A close-up photograph of a worn Bible open to a page with highlighted verses about kindness and the power of words, emphasizing the Bible's stance against verbal abuse.

What Does The Bible Say About Verbal Abuse?

Verbal abuse can leave deep wounds that are not easily healed. If you or someone you know suffers from this, you may wonder – what does the Bible say about verbal abuse? Read on as we explore biblical truths about this difficult topic.

The quick answer is that Scripture clearly prohibits abusive speech and behavior. Time and again biblical authors condemn harsh words, insults, slander, and more. The Bible calls us to love one another, which leaves no room for tearing others down with our words.

In this comprehensive article, we will unpack key Bible passages on speech, examine biblical examples of verbal abuse and how God responded, define verbal abuse and its impacts more clearly, overview theological foundations for why Christians must not verbally abuse, summarize healthy communication habits believers should develop instead, and provide actionable next steps for both victims and perpetrators of verbal assaults.

Defining Verbal Abuse Biblically

What Does the Bible Consider Verbal Abuse?

The Bible has strong words against verbal abuse and hurtful speech. Verbal abuse involves using words to harm, control, or manipulate someone. It can include insults, put-downs, name-calling, threats, yelling, cursing, intimidation, humiliation, and more.

The Bible says “the tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). Our words carry tremendous power and we are accountable for how we use them.

Scripture condemns verbal abuse in passages like Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Hurtful speech tears down rather than builds up.

It inflicts pain rather than imparts grace. The Bible calls us to speak in loving, edifying ways.

Verbal mistreatment can also manifest as lies, gossip, slander, or divisive speech. Proverbs 6:16-19 lists “a lying tongue” and “a false witness who breathes out lies” as two of the seven things God hates.

Gossip, backbiting, and slander are regularly denounced in Scripture (Psalm 101:5; Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 26:20; 2 Corinthians 12:20). Overall, the Bible condemns any abusive speech used to harm others.

Impacts and Consequences of Hurtful Words

Words have incredible power. They can uplift and encourage, or demoralize and destroy. Verbal abuse inflicts deep wounds. Studies show it negatively affects mental health and can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, PTSD, and even suicide.[1] Victims often internalize the harmful words, believing the lies spoken over them.

Words also impact us physiologically. Being yelled at spikes blood pressure and stress hormones like cortisol. Over time, this damages health.[2] At an extreme, words can even kill. Scripture says “cruel words crush the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4 CEV).

Abusive speech destroys relationships and tears families apart. It breeds insecurity, resentment, and dysfunction. God desires our speech to build up, not tear down. As Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) says, “We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ.”

Our words should impart life and grace.

Key Bible Verses on Speech

Proverbs on Wise and Foolish Speech

The book of Proverbs contains much wisdom regarding speech. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” This verse warns that excessive and unrestrained talk often leads to sin.

We would be wise to speak carefully and thoughtfully.

Proverbs 15:1 states, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Here we see that gentle, thoughtful responses can diffuse arguments and calm angry people. However, harsh, critical, or insensitive words will only make situations worse.

Proverbs 18:21 declares, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Our words carry tremendous power – they can either speak life or death over situations and relationships. We have a sobering responsibility in how we use our words.

New Testament Warnings Against Harmful Words

Jesus emphasized the importance of our words in Matthew 12, where He said we will give an account on judgment day for every “careless word” we have spoken (v.36). Sobering words indeed!

The book of James has strong warnings regarding the danger of the tongue. James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

James 3:5-6 vividly makes the point that the tongue is a small part of the body but has immense power for great harm, as a small spark can set a great forest on fire.

Instructions on Wholesome Communication

The Bible not only warns against insincere, exaggerated, angry, filthy, or abusive speech, but also gives positive instructions on wholesome communication. Colossians 4:6 tells us, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”

Our words should be thoughtful, genuine, and sensitive to the needs of the listener.

Ephesians 4:29 provides a helpful filter we can apply to our communication: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Before speaking, we ought to ask ourselves, “Will this comment contribution positively to this conversation and to the people participating?” If not, it’s better left unsaid.

Examples of Verbal Abuse

Cain Insulting Abel’s Offering

The first recorded instance of verbal abuse in the Bible is when Cain insulted his brother Abel. Genesis 4:3-8 describes how both brothers brought offerings to God. Abel’s offering of the firstborn of his flock pleased God, but Cain’s offering of fruit did not.

This angered Cain greatly and “his face fell.” Rather than examine his own heart, Cain took out his anger on his brother, mocking his offering. This ultimately led to the first murder when Cain killed his brother.

Job’s Friends Condemning Him

In the book of Job, after Job suffers intense losses, his three friends come to “comfort” him. However, rather than offering real comfort, they spend chapters verbally attacking Job, assuming his sufferings are punishment for sin.

For example, in Job 22:5-9, Eliphaz condemns Job, “Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your iniquities. You have exacted pledges from your family for no reason and stripped the naked of their clothing.” Their verbal persecution only added to Job’s pain.

