A serene photograph capturing an open Bible resting on a wooden table, surrounded by flickering candlelight, evoking a sense of tranquility and the importance of silence in understanding its profound teachings.

What Does The Bible Say About Silence?

Silence can be a powerful thing. In our noisy world, moments of quiet can feel sacred. But what does the Bible actually say about keeping silent? Get ready to explore the complex biblical commentary on speech, silence, and discernment.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: the Bible encourages both wise speech and thoughtful silence. Scripture urges restraint from hasty, foolish words, commends times of contemplation, but also stresses speaking truth.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll dive deep into biblical context about keeping silent versus speaking up. You’ll learn principles for godly speech, when to refrain from words, the importance of listening, and how to exercise wisdom in discerning when to be quiet or vocal.

Biblical Principles for Speech and Silence

The Power of Words

The Bible has much to say about the power of words. Proverbs 18:21 states, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Our words can either speak life or death into a situation or a person’s life.

That’s why Scripture exhorts us to be quick to listen, slow to speak (James 1:19), and to let our conversation be gracious and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6).

The book of James devotes an entire chapter to the danger of an uncontrolled tongue, calling it “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Before opening our mouths, we would be wise to ask ourselves: Are my words truthful? Necessary? Kind?

Seek First to Understand

Often our quickness to speak prevents us from truly listening and understanding others. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Seeking to understand should be step one in any conversation.

Listening requires humility and teaches us to value others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

By listening first, we give others the gift of being heard and are better equipped to know how to respond appropriately. As 1 Peter 3:15 encourages, always be prepared to give an answer when asked about your hope, “but do this with gentleness and respect.”

Discern the Times for Speech and Reflection

Not all speech is wrong, of course. There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Part of growing in wisdom is learning to discern when it’s better to hold one’s tongue versus speak up.

For example, when others are venting or processing emotions, often the best response is compassionate silence rather than trying to offer solutions. As the book of Job illustrates, sometimes people working through hardship simply need a listening ear over a lecture.

Other times, boldly speaking truth in love is exactly what a situation calls for (Ephesians 4:15). Pray for wisdom to know the difference.

When Scripture Encourages Keeping Silent

Guarding Against Foolish Babble

The Bible warns against engaging in foolish, frivolous talk. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Ecclesiastes 5:3 cautions, “For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.”

Ephesians 5:4 instructs believers to avoid “crude joking” and “silly talk.” Passages like these encourage keeping silent at times to guard against foolish babbling that dishonors God.

We must think before we speak and not spout off empty words. Proverbs 15:28 states, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Rash, unwise speech leads to “a multitude of words” that often misses the mark (Proverbs 10:19).

So we ought to listen more than we speak (James 1:19), and carefully weigh our words, speaking only what is beneficial (Ephesians 4:29).

Cultivating an Attentive Spirit

Scripture also contains passages about being quick to hear and slow to speak (James 1:19). God’s people must cultivate an attentive, discerning spirit to hear God’s voice over the clamor of the world. Habakkuk 2:20 encourages focusing on listening to the Lord: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”

Ecclesiastes 3:7 affirms there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Listening in silence opens us to gain wisdom and understanding.

Silence allows us to tune our ears to hear God’s gentle whisper. Elijah discovered this on the mountain as God spoke to him not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).

Quietness helps us discern the “quiet words” of the Good Shepherd as He leads us (Psalm 23:2). Keeping silent creates space to hear the Spirit’s conviction, guidance and comfort.

Submission, Obedience, and Self-Control

Several biblical passages connect keeping silent with submission, obedience and self-control. 1 Peter 3 instructs wives to follow the example of “the holy women who hoped in God” and “were submissive to their own husbands,” just as Sarah “obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.”

Part of this submissive attitude involved not letting “your adorning be external” through an elaborate hairstyle or jewelry, but cultivating “the hidden person of the heart” with a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:5).

1 Timothy 2:11-12 explains this principle further: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

This keeping silent flows from submitting to God’s design for male spiritual authority in the church. In a similar vein, James tells everyone: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Being slow to speak allows time for wise reflection and self-control.

The book of Proverbs repeatedly connects keeping silent with self-control and the avoidance of strife. “Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27). “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). Keeping silent at the right times exhibits godly wisdom.

When the Bible Urges Speaking Boldly

Speak Truth with Love

The Bible encourages believers to speak the truth boldly, but always with love (Ephesians 4:15). Christians should not be afraid to share God’s word, even when it is difficult or unpopular. Jesus himself spoke boldly against hypocrisy and injustice, but he did so out of genuine care for people.

Scripture urges us to “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). This means being ready to speak God’s truth whenever necessary, whether it is well-received or not.

However, the Bible also warns against speaking truth harshly or arrogantly. “Speaking the truth in love,” as Paul says, should be the model for Christians. Our words should be seasoned with grace, humility and compassion (Colossians 4:6).

