10 things the Bible says about our speech

July 1, 2019

We live in an age where “speaking your mind” is considered a virtue and a hailed as a sign of good leadership. But is this trait something the Bible comends? Should Christians be known for “speaking their mind?”

There are several truths about our speech we should consider from Scripture:

  1. The Bible commends honest speech. Proverbs 6:17 names a “lying tongue” as one of the things God hates. The prophet Zechariah instructed God’s people: “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another. Paul commands the new covenant people of Ephesus, “Let everyone of you speak truth to his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25). Lying is a sin, the product of a fallen nature. Lying is the work of the enemy (John 8:44). So truthful speech is the sign of a redeemed heart.
  2. The Bible commends truthful speech for rebuke. Faithful, the Proverbs says, are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6). Flattery is the tool, not of someone looking to deepen a relationship but to leverage proximity for personal gain (Proverbs 29:5). God used the courage of the prophet Nathan to confront David over his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:17). Jesus in Matthew 18 gives instructions on redemptive confrontation designed to restore a sinful brother into loving community (Matthew 18). Paul considers this a sign of love, from one brother or sister, to another (Galatians 6:1).
  3. The Bible commends public arguments against sin and heresy. Jesus very publically, throughout the gospels, confronted errant religious leaders. When the heart of the gospel message was at stake, Paul was unafraid to confront Peter publically (Galatians 2:11-13). And much of the New Testament, the inspired canon of Scripture, consists of public letters that contain, at times, stinging rebuke of sin. Paul says that polemics are not only important within the church, at times, but also without, as we are tasked with engaging the reigning worldview arguments and presenting alternative, biblical worldview (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  4. The Bible seems to commend the use of satire and other forms of creative engagement. Elijah playfully taunted the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). Jesus employed the use of parables, metaphors, and similes in communicating truth. Paul was often acerbic in his rebuke of the Corinthians. Sharply worded polemics, uplifting satire, and, at times, sarcasm, can be employed in a way that reflects faithful Christian witness. However, this must be done within the boundaries of what is considered civil and wise speech (see below).
  5. The Bible commends civility and respect in speech. In the Scriptures, kindness, respect, and good manners are not simply “nice” things for certain people, but are considered Christian virtues. Peter, in a letter written to address the persecution and marginalization of Christians, exhorts God’s people to be both courageous and civil (1 Peter 3:15). Later Peter reminds us to treat every single human being with dignity (1 Peter 2:17). In the Pastoral Epistles, you will notice that one of the cornerstone characteristics of qualified church leaders is gentleness (Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3).
  6. The Bible commends wise and informed speech. The way we speak is a oft-repeated theme in Scripture. James devotes almost an entire chapter to the power of the tongue (James 3). Words have power. Words matter. Words can either be life-giving or life-crushing. King David’s prayer was for a mouth that offered words that were “acceptable” in the sight of God (Psalm 19:14). Proverbs affirms the value of applying just the right word in the right moment (Proverbs 25:11) and, like James (James 1:19), rebukes those who speak before thinking (Proverbs 17:28; 29:20).
  7. The Bible says that the mouth is a good barometer of the heart. Luke records Jesus words: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). Words are not neutral; they reflect either good or evil. Nobody can really say, “I didn’t mean that.” It’s better to say, when we misspeak, “Those words come from an unsanctified part of my heart.” What’s more, speaking my mind may not reflect speaking that is true or virtuous, because the Christian mind is in constant state of needing to be renewed by the gospel (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 10:5).
  8. The Bible commends the wisdom of not sharing everything with everyone all the time. Proverbs says trustworthy people keep confidential information confidential and it is a sign of low character to reveal secrets (Proverbs 11:3). Later, Proverbs extols the “prudent man” who knows to keep information to himself and rebukes the “heart of fools that speak folly” (Proverbs 12:23). Sharing everything all the time to anyone who listens is not a sign of “authenticity” but a sign of foolishness.
  9. The Bible commends humility as a sign of grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – this maxim is mentioned three times in Scripture (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6,1; 1 Peter 5:5). What does this have to do with our speech? I tells us, I believe that graceful, measured, civil speech is a sign of God’s grace and proud, boastful speech is a sign of God’s resistance. Humility means speaking with recognition of our own fallenness. It means resisting the urge to speak out of turn. It means we have the self-awareness to know if we are the right person to speak on a particular issue at a particular time.
  10. The Bible commends speech that edifies. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says that Christians can either speak words that destroy or words that build, words that are given with a desire to build up the body of Christ or words that are wielded as carnal weapons of destruction (Ephesians 4:29). There is a difference, even, between verbal and written engagement meant to crush and winsome polemics meant to inform or rebuke.

So, is “speaking your mind” a Christian virtue? Not if “speaking your mind” implies unfiltered, uninformed foolish talk that hurts and destroys. Let’s pray for Holy Spirit power to seek after God in the way we use the gift of language and pray for repentance when our mouths reveal as-yet unsanctified parts of the heart.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24