34). Gossip comes from deep within a person, from who they really are. Idle gossip may not be malicious, but it is still evil because the tongue is not employed in love (Eph 4:29).

Meddling In 1-2 Thessalonians

The erring young widows are “going about from house to house” as “busybodies.” They are tempted to meddle in other people’s affairs. Meddling is not love. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they know about brotherly love and don’t need to be taught more about it; and yet they do need to be urged to increase in it (1 Thess 4:9-10). “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess 4:11-12).

At least some of the brothers in Thessalonica did not take Paul’s counsel. In his second letter he reports, “We hear that some among you are idle [ataktos, a different word for idleness88]. They are not busy; they are busybodies89” (2 Thess 3:11). This is bad news and requires strong action. “Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother” (2 Thess 3:12-15). The apostle is clear. Settle down. Get to work. Do right. Warn the idle. Stop meddling.

Meddling in 1 Peter

Paul is concerned that meddling will hurt the advance of the gospel (1 Thess 4:12, 1 Tim 5:14). Peter shares that concern. Peter lists meddling alongside murder and theft. “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Pet 4:15). The obscure Greek word translated meddler, allotriepiskopos, is used in Greek literature only here in the New Testament and a few more times in later Christian writings so the exact meaning is hard to substantiate. Some have taken it, with the gravity of the other crimes in the list, to mean “a concealer of stolen goods, spy, informer, a revolutionist, infringing the rights of others.”90 

However, allotriepiskopos is set off from the murderer, thief, and criminal by “or even” which points towards it being in something of a different category, though still highly undesirable. Peter Davids concludes that “one who meddles in things that do not concern him” is the proper translation
considering the roots from which the word is formed. Thus it is probable that our author is concerned that Christians in their rejection of idolatry and pagan morality or their zeal for the gospel not put their noses (or worse) into situations in which they ought not to be involved and thus justly earn the censure of pagan culture for transgressing culturally approved limits. Gentle persuasion is one thing; denouncing idolatry in a temple courtyard is another, as might also be interfering in the affairs of another family, however well meaning it might be. No Christian should disgrace Christ by being guilty of such things.91
Meddling Is Seriously Wrong

The person who meddles may or may not be serious. But meddling is seriously wrong. Christians need to be reminded to mind their own business (Prov 26:17). We should regularly ask ourselves about involvement in any one else’s affairs as Jesus did John, “What is that to you?” (John 21:23).


[86] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2000), 293.

[87] BAGD 104.

[88] “In the sense of insufficient inclination to disciplined work in a disorderly or an irresponsible manner.” BAGD 119.

[89] The NIV nicely captures Paul’s play on words: maiden ergazomenous alla periergazomenous.

[90] BAGD 40.

[91] Peter Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990), 169.

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