Friday, November 07, 2014

New Blog Series: Toward a Definition of Gossip

I believe that one of the most helpful features of Resisting Gossip is the definition of sinful gossip found in the first chapter: bearing bad news behind someone's back out of a bad heart.

However imperfect and imprecise that definition may be, I believe that it basically captures the biblical teaching and encapsulates it into a form that is fairly memorable and practical.  I'm grateful to have been able to study the biblical data thoroughly and formulate this definition to share with others. One of the main reasons I studied gossip in the Bible was to be able to define it for myself. Gossip can be slippery and elusive to define.

I'd like to explain to you how I came to that definition. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to post excerpts from my doctoral project that "show my work" in the biblical research. We'll call it, "Toward a Definition of Gossip." In my doctoral project, it was the second chapter "Biblical and Theological Foundations."

It begins with this introduction:

Recognizing Gossip

The goal of this project is to help God’s people in recognizing sinful gossip, resisting its lure, and responding in faith and love when personally affected by it. This chapter will focus on the first of these three aims–recognizing gossip. Discerning certain talk to be sinful gossip is often the most difficult part of the problem. It is very hard to resist or respond to something you cannot properly identify. What, exactly, is gossip?

The Bible does not offer, in one place, a simple definition of gossip, but it is not silent on this important topic! In this chapter, we will survey the Bible’s teaching on gossip with the overarching purpose of offering a functional definition that can be utilized in our personal lives.

We will start in the Old Testament. Proverbs, especially, bulges with warnings about sinful talk and offers more wisdom about gossip than any other book in the Bible. We will study the main Hebrew words that are regularly translated “gossip” in the best English versions and each of their occurrences in the Old Testament. Then we will consider passages of Scripture that address the phenomenon of gossip without using the word itself.

Similarly, in the New Testament, we will survey the Greek words regularly translated “gossip” in our English versions and attempt to understand the context and teaching surrounding those words. At the same time, we will consider other New Testament passages that touch on the phenomenon of gossip.

To truly grasp a biblical theology of gossip, we also have to consider a larger theology of words and story. Two particular aspects of that broader theology have significant ramifications for identifying sinful gossip.

At the end of the chapter, I will suggest a functional definition of sinful gossip that weaves all of these biblical and theological elements together, and hopefully, helps Christians to properly recognize sinful gossip as they are tempted to offer or to receive it.