Thursday, November 27, 2014

Greek Words for Gossip: "Psithurismos" and "Katalalia" (Part Two)

We are analyzing the Greek words commonly translated "gossip" and each New Testament passage in which they occur on our way to developing a biblical definition of gossip. Yesterday, we were introduced to two bad words, "Psithurismos" and "Katalalia,"

How Are "Psithurismos" and "Katalalia" Related?

What is the relationship, then, between these two word groups? C. E. B. Cranfield suggests,

Both words denote people who go about to destroy other people’s reputations by misrepresentation. The difference between psithuristas and katalalos is that the former denoted specifically one who whispers his slanders in his listener’s ear, whereas the latter means a slanderer quite generally, irrespective of whether he whispers his calumnies or proclaims them from the house-tops–though the fact that it is used immediately after psithuristas makes it natural to understand it to refer here in particular to the more open sort of slanderer. The psithuristas is, of course, the more vicious and dangerous kind, inasmuch as he is one against whom there is virtually no human defence.57
Douglas Moo agrees. “The final part of the vice list begins with two terms that denote slander. The first is the more specific, suggesting the ‘whispering’ of the person who spreads ‘confidential’ rumors about others. The word translated ‘maligners’ could more clumsily be paraphrased ‘one who speaks against.’”58

John Calvin writes,
Whisperers and backbiters are to be distinguished in the following way: the whisperers destroy the friendships of good men by their secret accusations, inflame their minds to anger, speak against the innocent, and sow discord. Backbiters, with innate malignity, spare the reputation of none, and as though driven by a passionate urge to speak evil of people, revile the deserving as well as the innocent.59
R. G. V. Tasker interprets them in this way, “By backbitings, katalaliai, are probably meant slanders spoken behind people’s backs; and by whisperings, psithurismoi, defamations in the forms of innuendos.”60

Larger and Smaller Categories

It seems, therefore, that the katalalia/katalalos word group is the larger category of evil-speaking against another (sometimes taking secretive forms) and the psithurismos/psithuristas word group is the smaller category that always refers to talk “behind someone’s back.”


[57] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, Volume 1:1-8, ICC (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1980), 130-131.

[58] Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 120.

[59] John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, ed. David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance, trans. Ross Mackenzie, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries 8 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1973), 38.

[60] R. V. G. Tasker, The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, TNTC (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 185.

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