Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Greek Words for Gossip: "Dilogos" and "Diabolos"

Today, we round off our study of Greek words often translated "gossip" in the New Testament with two "d" words that highlight the importance of Christian leaders ought to talk.

Not a Double-Talker

3. dilogos and diabolos. Our last set of Greek terms both appear in the pastoral epistles. They are in very close proximity in 1 Timothy 3. Paul is listing the qualifications for church officers. Leaders must have good character and good reputations. In verse 8, Paul turns from overseers to deacons. “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain” (1 Tim 3:8). The Greek words translated “sincere” in the NIV are mh [not] dilogous [the plural form of dilogos] a New Testament hapax legomenon. Dilogos  may be a word that Paul made up for the occasion, as it only appears one other place in later Greek literature where it means “say something twice, repeating.”92 The Revised Standard Version (RSV), KJV, ESV, and NASB all render it “double-tongued,” probably meaning something like our colloquial, “two-faced,” “speaking out of both sides of our mouths,” “double-talk.” But Mounce suggests that the best translation may be “gossips.”

“The closest form in the LXX is diglossos, ‘double-tongued,’ a person who reveals secrets in contrast to one who keeps secrets (Prov 11:3). . . . Deacons thus must be the type of people who are careful with their tongues, not saying what they should not, being faithful to the truth of their speech.”93 
Gossips may be insincere, but the godly are not (cf. Ps 28:3).

Not a Devil-Talker

In verse 11, Paul turns to deacons’ wives (or perhaps female deacons). “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers [may diabolous] but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (1 Tim 3:11). The NASB translates the plural of diabolos as “malicious gossips.” The adjective diabolos used substantivally refers throughout the New Testament to the devil, the enemy of Jesus and all of his followers. As a name for Satan, it emphasizes his adversarial and slanderous nature. Applied as an adjective to deacons’ wives, it teaches that a respectable woman has close control of her words and doesn’t let them become like the enemy’s. Paul uses it again in Titus 2 in a list of qualities that Titus should teach the older women: “to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good” (Titus 2:3 NASB).

The problem of mimicking the devil’s own kind of talk is not limited to the fairer sex. Paul warns Timothy in his second letter that in the last days this kind of behavior will characterize all sinful men
People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous [diaboloi,“malicious gossips” NASB], without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God–having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim 3:2-5).
When the devil speaks, he hates and lies. Malevolent, accusatory, abusive, slanderous, lying speech is his “native language” (John 8:44). Godly people will reject malicious gossip. May we be spared from having “diabolical” tongues!


[92] BAGD 198.

[93] William D. Mounce, Pastoral Epistles, WBC 46 (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2000), 199. See also his weblog article on the difficulties of translating words like this one. William D. Mounce, “1 Timothy 3:8 – Double-Tongued Deacons,” Koinonia Blog, entry posted October 5, 2009, http://www.koinoniablog.net/2009/10/doubletongued-deacons-2-tim-38.html (accessed June 21, 2011).

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