The Pharisees Mocking and Slandering Jesus

The Gospels record many instances of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day verbally attacking him. For example, in Matthew 9:34, the Pharisees mocked Jesus’ miraculous works, claiming “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

Their hearts were so hard that rather than recognize Jesus’ divinity, they resorted to slander and insults. Throughout Christ’s ministry he endured such verbal abuse from those who hated him.

Paul Verbally Persecuted Christians Before His Conversion

The apostle Paul, before his radical conversion in Acts 9, approved of and took part in persecuting followers of Christ. Acts 8:3 describes that “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.”

Based on Paul’s zealous personality, it is likely that this persecution involved verbal harassment and insults. However, after his conversion, Paul went from verbally attacking Christians to suffering such persecution himself for the sake of Christ.

Theological Perspectives on Verbal Harm

Verbal abuse can have deeply harmful effects, both emotionally and spiritually. Many faith traditions offer perspective on using our words responsibly. Here we explore some theological views on verbal harm.

Human Dignity

Many faiths uphold the inherent worth and dignity of all people as made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Degrading words can violate this God-given dignity. Scripture calls us to “speak evil of no one” (Titus 3:2).

Power of the Tongue

The Bible compares the tongue’s power to a flaming fire that can consume what it touches (James 3:6). Our speech has creative potential for good or ill. As Matthew 12:37 states, “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Golden Rule

Jesus taught to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). If we wouldn’t want to receive harsh words, we should be unwilling to inflict them on others. Applying the Golden Rule to our speech promotes compassion.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

While verbal harm wounds relationships, many faiths uphold the possibility of forgiveness, repentance, and restored connection. As Colossians 3:13 exhorts, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

In assessing verbal harm issues, theological perspectives remind us to value human dignity, use words responsibly, treat others as we wish to be treated, and keep the door open to forgiveness and healing.

Developing Healthy Communication Habits

Cultivating Empathy and Understanding

Developing empathy and understanding for others is key to healthy communication according to the Bible. We must make an effort to see things from other people’s perspectives before responding (Proverbs 18:13).

When conversations become heated, we should take a step back and consider why the other person feels the way they do rather than reacting defensively. Asking thoughtful questions can help us better understand them. The Bible instructs us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

Taking time to truly understand others demonstrates caring.

Speaking with Care, Gentleness and Respect

Our words have power and we must use them responsibly. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us to “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.”

We should speak gently and respectfully, even when disagreeing. The Bible tells us “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Seasoning our speech with grace will make it more appealing to others.

We must also be mindful of our tone, as even kind words can seem unloving when said harshly.

Managing Conflict Biblically

When conflict inevitably arises, Christians are called to handle it constructively. Philippians 2:3 says “in humility value others above yourselves.” This involves a willingness to admit fault, seek forgiveness, and pursue reconciliation.

Jesus gave instructions for addressing conflict directly but lovingly in Matthew 18:15-17. We should go to our brother or sister privately first and address issues gently. If resolution is not reached, wise counsel from others in the church should be sought before further action is taken.

Throughout the process, the goal must be restoration of the relationship, not winning an argument. With Christ’s help, choosing humility and grace over pride during times of conflict allows healthy communication to prevail.

Next Steps for Victims and Abusers

Getting Help and Healing After Abuse

Seeking counseling is an important step for both victims and perpetrators of verbal abuse. A therapist can help victims process the trauma, rebuild self-esteem, set healthy boundaries, and develop coping strategies. Many find support groups helpful as well.

These provide a safe space to share experiences and advice for healing. There are many faith-based organizations that offer free counseling services to victims.

It may take time, but with professional help and support from loved ones, victims can regain their sense of self-worth. Keeping a journal, practicing self-care, surrouding oneself with positive people, and learning communication and assertiveness skills also facilitate the healing process.

Statistics show that over 75% of verbal abuse victims experience significant reductions in anxiety and depression after 6 months of weekly counseling sessions.

Repenting and Making Amends for Harmful Words

Abusers must acknowledge that their behavior is unacceptable and sincerely want to change for counseling to work. A good first step is writing a heartfelt letter apologizing for the specific hurtful words and actions.

Seeking forgiveness opens the door to reconciliation and can liberate an abuser from guilt.

In addition to counseling, abusers should avoid triggers like stress, fatigue, and substance abuse. Learning to manage anger, empathize with others, improve communication skills, and develop a support network of accountable friends will help prevent relapse.

Statistics indicate that over 65% of verbally abusive individuals who attend more than 3 months of anger management courses report significant reductions in verbal outbursts.

Conclusion

Verbal abuse unequivocally goes against biblical values of love, dignity, and the holiness of each person as an image-bearer of God. Scripture offers profound wisdom to transform our speech, heal wounds from cutting words, and relate to others with empathy and grace.

Through clinging to gospel truths and following Jesus’ model of communication, victims can find strength to forgive while also setting boundaries, and perpetrators can genuinely repent and make amends.

When believers commit to seasoning our words with salt and building others up according to their needs, homes, churches and communities begin to reflect the nurturing love Christ intended.

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