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Slander and Evil Speaking – What the Bible says

The Bible teaches that the New Creation is not to Evil Speak against others.  It is important that we all study and understand how to apply Matt 18:15-17, so that when problems arise, we are equipped to respond as God has directed.

In this regard, we highly recommend the review of Volume 6, p289-293 as it provides a clear and detailed explanation of this text.


Eph 4:31 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. – NKJV

Evil Speaking is defined in Reprint 4281:  “To speak anything that is derogatory respecting another, to tell things uncomplimentary of them, is evil speaking.”

Concerning Evil Speaking, Bro. Russell suggests a pitfall that some well meaning brethren fall into.

Reprint 4281:  “…some of the Lord’s dear people, sincerely desirous of doing his will and naught else, after making blunders and getting into a great mess of trouble, fail to discern wherein they erred; hence with them the experience has brought no lesson, and instead of being helps and bright-shining lights they are stumbling-blocks to a considerable degree and thus offset largely the good they desire to do, or perhaps really do accomplish.”

Our mistakes should teach us lesson that help us to overcome sin and to transform our character.  But some do not learn from their experiences how wrong Evil Speaking really is.  Instead, after making a “great mess of trouble,” they become more embolden to speak even more Evil than they had before.


Is Evil Speaking always wrong?  Bro. Russell suggests two exceptions where evil speaking is acceptable.

Society:  Reporting a murder, theft, or other criminal activity to the authorities.

Church:  Rep 4281 “In the Church also there is an exception noted in the Scriptures, namely, that if the trespass be of sufficient importance and likely to break our fellowship with the offender” (under the guidelines of Matt. 18:15-17).

MATTHEW 18:15-17

Let’s read the text in Matt. 18.

Matt 18:15-17  “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’   17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. NKJV

Notice first that verse 15 says “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  Bringing in a third party should never even be considered until the first step is completed.

Reprint 4803:2 – “Thus did our Lord guard against the insidious sin of slander, which stops growth in the truth and its spirit of love.


There are special circumstances under which a third person can be brought into a discussion concerning some fault of another.

Matt 18:16 – But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’

We believe though, as Pastor Russell suggests that this passage is discussing a problem of so serious a nature that it is likely to break fellowship with the offending brother.


We will suggest 2 reasons why Matt 18 only directly applies to a fault so serious that it would cause a breaking of fellowship with the offender.

1.  Matt 18:17 says, “if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

Bro. Russell says in Reprint 5654:3 “…not forbid attendance at meetings.  The most would be to withdraw fellowship, refuse to visit their homes or to invite to our homes, and not appoint to any office in the class.”

Reprint 1255:4 says, “We would treat a heathen with justice and kindness and the love of pity, but not with the love of affection due to a brother in Christ.”

Matt 18:16 says, “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’”

2.  The phrase “by the mouth of two or three witnesses” is used in scripture describing the most serious of offenses.


A.         Deut 19:15 refers to the conviction of a man accused of a crime

B.          2 Cor 12:21-13:1 refers to sins of immorality not repented of in the church

C.          1 Tim 5:19 speaks of accusations against an elder.

D.           Heb 10:28 refers to those who died under the law without mercy.

All of these scriptures use the phrase, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses” and all refers crimes or sins of a very serious nature.


Bro. Russell cautions us not to apply Matt 18 to trivial matters.

Reprint 5885:3 “In trivial affairs he [the Christian] is to have so much sympathy and love that he will take no notice, just as God for Christ’s sake deals with us and does not impute sin to us, except as it represents knowledge and willfulness. With such a rule operating amongst Christians, a determination not to recognize as an offense anything that is not <purposely> done, or <intended> as an offense, would be a great blessing to all, and the proper, God-like course.  The transgressions to which our Lord refers in `Matthew 18:15-17`, are not the trivial affairs of no consequence, are not evil surmisings and imaginings, are not rumors, are not fancied insults, but positive wrongs done us, and on account of which it is our duty, kindly and lovingly and wisely, to give some proper rebuke–some intimation that we recognize the wrong and that it has grieved us and hurt us and needs correction.”

To sum up the main point, unless knowledge and willfulness are involved, we should consider any wrong done us as trivial and unintentional, and we should try not to take notice.



Br. Russell has some suggestions we might want to apply before approaching a brother on the basis of Matt 18.

