Yesterday Anthony Bradley accused me of slander, against Mark Driscoll. He didn’t name me. But he did name Rachel Held Evans for a “slanderous post”, and he wrote of “the way in which many other believers jumped on the slander bandwagon”, obviously referring to my post on the matter among many others.
In my response to Bradley yesterday I argued that Rachel and I, among many others, were right to stand up to Driscoll and name him for his unacceptable bullying behaviour. I regretted only using the word “bully” in the title of my post, suggesting that this was Driscoll’s character rather than his behaviour. I have now adjusted the post title to add quotation marks round this word, to indicate that it is a quotation from Rachel: Standing up to the “bully” Mark Driscoll.
I also want to argue that Bradley is totally confused about what is meant by slander. Yesterday I rejected part of what he wrote on the basis that
Bradley cannot support his argument that all accusations, or all public ones, are wrong, on the basis of a Greek word, diaballo, used only once in the New Testament.
I now want to look into this point in more detail. I note that this rare Greek verb diaballo is the basis for the rather more common noun diabolos. The noun is found 35 times in the New Testament with the meaning “devil” and referring to the devil or Satan; once of Judas (John 6:70); and three times of ordinary people, in the plural (all in the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy 3:11, 2 Timothy 3:3, Titus 2:3). In RSV these last three occurrences are all rendered “slanderers”. KJV and NIV 2011 are oddly inconsistent: the former offers “slanderers”, “false accusers” and “false accusers” respectively, whereas the latter has “malicious talkers”, “slanderous” and “slanderers”. And it is often taught that the word “devil” really means “slanderer”, and therefore that Satan’s chief activity is to slander people.
First we need to clarify the meaning of “slander”. According to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, the meaning of the noun is
1. Law Oral communication of false statements injurious to a person’s reputation.
2. A false and malicious statement or report about someone.
In other words, a fundamental part of the meaning is that the statement is false, as well as malicious. Now Anthony Bradley quotes the 1915 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (s.v. “slander”) as saying that “in the Bible”
As a rule [slander] is a false charge (compare Mt 5:11); but it may be a truth circulated insidiously and with a hostile purpose (e.g. Dan 3:8, “brought accusation against,” where Septuagint has diaballo, “slander”; Lk 16:1, the same Greek word).
So ISBE tries to redefine a good English word concerning false accusations to include truth spoken maliciously. On what basis? Not KJV, which has “accuse” at Luke 16:1, as does NIV 2011. It looks to me as if the only basis they have is the presumed meaning of the Greek word diaballo, which they gloss as “slander”.
So what is the meaning of Greek diaballo and diabolos? According to my 1884 edition of Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon abridged for use in schools, the verb means, in the relevant sense,
to accuse falsely, slander, calumniate: to accuse a man to another
and the noun means
a slanderer; esp. … the Slanderer, the Devil.
Very likely D. Miall Edwards, who wrote the ISBE entry, would have learned these or similar definitions at school. They both seem to imply falsehood spoken maliciously.
But it is interesting to see a shift of emphasis in the more complete Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon online at Perseus, which has been updated to 1940. For the verb diaballo the relevant parts of the definition (citations omitted) are now:
V. attack a man’s character, calumniate, …; accuse, complain of, without implied malice or falsehood, …: c. dat. rei, reproach a man with . ., …
2. c. acc. rei, misrepresent, …: speak or state slanderously, …: generally, give hostile information, without any insinuation of falsehood, …
3. δ. τι εἴς τινα lay the blame for a thing on . ., ….
4. disprove a scientific or philosophical doctrine, ….
5. δ. ἔπος declare it spurious, …
In other words, although the word can be used of slander, it does not in itself imply “any insinuation of falsehood”. This fits well with the biblical use of the verb, in Luke 16:1 and Daniel 3:8 LXX, for apparently true information passed on with malicious intent.
So what we see in the ISBE entry is Miall Edwards trying to redefine a good English word on the basis of its use in a misleading definition of a Greek word used only once in the New Testament. I think he got something backwards there! And then we have Bradley citing Edwards, writing nearly a century earlier, as an authority, and on that dubious basis accusing of slander people like myself who wrote against Mark Driscoll. Meanwhile the misleading definition has been corrected, but is still being quoted by Bradley, in the form “diaballo, ‘slander’”.
But what does diabolos mean? The LSJ entry for this word, primarily an adjective but also used as a noun, seems oddly inconsistent with the one for diaballo:
A. slanderous, backbiting, …
II. Subst., slanderer, …; enemy, …: hence, = Sâtân, …; the Devil, …
III. Adv. “-λως” injuriously, invidiously, …
Now the meaning of an adjective or noun is not always tied to that of a related verb. But it seems odd that in this case the definition of the verb was updated between 1884 and 1940 but the definition of the noun was not. I think it would be reasonable, if not provable, that the noun, like the verb, should not imply “any insinuation of falsehood”.
To put it simply, the noun diabolos does not mean “slanderer” but more like “malicious accuser” or “denouncer”. So Christian authors and preachers should stop saying that “devil” means “slanderer”, and realise that its sense is very similar to that of the Hebrew Sâtân, “adversary” or “Satan”.
As for Rachel and myself, we are not slanderers either, because we were speaking the truth, and doing so not maliciously but in love (Ephesians 4:15): love for the homosexuals, women and others who were demeaned by Driscoll; love for those who might be led astray by his bad teaching and example; and love for Driscoll himself, in the hope that this amazing preacher and leader can accept correction and become all the more effective for the kingdom of God.