A. Allan Martin
Denomination: Seventh Day Adventist
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by Artemio Allan Martin II, Doctoral Candidate, Fuller Theological Seminary
In perusing the various sin catalogs offered for this word study, I was attracted to the studying of the word "slander" in Romans 1:30 (NRSV-NIV, 1990) because of some issues that I am having to deal with in a local ministry I am involved with. What in Romans 1:30, the NRSV and the NIV identify as "slanders," is also identified as "railers (NRSV-NIV, 1990)," "detractor," and "calumniator (Perschbacher, 1990)." Bromiley (1988) includes a variety of synonyms for slanderer from both testament sources. These would include: talebearer, mischiefmaker, informer, evil speaker, backbiter, scandal-monger, and false accuser. He goes further to list action verbs that identify the deeds of the slanderer: spread tales, accuse, disparage, tear, jeer, stab in the back, eat the flesh, devour, blasphemy, cursing, defame, backbiting, recrimination, talk scandal. A general definition given is "one who utters such malicious accusations, lies that damage another's reputation (Bromiley, 1988)."
Usage of the word "slander" in the New Testament, which is akin to the Roman 1:30 usage, has a rather narrow range of application, emphasizing its meaning as "speaking evil against one's neighbor" (Kittel, 1967). This New Testament reference to "speaking evil" is not so much making a false report on another, as slander is typically used in the Old Testament, rather it appears to be an admonition to the early Church to refrain from hostile and malicious speech directly against a neighbor (Bromiley, 1988; Kittel, 1967). Although "slanderer" is almost exclusively used in Romans 1:30 as a naming noun of the evil speaker, the closest action verb usage in the New Testament is found in 1Peter 2:1, 2Corinthians 12:20, James 4:11, and 1Peter 3:16 (Kittel, 1967; Perschbacher, 1990). Bromiley (1988) includes Pauline sin catalog listings of evil-doers in addition to those above (2Timothy 3:3, Ephesians 4:31, Colossians 3:8, 1Timothy 6:4), noting slander as a primary concern for Paul. Kittel (1967) notes that "slanderer" is found in ancient writings P. Oxy., XV, 1828 r 3 (3rd cent. A.D.) and the word does not occur in LXX or related literature.
Bromiley (1988) notes the strong condemnation of slander as a sin worthy of "severe punishment." The Mosaic law and Decalogue had strong direct statements prohibiting slander or false witness, in efforts to avert the vicious destructive nature of this sin. The direct force of the term "slanderer" as used in Romans 1:30 appears to identify in the initial portions of this sin catalog, people who were ungodly and wicked, subject to God's wrath for suppressing the truth (NRSV-NIV, 1990). Clearly, a slanderer was not a true Christian, because of the "uncharitableness" of their action (Kittel, 1967). Kittel goes further to note the Paul's intention for including slanderers in his vice lists was to emphasize the difference in ethical life between the Christian and the non-believer. Slander must be avoided not just for "moral grounds, but for the sake of the new life in God (Kittel, 1967)."
Slanderers have no claim to connectedness with God as the sin catalogs suggest, rather they are more directly akin to Satan whose role as a liar and slanderer is especially emphasized in the Johannine writings (Bromiley, 1988). Like Satan, a slanderer's actions reflect the ultimate evil speaking, which is to deny Jesus Christ.
Reflecting on slanderers and spirituality, I find Bromiley's (1988) analysis, of this sin as ultimately denying Jesus Christ, hits on the crux of insidious nature slander for both personal and communal spirituality. Like an awful virus or malignant cancerous growth, a slanderer can wreak havoc from within the spiritual body, sometimes even under the guise of "giving admonition" or "character discernment." Spirituality cannot be personified by the slanderer who is tearing into people with malicious speech. As the evil speaking is perpetuated, people can literally be destroyed, reputations tarnished, character tainted, by the slanderer's actions. Although this type of behavior may be acceptable in the pagan world (Kittel, 1967) during Paul's day, and fine for today's secular society, it is clearly contrary to the ethos of Christianity. Therefore alignment of the slanderer is unquestionably in Satan's camp, whose primary campaign is to slander God.
As in the case of cancer or HIV, where the cells of the body attack the body, the slanderer compromises the spiritual health of the body of Christ through evil speaking. Relationships within the spiritual community no longer serve to "build up the body," instead they tear down and "eat the flesh" of the body. Relationships no longer serve spiritual purposes, they are debased toward selfish intentions, vengeful purposes, and ultimately the disparaging of Jesus Christ Himself.
The absence of slander in the spiritual community and the transformation of the slanderer into a new creature in Christ are among the distinctions that separate the kingdoms of God and Satan. The presence of the slanderer makes a spiritual community no different than that of the "every person for themselves" world. Mudslinging campaigns, wrongful allegations, harmful lies intent to hurt another--all these are part of the world. What an amazing distinction Paul was trying to create and develop as the life ethic for Christians in the early church and today! Evidently Paul felt it important enough an issue to almost without fail, include the slanderer at the forefront of his sin catalogs. No doubt the early church was being sabotaged spiritually by slanderers who needed to either be transformed or "surgically removed."
It appears the intention of Paul, in mention of the slanderer in Romans 1:30, was to do the needed "operations" to refine the early Church, spiritually reflecting Christ's body as opposed to the world. The slanderer clearly has no place in Christ's spiritual kingdom, which leaves him/her only one domain in which to reside.
Bromiley, G. W. (Ed.). (1988). The international standard Bible encyclopedia (Vol. 4 Q-Z, p. 537). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Kittel, G. (Ed.). (1967). The theological dictionary of the new testament (Vol. IV, pp. 3-5). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
The NRSV-NIV: Parallel new testament in Greek and English (A. Marshall, Trans., pp. 443, 542, 668). (1990.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Perschbacher, W. J. (Ed.). (1990). The new analytical Greek lexicon (p. 224). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.
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