Rep 4281:2, “Before going to him or her, we are to make self-examination to see that we are not in a fault-finding mood, and that the matter is one that really concerns us, either in our personal relationship to the brother or in our mutual relationship to the members of the Church of Christ, whose interest we believe might be injured by the brother’s course.  We should go kindly and with the hope in our hearts that the matter which seemed strange and in violation of God’s Word might prove upon explanation to be nothing of the kind.”

So before we approach someone with Matt 18 in mind, we should make sure of 2 things.

1.  We are not in a fault finding mood

2.  The matter concerns us directly

Remember, Matt 18:15 says, “if your brother sins against YOU, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone”



Br. Russell expands this to apply ”in our mutual relationship to the members of the Church of Christ, whose interest we believe might be injured by the brother’s course.”

In other words, even if the sin doesn’t affect us directly, if it will injure the Church, we think the door is open to the possibility of applying Matt 18.

Notice 1 Cor 5:11.

1 Cor 5:11 – But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person. NKJV

These sins are areas where the brother is doing great injury to himself and he may stumble others.

If, for example, a brother is a drunkard, even if his behavior has not directly injured us personally, it is a sin that merits withdrawing of fellowship.  Consequently, we think applying Matt 18 in such a case would be reasonable.


Br. Russell helps us to understand what our attitude should be if we determine we should approach a brother on the basis of Matt 18.

Reprint 4281:4 – “We are to go hoping that in any event the Lord will bless our mission, not to the injury of the brother or sister, but to his or her comfort, succor, deliverance from what we believe to be a wrong course.  It is only after we have taken this step and the wrong course is persisted in, either to our injury or to the injury of the Church–only then are we permitted to speak to another of the thing which we consider to be an evil.  Even then the speaking must be done in the presence of the accused, that he may have the fullest opportunity to present his view of the matter, as set forth in the Scriptures in `Matt. 18:15-17`”

Our attitude in approaching the brother must be to help, not condemn.  We are to be receptive and to listen closely to his explanation.  But he has no reasonable explanation and if the wrong course persists, then a third party can be brought in.  We must not bias the third party by explaining our view in advance, where the accursed cannot defend himself.

Although the proper attitude in most cases is to mind our own business, when a brother puts himself or the brethren in jeopardy of severe judgment from the Lord, ignoring the matter would be like allowing an intoxicated neighbor to drive our children to school everyday.  Ultimately it would end in the ruin of everyone’s life involved.

If moving to stage 2, bringing in a 3rd party, we must be able to work together for the spiritual good and uplift of all involved.



Jude 22, 23 – And have mercy on some, who doubt; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. – The Common Edition

James 5:19-20 – Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. – NKJV

Rom 15:1- We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. NIV

Gal 6:1 – Even if any one should be overtaken in a fault, brothers, you that are spiritual ought, in a gentle spirit, to restore such a one, each one of you looking to himself, lest you too be tempted. – Montgomery’s New Testament

Reprint 3035:2 ” Our warnings or reproofs or withdrawals of fellowship, are to be merely in the nature of correctives, with a view, as the Apostle says, to the restoring of such an one.”

Another danger is to fall in the very same trap we are trying to help another out of.   We should not consider ourselves totally immune to temptations.  This is why when a third party is brought into the situation it is important that they are very spiritually mature.  As the passage says, “watch yourselves or you also may be tempted.”



The balance of this discourse is intended to deal with what might be viewed as gray areas.  Can the Matt 18 principles be taken and applied to situations which are less serious than to threaten the discontinuance of fellowship, but at the same time clearly far more serious than trivial?

Obviously, bringing the matter to the church would only apply in the most serious of situations.  So this aspect of Matt 18 would not apply to less serious situations.

Approaching a brother with some loving advice on an issue of concern would not be out of the question.  But the best rule is to mind our own business.  Some are of more of the disposition to want to criticize others, and for these, deluding themselves into believing that they are pursuing a noble cause, may, in their minds, cover up for the fact that criticizing others makes them feel better about themselves.  For these, the crusade to nit pick about others faults can leave a path of destruction and hurt feelings, while directing them away from what should be their main course of study, that is, to look at the plank in their own eye, rather than the speck in their brothers eye (Matt 7:1-4)



We’d like to ask four questions about criticism.  We believe that the answers to these questions will help to clarify the extent of our liberty, or lack thereof, in discussing another person’s shortcomings, either directly with that person, or with others.