As 1 Peter 3:15 reminds us, we must always be prepared to speak God’s truth gently and respectfully.

Prophets Calling for Justice

Biblical prophets like Isaiah and Amos boldly confronted rulers and societies about injustice and unrighteousness. Though their messages were often met with resistance and anger, the prophets spoke passionately because of their deep conviction.

They understood that God cares deeply about how the poor, weak and marginalized are treated. The prophets’ courage came from their righteous anger over the mistreatment of others created in God’s image.

Jesus displayed a similar zeal for justice, especially in his cleansing of the temple where corruption had crept in. He spoke out against religious hypocrisy and legalistic traditions that weighed people down.

The prophets remind us that boldly challenging injustice and oppression is central to the biblical tradition. However, the prophets always did so in service of a higher purpose – to call people back to faithfulness to God and care for one another.

Testifying to God’s Grace

The apostles in the early church spoke boldly in testifying to Christ’s death and resurrection. Peter and John, when commanded by the Sanhedrin to cease speaking about Jesus, replied “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

The apostles understood the life-changing significance of Christ’s work. They felt compelled to speak this truth boldly, even under threat of imprisonment and death.

Their courage came from an overwhelming sense of gratitude for God’s grace. The apostles boldly shared their personal encounters with Christ because they wanted everyone to experience God’s love and redemption.

Their bold witness flowed from transformed lives, as they had once been fearful but were now fearless in the face of persecution. They spoke not to prove a point but to testify to the joy, freedom and purpose they had found in Christ.

Learning to Listen

Listening is a lost art in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. We are constantly bombarded with noise – cell phones ringing, notifications dinging, people chatting. With so many distractions, it can be challenging to truly listen.

Yet listening is a vital skill, especially for Christians seeking to hear God’s voice.

The Bible has much to say about the importance of listening and being quick to hear (James 1:19). Here are some principles for learning to listen better:

Make Listening a Priority

We listen to what we value. When we treat listening as important, we make more effort to do it well. Set the intention each day to listen closely to others and what God might be saying. Put down your phone, maintain eye contact, and focus completely on the speaker.

Ask Clarifying Questions

Don’t just nod along to what someone is saying. Engage and make sure you understand them correctly. Asking thoughtful questions shows respect for their perspective.

Listen to Understand

Listen with empathy, without thinking about how you will respond. Enter the other person’s worldview to truly understand their heart and meaning.

Wait to Speak

Often we form what we want to say while someone else is still speaking. Practice patience. Wait until they have finished to contribute your perspective.

Reflect Back What You Hear

Summarize what the person said in your own words. This verifies you comprehended them and gives opportunity for clarification if needed.

Be Present and Attentive

Remove distractions and focus all your energy on listening intently. Nod, make eye contact, and be visibly engaged in the conversation.

Learning to listen takes effort, but it is worth it. When we listen closely to others, we love and value them. When we listen to God, we draw near to His heart. We were created with two ears and one mouth for a reason – listening should be our priority.

Exercising Wisdom in Speech

Consider Timing and Audience

When considering what to say, it is wise to think about both the timing and the audience. As Ecclesiastes 3:7 (ESV) says, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Think carefully about whether this is the right time to speak on a certain topic or to certain people.

Will your words be well-received, or only create anger or sadness?

Proverbs 15:23 (ESV) notes, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” Seek God’s guidance on the best timing for your words. Also consider your audience and whether they are in a position to properly hear what you want to communicate.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”

Think Before Speaking

It is often best to think carefully before speaking. As Proverbs 15:28 (ESV) reminds us, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.” Take time to consider your words and approach.

The book of James compares the tongue to the small rudder that steers a large ship. Your words have power, so speak thoughtfully and judiciously.

As Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) wisely counsels, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” Less is often more when it comes to speaking. Think before opening your mouth, and be slow to speak, as James 1:19 suggests.

As you ponder what to say, ask yourself: is it true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind? If not, mieux vaut se taire – better to be silent.

Ask God for Discernment

In any matter that requires wisdom, we can ask God to give us discernment. James 1:5 promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Pray and seek God’s guidance when you face difficult situations that require careful speech.

As King David prayed in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” Ask God to help you know when to speak and when to refrain. The wisdom of when and how to speak rightly is a gift we must seek from the Lord.

He promises to provide it generously whenever we ask in faith.


Navigating the complex biblical commentary on speech and silence requires prayerful wisdom. While scripture celebrates the beauty of words spoken at the right time, it also urges caution about the damage foolish babble can inflict.

By clinging to biblical principles about godly speech, understanding when silence is best, learning to truly listen, and asking God for discernment in each situation, we can honor both the power of words and reflective quiet. Our voices can then be used to build others up with grace and truth.

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