The devil isn't a slanderer – nor am I

Anthony BradleyYesterday 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.

15 thoughts on “The devil isn't a slanderer – nor am I

  1. Pingback: Slander: a mistranslation? « Better Bibles Blog

  2. Peter I think you know me well enough to know I’m pretty pro-gay and pro-women. I think Driscoll is no worse than any other of the New Calvinists on either issue. You have to decide whether to look at him as one of the best of the complementarian preachers or one of the worst of the emergents. No question, his style is hard edged.

    You read this 2 years ago let me give you the link again.

    1) The Church is primarily middle aged and female. In particular men 22-25 are the least likely to go to church. This is very bad.

    2) Thus the church needs an outreach to young men.

    3) However, the reason young men are not attracted to the church is a systematic problem with the way church is usually conducted. So churches that want to break from this mold need to “do church” with a very different flavor.

    4) In particular what is needed is a to build churches that are theologically orthodox but culturally young and masculine.

    The question I’d ask you is, is Driscoll wrong in that core argument. Because if not, I think what’s fair to say is Driscoll doesn’t claim to nor want to create a loving supportive environment. No (or essentially no) complementarian church is gay friendly. I agree that’s an appalling part of complementarian philosophy. But that battle is happening well to the left of Driscoll. I would love to have a situation where being anti-gay is a fringe thing in Christianity, the way being anti-black is. But we are long way from that. Even far more enlightened pastors believe active homosexuals need to be expelled from churches.

    So I don’t think you slandered him. I think you and Rachel are absolutely right that part of his technique is a bullying attitude.

    Now that the fire is dying down…. the real question for you but more for Rachel. If you don’t like Driscoll’s solution to the young men problem, what’s your alternative?

  3. I certainly agree that some of Driscoll’s expressions are ill-chosen.

    Still, rather than call him a bully – which sounds petulant if you ask me – one might grant that he has a point: – the church is a femme place in both good and bad ways; the problem needs to be addressed: Driscoll goes overboard in the attempt to redress the balance.

    As you know, Peter, I concur with you about diabolos, as I have argued here:

  4. CD-Host and John, I agree that there is a problem with the feminisation of the church, which Driscoll has identified and has tried to address. But the end does not justify the means. Sharing in and stirring up homophobic and sexist attitudes goes beyond the limit of what I consider acceptable for Christians, even as evangelistic tactics.

    One can be complementarian without stirring things up. Excluding women from positions of leadership is almost by definition sexist, but it can be put across in an apologetic way (“sorry, ladies, but we have to exclude you because the Bible teaches it”) rather than a sexist one (“women are unfit for leadership and that is why the Bible doesn’t let them lead”). I say this not to justify complementarianism but to show why, from my perspective, Driscoll is not “one of the best of the complementarian preachers” but one of the worst.

  5. Excluding women from positions of leadership is almost by definition sexist, but it can be put across in an apologetic way

    Which is exactly what Drisoll would complain about. What’s the message that’s sending something like:

    a) I really think woman should be excluded but am too wimpy to take the heat.

    b) I really don’t have strong opinions I just follow directions.

    c) I don’t care enough to figure out where I stand so I push the blame up the ladder.

    d) I think the bible is wrong but am interested enough to investigate.

    e) I think the bible is wrong but am too wimply to take take the heat for that.

    What you just said is precisely what’s he’s complaining about. “Own it or don’t do it”. Think about George Bush, a totally moron who often hired incompetents that made all sorts of bad decisions. And he owned all of them, “My administration you want to blame someone blame me”. I detest the man, but I can’t help but admire that in him as a leader.

    When he has protests he generally owns it. Its either:
    a) I screwed up and here is what I’m doing to fix it.
    b) Yeah I did it, and I’d do it again.

    Driscoll would never do something apologetically.

  6. CD-Host, what you say about Bush works well for my thoughts about Driscoll:

    I detest the man, but I can’t help but admire that in him as a leader.

    Unlike those complementarians who try to pretend that they consider women to be equal forcing them to submit to their authority, Driscoll speaks like a sexist and a homophobe without apology. I don’t think he is a hypocrite, and I admire him for that. But that implies he is a sexist and a homophobe, and I detest him for that.

  7. Peter,

    You say:

    Driscoll “is a sexist and a homophobe, and I detest him for that.”

    You might be right that D is one or both of those things, but the way you express yourself puts you in violation of the standards of speech we have been talking about.

    At the very least, as long as you talk in the way you have just done, you will not convince Anthony Bradley or supporters of Driscoll in general that you are not maliciously denouncing Driscoll.

    It’s hard to give you the benefit of the doubt on this one.

    If I suggested that you are stirring up dissension in the body of Christ in the name of just causes, what would you say?

    Here is where I come down:

    (1) Complementarianism, while clearly compatible with Scripture, should not be an excuse for sexist attitudes.

    The early Christians, though they were patriarchalists to one extent or another, taught equal regard; complementarians should have no trouble doing likewise, and in fact, usually do preach and practice equal regard.

    (2) The traditional Christian stance according to which same gender sexual expression and faith in Christ stand in contradiction should not be an excuse for hate speech against homosexuals.

    True, if you believe that excluding women from some or all forms of ordained ministry is sexist by definition, by the same logic you will hold that Christians who will not bless same-sex marriages are by definition homophobic.