1.  Should we ever speak to another person about a third party’s faults?

2.  How should we react when someone speaks to us critically of a third party?

3.  Is it okay to criticize a person directly in order to help correct their faults?

4.  How should we respond when we are criticized by others?


Let’s look a 3 scriptures which answer this question.

James 5:9 – Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! – NKJV

James 4:11-12 – Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. … who are you to judge your neighbor? NIV

Ps 15:1-3 – LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?  …  He whose …has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, – NIV

These scriptures tell us not to complain, speak against, or cast a slur against others.  So, we believe that AS A RULE, WE SHOULD NOT SPEAK TO ANOTHER PERSON ABOUT A THIRD PARTY’S FAULTS.

Are there Exceptions to the Rule?

Are there any exceptions to the rule?  Should we never speak to anyone abut another’s faults under any circumstances?

1.  What if we are telling the absolute truth?  If we are 100% correct in what we say?

2.  What if the issue under discussion is public knowledge and everyone knows about it?

3.  What if we are seeking constructive counsel from a wise brother?  By describing our conflict with a brother, we would likely be putting them in a negative light.

4.  What if we feel we need the help of others in finding a construction response or solution?

Answers to exceptions

We would like to suggest some answers to these proposed exceptions to the Rule of not speaking to another person about a third party’s faults.


What if we are telling the absolute truth?

Reprint 4281:2 – “We answer: That to speak anything that is derogatory respecting another, to tell things uncomplimentary of them, is evil speaking.  Some have the impression that evil speaking is lying and consider that speaking the truth is always in order.  This is a misconception.  The speaking of anything that is prejudicial to the character of another, whether it be truth or falsehood, is evil speaking in the proper acceptance of that term.  The Lord’s Spirit, as well as his Word, forbids evil speaking because the Lord’s Spirit is the spirit of love and kindness, and evil speaking, true or false, is repudiated by love, is contrary to love, is born of some evil motive, either busy-bodying and gossiping, or, worse still, malice, envy or strife, and all of these the Apostle designates in his list of “the works of the Devil.”

The fact that we are telling the truth can never justify our speaking to another person regarding a third party’s faults.  As Br. Russell said, “to speak anything that is derogatory

respecting another, to tell things uncomplimentary of them, is evil speaking.”

Prov 17:9 – He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends. – NKJV

1 Cor 13:4-7 – “Love … keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, …“ NIV


What if the issue under discussion is public knowledge?

The same principles would apply.  There is no need to add fuel to the fire.  If what we have to say about another person is derogatory or uncomplimentary, they have no place in the conversation.

Prov 6:16-19 – These six things the LORD hates…one who sows discord among brethren. – NKJV

What if we are seeking constructive counsel from a wise brother?

What if we feel we need the help of others in finding a construction response or solution?

Brethren, the best counsel we can receive is from scriptures and then from Br. Russell’s writings.

Reprint 4191:3 “The usual sophistry by which the “old man” sets aside this divine rule is to conclude that “it is not applicable in this instance;” or to be persuaded that he does not know how to apply it in his case and must <ask counsel> <of others>–the very thing he should understand is forbidden by our Lord’s words, “Go to him, and between thee and him alone tell him of his fault.”

Vol 6, p292 – “Not even to ask <advice> should the matter be told: we have the Lord’s<advice> and should follow it. If the case be a peculiar one, the wisest of the elders should be asked for advice along the lines of a hypothetical case, so as not to disclose the real trouble and wrongdoer.”



1.  Am I following the steps of Matt 18:15-17  (Read Volume 6, p289-293 if you need clarification.)

2.  Are my motives pure and kind?  Or are my emotions of hurt feelings and anger driving my words and actions?

3.  Do I really believe that what I am about to say will be a blessing and will lead to a spiritually constructive and positive outcome?

4.  Will my words stir up bad feeling and make a bad situation worse?

5.  Will my words and actions be in harmony with Matt 19:29, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and Luke 6:31, “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you”?

6.  Have I sought the Lord’s guidance through prayer and study?


If you decide to speak to a third party to seek counsel and advice, we suggest these 3 steps

1.  Do not mention an offending brother by name.

2.  Ask about scriptures and principals rather than specifics that can be tied back to and identify individuals involved.

