A Bible open to Proverbs 6:14, capturing the page's highlighted verse that explains malice as a deceitful and wicked intent, surrounded by dim candlelight symbolizing darkness and sin.

What Does Malice Mean In The Bible?

Malice is a term that appears several times throughout the Bible. At its core, malice refers to the intention to do evil or cause harm to others. Understanding the biblical concept of malice can shed light on how God wants us to treat others and what behaviors He warns against.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: In the Bible, malice refers to harboring feelings of hatred, bitterness, and ill-will towards others in your heart. It is contrasted with virtues like kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

In this comprehensive article, we will explore the definition of malice, analyze several bible verses that mention it, look at what teachings Jesus and other biblical figures gave regarding malice, and provide actionable tips for overcoming feelings of malice in your own life.

Defining Malice in a Biblical Context

The Dictionary Definition of Malice

The dictionary defines malice as the intention or desire to do evil, inflict injury, or cause suffering to another. It is characterized by ill-will, hatred, harm, or resentment. Malice often involves cruelty, violence, and excess beyond what would be necessary for self-defense.

In law, malice refers to malicious intent or recklessness without regard for the rights of others.

How the Bible Defines Malice

The Bible has much to say about malice. Several verses instruct believers to put away “all malice” (Ephesians 4:31, 1 Peter 2:1). Malice is grouped together with evil, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (1 Peter 2:1).

The book of Proverbs warns that “malice in the heart devises wicked schemes” (Proverbs 6:14). So the biblical view sees malice as an inward disposition that leads to harmful outward behavior.

Unlike the neutral dictionary definition, the Bible presents malice as sinful and opposed to godly virtues. Believers are called to “put on kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” instead of malice (Colossians 3:12).

Malice is a work of the flesh that displeases God, versus the fruit of the Spirit which includes love, joy, and peace (Galatians 5:19-23).

Malice as Contrasted with Righteousness and Love

The Bible contrasts malice with positive qualities like righteousness, goodness, and love. For example, Paul writes that believers should avoid repaying wrong with wrong, but “pursue what is good for one another and for all” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

John exhorts Christians, “let us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18). And Jesus famously commanded people to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).

So living without malice involves actively doing good even to those who wrong you. It means showing sincere love through self-sacrificial actions. This kind of love and goodness reflects the character of God. As 1 John 4:8 declares, “God is love.”

By walking in love, Christians exemplify true righteousness in contrast to the sin of malice.

Malice Righteousness and Love
Nature Sinful fleshly desires Fruit of the Spirit
Characterizes The wicked True Christ-followers
Leads To Harmful actions Blessing others
Opposes Goodness and love Evil behaviors

Bible Verses and Passages on Malice

Old Testament Verses About Malice

The Old Testament contains several verses that discuss malice and its sinful nature. Here are some key passages:

  • Proverbs 26:24-26 – “Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with deception, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”

    This passage warns against malice and deceitful speech.

  • Leviticus 19:17-18 – “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

    God instructs His people not to secretly hate others or bear grudges.

  • Zechariah 8:17 – “Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.” The Lord declares His hatred of evil intents and false oaths.

These and other Old Testament verses denounce malice and make clear that hatred and vengefulness displease God.

New Testament Verses About Malice

The New Testament also condemns malice and teaches believers to avoid it:

  • 1 Corinthians 14:20 – “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” Malice is a form of evil we should avoid.
  • Ephesians 4:31 – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Malice is listed among the sins believers must put away.
  • Titus 3:3 – “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Malice is associated with a foolish, unredeemed lifestyle.
  • 1 Peter 2:1 – “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Malice is something believers must consciously put away.

The New Testament treats malice as incompatible with Christian faith and instructs followers of Jesus to actively avoid it.

Malice in the Teachings of Jesus and the Apostles

Jesus and the apostles directly addressed malice in their teachings to the early church:

  • Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said that “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Hatred and malice begin with unresolved anger.
  • Jesus also taught that what defiles someone comes from within, including “evil thoughts” that can lead to malicious acts (Mark 7:20-23).
  • Paul taught believers to “put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). These virtues leave no room for malice.
  • James associates malice with earthly, unspiritual wisdom, contrasting it with the “wisdom from above,” which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:14-17).

Jesus and New Testament writers directly warned against malice, encouraging believers to cultivate love, patience, and purity instead.

Overcoming Malice in Your Own Life

Letting Go of Bitterness and Resentment

Holding on to bitterness and resentment only hurts us, not the person we are angry with. As the saying goes, resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Letting go of these negative emotions is an act of self-care and spiritual growth.

Try to cultivate empathy by seeing things from the other person’s perspective. People often act out of their own pain or ignorance. Understanding why someone hurt you can help you let go and move forward.

Forgive others, knowing that we all make mistakes. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, freeing you from the weight of grudges. As the Bible says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” (Ephesians 4:32).

Cultivating Compassion and Forgiveness

Replace bitterness with compassion. Wish good things for those who have harmed you. As Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). This attitude softens your heart.

Examine yourself for hidden malice. Do you secretly enjoy hearing bad news about someone you dislike? Check your intentions and redirect malicious thoughts into positive wishes or prayers for them.

Be quick to apologize when you have wronged others, even if accidentally. Humility and making amends can dissolve malice on both sides of a conflict.

Let go of past hurts. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Accept forgiveness from God, who “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:35). He wants us all to have clean hearts filled with love.

Repenting from Evil Intentions and Thoughts

Malicious intentions manifest in subtle ways, like privately wishing misfortune on others or making unkind assumptions about them. Bring awareness to these inner workings of your heart.

Confess and repent of any hidden malice or delight in others’ suffering. As 1 Peter 3:10 says, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.” Cleanse your heart of subtle darkness.

Fill your mind with God’s truth and promises, not suspicious imaginings. Counter evil thoughts with Bible verses about love. Ask God to renew your mind and guard your heart.

Surround yourself with kind people who bring out the good in you. Choose friendships that are wholesome and encouraging rather than toxic. Our associations influence our thoughts and behaviors, for better or worse.

Overcoming our own malice requires brutal honesty, spiritual discipline, and God’s grace. But the freedom and lightness of a heart free of bitterness is worth the struggle. Walking in love fulfills our purpose and brings joy.


As we have explored, malice has serious spiritual implications and goes against God’s intentions for how we should treat one another. While malice may be an innate human tendency at times, the Bible provides the antidote through principles of love, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.

Living without malice leads to more righteous relationships, a cleaner conscience, and an overall happier life. We must continuously check our own hearts for any bitterness taking root and be quick to let go and forgive others when wronged.

God stands ready to help us in the process when we turn to Him.

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