    I have colleagues in the ministry, many of them excellent pastors, who argue exactly in that fashion. Is that also your position? This is a sincere question on my part.

  8. Peter I’m not sure I understand your point of view here at all. Assume we have two people in late 40’s Alabama.

    X: Thinks that racism is stupid. He owns a general store but is a member of the white citizen’s council for purely financial reasons.

    Y: Believes that God command a separation of the races and that 1/2 blood children and their descendants are unlikely to be savable. He joins the white citizens council out of enthusiasm to prevent miscegenation and its ill effects on both blacks and whites.

    X and Y procede to do exactly the same sorts of activities over the next decade. I don’t see how X is so morally superior to Y. Y is doing what he thinks he right. X is doing evil knowing full well its evil.

    Take for an example of type X Roy Cohn, a Jewish homosexual who persecuted homosexuals and Jews purely for personal power and the thrill and excitement of it. It is hard to see him as better than an honest homophobe or anti-Semite. That’s why in American

    There is a scene at the end of Citizen Cohn where is being haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg and he finally “confesses”:

    Ethel Rosenberg: Why were you so naughty? Why?
    Roy Marcus Cohn: Oh, I don’t know!
    Ethel Rosenberg: Why? Why did you get me? Hmmm?
    Roy Marcus Cohn: I…
    Ethel Rosenberg: Because I was a woman?
    Roy Marcus Cohn: No!
    Ethel Rosenberg: Because I was a Jew?
    Roy Marcus Cohn: No! I killed you for the headlines! For the f***’ headlines!

    This scene is not meant to be an endorsement of Roy Cohn.

  9. John, you quote me out of context. Here is more of the quote:

    I don’t think he is a hypocrite, and I admire him for that. But that implies he is a sexist and a homophobe, and I detest him for that.

    His words make it clear that he is one, a hypocrite, or the other, a sexist and a homophobe. I admit I don’t have clear evidence of which is true. And I wrote this only after being pushed by CD-Host to explain the implications of my previous more nuanced words.

    The one who is stirring up dissension is Driscoll. I was by no means the first to bring this matter to public attention. However I did try to calm it down when Driscoll offered some measure of an apology, while others continue to denounce that apology as inadequate.

    I agree with most of your own position as you explained it here.

    CD-Host, imagine a situation in Apartheid era South Africa in which two policemen are ordered to evict black people from a whites only area. One does it with enthusiasm and cruelty, because he is a racist bully. The other does it reluctantly and gently, because it is his job under the law, or perhaps because he genuinely believes the government’s policy of separate development is the best thing for black people. Which is better? You might argue that the latter should refuse to obey orders or resign. But surely it is better to do one’s job gently than cruelly.

  10. I detest the word “homophobe”. I’m trying to find Driscoll’s alleged hate speach against homosexuals, but can’t find it. Can you please link me to it?

  11. Peter —

    OK I like your analogy. I think this gets to the issue of what you think about gentle. You after all run a blog called “gentle wisdom” so obviously consider being gentle a good thing. Driscoll quite simply tells people that ain’t his brand.

    This isn’t just towards gays and women:

    Towards Abraham:

    “As time rolls along, God also works through a cowardly old man named Abraham, who is happy to whore out his loving and beautiful antique of a wife to avoid conflict.”

    Towards the church itself:

    I also did not explain in written form that we were theologically conservative and culturally liberal, which caused great confusion because half of the church was angry that the other half was smoking, while the other half was angry that I taught from the Bible.

    Towards Jesus:

    “The Gospel of Mark, for example, revealed a Jesus who was antithetical to the ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ sung about in Wesley’s famous hymn… In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus starts off by yelling at complete strangers to repent of their sin, like the wingnuts with billboards who occasionally show up at shopping centers. Shortly thereafter, Jesus orders some guys to quit their jobs and follow him, and before long Jesus is telling a demon to shut up and healing a leper only to tell him to shut up too. In the second chapter, Jesus picks a fight with some well-mannered religious types and does the equivalent of breaking into a church on a Sunday morning to make a sandwich with the communion bread because he was hungry.

    If you want mild there are unlimited churches to meet your needs. Let assume you don’t want mild? Do you agree with Marc Driscoll that the gospels other than Luke present something other than soft spoken? You believe in a God who kills first born children while their mothers watch, who turns cities into salt and orders destruction of whole societies. The bible ends on a theme of Jesus returned to reap revenge on the unrighteous. I don’t think Rachel is right that the bible presents a uniformly sweet image of God or Jesus.

    That picture is there, but it isn’t the only one. Now I understand you like a gentle God, but given the world we live in such a God could never be sovereign.

  12. CD-Host, Driscoll has a point with his analogies, but for me he spoils them by going over the top. Yes, I value gentleness, but he obviously doesn’t. But Jesus wasn’t always gentle in the sense of being meek and mild, and I won’t always be either.

  13. This is actually a WWJD moment. In case, no one has noticed, Jesus said some really nasty stuff. (“You brood of vipers!”) If you look at who he yelled at it wasn’t the Romans, Greeks, Samaritans, or even “backslidden” Jews. It was the leaders of the synagogues and the Temple. If Christian leaders act (or in this case speak) inappropriately — as Driscoll clearly has — then Jesus would have called him out. I don’t think you, Peter, have anything to apologize for or to back away from.

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