3.  Provide hypothetical questions leaving out details that would identify the offending party.


Reprint 4281:6 – “<“SUFFERING AS A BUSY-BODY”>

There are generally two sides to a matter.  In nearly every instance in which one person violates the command, “Speak evil of no man,” assistance is rendered by the one to whom the evil is told.  He or she “draws the matter out” by questions or hints or suggestions orlooks of interest or encouraging comments, etc.  Undoubtedly such a hearer of evil is in the Lord’s sight equally guilty with the speaker of the evil.  The difficulty with both is that they lack the spirit of love, which the Apostle refers to, saying, “Charity thinketh no evil,” but “covereth a multitude of faults.” “

So remember, attentively listening to Evil Speaking makes you an accessory to the sin.

Let’s look at some scriptures which support these thoughts.

Prov 17:9  He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates friends. NKJV

Prov 16:28  A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. NIV

Eph 4:30-32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. NKJV


Reprint 4281:6 – The first intimation that something scandalous or unkind is about to be said respecting another should lead us to shrink back and feel the fear and realize that the Adversary is near to assist in any evil work.  The wise course, as already seen, would be to say promptly, “My dear Sister or Brother, excuse me, but are not you and I both

the Lord’s children, and can we not please God better and advance our own spiritual welfare more by giving heed to his Word and developing in our own hearts and minds the spirit of love, instead of back-biting and devouring one another?  Let us think of each other’s good traits, good qualities, as the Apostle would have us do.”  If such a proper course lose you the friendship of anyone it will be to your advantage, for if he or she were right-minded such kindly treatment would be helpful, and you would be at once advised that they fully agree with you and are also striving in the same direction.”

We are not doing the brethren a favor by politely listening to Evil Speaking.  The most loving thing we can do is to point out their mistake and attempt to set them on a more edifying course.


The first scripture that comes to my mind is …

Matt 7:3 – And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? NKJV

Another scripture to consider is…

1 Cor 13:4-7 – “Love … keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, …“ NIV

Although the general rule is not to be criticizing others, there are exceptions, where this would be appropriate.

Matt 18:15 –“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

Prov 25:12 – Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear. – NIV

1 Thess 5:14 – Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly – NKJV

2 Tim 4:2 – correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction. – TCE

So there are times when constructive criticism is just the right medicine.  But like penicillin, this type of medicine should be rarely used.


Prov 15:31, 32 – He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.  He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. – NIV

Prov 9:8 – Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. – NKJV

Prov 10:17 – He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, But he who refuses correction goes astray. – NKJV

Prov 12:1 – Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.  – NKJV

Prov 27:5-6 –  Open rebuke is better Than love carefully concealed.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. – NKJV

Gal 4:16 – Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?  NKJV

The natural response when we are criticized is to be offended, but the spiritual response is to appreciate the criticism and learn from it.

If we do not believe that the criticism is valid, we might want to pray about the matter, that the Lord would open our eyes, if our eyes need opening.  If we have any feelings of hurt, bitterness or anger, our emotions could be getting in the way of our judgment.  We might also ask whether we have this weakness to a brother who we think is wise, discerning and would tell us the honest truth, even if it hurt.


1 Peter 3:8-12 – Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.


Mind your own business

Never engage in Evil Speaking

Never listen to Evil Speaking

Be very slow to criticize a brother directly, and only in private and only for his benefit.

Third parties should only be brought in under the strict guidelines of Matt 18.

Eph 4:29 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. – NIV

2 comments to Slander and Evil Speaking – What the Bible says

  • Anonymous

    What if a third party is introduced as in the case of an elder relaying the evil speaking to his wife? The excuse was that it may have been an error to do so but that we are all in The School of Christ.

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Friend – It should never be our motive to put another person in a bad light so that our spouse or anyone else would think ill of that person. An exception might be when others are in danger, as in the case of a a thief or predator. However, even in such a case, the steps of Mathew 18:15-17 should first be followed where we approach the person directly about their sin, just us and them, to see if they will repent. Otherwise take a witness or two witnesses (without revealing the facts to them prior to the meeting with the accused), etc. These situations are very rare and we should always be cautious not to harm another person’s reputation unnecessarily. If the elder was truly sorry and wishes he had never relayed the information to his wife, then it is best to forgive the elder. The deed cannot be undone. However, the elder should tell his wife he was wrong to do so and urge her to keep silent on the matter and not gossip to others and harm a reputation further.

      In cases where a bad behavior was done in public and is known by others, I do not believe it would necessarily be wrong for brethren to work together to help the brother as long as it is done in a positive and encouraging attitude and not to harm or diminish the brother they are trying to help. This can be a gray area and can backfire. So the general rule of thumb is to mind your own business. (1 Thess 4:11)

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